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How to have an argument

Posted by Dirck on 22 December, 2010

In this season of peace, it’s worth contemplating the sort of peace that comes from more than mere unwillingness to leave the house because it’s too cold to be out stirring up trouble.  Peace that comes from a studied approach to a situation in which conflict might easily arise.

A little while ago, someone on the Fountain Pen Network sought insight as to why his Waterman 12 was damp in the front part.  My opinion suspected seepage at the joint.  Others suggested that the cap vent might be plugged, and thus a vacuum was drawing ink out of the feed.

“That is a slip-cap pen,” said I with my Mr. Expert voice in place, “and with so conical a section and an utter absence of threads, it does not need, want, nor have vents in the cap.”

“Are you sure?” asked another person to whom the Mr. Expert voice comes very easily indeed.  “I’m not strong on Watermans of that age, but I’m pretty sure there’s some kind of venting.”

Here we have the classic field of internet warfare.  Two people who know enough to feel they know a lot, with opposed notions.  An opening salvo of “No, I’m right”s, then, before we break out the big ad hominem attacks which somehow demand heredity, geography or willingness to type with the caps-lock on equates to higher knowledge?

No.  An argument, you see, in its noblest form, is a conversation which aims at the truth.  Those engaged in it must at all times be prepared to say, “Ah, there, that point dashes all of mine to the ground.  You are indisputably correct.”  I have known people, and I’m sure you have too, who would stick to their opening position regardless of photos, physical evidence, and the angry, green-glowing spirit of L. Edson Waterman flinging ink-wells at their heads.  While you may argue with people like that, you will seldom have a satisfactory argument.

Happily, most of the pen fanciers I know understand the utility of a proper argument.  It is not a war, it is a fencing bout.  After a little bit of academic chit-chat about why vents exist and the absolute need for them in screw-cap pens, I admitted that I was not entirely certain of the absence of cap-vents, and would check the pen as soon as I could be by it and examine it, with a report to follow.

Well, you know what?  There is a vent.  Right at the top.  I am slightly embarrassed to be in the wrong for as long as I was, but there’s a couple of lessons learned.  The very specific one about the presence of a single vent hole on the top of a Waterman 12’s cap (unlikely place, and fallible memory had confabulated it with an unused ring-mount on another Waterman pen) is one that will almost certainly stick precisely because I chewed it over in a reasonable argument, and made a public admission of my own error.  The more important lesson, one which I appear to be very slow in fully internalizing, is that memory is not entirely reliable– that’s why we write stuff down.

As a side note– my wife and I, so far as arguments can be said to happen at all between us, follow this path.  We may not the sort of couple that will ever get on television, but the piles of contentment we’ve got shoved into every spare corner of the house quite make up for the lack of fame.

Today’s conciliating pen: Pilot 78G
Today’s merry ink:  Noodler’s Tulipe Noir

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6 Responses to “How to have an argument”

  1. Chris Raum said

    “Well what do you know? Two typos in one book…” 😉 Sorry, couldn’t resist.

  2. […] recent mention came when I was looking at arguments– the focus of the discussion referred to there was cap-vents.  Today is about the other […]

  3. […] as one instance), and that Parkers had gotten that much more use than Sheaffers.  I repeat here the notion I mentioned previously that memory is a fallible instrument and not to be entirely relied […]

  4. […] time ago, I offered a little example of how one has a decent and productive argument, with myself in the role of The Fool.  I’ve recently been involved in another of the little […]

  5. […] the other had said, infrequently differing of opinion and I think even once or twice an argument (in its proper sense) passed, but that was it.  I have not, to my dismay, gotten to any of the various shows, meets and […]

  6. […] the weekend, I had what I would call an argument with someone on the Facebooks.  I’ll reproduce it here, with the identities expunged to […]

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