The Argument Culture

Dr. Deborah Tannen argues that American discourse has become suffused with conflict and that this “argument culture” fosters an adversarial frame of mind. THE ARGUMENT CULTURE: MOVING FROM DEBATE TO DIALOGUE is filled with examples of the warlike metaphorical language that is heard every day: the war on drugs, the war on cancer, the battle of the sexes, turf battles among politicians.

Her early chapters focus on the media, showing how programs such as CROSSFIRE deliberately frame all issues in terms of diametrically opposed sides. The result, she says, is that the quality of information received is compromised.

In the arena of politics, Tannen points out the increasingly warring mentality, whether at election time, during confirmation hearings, or immediately following the president’s State of the Union address when an “opposition response” must always be presented.

She says that litigation tries to solve problems by deliberately pitting one side against another, and finds typical patterns of aggressive responses in a range of settings, including schools and academia.