What is “The Defeater”?

a gray badger on green grass
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Want to win your next political argument on Facebook? I’ve got a time-tested, sure-fire way to stop your opponent cold and get them to say to themselves “Shoot, he’s right. This will never work.” I call it “The Defeater” because it defeats every argument it’s ever put against. Let me show you how it works:

Larry: I think we need to ban people from using badgers as nannies. They aren’t qualified to raise children.
Daryl: That will never work.  People are still going to use their badger nannies. You can’t expect people to stop doing what they want to do just because you made a law against it.
Larry: Dang! You’re right. I hadn’t thought about it that way. I guess I’ve changed my mind.

We will never create enough laws to control evil - evil does not obey laws

Do you see how easy that was for Daryl?  Larry never stood a chance. I’ve seen this used in almost every kind of political discussion you can imagine. Gun control? Yup. Abortion? Yup. Narcotics? Yup. Euthanasia? Yup. Age-limit restrictions? Yup. I’ve even seen someone argue against vegan diets using “The Defeater”.  That Vegan never stood a chance and it had nothing to do with his lack of protein.

Now I don’t actually think “The Defeater” is as strong as its advocates think but that doesn’t stop almost everyone from making use of it.  It’s quick and easy and no one can argue against the truth that a law can’t solve a problem with 100% certainty. People determined to do X will do X and to hell with the law.  There’s lots of variations of “The Defeater”. One version suggest that people will just find a new method (and they just might). Christians have a version where they explain that sin is in every human heart and until the human heart is made righteous people will continue to sin.

Defeating the Defeater

In Episode 4 I show my listeners how to defeat “The Defeater”.  Listen here for a more in depth explanation.  It’s pretty simple.  Let’s try out “The Defeater” with something other than badger nannies.

Larry: I think we need to ban people from murdering one another. Murder ends a human life unjustly.
Daryl: That will never work.  People are still going to murder each other. You can’t expect people to stop murdering each other just because you made a law against it.
Larry: I don’t expect the law to stop people from murdering each other. I want a law because I want people to know that in our society we won’t allow that kind of thing to go on without consequences.  I want a law because it will allow us a way of providing justice to murder victims and allow us to punish murders.  Further it will reduce the murder industry; people won’t be able to shop for assassins on the open market which will make it harder to hire a hit man and reduce the overall incidence of murder.

Did you see that?  Larry wasn’t thwarted by “The Defeater” because he didn’t accept the premise that a law is the thing that’s going to end murder once and for all.  He had a different vision and expectation for the usefulness of a law than Daryl was hoping to leverage against him.  You might have been inclined to agree with Daryl about badger nannies but when you heard him try to make the same argument against murder you knew that there should STILL be a law against murder even though you know it won’t stop 100% of potential murders.

Let’s try it again with a different topic.

Larry: I think Eurasia needs a law that requires people to wear seat belts in their cars. A lot of lives could be saved and we’re the only country in the Western world that doesn’t require seat belts.
Daryl: That will never work.  Eurasians hate how uncomfortable seat belts are and you can’t be in every car in the country to make sure people use them.
Larry: You’re right, but in every other country with seat belt laws most people started using them just because they heard there was now a law requiring them to use them. With just a modest amount of enforcement through traffic tickets the word got out that they were serious and even more people felt compelled to conform to the new expectation.  The death rates in automobile accidents dropped immediately and after a while people thought it was normal to wear seat belts and thought it was even immoral to not buckle their kids into their cars.

Now calling out someone for using “The Defeater” doesn’t mean that they are on the wrong side of a political issue.  It just means they are using a cheap rhetorical trick.  Push for deeper reasoning from everyone.  Talk about the values  and liberties being defended or removed but don’t expect a law to completely, 100%, never-think-about-it-again solve the problem.