Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Arguing with alpha dog

I don't think that there is anything that can stop me in my tracks like complete and utter irrationality.

I say that because of an encounter I had with a neighbor while Carol and I were walking the dogs yesterday evening.  To give a little background on this neighbor, this was the guy who let his own dog run loose all the time, and the dog kept getting into our (fenced) back yard and beating up our dog.  After this had happened three times, we finally called the police to get him to restrain his dog.  He was ticketed (twice), and the last time, came over and yelled at us, "Nice f***ing neighbors!"  That was the last we saw of him until last night.

We saw him drive up as we walked past his house.  We had gotten a little further away, and then heard him yell, "Hey!"  We turned.  He was walking up the road toward us, so we walked back to meet him.

"So, I saw you walking past with your dogs," he said.


"My dog that used to run around.  He was kind of alpha dog of the neighborhood.  He died last year of an allergic reaction."

Thinking he might be ready to say, "It's over, let's just get along," I said, "Wow, that's terrible, I'm so sorry."

"You're the one who wanted to kill my dog."

I gaped at him.  "I didn't want to kill your dog, I wanted to keep him out of our yard."

He waved me off.  "That's not what the judge said.  The judge threatened to euthanize my dog.  Well, we now have two dogs, and I don't want you walking your dogs along the edge of my property, because they pee on the grass.  Out of respect, walk them on the other side of the road."  He then turned and stalked off.

Carol and I were speechless.  Well, not exactly speechless, because we both said a few words that, in the interest of keeping this family-friendly, I won't repeat.  My personal opinion was that he didn't like the fact that we'd challenged his status as alpha dog.  Be that as it may, the upshot of his argument, so far as I can discern, was:

1)  It was our fault that his dog came into our fenced back yard and beat up our dog, because his dog was "alpha dog."

2)  If he argued with the judge about whose fault it was, and the judge threatened him with euthanizing his dog, this was also our fault.

3)  Dog pee causes fatal allergic reactions.  In dogs.

4)  Because of #1-3, it would be "respectful" not to walk on his side of the road.

I know I'm not stupid.  I consider myself pretty quick-thinking under most circumstances -- I can argue well, I'm fairly articulate, and I have a decent working knowledge of a variety of topics.  But to watch me, confronted with this guy, you'd have thought I was a complete dunderhead.  I felt like all I did was react to what he said, and each time his next statement was such a complete non sequitur that it left me thinking, "But... but... what does that have to do with...?"  When he turned and left, I thought, "Well, I lost that argument."

Then I thought, "Argument?  This was an argument?"  To quote Monty Python, "An argument is a connected series of statements intended to establish a definite proposition."  I think the key word here is "connected."  In order to make a connected series of statements, you have to understand what the words "logically connected" mean.  Which our neighbor obviously doesn't.  Our neighbor's responses were the adult version of a second grader's retort when faced with a taunt he can't answer:  "Oh, yeah?  Well,  you're a poopyhead!"

And unfortunately, facing such complete irrationality freezes me in place, because I labor under the obviously incorrect assumption that everyone is capable of rational thought.

I wish this were a unique circumstance, but unfortunately, the world seems to be rather thickly populated by irrational people.  Everywhere you look, there are people who arrive at their thoughts, beliefs, and actions by some pathway other than rational consideration.  Now, I'm not some sort of Spock type, admitting logic as the only valid impulse, and discounting emotion entirely; in fact, I'm a pretty emotional guy.  As I said to Carol on the way home, I'd have actually understood his actions better if he'd come up to me, and said, "I hate you people because you remind me of my dog, and my dog died, and I really miss him," and then he punched me in the face.  Acting on an emotional impulse has its own internal logic, even if it sometimes leads us to do things that we later regret.  It's not exactly rational, in the strict definition of the word, but it does on some level make sense.

What I don't get, however, is someone standing there and arguing, and the argument makes no sense whatsoever, and somehow he can't see that what he's saying is just a disconnected bunch of weird statements.  It's that kind of irrationality that leaves me standing there, mouth hanging open, unable to figure out what I could possibly say.

And since I've been rendered speechless by thinking about the whole incident, I'll end with an apt quote:

"Arguing with people who have renounced the use of reason is like administering medicine to the dead."  -- Thomas Paine

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