The argument culture urges us to approach the world--and the people in it--in and adversarial frame of mind. It rests on the assumption that opposition is the best way to get anything done. Public discourse requires making an argument for the point of view, not having an argument--as in having a fight.
In the argument culture, criticism, attack, or opposition are the predominant if not the only ways of responding to people for ideas. One of the dangers of the habitual use of adversarial rhetoric is a kind of verbal inflation--a rhetorical boy who cried wolf. What I question is using opposition to accomplish every goal. I am questioning the assumption that everything is a matter of polarized opposites, the proverbial "two sides to every question" that we think embodies open-mindedness and expansive thinking.
An agonistic response, to me, is a kind of programmed contentiousness--a prepatterned, unthinking use of fighting to accomplish goals that do not necessarily require it.
When you're having an argument with someone, you're usually not trying to understand what the other person is saying, or what in their experience leads them to say it. Instead, you are readying your response: Listening for weaknesses in logic to leap on, points you can distort to make the other person look bad and yourself look good.
Approaching situations like warriors in battle leads to the assumption that intellectual inquiry, too, is the game of attack, counterattack, and self-defense. In this spirit, critical thinking is synonymous with criticizing...if you are not provoking and confronting, then you are confirming and coddling--as if there weren't myriad other ways to question and learn. What about exploring, delving, analyzing, understanding, moving, connecting, integrating or illuminating?
The increasingly adversarial spirit of our contemporary lives is fundamentally related to a phenomenon that has been much remarked upon in recent years: The breakdown of a sense of community.
Community is a blend of connections and authority, and we are losing both. [Members] are like squabbling siblings with no authority figures who can command enough respect to contain and channel their aggressive impulses. The argument culture is both a product of and a contributor to this alienation, separating people, disconnecting them from each other and from those who are or might have been their leaders.