Metaphors and Arguments

Arguments are like war. 

We’re taught to win arguments.

Which is why we frame arguments like war. We do this unconsciously.

The evidence is in our language. 

Look at the metaphors we use. Examples: 

  • “I demolished his argument.”
  • “His criticisms were right on target.”
  • “He shot down all of my arguments.”

All war metaphors.

When we start battling, we stop learning. When we frame arguments like war, we see the other person as an opponent. Somebody who must be defeated.

When all we care about is winning, we forget the most important thing: TRUTH.

We’re taught to “straw man” the other person’s argument. 

We try to make the other person’s perspective as weak as possible. We laugh about their ideas and try to destroy them. It’s a zero-sum conversation: Somebody wins, somebody loses. 

Instead, we should “iron man” the other person’s argument. 

Assume the other person is smart and sophisticated. Adopt their perspective. Work with them. Make their argument as strong as possible. Ask them to help you with yours. Work towards truth — together. 

Reminds me of an excellent quote from Charlie Munger: “I never allow myself to have an opinion on anything that I don’t know the other side’s argument better than they do.” 

And another one from Tyler Cowen: “Don’t spend time telling yourself you’re right and other people are wrong. Try to talk about other people being wrong as little as possible.”

Seek truth. This perspective shift has massive benefits:

  • Deeper empathy
  • Better relationships
  • Faster rate of learning

“Ego is about who’s right. Truth is about what’s right.” — Mike Maples

In argument, we find out who is right; in conversation, we find out what is right.