Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 21, No. 2, 2022
  Current Issue  
  Back Issues  
Robert J. Lewis
  Senior Editor
Jason McDonald
  Contributing Editors
David Solway
Louis René Beres
Nick Catalano
Chris Barry
Don Dewey
Howard Richler
Gary Olson
Jordan Adler
Andrew Hlavacek
Daniel Charchuk
  Music Editor
Serge Gamache
  Arts Editor
Lydia Schrufer
Mady Bourdage
  Photographer Jerry Prindle
Chantal Levesque Denis Beaumont
Emanuel Pordes
  Past Contributors
  Noam Chomsky
Mark Kingwell
Charles Tayler
Naomi Klein
Arundhati Roy
Evelyn Lau
Stephen Lewis
Robert Fisk
Margaret Somerville
Mona Eltahawy
Michael Moore
Julius Grey
Irshad Manji
Richard Rodriguez
Navi Pillay
Ernesto Zedillo
Pico Iyer
Edward Said
Jean Baudrillard
Bill Moyers
Barbara Ehrenreich
Leon Wieseltier
Nayan Chanda
Charles Lewis
John Lavery
Tariq Ali
Michael Albert
Rochelle Gurstein
Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

the anatomy of




I'd much rather have 15 people arguing about something
than 15 people splitting into two camps,
each side convinced it's right and not talking to the other.
Linus Torvalds


It is one of the least examined constants of the human condition, of human behaviour: the propensity to argue and disagree. Ever since man took his first human steps circa 300,000 years ago, human beings have been arguing and disagreeing (A & D) over almost everything. In light of the unhappiness, despair and violence triggered by A & D, we should have long ago been disposed to query why evolutionary biology saw fit to preserve -- through thick and thin, through war and pogrom – the intractable disposition. If there was a prototype of the human being that was short-changed on the A & D reflex, it didn’t make the cut: it was deselected.

Everywhere in the world men and women and even the young tots they once were argue over matters large and small, of great or no consequence, as if A & D are vampiric hungers that must be fed on a regular basis. The disposition is so insistent (primordial) that when people find themselves alone, they argue with themselves.

Many disagreements are frivolous in nature. It matters not if X and Y disagree on who is the better soccer player or musician. But even in matters of no apparent consequence, if one or the other insists s/he is right, that is infallibly right, the failure to find a consensus can result in the dissolution of the relationship and may even degenerate into violence. When nations differ over who owns a particular tract of land, or the rights to water from a river that passes through several jurisdictions, it matters very much on who prevails. In these instances, A & D are proxies in the war of words that often erupt into national and international conflicts.

Unlike all other forms of life, human beings are endowed with the faculty of choice. Where differences exist, where one choice is ostensibly better or worse than the other, people will invariably disagree and argue over what constitutes the best choice.

So we ask: what does nature intend in respect to A & D? What benefits accrue to the species as a consequence of arguing and disagreeing?

First and foremost, when one idea prevails over another, the winning side will enjoy a more advantageous position in whatever hierarchy is being contested, which is consistent with the cultivation and preservation of culture and orderly functioning of society. Secondly, A & D creates a learning environment that brings to light both the merits and demerits of the ideas under discussion which makes the entire process or exercise one of the means by which both idea and species fitness are maintained. One could argue that every argument is a contest of values.

We know that when two ideas (for ex. two opposing visions of governance, or weapon enhancement) are competing for dominance, the disagreement is instrumental in revealing the substance and nuances of the choices under consideration which greatly facilitates making the case for the fitness of one idea over the other. In the absence of disagreement (constructive debate) we are more likely to make an incorrect decision. If a tribe is debating how to best defend a territory, it is in everyone’s vital interest that the correct decision be made. The debate will encourage a discussion on the various types of attack it might face, and how best to respond.

A & D is essentially a winnowing process that enhances knowledge and understanding. But we all know of powerful, charismatic individuals who successfully push through ideas that are strictly self-serving, and frequently to the detriment of the greater good, which is not what nature intends. If we are to honour the blood, sweat and lives lost on account of A & D, it is essential that reason prevail over the egos at the table.

When two farmers argue over what irrigation method is most effective in getting the best yield of a crop, and one method is shown to be demonstrably more productive, all farmers stand to gain. However, if for one of the combatants pride is the supreme value, which prevents him from recognizing the superior argument of his adversary, the disagreement is likely to turn hostile. In such instances that are all too common in the daily affairs of man, not the wise, but the strongman wins the day, leaving the many to suffer the consequences of a flawed decision. The jaundice coloured haze that hovers like a pestilence over our cities is a rude example of the strongman (corporatism) prevailing over the wise man.

The success or failure of a relationship or marriage very often depends on being able to weather the bad weather produced by argument and disagreement. A wife feels strongly that her husband should learn a second language since a significant percentage of his clientele speaks that language and he risks losing his position to someone who is bilingual. Each presents his/her contrary views. But the husband, due to either sloth or having convinced himself that it makes no difference whether or not he speaks the same language as his client, or that he’s the man of the house and therefore the last word, refuses his wife’s arguments. If his wife proves to be correct, he will have jeopardized his employment prospects and perhaps the marriage.. But whatever the result, A & D has done its job: the issues have been articulated and the opportunities to make the correct decision maximized.

