Punchinello’s Chronicles

January 22, 2009

Understanding a “Swing Premise”

Filed under: Word of the Day — Punchinello @ 9:11 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

A premise is a statement at the start of an argument. An argument doesn’t have to be yelling and hollering, it’s simply a statement followed by backup reasoning. Arguments can be modifying logic, as with computer commands, or they can explain the why or how of a statement. But the first statement of a discussion is usually a premise.

What makes a premise different from a simple statement is that a premise usually supports a conclusion. In other words, we come up with a conclusion in our mind, prepare arguments against any objections, then preface it all with a basic declaration. The assumptions used in making that statement are the premises.

Premises can be stated out loud, or they can be hidden. In many ways, premises are much like assumptions.

So? Who cares? What’s this got to do with the price of eggs?

Well, here’s the thing: Nowadays we have all sorts of premises being tossed around. For example, we’re told that it’s important that we should close the Guantanamo Bay prison because America is getting a reputation for torturing “people.” The premise is that the people being held there are regular, ordinary folks who just got detained. Another premise is that there’s no particular reason they were detained.

Yet another premise is that the people being detained have no particular connection with any sort of harm that might be done to the United States. Then there’s the premise that these people are “the same as” citizens, therefore ought to have all the same rights as your average citizen or American criminal.

But most of the time, nobody questions premises. Oh sure, lots of people get all high-and-mighty when someone uses the word “assume,” and babble on about making “an ass out of U and ME.” Wonderful, for a two year-old. But ask those people the function of an assumption and their eyes glaze over. Ask them about premises and they have no idea.

So what’s a “swing premise?”

Now that’s an interesting concept. In a nutshell, it means that the same exact premise or proposition can have two exactly opposite meanings. The same conclusion can be supported by two opposite premises. In other words, if someone tells you to “turn,” you can turn right or left and you’re correct. The destination, obviously, will be quite different.

Your conclusion “swings” back and forth, not on the words themselves, but because of the interpretation of the words in the premise. It’s the “spin” someone puts on an argument, swinging your logic around from “this way” to “that way.” And it all rests on this one pivot — the swing premise, like a swing vote in congress.

Here’s a conclusion: Since 9/11, the United States has never been attacked by terrorists.

Here’s a premise: There are no terrorists left in the world.

Here’s the opposite of that premise: George Bush and the changes he instituted in the government have prevented all terrorist attacks from taking place.

Which is right? Which one is correct?

Here’s a conclusion: Barack Obama will institute changes to the United States.

One premise is that those changes will always be beneficial and for the good of the country.

The swing premise is that those changes will be damaging to the country, and bring about problems.

In the terrorist conclusion, we look back in time and “prove” the premise with the fact that no terrorist attacks have taken place. In the “changes” argument, we’re using premises to look into the future and prove that Mr. Obama’s changes must be one way or the other.

The difference between conservatives and liberals rests in their premises, the set of assumptions they each use when making statements and proving their conclusions. What’s astonishing is that the underlying liberal or conservative premises are almost exactly opposite. Yet they’re used to prove a single thing.

How is that possible? How can an event be caused or based on fundamentally opposite premises and arguments? Nobody knows. It’s a mystery!

One premise is that banks need taxpayer help because “things happen” and circumstances have screwed up those banks.

The swing premise is that the banking management fundamentally doesn’t know what they’re doing and ruined their own businesses, all on their own.

So what do YOU believe? Do you believe that because we’ve had no terrorist attacks since 9/11 that, therefore, no more terrorists exist? Or that terrorists exist, but they have no further interest in attacking America?

Or do you believe that terrorists have time and again persisted in their attempts to blow things up and kill people, but because of the FBI, CIA, Homeland Security and the US military, they’ve been totally foiled?

Your option. You can believe whatever you want to believe. But, as is always the case; reality will always be real. If you choose the wrong belief, you’ll know it’s wrong because of reality itself. And that’s the biggest, baddest swing premise there is: Reality is all a matter of opinion, or Reality is real no matter what’s your opinion.

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