Are you making a point? Or just making noise?

Arguing effectively means convincing - not “owning”

By Morf Morford, Tacoma Daily Index

When it comes to the toddlerization of our language, I have a nominee for the most vacuous and empty phrase of our era – or at least the decade; “Owning the libs”.

In a previous era, when words held relatively stable, literal meanings, the word “own” implied responsible ownership, as in when one “owned” a car or a pet. “Owning” presumed a high level of care and attention to maintenance. Which, is, of course very close to the exact opposite of how the term is often used.

“Lib”, of course, refers to “liberal” or “liberty” (as in freedom). The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines liberal as “a person who believes that government should be active in supporting social and political change”. You can see a fuller background of the word “liberal” here.

The whole idea of “Owning the libs” is self-contradictory. “Lib” after all, refers to freedom – the opposite of being “owned”. But this phrase, like most slogans of any era, has little if any connection to literal meaning.

Who needs a message?

As with many phrases and slogans of the past several years, irony and sarcasm are difficult, if not impossible to sift out of the intent or meaning of almost any statement or article.

In most situations, speakers or writers seem to know that they are present to confirm, certainly not challenge the beliefs, assumptions and stereotypes of their audience.

Audiences of talk shows and political rallies (or even most church services) don’t want to be confronted with their own failings or biases – but they do want to be assured that they, and only they, know the “truth” and how the world is supposed to work.

And if, logical, persuasive arguments are too much work, or don’t have the desired effect, “owning” as in insulting and antagonizing those one does not agree with is good enough.

Who needs a message, when you can insult and attack a victim that, in most cases is not present, and in many more cases, does not even exist.

“Owning the libs”, perhaps like the equally amorphous entity “antifa”, is less an identifiable act or set of policy goals or values than an ethos, a way of life, even something like a civic religion – a clarion call to a shared vision of, if nothing else, a common enemy. And that enemy is the “woke mob”, Critical Race Theory, Disneyland or M&M’s, or pink hair or any other fodder for the culture warriors tantrum of the month club.

…Sound and fury, signifying nothing. -William Shakespeare, Macbeth

“Owning the libs” is a way of asserting identity, territorial control, and of course, community. Or at least a “tribal” or even adrenaline driven definition of community.

Antagonizing and polarizing fellow citizens is an odd way, to put it mildly, of building community. And, to put it simply, it is a terrible political or business strategy. If your goal and intent is to generate headlines, retweets and YouTube views, as opposed to achieving policy goals, noise, as every toddler knows, is the way to get, and keep, constant attention.

Who needs a substantial or convincing argument when all your audience seems to expect or want to see is yet another cantankerous pity party and public tantrum?

In contrast to our history and America’s identity, in most cases, as being central and moderate, political figures seem to get a lot of milage out of stark and ever more reductive contrasts pitting us against each other. And their arguments, for some at least, are even more appealing now.

It is my rule never to take a side in any part in the quarrels of others, nor to inquire into them. I generally presume them to flow from the indulgence of too much passion on both sides, & always find that each party thinks all the wrong was in his adversary. These bickerings, which are always useless, embitter human life more than any other cause… -Thomas Jeffeson

As our political season heats up, one principle, at least among the “win at any cost” crowd, is that no statement is too inflammatory.

Maybe it just my personal style, but I don’t find smug hatred, condescension, contempt and stoking the ugliest impulses of one’s audience to be leading us toward what we all need, and presumably want – an elevated, respectful national discourse on issues that impact us all.

Attacking others may be fun, even cathartic, but when the whole nation (and beyond) gets involved with a destructive “blame everybody else” race to the bottom, nothing gets done.

For shock-jocks, political or otherwise, our airwaves and screens become distracting entertainment camouflaged or substituted as policy.

We love those shiny objects

We have come to expect performative exaggerations of social and cultural shifts that in reality have little or no tangible impact upon the daily lives of virtually any of us.

How may of us, for example, have actually been affected by an undocumented immigrant (or had their “job” taken by one) or has an encounter with a transgender child playing sports?

In short, our political arena, our media and far too many conversations have become scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy, even the humanity, of its political opposition. This is never a good sign of a nation, a community or even any relationship.

In our current scene, everything, from soup to shoes to the car we drive, has become a litmus test for some unstated and only vaguely confirmed agenda.

We’ve gotten accustomed to a high level of rage and noise. Standard administration (with minimal scandal or malfeasance) will probably seem boring to us from now on.

But as my doctor says about personal health and medical history, boring is good.

Maybe I’m strange and perverse, but I’ve always thought there was something sexy about a compelling argument. -Therese Doucet, A Lost Argument

The purpose of any argument, in any relationship, is to convince the opposing person to agree with you, not to defeat or antagonize them. Entrenching one’s self, or the other, in a non-negotiating self-defensive mode accomplishes nothing.

Establishing common ground and common purposes facilitates progress and accomplishments far beyond the original scope of the discussion.

In any speech or argument or editorial opinion, we have the constant choice between making our opponents near-permanent adversaries or companions in pursuit of shared goals.

We all want a stable, safe, productive, decent and fair society that offers opportunity equally to all, don’t we?