Argumentative essay

     

Argumentative essay

No Right or Wrong

When I first boarded that tramp steamer right out of high school, I was as sick as vomit for several weeks, but I had to work anyhow between trips to the leeward railing. I would often glance out the porthole while I was mopping below decks and wish I could be as fixed and steady as the horizon. One day, after the seasickness had subsided, I glanced out the same porthole and was startled to discover not the ship but the horizon slowly tilting back and forth. What had happened, without my knowing it, was that I had adjusted to the center of gravity of the freighter and no longer was trying to stand in relation to the center of gravity of the earth. I had broken my allegiance with the globe and tossed my fortunes in with 8,000 tons of rolling steel. Which was the true center of gravity? Is there one? When we fly into space and leave the earth behind, are we climbing or falling? If two rocks pass each other in space, can we tell if both are moving at half the relative speed, or if either one alone is doing all the moving? Science tells us that the earth circles around the sun and the moon around the earth, but if either the earth or the moon could be held still in space, wouldn't the cosmos continue to dance around them as the fixed points just the same? It is all relative. It all depends, as Clinton said, on what the meaning of "is" is. There well may be a Truth out there. I believe there is. But that does not give me, or anyone, access to it. Even Scripture was translated, and the translation still needs to be interpreted.

So once again, it bears repeating, don't worry about being "wrong." Being wrong is, at least in the humanities, almost impossible because there are no "right" answers. The academic journals are filled with new and bizarre interpretations of old favorites, and the more bizarre the theory, the more likely it is to get published and to win some clown tenure and a lifetime job grading sophomore papers. What we teachers mean with a D grade is that we find no real argument or that the argument is illogical or is not supported by evidence or perhaps is inconsistent with other evidence in the text. Sometimes it means we cannot be sure you read the right book. The English teacher who asks, "What is the meaning of this poem?" is a fool. There is no one "the meaning." There are interpretations, and there are arguments for those interpretations. That is all we really know. People who insist they really know what they are doing are fooling themselves or you or both. Only the saints who have heard directly from God know the Truth; the rest of us are stuck in the constructed dung heaps of the earth.

Poets themselves love to confess to being "inspired" ab extra, from outside themselves. "I is another," said Arthur Rimbaud. "Sing in me, muse," sang Homer, "and through me tell the story." Certain words or images were put in poems because they "felt right," but the poets often are no more certain why than we readers are. They know what they thought they were doing, but something else may have been going on of which they were totally unaware.

No argumentative essay can deny the conditional or contingent nature of consciousness. We are shaped by unconscious forces in the environment and the soul. Sometimes it is easier for a stranger to see through our best rationalizations and expose us even to ourselves. So do not fall into the trap of imagining that some hidden "right" answer exists on which all the experts secretly agree. Received opinion is often wrong and usually boring; the text is yours to interpret. It certainly helps to show that you know and understand the conventional wisdom or the professor's pet theory, but do not be afraid to go beyond it. This is as true for the social sciences; if you don't like the standard Marxist or psychological or feminist analysis, try another or try your own argumentative essay.

     
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