Rhetorical Martial Arts -- Part B: Tactic #10 The False Premise
Copyright Futurescapes21C. All rights reserved. 2019.
Posted March 13, 2019, rev. March 14, 2019
I don't "jump" to conclusions; some take me decades of digging and reflection to reach. One is that conservatives, traditionalists and the common sense majority have been beaten into submission and sidelined in the culture war by neoliberal activists and their political enablers. Dissenters or resisters, as we might refer to ourselves, have for the most part been waging ineffectual rear guard actions. While there are no doubt several reasons for this state of affairs, the most obvious has been an inability to counter the relentless bombardment of lies, weaponized language and deception. Let's face it; we have been losing the war of words. Given that dissenters now find themselves struggling to retain the basic right to express an alternative view, it's clear we have no choice. We must fight back.
Our counter action must begin by demanding of ourselves a higher calibre of political debate. Achieving that requires a basic understanding of the kinds of logical fallacies being brought against us. This week, I am examining tactic #10, The False Premise.
Tactic #10: The False Premise
An old and rather odious example of the false premise is the rhetorical question: "So when did you stop beating your spouse?" Anyone who attempts to respond is in a no-win situation. The example illustrates the “loaded” nature of statements containing a false premise. So, the best advice is handle arguments based on a false premise with care. One must first defuse “the bomb” hidden beneath the argument.
One thing you can be certain of is that arguments or conclusions formulated on the basis of false premises are inevitably wrong. There’s simply no way that a sound conclusion can be deduced from a false premise or assumption. Here’s how a false premise misled one individual regarding his true identity.
"An old cowboy goes into a bar and orders a drink. As he sits there sipping his whiskey, a young lady sits down next to him. ... She says, 'I'm a lesbian. I spend my whole day thinking about women. ...' A little while later, a couple sits down next to the old cowboy and asks him, 'Are you a real cowboy?' He replies, 'I always thought I was, but I just found out I'm a lesbian'." (1)
What was the false premise that misled the cowboy? It was the belief that only cowboys spent their entire day thinking about women as he did. And now, having learned this was the inclination of the lesbian woman sitting next to him, the old cowboy mistakenly concluded that he must really be a lesbian.
The challenge the false premise presents to the unwary is that assumptions are seldom identified as such up front. When someone is outlining their argument, they are unlikely to say, "I'm basing this on something I heard Bill Nye the Science Guy say in an interview." More often than not, the bases of an argument are implied or “understood” and the argument or assertion itself simply presented as fact. So, unfortunately, for this reason, false premises often go undetected, un-discussed and unchallenged. It’s up to the debater to unearth the unstated assumptions.
Unscrupulous politicians often exploit the laziness or the ignorance of their constituents in this regard. Left unchallenged, politicians are free to fabricate entire policies based on a single, frail or false premises aligned with their political agendas. And from that point, their minions can hatch endless projects and programs (for taxpayers to fund). With periodic reinforcement to buttress the false premise, governments have been able to fabricate entire paradigms or encompassing narratives. Narratives are very powerful shapers of our perceptions and reality. As "rogue" journalist, Caitlin Johnstone points us, "narratives dominate our lives." She adds, ominously, "And, for that reason, people who are able to control those narratives are able to control us. And they do."(2). So, false premises, deliberately woven into official narratives are a means of control.
Let’s examine some examples of erroneous arguments and root out the false premise underlying each. The appropriate response on the part of a critical-thinking opposition is the counter my former boss frequently used; "Based on what?"
Argument: Placing NATO troops and armaments on Russia’s border is a necessary deterrent to Russian aggression.
Based on what?
False premise: Russia’s annexation of the Crimea was a clear signal to the West of a resurgent Russia with territorial expansion in mind.
Reality: The Maidan Square massacre was an outcome of a US-led coup assisted on the ground by Ukraine's far right groups. The Crimea referendum and annexation was Putin's response to Western aggression. (3) (4)
Argument: Foreign (US) intervention and replacement of President Maduro of Venezuela is urgent.
Based on what?
False Premise: Maduro’s socialism has reduced Venezuela to an economic basket case, so he must go.
Reality: The US has been waging a covert economic and information war against Venezuela for years with a greedy eye on its massive oil and gas reserves.(5) (6)
Argument: US missile attacks on Syria in 2018 were justifiable "punishment."
Based on what?
False premise: Assad was responsible for gas attacks on fellow Syrians
Reality: The gas attacks originated with the US and Western allies and were facilitated on the ground by their propaganda assets and alleged war criminals, the so-called White Helmets.(7)
Argument: Abortion is a hard won universal women's right and decision solely between a woman and her doctor.
