Confessions of a Justified Arguer

I’ve adopted the word “impulsiveness”, to describe a quality I discern in my own brain activity – a sort of undirected neural charge that seems to leak out of its proper channels and cause interference. It seems to fill my head with a hiss that degrades my clarity of thought. It’s not the right word but at least it gives the sense of an interior, intangible property of mind that has real-world consequences[1].

I employ the term to describe various bits of my psycho-pathology, why, for example, before I became ill, I couldn’t walk away from any discussion. Everything had to be explored and developed to its bitter end. “Bitter” is the significant word: as a student, enlivening political debates would be corrupted by this urge. They’d degenerate into exasperated arguments, become nastier and more personal[2], as all participants refused to compromise, agree to differ, or even change the subject, even though we were all completely sick of it.

I was the worst. I wasn’t a megalomaniac: I didn’t need to win so I could glory in my triumph and superiority. I just became stuck on developing my line of argument until it was undeniably logically correct and thus undeniably convincing. I was trying to prove to myself that I had rational intelligence. I was obsessive not domineering. The ideas of logic and reason were reassuring in their neatness and order. They promised control over your world and thus safety. It’s a pity that they are both illusions.

As a teenager, this inability to let things drop led to some furious rows with my parents. If I was warned off saying something, if it would be a really bad idea, then I felt an urgent need to say it. With strangers, cowardice usually held me back, but I guess I felt safe with the Old Pair.

It was probably just truculence, combined with an anxious lack of trust in myself. I’m no different to anybody else in this respect. Nobody likes being pushed around, and everybody worries that they’re going to shout “BUM” at a funeral, or jump off a cliff, for no reason. Those are just your typical intrusive thoughts.

I thought of it as standing up for my rights. I wouldn’t back down until I was hit[3]. That seemed to mark a natural end, a resolution, because I’d refused to be intimidated by the threat of violence. Once I’d been hit, Honour was satisfied. I had successfully resisted the threat, so there wasn’t any need to continue.

A few years ago, my dad said, “You were a strange teenager. You just wouldn’t stop. It was almost like you wanted to be hit. It was like you intentionally provoked us until we hit you and then it all blew over.” I was horrified. I’d been signalling my heroic defiance exclusively for them, yet, for years, my parents had misunderstood my gestures as some weird, masochistic abnormality, my victories as a sort of necessary quelling.

  • Footnotes:

[1] And, who knows? It may have an actual electrical signature, synaptically, which would make it more real.

[2] Argumentum ad hominem

[3] They were excellent parents, but this was the 1980s. Everybody got smacked. I wasn’t physically or psychologically damaged, because I knew my parents loved me and would never take it too far. I appreciate that this was not the case for many others.

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