Words are the New Guns
In Praise of the Cordial, Intense Argument
A few weeks back, I had one of the most validating experience of my life.
I was at a comedy club in Brooklyn hanging with some friends after one (DJ Oolong in the hooouuuuse) performed his set for the first time. I’m not sure how it came up, but I had just re-watched Parasite and firmly believed it didn’t hold up the second time around, leaving me pretty disappointed after being utterly blown away on my first watch. One of my friend’s roommates, a self-noted film buff, believed just as strongly that it was better the second time around and one of the best movies of all time.
Needless to say, we got into a pretty intense argument. For about 10–15 minutes, we went back and forth with raised voices on the specific reasons we thought that way, referencing specific scenes and characters to back up our points. I found myself agreeing with him in some areas, and he found himself agreeing with me on mine.
I noticed that as this was happening, the other friends with us gradually stopped their conversations and gathered around us, eagerly anticipating the next point to come flying out of our mouths. In the moment, I was transported, suddenly a gladiator from the Roman age. The dingy little venue we were at suddenly became the Coliseum.
After our battle, we agreed to disagree and clinked our drinks together and kept the night flowing. However, that feeling of spectatorship was one I couldn’t quite shake that night as I made my way home. It dawned on me just how rare what happened is, especially among people our age and especially in the current intellectual climate. Nowadays, argument is seen as a threat to our personal ability to perceive the world rather than what it is: a wholly impersonal attempt at truth-seeking.
Humans are hypocritical by nature. We think we want to grow, we even say we want to be challenged, but when push comes to shove we retreat into our caves of familiarity and self-defined ideology. The internet has definitely made it easier to stay in these caves, but it didn’t create that impulse. Our desire to intellectually self-protect has always been there. The more this has become clear to me, the more I’m beginning to see that my deepest friendships are the ones with those where we respect each other’s differences, not the ones with people I'm super similar to or agree with 100% on. Even when meeting new people, both platonically and romantically, one of the biggest things I look for is the ability to disagree and emerge from disagreement respectfully.
I recently finished The Coddling of the American Mind, a famous read among those in the “freedom of speech is dying”camp co-authored by social psychologist Jonathan Heidt and lawyer Greg Lukianoff. It had been on my list for a while and I began reading it a couple days after that argument. I ended up skimming the whole thing because I already knew the answer — that back and forth about a movie had given me more intellectual thrill of putting myself out there, risking being wrong, than any “debate” I had in high school or college.
Unlike then, where my word was depersonalized in the attempt of avoiding bias, where I had to say “what the author was intending” and avoid using I-statements in essays & papers, in that moment I was fully standing on my sword and prepared to fall on it.
That’s very much a lost art. Just as I’ve written in the past that I’ve grown up in ways I didn’t know I had to since I moved to NYC, that argument revealed another to me — truly standing for (and testing) what you believe in. I really do think we’d be able to work out some of our societal (and individual) kinks if we were all more empowered to do that. Let me know if you agree.