By Oswald Sobrino, J.D.; M.A. (Econ.); M.A. (Theo.); M.L. (Master of Latin), doctoral student, University of Florida.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Tricking by Truism

It's an old and tried rhetorical technique in politics, religion, law, philosophy, and in other areas of debate: trick your audience by foisting a truism as if only your own very specific, pet agenda is capable of fuflilling that truism.

Examples must be given.

1. "The health of the Church depends on its liturgy."

Sure. But that does not necessarily mean that all or most or even many parishes must offer a Traditional Latin Mass.

2. "We need to make America strong again."

Who could disagree? But is the TeaParty-AnnRand-Libertarian agenda really going to strengthen America?

3. "Priests must follow liturgical rubrics."

Of course. But does that mean that custom in accordance with canon law cannot over the years modify liturgical practices?

4. "We must respect all religions."

Certainly. But does that mean being in denial over constant violent persecution of Christians by Muslims?

5. "We need good education in the inner city." Then why rule out school vouchers that can help many and still try to reach more with additional and different strategies?

6. "Kids need reliable information about sexual practices." At the right time, yes. But does that mean that we set our kids and young adults on the road to a long series of sexual partners as if a series of sexual partners is not going to severely harm them emotionally, if not physically?

7. "Young people must be given the freedom to experiment." But does that necessarily mean that we ignore the biological and psychological fact that brain development and maturity are not complete even in one's twenties? Does that truism mean that we do not create safe, nurturing environments on campuses without rampant substance abuse and casual sex? (This MIT link says age 25 is probably when the human brain reaches "full maturity"--and they are not talking about the more amorphous and important form of maturity, psychological maturity.)

8. "America is still racist." Yes, in many ways. But does that mean that we do not celebrate progress and instead become increasingly hostile to and suspicious of others who are trying to address problems in good faith?

9. "Homosexual activity is sinful." I believe that. But does that mean we do not welcome gay people with open arms? Or that we ostracize or avoid them? Or that we even refuse to use the word "gay"? We are all sinful. We should welcome all people.

10. "The Spanish conquerors committed many crimes and atrocities against the native populations." Surely they did. But does that mean that we do not see that most Latin Americans today are clearly and visibly indigenous to one degree or another--while in Anglo-America the indigenous are a tiny fraction of the population isolated in tribal areas (with not a few looking quite European, at that)? The Spanish conquest was better at preserving indigenous culture than Anglo-American colonization.

11. On a more personal level, we have this trope: "Passive aggressive behavior is bad." Of course, anti-social behavior is bad.

But does that mean that we label any statement we don't like or any non-malicious, non-insulting jesting and repartee as "passive agressive" because we may be emotionally hypersensitive and perhaps have a chip on our shoulder on a particular occasion?

Friendly, respectful banter is the spice of life. I guess that is why the Athenians condemned Socrates--he was too "passive aggressive." One of the great rules of life is this: do not be quick to take offense--you may be completely off base in your reaction and unnecessarily cut yourself off from good people who will simply shrug their shoulders and continue on their merry way.

12. Similar to the situation in No. 11 above, we have: "Racism and homophobia are bad." Of course. Not only bad but also psychologically unhealthy. And there should be zero tolerance for unequivocal expression of such attitudes.

But does that mean that you casually hurl those highly incendiary labels (that are hard to take back) on others without really getting to know the other person; or, worse, even when you already know that the other person is a decent person of goodwill? How much better is it to explore specifically what you may find troubling in a statement and share that with the other person without shutting down the dialogue. They call it educating; and it gains you friends and influence, as Dale Carnegie would say.

You can come up with many more examples. The old-fashioned term for this rhetorical trick is "begging the question": you state an ideal or a truism and then quickly jump to the conclusion that your own pet solution is the only answer. Politicians, religious personalities, and other celebrities do it all of the time. That's how they get votes and donations.

(Image of the great logician Aristotle in public domain)