It is a pet peeve of mine when someone interrupts a heated discussion and suggests talking about something else, usually the weather or someone’s holiday to Japan.
Montaigne talks a lot about fierce debate in his wonderful ‘On the Art of Conversation.’ He believed it to be essential to real friendship:
I like strong, intimate, manly fellowships, the kind of friendship which rejoices in sharp vigorous exchanges just as love rejoices in bites and scratches which draw blood. It is not strong enough nor magnanimous enough if it is not argumentative, if all is politeness and art
As a result, he was well acquainted with the characters that make up these vigorous exchanges:
One goes east and the other west; they lose the fundamental point in the confusion of a mass of incidentals. After a tempestuous hour they no longer know what they are looking for. One man is beside the bull’s eye, the other too high, the other too low. One fastens on a word or a comparison; another no longer sees his opponent’s arguments, being too caught up in his own train of thought: he is thinking pursuing his own argument not yours. Another, realizing he is too weak in the loins, is afraid of everything, denies everything and, from the outset, muddles and confuses the argument, or else, at the climax of the debate he falls into a rebellious total silence, affecting, out of morose ignorance, a haughty disdain or an absurdly modest desire to avoid contention. Yet another does not care how much he drops his own guard provided that he can hit you. Another counts every word and believes they are as weight as reasons. This man merely exploits the superior power of his voice and lungs. And then there is the man who sums up against himself; and the other who deafens you with useless introductions and digressions. Another is armed with pure insults and picks a groundless ‘German quarrel’ so as to free himself from the company and conversation of a mind which presses hard on his own. Lastly, there is the man who cannot see reason but holds you under siege within a hedge of dialectical conclusions and logical formulae.
Apart from the oddness of a ‘German quarrel’ – all the Germans I know are painfully polite, especially when apologizing for their perfect English – the descriptions are eerily familiar. No?