Why we argue

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: lawrence@krubner.com, or follow me on Twitter.


I could try to spin an ev-psych just-so story about tribal status, intellectual dominance hierarchies, ingroup-outgroup signaling, and whatnot, but I’m not an evolutionary psychologist, so I wouldn’t actually know what I was doing, and the details don’t matter anyway. What matters is that this urge seems to be hardware, and it probably has nothing to do with actual truth or your strategic concerns.

It seems to happen to everyone who has ideas. Social justice types get frustrated with people who seem unable to acknowledge their own privilege. The epistemological flamewar between atheists and theists rages continually across the internet. Tech-savvy folk get frustrated with others’ total inability to explore and use Google. Some aspiring rationalists get annoyed with people who refuse to decompartmentalize or claim that something is in a separate magisteria.

Some of those border on being just classic blue vs green thinking, but from the outside, the rationality example isn’t all that different. They all seem to be motivated mostly by “This person fails to display the complex habits of thought that I think are fashionable; I should {make fun | correct them | call them out}.”

I’m now quite skeptical that my urge to correct reflects an actual opportunity to win by improving someone’s thinking, given that I’d feel it whether or not I could actually help, and that it seems to be caused by something else.

My sense is that arguing is a display behavior just like singing, dancing and mock fighting.

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