From what could be called our “mission statement” above, one can see we’re primarily blogging here because we’re frustrated with the lack of logic, reason, and just good ol’ common sense in what currently passes for public discourse. What I’d like to discuss today is one of the most common logical fallacies. If you haven’t noticed it already, you’ll see what I am about to illustrate used very routinely, and almost never called out as incorrect.
But first, let’s address the more general — what is a logical fallacy? In short, it is an erroneous argument; an error in logic. It’s not necessarily related to what you are saying, but more of how you are approaching the debate. These errors have been categorized and defined for thousands of years now. Seriously, thousands of years… Greeks were writing this stuff down in years we end with “BC”. Intrigued? Research Aristotle. Plato. Stoicism. Also check this out. It’s an intellectual rabbit hole, but I find it fascinating.
Aristotle wrote about ignoratio elenchi, which he considered to be a somewhat “catch all” term for certain logical fallacies related to what I’d like to discuss today, which is called Straw Man. The British also refer to it as “Aunt SalIy”. It can be simply defined as the misrepresention of an opponent’s position. For example:
- Person A: I feel the medicinal use of marijuana should be legal.
- Person B: How can you possibly be in favor of decriminalizing marijuana? Obviously, you just want to get stoned all the time.
To some, the faulty logic of the above needs no explanation. Being in favor of medical cannabis is rather obviously not the same as stating marijuana should be as easily found and as loosely regulated as Cheetos. Unfortunately, this type of erroneous thinking is everywhere. If you have read my last blog post, you will remember I used healthcare as an example in my discussion about what consitutes a right as opposed to a need. On another similar social media discussion not long after posting those thoughts, I was informed the following:
“From your above post, I can “infer” or “deduct” that you believe poor people do not deserve healthcare as a right…..”
“Anyone that thinks the rich should get healthcare while the poor die, deserves to acquire a deadly disease, have their healthcare taken away, and die slowly, as that is what they are doing to the poor.”
“As it is obvious that you do not believe healthcare is a right for anyone if it will cost you a dime of your treasure or a moment of your time, I continue to infer that you are an immoral, evil person.”
All of the previous are perfect examples of Straw Man arguments (with a topper of Ad Hominem for a hint of spice). My point was simply healthcare is not a right. A need? Of course. A right? Nope. I never once addressed economic status. Rich people versus poor people? Not discussed. I never said people don’t deserve healthcare. I said people do not deserve healthcare as a right. Frankly, I feel if a person cannot distinguish between those two statements, they should go back to every teacher they’ve ever had and profusely apologize. An apology complete with wailing, gnashing of teeth, and maybe even self-flagellation. This person attacked arguments I did not make; ergo, his arguments are invalid. Summarized: “You’re arguing against what I didn’t say.” If one were to point out the error in logic and the offender recognize and acknowledge the same, a productive discussion could then possibly move forward. Experience shows the previous statement to be hopelessly optimistic. Such attempts are usually met with further illogical reponses, and remembering a movie quote from Gene Wilder.
When you see the straw man, look for this as well – is the argument being made from a position of ignorance, or deliberately? It is painfully obvious the above examples illustrate ignorance. The most frustrating type of ignorance as well, when the one positing such a wave of illogical garbage is absolutely convinced of both their intellectual as well as moral superiority. Usually, as in this case, quite falsely on both counts, I might add. In all honesty I hold the deliberate practice of this error in more contempt, as it is usually the type purpetuated in political discussions. A perfect example?
- Donald Trump: “We must have strong borders and not let illegal immigrants enter the United States.”
- Media/political opponents: “Donald Trump is a racist!”
I have a special contempt for the deliberate use of this as a tactic of demagoguery. This is Goebells-level propaganda, and it sickens me. Almost as much as it sickens me to see the sheer number of people who fall for this type of rhetoric. I may address my thoughts on that in a future post. Those thoughts center on the failings of our educational system, which are many. But, I digress…
Watch out for the straw man. He’s everywhere.
I do hope my ramblings here were informative, and maybe help you realize this error in logic when you see it. Trust me, you will.
As always, rational discussion is welcome – please comment, and if you are so inclined, forward a link to this post on your social media of choice.