Lamps: Anger, offense should not be used as substitutes for logical arguments


Joseph Lamps, Columnist

During arguments, people often use emotional appeals like being angry or offended as means of demonstrating passion or correctness. This is a habit we need to collectively break. Strong emotions do not make points more valid, being offended does not bolster your case and being angry does not mean you care more.

I often notice people demonstrating strong emotions as substitutes for logical arguments about all sorts of issues — from casual conversation to politics. For example, throughout the primary elections, successful candidates have used anger as a means of argument to rally voters and it has been very effective. Donald Trump has blustered on about immigration and trade policy, gaining the favor of voters who are dissatisfied with their own situations. On the Democratic side, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’s platform is founding on anger over the outsized power of the wealthy elite. Candidates seem have a tendency to substitute anger for a substantive discussion of ideas.

We have a propensity to treat angry people as if their anger adds authenticity or passion and tend to believe people who stay calm care less. This is a harmful way of thinking for two reasons. First, trying to strengthen arguments by acting angry diminishes the quality of ideas. Second, being calm does not in any way imply a lack of passion and to act as if it does greatly diminishes the level of discourse.

This does not mean anger is never warranted during argument. On the contrary, anger is a natural response to unfairness and dissatisfaction. However, displaying anger for the sake of bolstering arguments is useless because negative emotions are not necessarily rational. Oftentimes they are induced somewhat arbitrarily by certain topics. For example, people are more emotionally affected by anecdotes than statistics, and more distressed by issues relevant to them personally even if other issues are larger or important to more people. The irrationality of emotion is a reason in itself to shun the practice of attempting to boost arguments with demonstrations of anger or offense.

Decent people generally try to avoid being offensive at all costs. That is why it is harmful when people argue that they are right because they are offended. Claiming to be offended is often a way of shutting down discussion and trying to add credibility to a possibly irrational claim.

Truly offensive statements are harmful and should be called out. We are all better off when people take care not to say things others may find discourteous. However, this is not a license to use the guise of offense to shut down arguments. It is important to be able to say things others may disagree with and trust that one’s arguments will be considered on their merits instead of screened for offensiveness before being considered rationally.

If people begin consciously examining arguments that sound persuasive, making sure that they are convincing purely because of good logic and not because of anger or emotional appeal, I am confident that the level of discourse in everyday life would improve. Neither making oneself angry nor acting easily offended establishes one’s truthfulness. Furthermore, it is possible to be passionate without being angry or overly offended by those who disagree.

Joseph Lamps is a Weinberg freshman. He can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.