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    Never fight a battle of wits with an unarmed person

    Who I am
    Robert Maurer
    @robertmaurer
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    "I refuse to fight a battle of intelligence with an unarmed person," said Mark Twain, a writer who went down in history for the clever irony he poured into his works and for the indomitable character that more resembled the "savage" Huck than to the "civilized" Tom. His advice will spare us many, many headaches: we should not argue with someone who does not have the tools to understand.

    To discuss, one must have the will to understand

    The discussion, understood as a constructive debate in which to exchange different ideas, can be extremely positive, even if it becomes heated. When we expose ourselves to different ideas, we can reflect and even expand our intellectual horizon. It is in the differences that we build, not in equality.



    However different and opposing the ideas may be, if there is the will to understand, the debate will be fruitful. This does not mean that one party has to convince the other by developing a "winning" argument. Sometimes it is enough to change a few ideas to foster essential understanding. Mark Twain himself said: “habit is habit, and no man can throw it out the window; if ever you can push it down the stairs, one step at a time ”.

    But for a discussion to be truly enriching, it is necessary that both parties are willing to listen to each other in an atmosphere of respect and tolerance, that there is a willingness to dialogue. In the absence of these premises, the discussion will be useless. Therefore, the golden rule is: never argue with an idiot.

    Intellectually disarmed people

    The intellectually disarmed person is not the person who does not know the subject but the one who is not willing to know it because he suffers from a profound motivated ignorance. That is, he chooses not to understand, not to know, not to deepen, not to listen ...


    This person is the victim of the confirmation bias; that is to say, he does not want to hear any opinions other than his own and is deaf to anything that does not coincide with his worldview. He pays attention to the information that confirms his views and safely avoids the rest, however reasonable, well argued or true it may be.


    With such a person, it is better not to argue because the chances of understanding are low tending to zero and those of getting angry are high tending to infinity. Starting - and continuing - a discussion with these people will lead to exhaustion. Antisthenes, the founder of cynicism, said: “in order to make those who contradict desist, it is not necessary to contradict them in our turn; it is necessary to educate him ".

    Are we less and less reasonable?

    People who hide behind their arguments and don't want to listen have always existed - and will continue to exist. However, we live in a peculiar era in which “Social media gives the right to speak to legions of idiots who previously only spoke at the bar after a glass of wine, without harming the community. They were immediately silenced, while now they have the same right to speak as a Nobel laureate. It is the invasion of imbeciles ”, Umberto Eco said.

    We live in a society of opinion, a society in which the power of the referent has vanished, giving way to the opinion of everyone - with more or less knowledge of the facts, with more or less preparation and more or less common sense.


    Obviously, the problem is not the fall of the referents since questioning the established can give rise to new paths and discoveries. Only if we take a critical attitude towards what is established can we continue to grow. The problem is when it is questioned without arguments. When opinions become attacks because there are no valid reasons to support them. When there is no will to build but only to destroy to impose an ego that desperately needs the validation of the hordes that "think" alike.


    We all have an opinion, but we must be aware that it is just that, an opinion. And that from time to time, listening to other opinions, could allow us to enrich our intellectual baggage. Because if we meet a truly wise person, a person who does not argue with someone who does not know how to listen or establish common parameters, we will have lost the opportunity to learn. And every missed opportunity is another step towards intellectual obscurantism.


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