ARGUMENT IS WAR
I have no idea if what I am saying makes any sense, so bear with me. This is an idea that came up the other day when sitting in a writing workshop. I scribbled notes down and now I am trying to decipher them.
The basic premise of the book the Metaphors we Live By is this (taken from amazon);
Metaphor, the authors explain, is a fundamental mechanism of mind, one that allows us to use what we know about our physical and social experience to provide understanding of countless other subjects. Because such metaphors structure our most basic understandings of our experience, they are "metaphors we live by"—metaphors that can shape our perceptions and actions without our ever noticing them.
They say that all our life is lived and understood through metaphors. From here, they classify and give examples of the different categories and types of metaphors, how they interact with each other, etc.
One of the examples they give is the metaphor, Argument is War. If you think how we frame the concept of argument in our culture, the metaphor fits wonderfully.
ARGUMENT IS WAR
Your claims are indefensible.
He attacked every weak point in my argument.
His criticisms were right on target.
I demolished his argument.
I've never won an argument with him.
you disagree? Okay, shoot!
If you use that strategy, he'll wipe you out.
He shot down all of my arguments.
The most important claim we have made so far is that metaphor is not just a matter of language, that is, of mere words. We shall argue that, on the contrary, human thought processes are largely metaphorical. This is what we mean when we say that the human conceptual system is metaphorically structured and defined. Metaphors as linguistic expressions are possible precisely because there are metaphors in a person's conceptual system. Therefore, whenever in this book we speak of metaphors, such as ARGUMENT IS WAR, it should be understood that metaphor means metaphorical concept.
(Lakoff and Johnson)They go onto to provide a little thought experiment with a simple provocation; imagine a culture that held the metaphor, Argument is Dance. How would that culture be different? I think you can imagine that it might feel a little different.
Go ahead, think about it.
In the Writing Classroom
When we teach kids to write, are we teaching them that the metaphor ARGUMENT IS WAR is the appropriate cultural response? When we tell to defend their position with data and evidence, or to take a side in the debate, or to find the weakness in the writing, are we defending the status quo? Should schools be defenders of the status quo? Or should they stand in direct opposition to it? Or somewhere in between?
Argument is one form of discourse, true, but culturally we put a pretty high value on it. Lawyers on TV logically defending their case. Scientists creating impenetrable arguments. Politicians/activists calling on people to rally to the cause.
I believe that the ARGUMENT IS WAR metaphor creates the following problems:
(to frame this, think of an essay written by a student that is in favor using wind and solar over oil and gas)
- it perpetuates an us/them mentality, which makes teamwork hard
- it maintains a right/wrong, black/white way of viewing the world
- it simplifies complex issues into easy to digest pieces
- it closes paths to new, as-yet-unimagined solutions
- it shuts down discussion on the complexity, the webs of connections, the nested problems within problems within problems, and focusing on one piece of the whole diagram
I have no idea if there is a solution to this, or if this is even a problem, or I making a mountain out of a molehill. I do know that at times the public discourse in many advanced nations if very partisan, and this partisan arguing (war) is a huge reason that nothing changes and the status quo remains firmly entrenched. Possibly the same happens in schools.
Despite what side of the debate you find yourself on (and I am a guilty cuprit here), does arguing with another person about the issue actually help the issue, or allow it to move into a new direction? Or does it create a larger rift between the two parties? Does the ARGUMENT IS WAR metaphor get in the way of finding new, creative solutions to problems?
What if instead of arguing with each other about issues, we danced?