"Let's Agree to Disagree." I Don't Agree to That.

Under what circumstances would I agree to disagree?

"Let's Agree to Disagree." I Don't Agree to That.

Argumentation can get tiresome. While the Socratic ideal would have us stay stoically emotionally uninvested in our points of view, and would keep us from resorting to ad hominem attacks, the ideal is a bit, well... idealistic. Sometimes, disagreement about facts just leads to charged conflict between people.

The best response to this, and here I really don't think I'm guilty of overambitious optimism, is to identify and clarify what the point at issue really is, and to concertedly stay conscious of the fact that people are not their individual beliefs, and that it is alright to have been wrong about facts. If people can manage that, they can have disagreements without conflict. Or, they can achieve the same effect if they simply accept that conflict is not necessarily bad so long as it ends and has a reasonable expectation of getting somewhere.

But most people are not so high-minded. Much of the time, people simply want to bury the hatchet (which is perfectly well admirable, except that a disagreement is really a lot more like a land mine than a hatchet in that regard).

So they resort to the old chestnut of "Why don't we agree to disagree." (I neglect to use a question mark because it is never said with that inflection. It is not really a question, it is a demand, and a cravenly presented one at that. Impolite, really.)

But it's rather anticlimactic, isn't it? I am reminded of a joke: "There are two types of people: those who don't need closure."

In fact, the nature of disagreements, if they are genuine disagreements is that we disagree whether we assent to it or not. To disagree, at least two people must have at least two beliefs, and those beliefs must be incompatible.

Things are incompatible by virtue of their containing a contradiction. Contradictions are endemic to the concepts themselves. If I happen to believe that all school buses are red, and you believe that they are all yellow, our agreeing to disagree affects the facts that we have incompatible views not at all.

Not to be overly literal. I know that people who say this don't think that it really settles the discussion. They want merely to avoid conflict. But it is the height of bad manners to not only interrupt somebody, but also to interrupt them to tell them that they can not and may not go on expressing themselves, lest they offend the holy rules of social grace and the satisfy the insane need of the un-argumentative to "keep everyone happy".

Who, anyway, is the graceless and conflicted one in the situation, he who happens to have an opinion which is conceptually incompatible with someone else's, or he who would rather censor a discussion than be challenged?

The dissonance that goes with disagreement is a tension, sure. But it is certainly better to relieve a tension than to ignore it.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

A brief history of human dignity

What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.

Credit: Benjavisa Ruangvaree / AdobeStock
Sponsored by the Institute for Humane Studies
  • Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
  • That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
  • We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
Keep reading Show less

Mathematical model shows how the Nazis could have won WWII's Battle of Britain

With just a few strategical tweaks, the Nazis could have won one of World War II's most decisive battles.

Photo: Heinrich Hoffmann/ullstein bild via Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • The Battle of Britain is widely recognized as one of the most significant battles that occurred during World War II. It marked the first major victory of the Allied forces and shifted the tide of the war.
  • Historians, however, have long debated the deciding factor in the British victory and German defeat.
  • A new mathematical model took into account numerous alternative tactics that the German's could have made and found that just two tweaks stood between them and victory over Britain.
Keep reading Show less

New data reveals Earth closer to a black hole and 16,000 mph faster

A new study shows our planet is much closer to the supermassive black hole at the galaxy's center than previously estimated.

Position and velocity map of the Milky Way Galaxy.

Credit: NAOJ
Surprising Science
  • A Japanese radio astronomy project revealed Earth is 2,000 light years closer to the supermassive black hole at the Milky Way's center.
  • The data also showed the planet is moving 7 km/s or 16,000 mph faster in orbit around the Galactic Center.
  • The findings don't mean Earth is in more danger from the black hole but reflect better modeling of the galaxy.
  • Keep reading Show less

    How has technology changed — and changed us — in the past 20 years?

    Apple sold its first iPod in 2001, and six years later it introduced the iPhone, which ushered in a new era of personal technology.

    PEDRO UGARTE/AFP via Getty Images
    Technology & Innovation
    Just over 20 years ago, the dotcom bubble burst, causing the stocks of many tech firms to tumble.
    Keep reading Show less
    Surprising Science

    The magic of mushrooms: A mycological trip

    A biologist-reporter investigates his fungal namesake.

    Scroll down to load more…