I cannot count the number of times that my mother would shout “STOP ARGUING!” at one or more of my siblings and me.
Years later I learned that ‘argument’ had more meaning than was contained in those youthful experiences.
I obtained an engineering degree and then later studied philosophies before I learned the much broader and important meaning of the word ‘argue’. When I studied “Logic 101”, in philosophy class, my worldview expanded significantly. I did not realize until later that this expansion of my worldview was to change my life completely.
It seems to me that the forum members who participate in a thread approach the experience invigorated with much the same attitude as does a boxer entering the ring or a soldier going into battle.
Metaphor entailments (to transmit or to accompany) we live by:
He attacked my argument.
I have never beaten this guy in an argument.
If you do not agree with my statement then take your best shot.
I shot down each of his arguments.
We approach a forum response much like we approach a physical contest. We have a gut feeling about some things because our sense of correctness comes from our bodies. Our “gut feeling” often informs us as to the ‘correctness’ of some phenomenon. This gut feeling is an attitude; it is one of many types of attitudes. What can we say about this attitude, this gut feeling?
Metaphors We Live By, a book about cognitive science coauthored by Lakoff and Johnson, says a great deal about this attitude. Conceptual metaphor theory, the underlying theory of cognitive science contained in this book, explains how our knowledge is ‘grounded’ in the precise manner in which we optimally interact with the world.
“The essence of metaphor is understanding one kind of thing in terms of another…The metaphor is not merely in the words we use—it is in the very concept of an argument. The language of argument is not poetic, fanciful, or rhetorical: it is literal. We talk about arguments that way because we conceive of them in that way—and we act according to the way we conceive of things.”—Lakoff and Johnson
Let us say that in early childhood I had my first fight with my brother. There was hitting, shoving, crying, screaming, and anger. Neural structure was placed in a mental space that contained the characteristics of this first combat, this was combat #1. Six months later I have a fight with the neighbor kid and we do all the routine thing kids do when fighting.
This is where metaphor theory does its thing. This theory proposes that the characteristics contained in the mental space, combat #1, are automatically mapped into the mental space that is becoming combat #2. The contents of combat #1 become a primary metaphor and the characteristics form the fundamental structure of mental space combat #2.
This example applies to all the experiences a person has. The primary experience is structured into a mental space and thereafter when a similar experience is happening the primary experience becomes the primary metaphor for the next like experience. This primary metaphor becomes the foundation for a concept whether the concept is concrete experience or abstract experience.
What I am saying is that for some reason the Internet discussion forum member considers engaging in a forum thread is a competition, it is a combat, and the primary combat metaphor is mapped into the mental space of this forum experience and thus the forum experience takes on the combat type experience. It seems to that is why lots of forum activity gets very combative.
Is it any wonder that the adrenalin starts pumping as soon as we start reading the responses to our post?
Do you feel like you are in a battle with me after reading my claims?
Is this why most replies are negative?
Another way that argument resembles war is that both in war and in arguments there is a great deal of bluff and bluster with little intellectual activity.