On our trip to Central Pennsylvania to spend Thanksgiving with my parents, The Gryphon and I had a lot of time to talk. We had a conversation that has led to a new in-joke between us.
I watch a lot of cable news, and I told him how, if you're about to lose an argument, you create a hypothetical. You can say whatever you want, and no one can argue against it.
Since your opponent won't be able to respond, you can claim victory of the argument.
So throughout the rest of the trip, we'd be in the middle of conversation when one of us would say, "But hypothetically..." This would be followed with a ridiculous hypothetical, and then pumping fists in the air and declaring, "I win!"
This then devolved into simply working the word "hypothetically" into the conversation, such as, "No, I agree with you... hypothetically. I win!"
Try it sometime. It's fun.
I had to laugh last night when I saw this exchange on Hannity & Colmes. They were discussing the case of Joe Horn, a Texan who shot two burglars to death as they were robbing a neighbor's home. Hannity was interviewing Quanell X, whose organization, the New Black Panther Party, has held protests to demand justice.
SEAN HANNITY, CO-HOST, "HANNITY & COLMES": Hey, Quanell, let's get some facts on the table here. Fact No. 1, this wouldn't have happened, had people been not burglarizing innocent people's homes, correct?
QUANELL X, NEW BLACK PANTHER PARTY: I agree.
HANNITY: All right. Fact No. 2, Mr. Horn didn't know as they're going near somebody else's house -- he didn't know if other innocent people would be in danger, did he?
In other words, the idea that, well, the police came later. He didn't know at what time the police would be there. But there's a chance that innocent people are going to get hurt when people are about to burglarize their home. Isn't that true?
X: He also said that he knew they were unarmed.
HANNITY: You can say he'd know they're unarmed, but if you have clothes on -- unless there's running stark naked through the backyard, you don't know that, do you?
X: The question was raised by the 911 dispatcher: "Are they armed, sir?"
He said, "No, they're unarmed. But they have a crowbar that they used to break open the window."
HANNITY: What's a crowbar? Can you use a crowbar to kill somebody?
X: The crowbar was laying on the ground by the back door. It was not in their hands when Joe Horn encountered them.
HANNITY: But that's not -- but that's not the point. If he -- let's say that he didn't act. Is it a possibility that they could run into another neighbor, run into another house, take somebody hostage, and that innocent people die?
And then he has to live with the fact that he did nothing when he knew that they were there, and they were there to commit mischief?
X: That is possible, but it's also possible...
HANNITY: It is possible.
X: ... that both of those men would be alive had Mr. Horn allowed the police and the authorities to do their job.
HANNITY: Well, maybe by the time -- the point is, Quanell, maybe by the time the police get there, it's too late. Maybe by the time the police get there, he's going to be wishing that he had done something.
Maybe you have a responsible neighbor dealing against a criminal element, and maybe he was overzealous, but maybe he was also scared that innocent people might get hurt.
X: He was more than overzealous.
HANNITY: Why are you so quick to prejudge this without even hearing all the facts?
X: I'm judging according to what I've heard on the 911 tape.
HANNITY: But you don't know everything yet.
X: He was told not to go outside. But I know from our internal investigation and from...
HANNITY: Your internal investigation? You're the FBI now?
X: ... investigation. No, but I'm not the police that would go out and kill somebody because I see a crime taking place.
HANNITY: No, I'm only saying here the answer to problems like this is for people not to commit crimes.
The second answer here is if you do, you are putting your life in jeopardy.
The third thing is, is I want an armed citizenry that could protect themselves and their neighbors and their property. And right now the benefit of the doubt until we know for sure goes to the citizen that was the victim. Is that fair?
X: Sean, this was cold -- this was cold-blooded murder. Two counts of cold-blooded murder.
HANNITY: All right, so you're the judge, jury and executioner here. You decided?
X: No, I'm giving an opinionated position. He took the gun and made his position known.
HANNITY: We've got to run.
