It occurred to me recently that, though it happens to just about everybody, not everyone can tell so easily that they have somehow found themselves in a critically pointless argument. Some people continue on with the argument for hours, being unaware of the futility of said argument and the hopelessness of any sort of resolution. I therefore decided to write this primer to maybe help a little.
Why Do Pointless Arguments Exist?
One might think that in theory, at least, pointless arguments should not exist at all. After all, we have but a short and finite time to live on this earth – and seeing as we can hardly agree on what happens after we leave it, we may as well try to make the time we have as pleasant as possible, right? Part of making the time we have here quite pleasant would seem to include the avoidance of pointless arguments. So how is it that these trivial, useless, ultimately insignificant arguments come about? I think it all comes down to the perception of the people who initiate the argument.
As an analogy, let us analyze the average carnival or fair attendant. They might approach a carnival game with the anticipation that they are going to win a large plush animal. Even if the odds are largely stacked against the person, they don’t hesitate to put down their money in the pursuit of getting said large plush animal. If the person really thought that they didn’t have any chance of getting the animal, there is no way that they would put down their hard earned money (or the money of a parent, loving significant other, etc.) in exchange for the chance to win the animal.
Nine times out of ten, the person necessarily thinks that they are going to give over a couple of quarters and, a short game later, will walk away with a humongous stuffed dolphin or bear of some sort – obviously, not the vampire bear sort of bear, but a bear nonetheless. Ten or so minutes later and most people have given several dollars worth of quarters and they have no bear to show for their efforts.
So too goes the pointless argument. The person who initiates the argument is convinced that they are absolutely right and the person with whom they are sparring is more or less wrong; sometimes absolutely wrong; and they feel they have to go at it like a woodsman cuts at a tree until it is comfortably sitting in somebody’s fireplace. I was recently discussing politics – quite a volatile topic these days, it seems; I mentioned how humorous it was that Jimmy Carter seemed surprise at the lack of security detail given to him for his visit to Israel.
The person then suddenly came out with this pointless argument: “Well, you know that Barack Obama is best friends with Jimmy Carter, right?” I felt the immediate need to bring out the defensive maneuvers – that was clearly a mistake because it was nothing more than a pointless argument. I should have realized it from the very beginning, but I didn’t and I came out the worse for the wear. Let us now look a little more carefully at pointless arguments and how to recognize them.
Recognizing a Pointless Argument from 200 Meters
I have to give credit to Monty Python’s Flying Circus for that subject heading. Before you will be able to extricate yourself from a pointless argument it is tantamount to be cognizscant of the fact that you are, in fact, in a pointless argument and not a simple one which will eventually see some sort of a resolution. The key example I can give is the one that I had with the person about Obama and Jimmy Carter.
When my defense came up I began by immediately dismissing the argument, stating that it was ridiculous since Barack Obama has and always has been a tremendous supporter of Israel and its right to defend itself against the hostile forces which wish to decimate the populace of the small nation. The retort was merely a repetition of the statement that Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama are great friends. Nothing was said that had not been said before and my point, though not invalidated, was not brought to point.
When I reiterated Obama’s commitment to Israel that was rebuffed with a simple “that’s not true!” and more repetition of the primary argument, along with “proof”; that being that the person had read about it in the news. After hearing all of this, I realized that I was critically in a pointless argument.
I realized that absolutely nothing I said was making impact on the other person, and the other person wasn’t so much using logical arguments as repetition of the same invalid arguments over and over again. That is one of the hallmarks of a pointless argument – it’s akin to two sumo wrestlers of equal might pushing against one another: neither is going to budge in the other direction and at the end of the match they will be exhausted and not winners.
Getting Out of a Pointless Argument
There are numerous ways to get out of a pointless argument, but I will only mention a few of them. The first is to simply end the topic completely – this is what I chose to do and I think it can be the best route. I just said that I didn’t want to continue talking about the subject anymore and so it ended right there. There are so many more pleasant things to talk about with a person about whom you care, so why choose to discuss something that is just going to create animosity between you when nothing will be resolved through discussing it?
Another way to end a pointless argument, though a bit more harsh, is to end the conversation entirely. This can be accomplished in more or less subtle ways, such as indicating that you have a crisis to fix (there are always non-literal fires to be extinguished somewhere) or just saying that you are frustrated with having the argument and that you don’t want to continue talking any longer. Then, of course, there is hanging up the phone – that only seems to work when you are having the argument on the phone, however.
Now that you know that there is a good chance you could find yourself in a pointless conversation and you have some ideas on how to get out of it, might there be a chance that you have ever initiated a pointless conversation? Sometimes all the warning signs are right in front of you, and you just don’t notice because you’re deep in the middle of it. When you find yourself having a conversation that sounds a lot like the argument clinic it may just be time to pull back and take a breath.