A & D is the crack in human relationships that lets the light in so that differences of opinion are exposed and stripped down to their essentials. If the wrong choice is made, and it often is, evolutionary biology cannot be blamed. A & D has done its work in that the relevant information on a given issue has been brought to bear. That reason, at this stage in human evolution, is not adequately equipped to deal with pride, vanity and the territorial imperative in the decision making process is less a failure of will than a concession to our biological pre-sets.

In our present age, A & D shines an unambiguous and ominous light on the catastrophe that awaits in the event of nuclear or biological warfare. If it is clearly in the best interest of the species that these weapons of mass destruction are never deployed, it is essential that reason, and not human frailty, has its finger on the button.

Since reason often comes out second best in matters of disputation, must we finally conclude that human nature, formed hundreds of thousands of years ago when man was living in tribes and hunting wild game in the savannahs, no longer serves the best interests of the species, and that the time has come to consider tweaking our genotype?

From Thomas More (1516) to the present, one of the constants in the design of Utopias – from the Greek ou-topos, which means no place, nowhere – is the absence of conflict (argument and disagreement). Utopias typically mistake wishful thinking for vision, for if conflict were eliminated and people always agreed with each other, not only would nothing (or indiscriminately everything) get done, all differences and distinctions would dissolve in a homogeneous relativist mist. In the real world, utopia would very quickly degenerate into dysfunctionality.

Wife to husband: I think we should eliminate red meat from family diet because of the antibiotics and toxins in the meat? OK, I agree.

Husband to wife: I think we should consume more red meat because growing children need more protein. OK, I agree.

Based on numerous on-site studies, ethology, the study of animal behaviour, makes the case that the basis for argument and disagreement predate human existence. When two animals are competing for the right to impregnate the females, the contestants are disagreeing over whose seed deserves a future hearing, which is what nature intends. If they don’t come to an understanding, they will fight, sometimes to the death. If there was only agreement among the males, and inferior males were allowed to breed, the genetic fitness of the species would be compromised over time.

In theory, our legal systems represent A & D’s greatest triumph. Justice, based on impartiality of law, rejects as inadmissible arguments or positions that are partial to power and influence. When impartiality is compromised and the results of A & D rendered null and void, resulting in an incorrect decision, both the individual and society at large suffer the consequences, which reinforces the argument that despite the stress and unhappiness left in the wake of argument and disagreement, we would be significantly worse off in their absence. Without resistance and challenge, our ideas, our way of life, will not evolve and respond to our ever changing needs.

Argument and disagreement, despite their unflattering (embarrassing) public displays, speak to the universal disposition to want the best of whatever is at stake to prevail. As a method, A & D best ensures the improvements upon which every civilization depends for its advancement.

If in the heat of battle we come to view A & D as a gauntlet that most of us would rather not run, we can take comfort in the knowledge that the most successful species thus far on earth is the one for whom A & D underwrites all its decisions and best guarantees its future. And for all of us who during the course of a lifetime will come out second best in an argument, that is the occasion to turn defeat and humiliation into an opportunity to cultivate our humility in order to better appreciate a DNA-deep disposition that can at once shatter the ego while serving the best interests of the individual and the race.



also by Robert J. Lewis:


Smashing the God Particle
The Decline of Reading

In Praise of Useless Activities

When Sex Became Dirty
Blood Meridian: (McCarthy): An Appreciation

Trump & Authencity

Language, Aim & Fire

One Hand Clapping: The Zen Koan Hoax

Human Nature: King of the Hill

The Trouble with Darwin
The Life & Death of Anthony Bourdain
Denying Identity and Natural Law
The Cares versus the Care-nots
Elon Musk: Brilliant but Wrong
As the Corporation Feasts, the Earth Festers
Flirting & Consequences
Breaking Bonds
Oscar Wilde and the Birth of Cool
The Big
Deconstructing Skin Colour
To Party - Parting Ways with Consciousness
Comedy - Constant Craving
Choosing Gender
Becoming Our Opposites
Broken Feather's Last Stand

Abstract Art or Artifice II
Old People
Beware the Cherry-Picker
Once Were Animal
Islam is Smarter Than the West
Islam Divided by Two
Pedophiling Innocence
Grappling with Revenge
Hit Me With That Music
The Sinking of the Friendship
Om: The Great Escape
Actor on a Hot Tin Roof
Being & Self-Consciousness
Giacometti: A Line in the Wilderness
The Jazz Solo
Chat Rooms & Infidels
Music Fatigue
Understanding Rape
Have Idea Will Travel
Bikini Jihad
The Reader Feedback Manifesto
Caste the First Stone
Let's Get Cultured
Being & Baggage
Robert Mapplethorpe
The Eclectic Switch

Philosophical Time
What is Beauty?
In Defense of Heidegger

Hijackers, Hookers and Paradise Now
Death Wish 7 Billion
My Gypsy Wife Tonight
On the Origins of Love & Hate
Divine Right and the Unrevolted Masses
Cycle Hype or Genotype
The Genocide Gene



Email (optional)
Author or Title








Arts & Opinion, a bi-monthly, is archived in the Library and Archives Canada.
ISSN 1718-2034


Comedy Podcast with Jess Salomon and Eman El-Husseini
Bahamas Relief Fund
Film Ratings at Arts & Opinion - Montreal
Festival Nouveau Cinema de Montreal(514) 844-2172
Montreal Guitar Show July 2-4th (Sylvain Luc etc.). border=
Photo by David Lieber:
Valid HTML 4.01!
Privacy Statement Contact Info
Copyright 2002 Robert J. Lewis