Based on what?
False premise: Her body—her decision. (One of several equally specious premises.)
Reality: The living fetus/unborn child that is killed in the abortion process is a distinctly different person from the mother, possessing a combination of both parents' DNA. So the generalization “her body” and presumed right to kill the unborn individual is wildly misleading.
Argument: Additional legislative protections and measures are needed to protect Jewish minorities.
Based on what?
False (or at best unproven) premise. The world is witnessing a rising tide of anti-Semitism.
Reality: No report of genuinely anti-Semitic acts has been presented that is verifiably free of cofounding distortions. One distortion is an expansive definition of anti-Semitism to include, among other things, criticism of Israel’s policies. A second is the large number of hoaxes or self-inflicted acts of anti-Semitism committed by Zionist activists and others in the Jewish community.(8) (9)
Argument: It was essential for the Canadian parliament to adopt an "anti-Islamophobia" resolution in 2017.
Based on what?
False premise: There’s a pressing need to protect Muslims from hatred and racism.
Reality: Islam is a religion not a race. And there’s no good reason to protect any belief system or ideology from critique (nor does any other religion in Canada have or seek such protection.) Furthermore, the freedom to criticize religious doctrine and practices doesn’t constitute “hatred.” It's a hallmark of a liberal democracy.
In summation, in each of these cases, the viability of the argument hinges for the most part on a single false premise (in plain speak, "BS") the colloquial So the foundation of the above arguments and policy actions ranges from frail to illusory. Replace the false premises with verifiable truths, and the argument collapses like a house of cards. The big bad “Russia threat” narrative goes “poof” when confronted with the reality of a US-led Maidan coup, the trigger for Putin's counter regarding the Crimea. So, no, the NATO troops perched on Russia’s border aren’t protecting us. They are in fact, endangering us all given that from Russia’s viewpoint NATO's military posture in the region is at a minimum, provocative.(10)
In conclusion, the effective critic or debater is discerning regarding the argument based on suspect premises. He or she wisely resists the temptation to attack the argument head on, attacking instead its soft underbelly -– the questionable assumption. Defeat it, and you will ensure the collapse of the entire argument given its faulty foundation. It's a key to unlocking the matrix.
Note: In other articles, I have explored how the powers-that-be use a devious, albeit a more sophisticated strategy of “problem-reaction-solution” in order to manipulate the citizenry down the path of the former’s choosing. How does it work? Big brother first establishes the false premise as a problem (boogey man) and then, seemingly, in response to public reaction or concern, offers a pre-ordained solution to the fabricated problem.
Homework: Explain why Canadian PM, Justin Trudeau periodically inflates the "fake news" and "hate speech" boogey men?
1. An argument from false premises, https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argument_from_false_premises
2. Society is made up of narrative. Realizing this is awakening from the Matrix, Caitlin Johnstone, The Medium August 21, 2018
3. US staged a coup in Ukraine: Here's why and how, Signs of the times, August 17, 2019, https://www.sott.net/article/393740-US-Staged-a-Coup-in-Ukraine-Heres-Why-and-How#
4. From ‘not us’ to ‘why hide it’: How Maidan denied its involvement in the 20th February 2014 snipers massacre and then admitted it, Sign of the Times, March 11, 2019
5. Trump betrays MAGA with Venezuela, SOTT, January 25, 2019
6. US repeatedly caught lying about Venezuela, yet Pompei accuses RT of ‘disinformation’, SOTT, March 19, 2019.
7. Intel Drop Updated: Trump, Bolton behind Syria chemical attacks confirmed, Veterans Today, April 8, 2018
8. American Jewish establishment stifles free speech to silence Zionism's critics, James Fetzer, February 28, 2019
9. Here's a list of 50 "hate crime" hoaxes in the Trump era, Daily Caller, February 18, 2019 https://dailycaller.com/2019/02/18/hoax-hate-crimes-list/
10. NATO sends forces, missiles to Russia's border -- top security official (SOTT, March 15, 2019
For the better part of the last four decades, I have been encouraging people and organizations to anticipate the shape of their futures and plan accordingly. It can be daunting, but it can also be immensely practical. It can be as practical as using a set of binoculars to scope out a distant slope when hiking or winterizing your car before winter’s onslaught. Organizations that develop foresight capabilities are, among other things, creating a kind of organizational radar. This enables them to integrate discernible elements of tomorrow into today’s strategies and decisions.