The Value of Disagreement

The title kind of says it all – Not only is disagreement something to be “put up with” it is, in fact, a necessary ingredient to any society that wishes to exhibit a thriving intellectual life and true freedom of speech. Not a necessary evil, but a necessary good.

But our present society begs to differ…

You disagree, now what

My wife teaches a grade 2 class. They were learning a song which another teacher (I’ll call her Mrs. Smith) had begun teaching them on a day when my wife was away from school. As they were going over the words, my wife was teaching them a slightly different wording than the other teacher had taught them. Continue reading

Jimmy Kimmel, GMOs, and the art of knowing what you’re talking about

Jimmy Kimmel had his staff interview average people on the street who opposed Genetically Modified Organisms. He asked two very basic questions; why do you oppose GMOs and what do the letters G-M-O stand for? Sounds kind of similar to the two basic questions everybody should be able to answer about their own beliefs, and about the beliefs of those they disagree with, as I describe in Arguing with Friends. How well do these anti-GMO folks do in answering these two questions?


A Proposal: Schedule Thought

Here’s a modest proposal; schedule your thought life. One will be far better equipped to engage in conversations with others about life’s biggest questions if they have actually given some time to thinking about, and researching, those questions.

A child’s use of logic

My wife gave my daughter a chore. After several minutes my daughter came down from her room to negotiate with my wife.

“You need to come and help me do my job.” (I should mention that she has a difficult time completing chores unless she gets a LOT of help).

She continued before my wife had a chance to respond.

“You cannot just tell me what I’m supposed to do without helping me do it. That’s like the evil step-mother in Cinderella. You need to help me.”

I had a tough time containing my laughter as I overheard this, but it reminded me that logic and reason are not some kind of social construct that gets imposed on humanity as we grow up, but they are tools inherent to the human thought process. If I were to take her reasoning and spell it out slightly more formally it might look like this.

  1. You gave me instructions for chores that I am required to do, but you have not offered to help.
  2. Cinderella’s step-mother gave Cinderella instructions for chores that she was required to do, but Cinderella’s step-mother did not offer to help.
  3. What Cinderella’s step-mother did was wrong, therefore,
  4. What you did was wrong.

It’s a classic argument from analogy. Of course, there’s more to the equation than her simplistic Disney-inspired interpretation of the facts, but I’m actually quite proud of her for eloquently articulating her perspective, and providing reasons for it. She negotiated well for her age.

And I enjoyed getting a good chuckle out of her negotiation tactics. Oh, the innocence of children…