Have you ever had a friend hit you with the classic word trap, “Have you stopped beating your wife?” Answer yes or answer no, and you incriminate yourself. This joke is based on the technique of using an implicit premise. While it may get a laugh, it is also used by politicians as more than a joke.
Political manipulation is most effectively accomplished when you control the framework in which others can argue and, ultimately, think. For example, if you want to get your viewpoint accepted without openly debating it, you make it an assumption, a premise for any other debates. Not only will you win the public over to your view, but you will effectively exclude the possibility of any serious opposition.
Suppose many years ago a government wanted to expand it’s power to by having control over what people put in their bodies. There may have been real debate among the populace as to whether this is an appropriate function of law or government. Many may not have wanted such a “war” on drugs, which, after all, is just a war on people who ingest certain plants or chemicals.
How, then, does the government get the public to accept such control? By simply presuming that all people want to see drug use controlled, and arguing only on the basis of the best way to do that. The politicians and the public can argue all they want about whether more treatment or stricter laws are needed. In fact, such argument only strengthens the underlying premise.
Soon anyone who questions whether there should be any government involvement in this area is on the “fringe.” They are not allowed in the “serious” debates, because they don’t share this now “obvious” premise. The control of government over what goes into a person’s body is assured, and it’s power to regulate peoples lives in other similar ways is easily expanded.
As I write this the U.S. government has held people in prisons for years without charges or access to attorneys. They claim this is okay because these prisoners are not citizens. The public accepts this, because the premise has been firmly established in their minds that “rights” are granted by governments.
The founders of this country explicitly stated that rights are inherent in all humans. They fought against the idea that rights are mere “privileges” bestowed by governments. However, this second idea has become the basis for all argument now, and so even the opposition is unable to make logical arguments against these current violations of human rights. Implicit premises are a powerful method of control. We should get in the habit of recognizing the premises hidden in political debate.
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