Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Words of the Day: DISAGREE & ARGUE

It absolutely boggles my mind the way in which more and more persons express disagreements and arguments.  Anymore, it is becoming less and less of how I grew up regarding them.  Some of you may be wondering why do I list both disagreements and arguments, asking, "Aren't they almost the same thing?"  Not quite.  Here are some definitions I am using as my basis for the headline of this commentary:
DISAGREE -- 1) To have or to express a different opinion; 2) To disapprove of something.
ARGUE -- 1) To give reasons or to cite evidence in support of an idea, action, or theory, typically with the aim of persuading others to share one's view; 2) To persuade someone to do/not do something by giving reasons.

We have all disagreed with someone regarding something, and we have all disapproved of something someone is doing or has done.  In its most obvious understanding, not everyone is going to agree on everything and not everyone is going to like everything everyone does. 

We have all argued with someone regarding someone about which we feel strongly.  Even if we look back at it in hindsight and say the point of the argument wasn't really that important, we still felt strongly at that time to warrant an argument.  The first definition of "argue" listed above is along the lines of a debate or a courtroom trial (i.e. closing arguments).  In conversation, we might say "If you want to argue the point that..."  That is not a sign of heated confrontation; it is merely taking up or presenting contrary positions on a particular point.   

An argument, however, can be a totally different creature altogether.  Aside from its use in debates and trials, an argument can refer to an altercation of some kind.  If turned into a physical confrontation, that would be, of course, called a fight.  Usually the argument at that point would be called a heated argument.  That leads me into my main ... well ... argument.

I'm not someone who thinks that everything decades ago was oh so better, as if it was a pseudo-utopia, where killings were practically zero, no one was gay, almost all kids were well-behaved, and the government did mostly everything right.  In many ways, things were better, yes, but not to the point of waxing nostalgic as proof.  In terms of the legal definition of over-the-line behavior, crime, things were better many a decade ago.  One might say that things are just worst.  It might even be said that as the population increases, the number of crimes exponentially increase, which is a reasonable deduction.  My argument, however, would be that a huge part of it is that we simply have more and more coverage, and far more access to that coverage 24/7, of crimes so that it appears as though things are far worse.

In fact, some statistics would bear my argument out.  According to the FBI, between 1960-2010, as the population of the United States steadily increased, crimes have not followed completely in lockstep with that rise in population.  After hitting peaks in the mid-1970s, the early 1980s, and the early 1990s, crimes against property is at its lowest level since around the late 1960s.  Violent crimes, which peaked in the early 1990s, are at their lowest level since the early 1970s.  The most serious type of violent crime, murder, which hit its peaks in the same periods as those involving property, is down to the same level at the early 1960s.

The second piece to this commentary is interpersonal.  One element has to do with ordinary citizens.  Whether it's someone or a group of persons you read or hear about or someone in your own neighborhood, maybe even from your block, the whole idea of disagreeing and arguing has turned violent.  Mind you, I still think a huge piece of this has to do with news coverage.  (More on that specifically in a moment.) 

Why do people wait in line for a store to open up -- the time it opens is irrelevant, but 3 or 4 a.m. or even midnight is ridiculous -- and then trample others while they storm in, acting like nothing more than savages?  (They are not savvy consumers; they are savages.)  Why does a grown man punch a teenager because she cut in line at a fast food restaurant?  (I've had people cut in front of me more than once and a curt tone of voice, if I say anything, or dirty look from me is what I find to be a sufficient response.)  Why do parents at a sporting game where their children are playing start a fight with the referees/umpires, with other parents, or even with the children?  Why do soccer (football) fans throughout Europe sometimes get violent at, and outside of, games with fans of opposing teams/countries?  Why do parents harm their children?  Why do children commit "adult" violent crimes?

I could go on, but these examples all come back to one answer: Too many people, in all walks of life, have been inculcated with the idea that violence is a normative expression of a disagreement or an argument with someone else.  Violence is not normative; it is extreme.  When the extreme of violence is made to be normative, then a social decline has begun.  If it continues generation after generation with no interest or insufficient effort to stop it, then it is a sure sign that society is on an irreversible downward slide.

The worst expression of such is war.  Personally, I have no vested interest in who starts a war; both sides are culpable in that horrific expression.  Look at those who come home with serious, lifelong injuries, or missing limbs, or some sort of psychological damage.  Look at all those who died -- from hundreds, maybe thousands, in border skirmishes, to tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, even millions killed in larger scale operations.  If you add up the wars the United States alone was involved, and added up from the wars of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries alone, and include only those who died in battle, you'd be approaching one million deaths.  If you count just those who were injured, you'd surpass one million.  (Keep in mind even that does not include other operations involving the U.S. military not listed as wars.)  Take those numbers and add them to the world's figures and violence as normative becomes even less "wonderful". 

All of what we see on television -- and there are other sources of this inculcation, to be sure -- is programmed.  That, in and of itself, is no major revelation, I know.  What is being programmed and why would fill up another blog posting by itself.  However, several years ago many of the major television networks in the United States began putting their news departments under their "Entertainment" banner.  Such is still the case today.  With that paradigm in place, watching the violence on television news broadcasts -- not just in series -- adds to violence as entertainment.  In terms of the Iraq war alone, keeping pictures of flag-draped coffins of those who died in combat from the American public was an attempt to keep the "entertainment value", if you will, of the war sustained while avoiding any distaste for the war to build up. 

Viewing the violence all around us as entertainment makes us no different than the Romans at the Colosseum.

Finally, let me offer this: When I was a kid in grade school and a youth in high school, the worst I or my peers ever had to worry about was someone starting a fistfight.  We didn't worry about knives and guns.  That never crossed our minds.  If it did, either no one acted on it or we never heard about it.  I remember seeing a heated argument in high school gym class one day and while the student received whatever punishment she did, no punches were thrown.  A little bit of shoving with loud arguing, but no punches, no flat-out occurrence of fisticuffs. 

We have lost our ability to disagree and argue without violence.  If this trend continues, it is one irrefutable sign that society is doomed.


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