The Straw Man

I was surfing the internet and I stumbled upon this term called the Straw Man fallacy. It’s an argumentative position in which the opponent distorts the argument put forward by someone by exaggerating, oversimplifying or misinterpreting their point in order to make his/her retort sound a lot more powerful than it actually is. In most cases the arguer will make the initial argument sound ridiculous enough to be easily defeated.

Let me make the premise simpler. Arguer 1 puts forth a logical point P1. Arguer 2 wishes to use the Straw Man fallacy on Arguer 1. Arguer 2 builds a straw man, who takes the place of Arguer 1, and makes an unnecessarily implied argument on behalf of Arguer 1, P2 which is a distortion of P1. Arguer 2 argues against this weakened argument P2, with greater success, hence feeling a false sense of accomplishment. It’s easier to take down a straw man in comparison to an actual human body. This often leads to Arguer 1 having to clarify his/her stance by defending that he/she never made the said argument in the first place.

Arguer 2 is said to have hijacked the debate.

An example?

Arguer 1: I think that they should censor a few scenes from that movie if they want kids to watch it.
Arguer 2: Oh. If you censor movies like that, you’re destroying the art form that is screenwriting. People should be allowed to express whatever they want!

Now clearly Arguer 1 never questioned screenwrting as a profession nor did he/she suggest that there is a need to restrict people’s ideas in general. His/her argument was only in context of having kids as an audience. In this scenario the Arguer 1 might want to assume a defensive stance to clarify his position than put forward actual arguments that would have furthered his point of view.

How many times does this happen in real life? Way too many times in mine! I call it the blowing out of proportion argument.

Arguer 1: I have lent the book to Friend 2. You can have it next week.
Arguer 2: But I have been wanting to read that book for ages, you knew that! If you can’t be a good friend to me, don’t pretend like you are one.

Most popular users of the Straw Man fallacy are PMSing women and highly stressed out men. If it’s a PMSing stressed out woman, you might just not want to make an argument at all.

Funnily enough, I’ve been straw manned  way too many times. Not that I haven’t used it on others. Though now that I’ve learnt to recognize it, I’m just going to set an internal straw man fallacy counter and be least bothered by what the opponent says. What’s the point of being bothered by irrational arguments, right? I’d have to be very irrational to let that happen. I guess stumbling upon this term was the last straw.

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2 thoughts on “The Straw Man

  1. Sometimes it is done ignorantly. I have a adult child who does. She takes my words ands twists them . . .hearing something horrible when I meant no such thing and she does it in an instant! It is really painful to experience so when I want to tell her something she might find questionable I gave to write it out. I’m a clear, and careful writer with her . . .throwing lots of loving words down on the paper, but still somehow she misconstrues. I think when it is done out of a n emotional response vs. just to win a debate it is something different than a straw man. What do you think that might be call? For example I wrote “It does little food to wallow in the past.” She replied “How dare you tell me not to talk about the past!” I responded, “No PLEASE talk about the past!” Followed by a suggestion I’ve made many times to get involved with victim’s groups. Anyway it is much tougher with people who are carrying a heavy load of baggage. Their emotions make discussions extra touchy and crappy arguments ensue.

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