“You think you have a monopoly on the truth.”
I have run across this phrase, and others like it, far too many times. I’d like to encourage you never to use it again. It’s the worst kind of cop out, and an inherently hypocritical statement.
When a person is arguing his point, but his opponent won’t relent, he’ll start arguing for the fifth. What I mean is that he’ll say things about his opponent and opposing position that will force either an incriminating response or an invocation of the Fifth Amendment. The goal of that statement is to, first of all, put an opponent in her place, as well as point out some level of arrogance on her behalf; it has the added bonus of getting oohs from progressive audiences, most of whom are, like 13-year-old girls, thinking, “OOOOHHHH, burn!”
The person who uses it is trying to get his opponent to start defending her credentials as an open-minded person, rather than the point at hand. This is a cop out because it’s an ad hominem. It doesn’t comment at all about the argument being advanced, only about the arrogance of the arguer for thinking she’s right. He knows that he can totally derail her argument by switching the tracks (I do love train metaphors).
In 99.99999% of all the cases in which I’ve heard someone use this phrase, or any of its variants, the person shouting it has had an equally firm belief in the absolute truth they were trying to win support for. That truth is called “tolerance”. I won’t go into all the gory details of how I feel about that, you can find my thoughts here. The point is, they also feel like they have a monopoly, otherwise they wouldn’t be trying so hard to convince us that they’re right and we’re wrong.
Inherent in any debate is the belief that you are right, and that you’re position applies to everyone you choose to apply it to. If you’re willing to argue a point and you really mean it (not as devil’s advocate or opposition research), that means you believe in that point strongly enough to think that you are right, and your opponent is wrong. And even if you won’t agree that you think you’re belief is right for everyone, you certainly think your opponent’s belief is wrong for everyone.
But you do think your belief is right for everyone. Not your position about Jesus’ divinity, or partnership rights for homosexual couples, but the tolerance principle you’re invoking. You believe that your notion of “tolerance” is right, and that it’s universal.
The Element of Surprise
The easiest way to knock back the argument for the fifth is to avoid the first mistake most people make: accepting the premise of the argument. Just don’t do it. I don’t mean the accusation, I mean the concept that tolerance is better, or that believing that some view is right – and all competing views are wrong – means you’re claiming control of anything.
I believe that in a given situation, there is one truth. I didn’t create it, I don’t get to choose it. It just is. Once I’ve found it, I hold to it. If you convince me that I’m wrong, so be it; but I don’t let go of such things easily. And I’ll do all I can to share that truth with other people. If that’s what it means to have a monopoly on the truth, then so be it. I’ll sell some to you at a very reasonable price.