After this argument, I fully expected Sean Hannity to pump his fists in the air and declare, "I win!" Of course, I immediately ran downstairs and told The Gryphon all about it.
Think about it: this form of argumentation is foolproof, because while you may not actually prove anything, this tactic renders your opponent speechless.
Let's just say, hypothetically, that you're engaged in a political discussion with somebody who's making a lot of valid points based on facts and reasoning. So you create a hypothetical situation that takes everything to the Nth degree, provoking an emotional response in the listeners but which nobody can argue against. After all, you can't prove a negative.
You wouldn't have to do any research or come up with any reasoned arguments. All you'd have to do is whip out a hypothetical, preferably involving massive loss of life, mutilation of puppies or the violation of Santa Claus, and while your gap-mouthed opponent stammered like a landed fish, you could pump your fists in the air and declare, "I win!"
Of course, there are some situations where this sort of argumentation would not work. For example, during a tax audit.
IRS AUDITOR: This is a very serious matter. You owe the federal government $513,000.
CITIZEN: I think you're mistaken.
AUDITOR: I've done the calculations. This is how much money you've earned over the past 20 years (POINTS TO A PAPER ON THE DESK), and this is how much you've paid. (HOLDS UP A PIECE OF TOILET PAPER WITH "FILE THIS" WRITTEN ON IT IN SHARPIE.)
CITIZEN: I think you'll find otherwise.
AUDITOR: I just told you that you owe $513,000. If you fail to make payment, you will be arrested.
CITIZEN: Let's say, hypothetically, that I was the pastor of my own church and had tax-exempt status for all those years.
AUDITOR: That might be a valid argument if it were the case, but...
CITIZEN: And I'd been working with Mother Teresa to ensure the health and prosperity of third world people in impoverished countries.
AUDITOR: Great, but...
CITIZEN: And due to my good works, we'd eradicated smallpox in the country of Eritea and saved a million souls.
AUDITOR: Well, commendable, but...
CITIZEN: And say that my entire income had gone into the success of this charitable enterprise. What would you say then?
AUDITOR: I would say that's a fairly intriguing mental game, but...
CITIZEN: You would deny all those starving children the money they need to survive?
AUDITOR: Sir, you drove here in a stretch Hummer.
CITIZEN: Well, let's say I use it to take impoverished American children to baseball games. Poor, cancer-ridden children. Hooked up to respirators. Coughing blood.
AUDITOR: Sir, you're pulling my leg.
CITIZEN: Pulling your leg? Do you think it's funny to watch people dying of malaria right in front of you? Can you imagine watching a poor, bloated baby dying of malnutrition, covered with flies, thinking, "If only I'd gotten here sooner"?
AUDITOR: I suppose that would be gut-wrenching.
CITIZEN: Do you think that I put this money into expensive suits because I like them? What if I needed them to impress third-world leaders to institute global changes that would improve the economy and eradicate hunger? What if I needed a home theater system to show potential contributors why their support was needed?
(STANDING UP AND THUMPING HIS CHEST) I am a true patriot, sir! And if you cannot see the sort of self-sacrifice that goes into helping make this world a better place, then you have no business working for the red, white and blue!
AUDITOR: (QUIETLY TAPS FINGERS TOGETHER) Are you quite done?
CITIZEN: (JABBING A FINGER IN THE AUDITOR'S FACE) The question is, are you done?
AUDITOR: No, I'm not. I simply need you to verify your tax-exempt status, sir, and you can be on your way.
CITIZEN: But hypothetically...
AUDITOR: Hypothetically, you would have filed tax-exempt status for the past 20 years and provide proof, thereby discharging you of this massive debt.
CITIZEN: But the children!
AUDITOR: Hypothetically, sir, you are going to jail. Arrest him!
(POLICE OFFICERS ARRIVE AND HANDCUFF THE CITIZEN'S HANDS BEHIND HIS BACK, REMOVING HIM AS HE PROTESTS)
AUDITOR: (PUMPS HIS FISTS IN THE AIR) I win!
Hypothetical arguments don't work with IRS agents.