A weird-looking phrase, eh what? I first encountered it in Michael Emerling’s recorded talk on “The Essence of Political Persuasion.” The tactic he described was a real eye-opener – and smashingly relevant to conditions today.
The “onus of criterion” tactic relies upon your adversary’s unwillingness to admit that there’s no imaginable evidence that he would accept for your position. Let’s see it in a gun-rights versus gun-control setting:
Pro-gunner: You hold that allowing law-abiding citizens to carry handguns would result in an increased murder rate?
Anti-gunner: That’s my position.
Pro-gunner: What evidence, if I could provide it to you, would persuade you that that’s not the case?
Anti-gunner: (senses a trap): I can’t think of anything that would do that.
Let’s pause right there. Anti-gunner fears to be confronted with evidence that would undermine his position. In part, that’s because he might look as if he hasn’t studied the issue, and in part it’s because he dislikes being proved wrong. One way or another, he’s “refused to cooperate” – which opens him to a devastating counter:
Pro-gunner: But if there’s no possible evidence that would open your mind to the possibility that you’ve been misled, your position is unfalsifiable – an article of faith! Isn’t it clear that no one can argue with you on that basis?
Anti-gunner is, as our British cousins would say, “wrong-footed.” Here’s a typical attempt to recover…and an elegantly simple riposte:
Anti-gunner: But there’s plenty of evidence that gun control saves lives!
Pro-gunner: I’m willing to discuss that evidence with you – but on the condition that you accept that the opposite evidence would support my position. Will you accept that?
There are now two paths forward:
- Anti-gunner withdraws from the argument;
- Anti-gunner concedes that evidence opposite to what he can present would support Pro-gunner’s views.
Sad to say, these days the first path is the more common one. However, even if Anti-gunner elects the second path, he’s still likely to dismiss even the best-founded, best-confirmed evidence against his position as “unreliable” or somehow tainted. It’s one of those issues.
I mention this today because, while the Left more often than not refuses to argue for its positions, there are still some Left-leaning persons who will try (at least) to argue for their stances on particular issues. Gun control is only one such.
Getting argument restarted is essential to cooling the ever-hotter hostilities between Left and Right. People who agree to argue, with evidence and reasoning supreme over emotion and association, have implicitly agreed not to fight. If a fight should break out anyway, it’s almost always evidence of bad faith: i.e., that someone entered the argument “with his fingers crossed.” Such a person is determined never to admit to error regardless of whatever evidence and logic might be marshaled against his position.
Sadly, the “compact and unified church” (Eric Hoffer) that enfolds so many on the Left renders them too fearful of losing the approval and society of their like-minded acquaintances to entertain the serious possibility that they might be (gasp!) wrong about a few things. Modern Leftism really is more like a faith than a set of reasoned positions united by a rational ideology. That’s probably the reason for their “La-la-la-la I can’t hear you!” attitude toward anyone who confronts them on their claims. Got to preserve the welcome and good will of the right (meaning the Left) people!
Just something to think about over your Cheerios.®