Onus Of Criterion

     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:

  1. Anti-gunner withdraws from the argument;
  2. 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.®


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    • Toastrider on May 6, 2021 at 9:44 AM

    I actually managed to shift a friend of mine out of the anti-gun camp by pointing out how backwards it was to punish law abiding citizens while not bringing the hammer down on actual criminals. She’ll never like guns, and that’s okay, but she had enough intellectual integrity to admit there’s a real problem if you’re refusing to pass or enforce laws targeting lawbreakers while piling on additional laws targeting people who are doing nothing wrong.

    1. Sadly, that degree of intellectual integrity is becoming rare.

  1. Francis, I related my anti-gun to pro-gun change very early in my blogging career, back when I was guesting somewhere else before I established RPJ.

    Some time ago you made mention of HUMILITY being a key factor in intellectual growth, a thought I recently saw voiced in an excellent book about situational awareness.  Learning requires humility.

    At issue is this: the vast majority of people tie their views of themselves as “good people” to specific beliefs.  Challenge those beliefs, no matter what the evidence, you call into question their self-perception as good people.

    • enn ess on May 6, 2021 at 12:45 PM

    Very little, if any of the spew out of the mouths of anti-gunners pie holes has a word of fact or truth in it. They simply babble off rhetoric that they were programmed to say. And when confronted they get defensive and the usual woke, SJW, wassist, antifa/blm gun control BS begins and then they retreat, refusing to even engage in anything that just may give them credible info on the subject. And they remain small minded, never growing, never learning. Told often enough, the sun is blue, the moon is black, the earth is flat. I have no time for that.

    1. While I appreciate the comment and sympathize with your experience, it’s somewhat beside the point. I’ll agree that not many on the Left will ever actually argue for their positions. But some will — and the subject here isn’t really gun rights versus gun control, but a particular argumentative tactic.

    • ontoiran on May 6, 2021 at 11:50 PM

    see…i’m pro-gun and i’m done arguing with these anti-gun people. it’s not that they’re intellectually incapable of being reasoned with. they are in fact dishonest. i don’t know what to say to someone who doesn’t see that. my attitude now is “no” to everything.

  2. Sadly, so many of the American people are incapable of understanding, or engaging in, logical argument. They treat their passionate adherence to  their position as a measure of their ‘righteousness’.

    For them, it is impossible to engage in any measure of debate.

    It used to be more common in women; not so today. But, it is a common attribute of the non-STEM-y majority.

    Say what you will about the importance of a vocational education, and its effect on one so educated to find, hold, and prosper in jobs.

    A bigger and more meaningful offshoot of that training in problem-solving and the reasoning processes that are associated with it is the ability to follow a logical argument. In contrast, the turgid “Studies” and mushy Liberal Arts – as currently taught – only teach their students to parrot the fashionable Cant of the Day.

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