Hidden Assumptions in Progressive Rhetoric
- 2010/04/09 18:09:23
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Persuasion Power Point #229: The Assumption
Today at 6:22am
by Michael Cloud
"We have to get rid of government waste," declares the politician.
"Free and open fair trade is good for America," says the progressive.
"In light of these shootings, should we pass tougher gun laws?" asks the
"Should pornography be allowed on Web sites that children have access
to?" asks the pollster.
Each of these statements and questions are built on smuggled
assumptions. Hidden pre-suppositions that slant and bias the issue.
You may clearly see the bootlegged beliefs. You may want to argue or
debate the speaker. You surely have cause.
May I suggest a far better approach?
May I offer an approach that exposes and examines the assumptions? An
approach that often changes the minds of those listening -- and
sometimes even changes the minds of the assumption smugglers?
Why not question the assumptions? Why not warmly ask the meaning of the
Please do NOT cross-examine or interrogate the person about his
assumptions or words. Gently, warmly, and respectfully ask.
Ask the meaning and assumptions of the key words or terms.
In the statements and questions above, we want to ask about: "waste,"
"fair," "fair trade," "good for America," "should," "allowed," "we," and
What does the speaker mean by the word? What does he NOT mean by it?
What does the word or term assume? What does it pre-suppose?
Who decides: the government or each individual?
Ask questions that make vague terms specific. That make the implicit
explicit. That uncover and examine the hidden assumptions.
Consider a few questions that reveal the hidden assumptions of some of
the words we're talking about.
WASTE: "In my experience, there are 3 kinds of government waste: 1.
Paying champagne prices for beer quality goods and services; 2. Buying
champagne when we only need beer; or 3. Buying either champagne or beer
when we need neither. Which of these kinds of government waste are you
going to try to get rid of? Would you give us some specific examples?
Exactly how much money is being wasted on each?"
FAIR TRADE: "I'm not sure if I understand you. Could you help me with
something? What do you mean by the phrase 'fair trade'? Could you give
me a few examples of fair trade?" Listen to the person's answer, then
follow up with: "Who decides whether a trade is fair? The buyer and
seller -- or someone else?" Listen to the answer, then follow up with:
"Even if the trade is unfair, if the buyer and seller choose to do it
anyway, will you use government to stop them?"
SHOULD: "You ask whether government should pass a tough new gun control
law.But isn't there a question we need to ask first? Will this gun
control law stop shootings like this one, or will the people who commit
these kinds of acts always find guns? Has any law like this one actually
ALLOWED: "You ask whether pornography should be allowed. America was
founded on the consent of the governed, NOT on the consent of the
government. When you use the word 'allowed,' it sounds like we need
permission from government to publish or read something. Is that what
you mean?" Listen to the person's answer, then ask: "If I understand you
correctly, aren't you
asking this question: 'If children can get access to pornography Web
sites, should government forbid and outlaw pornography Web sites?' Is
that an accurate re-phrasing of your question?"
If you attack their assumptions, they will justify, defend, and
If you cross-examine or interrogate them, they will squirm, rationalize,
and respond in kind.
But if you warmly and reasonably ask them questions, they may explore
their assumptions. And so will those listening to your conversation.
You might just put an end to assumption smuggling -- and begin an era of
free and open trade in ideas. An era of free minds and free markets.
* * * * * * * *
Michael Cloud is author of the acclaimed book "Secrets of Libertarian
Persuasion" available exclusively from the Advocates: http://www.TheAdvocates.org/secrets.html.
In 2000, Michael was honored with the Thomas Paine Award as the Most
Persuasive Libertarian Communicator in America.
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