Wednesday, June 01, 2005

To the victors, go the spoils...

I used to very much like internet message boards. I've spent countless hours, and quite a bit of money (back when unlimited internet hours were unheard of) debating every political, religious and philosophical issue known to man. I'm told that I'm quite good at it, and I know that it's true.

But I have a problem. The problem is my ego. I know that I'm very good at arguing. I know that I can win an argument with just about anyone on just about any topic. And damned if I can't do it from both sides of the fence, too. I'm a good arguer, a tremendous sophist, and not always a very good person.

One of the best things I ever learned in college philosophy class was how to be charitable in an argument. Until college, I had followed my familial school of argumentation: aim for the jugular and don't let go until their corpse has stopped twitching. In college, I saw for the first time how winning the debate is not the same thing as winning hearts and minds. It's definitely not the same as finding the truth.

I wish I'd found out in a less jarring way how always winning the fight, no matter what the cost, makes you look more like a jack ass than a genius. Thank you, Professor Jack Ass, for showing me myself in yourself.

The truth is that it's much more difficult to build a system than it is just to destroy one. Any relatively intelligent person can find at least one hole in most arguments and cling to it. It takes a real genius to build a system that's relatively immune to any old idiot's best attempt at decomposition.

That is why I'm much more quiet than I used to be, and why I tend to feel rather guilty when I fight with anyone online. I've made it my business to find the truth; to build the unassailable system. It's an impossible goal that I took on lighter than I ought have. But it beats the hell out of my old standby nihilism.