Monday, February 07, 2011
Over at the Endeavour, John Cook has commented a few times on a common type of acrimonious dispute he calls a "Ford-Chevy argument." In the first of these posts, he generally describes the type of argument.
[A] Ford-Chevy argument is an emotionally charged debate over the merits of two similar things with each side fiercely loyal to its position. These arguments look silly to outsiders but are serious to insiders. We all have our Ford-Chevy topics.Save for the last of these, the dispute is over something of practical value and it is not always completely clear to those having the argument what the relevant standard of value is, for purposes of drawing a comparison. For purposes of my further discussion here, let's omit things (like favorite sports teams) for which a choice is usually only a matter of taste, and let's also set aside the fact that taste can influence choices about things that do have practical ramifications.
Have you ever gotten into a Mac versus PC argument? Emacs versus vi? Your favorite programming language versus some inferior language? How about your profession versus some rival profession? Your favorite sports team versus a competitor?
The point about having a clear standard of value for such comparisons I bring up on my own, having seen Leonard Peikoff immediately address it when asked whether he regarded Ayn Rand or Aristotle as the "greatest" philosopher. Interestingly, as Cook points out in another post (and Peikoff shows in his answer), it is common for one of the things being compared to be better or worse than the other in different ways:
[I]f one alternative were uniformly better than all others, word would get out. These arguments rage because they involve comparisons along multiple (often implicit) criteria and no alternative is simultaneously better by all criteria.The need to be clear about a standard for comparison is, however, just one of the many things that can make such arguments unnecessarily charged. Poor communication can contribute, but so can something else: Cook quotes programmer Thomas Gideon on one (in the context of high tech), which I think could occur, at least initially, even between good communicators who are on the same page about the basis for comparison:
[F]eature differences, ones that may paint your chosen tool in an unflattering light, can make you defensive without realizing it. ... how much effort you put in is being called into question, and to a degree, if only subconsciously, your intelligence or judgment may also be questioned by implication. [Cook's bold]In such a case, it behooves one to satisfy oneself one way or the other whether the other side is right to raise such a question: There is plainly new information of some kind lurking around.
Today: (1) Minor edits. (2) Added a clarifying comment.