Friday, April 27, 2007

Dishonest Debate Tactics - Shifting the Burden

Now that I'm taking all the political stuff outta here (Have you seen the spiffy new blog, Wingnuts & Moonbats?), I figure I can focus on other things, here...

Today, I'm thinkin' about using language and debating, & specifically about folks who want you to disprove their points or statements.

Some of the following examples will be real. Some will not be real. Either way, I'm not interested in discussing the veracity of the statements, but only their value in confrontational conversation.

You suck. Go on, prove you don't.

The anti-war movement is anti-American.

You stole my sandwich.

Conservatives hate free speech.

Anarchists and Liberals share the same basic political philosophy. They're Nazis.

These statements (& every other affirmative statement under the sun) all share a similar feature. The onus is on the person making it to prove his/her statement is true, by offering evidence. That's the way it's supposed to work, and we have every right to expect that proof, rather than just accepting the veracity of the statement. In it's absence, one has every right to flat out dismiss the statement as being without merit.

Sometimes, that's where the trouble starts...

Sometimes, the party making the statement tries to turn it around, and requires YOU to prove what THEY said is untrue. They're not proving anything... Instead, they're trying to shift the burden of proof to you. And, they're asking you to prove a negative, which, if you really think about it, is just about impossible.

There is no conclusive evidence I could ever offer that I didn't steal something. I could produce people who saw me somewhere else, but the accuser says, "So you didn't steal it at that time... But prove you didn't steal it, at all." A search of my property reveals no stolen item. "Maybe you hid it. Proves nothing." No physical evidence on my person. "You were careful, wore gloves, and showered. You still could've done it." No matter what I said, I could never ever prove I didn't do it.

That's why legally, ethically, & logically, the onus for providing proof always falls on the original speaker. Don't get trapped, and don't accept the claim that you're only "playing word games, or semantics," which often indicates that they know the jig is up; you recognize their "word game," of shifting the burden of proof for their words onto you. Make them keep the burden they came into the conversation with. Make 'em prove what they say is true.

If a person is unwilling or unable to prove the statement s/he's making is true, you are under no obligation to accept it is true, and can therefore reject it as unproven, & therefore untrue.

If you still don't believe me, just try to prove you don't suck.

(When you can't, it won't mean you do suck. or that you don't suck. or anything else, at all. And that is the point.)

Some of those statements above have other problems, like being sweeping generalizations, as well. Perhaps I'll hit that one next time.

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