Stepping outside the system

From: Reed Konsler (
Date: Sat 24 May 2003 - 08:21:05 GMT

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    Well, I still don't agree with you.

    But, I've seldom observed two men getting into an argument and one saying to the other "oh, yes I'm sorry, you're right. I must have been mistaken after all."

    Men don't like asking for directions. We do like winning bets.

    There is a deep biological imperative to appear right, to win. It is not so important, biologically, to BE right. Agreement on what a best answer to a question is benefits the group. Appearing to be right benefits the individual.

    Appearing to win makes a man feel like his status has been elevated. Serotonin is released. He puffs out his chest and struts around. 'Who tha MAN!" Appearing to be wrong leads to a drop in serotonin, sulking, and a loss of interest. 'Oh, big deal.'

    Alpha males win conflicts. He that wins the conflict is the Alpha male. The Alpha male attracts more women and thus his genes are more successfully replicated. This is why males are so incredibly compeditive.

    Theories and stands are vehicles for competition. The truth of them, in the heat of battle, is irrelevant. Once a man has locked horns he has to win, or suffer the very real biochemical and social consequences of defeat. Everything is bent to that purpose, to win.

    At times in my past, I have found myself arguing positions passionately and, quite suddenly, realizing that I was wrong. It was a terrible feeling becuase I kept arguing but felt that, inevitably, the facts and logic of the situation were going to defeat me.

    This happened often with my father when I was a teenager. I wasn't much different that a chimp, really. Hormones were raging and my desire to win, to dominate, exploded. So I argued and argued. The thing I love about my father was his incredible patience. He just talked to me in a calm tone of voice. The more agitated I became the slower he spoke, and the simpler language he used. He knew, instinctively, that I was loosing my grip on any sort of logic or coherence and he changed his style to accomodate it.

    The thing that frustrated me about my father is, he was so God Damn adamant. He was even, and this was much worse, bemused. I entertained him. And he wasn't going to let me out once I had started. He just talked calmer and slower as I dissolved into irrational screaming. His mind just pressed down on mine until every thread was crushed. It left me crying and shaking.

    The thing I love about my father was that, when it was all over, he would sit close to me and tell me that he loved me. He would tell me that I shouldn't get so upset about something so unimportant. He never laughed at me or lorded his victories. Once it was all over, he never reminded me...not even in the course of the next argument we would have. He never told me that I was stupid, just that, in this case, I was wrong.

    What I find kind of satisfying, and what my father also finds satisfying, is that we still argue. It's still fun for him. And, now that I have my own home, family, and's fun for me, too. We'll talk and talk.

    The thing is, I've still never won a single argument. I've won a bet, sure. But he has never, ever said to me "oh, yes I'm sorry, you're right. I must have been mistaken after all." The best I've ever recieved is twenty dollars and a "I'll get you next time" smile.

    Of course, he doesn't win either. We eventually get distracted by food, or need to go somewhere with our wives.

    Men don't admit defeat.

    What we do, secretly at night when no one is watching...we think about what has been said. That is where 'truth' is made. Sometimes, it's even subconscious...particularly if we adopt another's idea as a whole. If it's secret, we never have to suffer the consequences of defeat.

    The creation of truth, elegance, and complexity isn't a end in itself. It's an expression of that same deep desire to win. It's an effect, not a cause. We create better theories...we learn from other order to have better weapons to win the next argument.

    Eventually, those secondary desires become detached from the biological imperative that spawned them. We start to pursue victory as an end in itself. We accept that serotonin high as the end reward instead of recognizing it as an enticement offered by our genes.

    We play to win.

    There is absolutely no chance, based on this analysis, that I will agree with you. There is absolutely no chance, based on this analysis, that you will agree with me. It really doesn't matter what the truth is, or what each of us would imagine the truth is if we weren't in the middle of the discussion.

    So, I tell you what: three years from now we can find out where each of us is on the issue. And, if we are as magnanimous as my father was with me, then whichever one of us "won" won't point out to the fact to the other.



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