This time, Tannen tackles the adversarial culture in The Argument Culture:
This piece was given to me during one of the GP lesson when I was in junior college. Headlines blare about the Star Wars, the Mommy Wars, the Baby Wars, the Mamography Wars; everything is posed in terms of battles and duels, winners and losers, conflicts and disputes.
The best way to discuss an idea is to set up a debate. The best way to settle disputes is to litigate them.
Smashing heads does not open minds. In this as in so many things, results are also causes, looping back and entrapping us. The pervasiveness of warlike formats and language grows out of, but also gives rise to, an ethic of aggression: We come to value aggressive tactics for their own sake—for the sake of argument.
The same spirit drives the public discourse of politics and the press, which are increasingly being given over to ritual attacks. Inman, who had held high public office in both Democratic and Republican administrations, explained that he did not wish to serve again because of changes in the political climate—changes that resulted in public figures being subjected to relentless attack.
We have to write a bad story about you every day. The roots of our love for ritualized opposition lie in the educational system that we all pass through.
The teacher sits at the head of the classroom, pleased with herself and her class. The students are engaged in a heated debate. The very noise level reassures the teacher that the students are participating. Learning is going on. The class is a success. But look again, cautions Patricia Rosof, a high school history teacher who admits to having experienced just such a wave of satisfaction.
On closer inspection, you notice that only a few students are participating in the debate; the majority of the class is sitting silently. And the students who are arguing are not addressing subtleties, nuances or complexities of the points they are making or disputing. This aggressive intellectual style is cultivated and rewarded in our colleges and universities.
This creates a need to prove others wrong, which is quite different from reading something with an open mind and discovering you disagree with it.
The temptation is great to oversimplify at best, and at worst to distort or even misrepresent other positions, the better to refute them. I caught a glimpse of this when I put the question to someone who I felt had misrepresented my own work: Staging everything in terms of polarized opposition limits the information we get rather than broadening it.
For one thing, when a certain kind of interaction is the norm, those who feel comfortable with that type of interaction are drawn to participate, and those who do not feel comfortable with it recoil and go elsewhere. If public discourse included a broad range of types, we would be making room for individuals with different temperaments.
But when opposition and fights overwhelmingly predominate, only those who enjoy verbal sparring are likely to take part. Those who cannot comfortably take part in oppositional discourse—or choose not to—are likely to opt out. But perhaps the most dangerous harvest of the ethic of aggression and ritual fighting is—as with the audience response to the screaming man on the television talk show—an atmosphere of animosity that spreads like a fever.
In more common forms, it leads to what is being decried everywhere as a lack of civility. It erodes our sense of human connection to those in public life—and to the strangers who cross our paths and people our private lives.
Today we still pretty much live a society where you must attack others to prove that you are correct or better than others. The best to resolve a conflict is still keep arguing until one side surrender.Agonism in academic discourse§ Deborah Tannen Linguistics Department, Georgetown University, Box , Washington DC , USA Abstract The pervasiveness of agonism, that is, ritualized adversativeness, in contemporary western academic discourse is the source of both obfuscation of knowledge and personal suﬀering in academia.
Deborah F. Tannen On the C-SPAN Networks: Deborah F. Tannen is a Professor for the Linguistics of the Georgetown University with five videos in the C-SPAN Video Library; the first appearance was a. Deborah Tannen () in her essay is expressing her doubts about the usefulness of the argumentative approach favored in America.
In her view, “the ritual nature of much of the opposition that pervades our public dialogue” can be disruptive, turning any public dialogue into a vehement crash instead of search for compromise and conciliation.
D M Eng September 25, How Male and Female Students Use Language In her article “How Male and Female Students Use Language Different,” The Chronical of Higher Education, June , Deborah Tannen uses the focus of gender to acknowledge the variances that occur between male and female conversation styles that happen during classroom discussions.
The Argument Culture Let’s Look At All Sides Deborah Tannens, “The Argument Culture,” is an essay in which she voices her concern that our culture “urges us to approach the world, and the people in it, in an adversarial frame of mind” ().
Ms. Tannen discussed her book, The Argument Culture: Moving from Debate to Dialogue, and responded to audience telephone calls, faxes and electronic mail. The book examines why humans view the world as primarily adversarial.