Tuesday, November 9, 2010

How to Build a Strawman.

The Logical Fallacy of the Strawman.

As a recruit into the military we used paper targets to represent the enemy.  The problem with this is, those paper targets never moved...or shot back.  It was in fact a Fallacy to call these targets representations of the enemy.  A better description is one my football coach used to use...he called people who went full speed against the tackle dummy, but held back in a real game..."Dummy Tackle All Americans".  

The first step in building a Strawman in an argument is to build a false representation of your opponent and avoid the actual argument.  . For instance, "The Republican electoral resurgence – like Ronald Reagan’s original coalition – combines collaborative but often contradictory forces, from anti-government Tea Partiers and libertarians to corporatists who feast on government contracts and Christian nationalists who want government-imposed “morality.”(1)  Let's take this statement apart and describe just two of the  Strawmen.

The first Strawman: "The Republican electoral resurgence..." is an argument all unto itself.  Although the Republicans did indeed have the greatest gain in seats in the House, they did not capture the Senate.  The statement assumes the resurgence is of Republicans versus Conservative thinking.  As you can see it avoids the argument.

The second Strawman: "....like Ronald Reagan’s original coalition – combines collaborative but often contradictory forces, from anti-government Tea Partiers and libertarians to corporatists..." quite a mouthful.  Is the argument that Reagan had a coalition, a coalition of Tea Partiers (I don't think they existed), Libertarians, and Corporatists?  Is the argument that the Tea Party is anti-government? Are Libertarians anti-government...what about Corporatists?  

How does someone use the Strawman?  By creating a false representation of your opponents postion, and then refuting it...it appears that by refuting the false representation you refute all of the actual representations of your opponent. In fact, you are creating a "Dummy Tackle"..and you are a "Dummy Tackle All American". 

Sadly, by using the Strawman the writer loses the argument at the onset, making all of their statements in support of the Strawman worthless.

Footnote: (1) Taken from Florida Today as quoted by RonnieRaygun from an article by Rev Howard Bess. No link to the original article was provided. 


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