[Today’s guest post by Nate Sheets in the second of a series. The next post in the series will arrive sometime next week.]
The Straw Man
One of the more commonly-known logical fallacies is the Straw Man Fallacy. This fallacy occurs when we set up an argument in a negative or exaggerated way, in order for us to easily take it down. (This should not be confused with the ad hominem logical fallacy, which we will cover next week.)
|From Dinosaur Comics|
Straw Men are Easy, Good Arguments Are Hard
It makes sense that mostly everyone engages in Straw-Man-thinking, even if we know intellectually that such reasoning doesn’t stand up. Our brains evolved to sort what we encounter into categories for survival–these stereotypes often stick around and impact our thinking as we go throughout our lives. If we utilize Straw-Man-thinking innocently, I believe this is because of our stereotypes toward an opposing viewpoint. Of course, in the course of arguments, people tend to Straw Man intentionally or lazily, because they do not want to invest time investigating the reasoning of their opponents further.
|Buzz shows Woody a typical Youtube comment thread.|
How Straw Men Play Out
If I set up an argument in my favor–for example, “The pro-choice side wants to make contraception available because they want to promote a culture of promiscuity”–then I do not need to do much to make my case. If such a thing were the real reason why many pro-choicers favor contraception access, then it would be apparent to the average listener that such reasoning was foolish. But, as any reader of this blog will know, “promoting a culture of promiscuity” is not the reason pro-choicers (or pro-lifers who also favor contraception) want contraception available.
I sometimes experience Straw Men on my own opinion on abortion (on the rare occasions I bring it forth) from both sides of the debate. If I say “I’m against abortion”, pro-choicers may respond with, “Making abortion illegal will kill women through back-alley abortions!” That is a straw man because I said I was anti-abortion, not that I wanted to make abortion illegal.
Additionally, when we talk about making the pro-life movement secular-friendly, many pro-lifers defensively react with statements such as, “We have a right to our religion! Without the religious, the pro-life movement would be nothing!” That is a straw man because SPL never said we should take away the rights of the religious, nor have we said we should remove religion from the abortion debate entirely.
|Fallacy||Why It’s A Fallacy|
|“Pro-lifers are against equal rights for women.”||This misrepresents the pro-life stance. Generally, pro-lifers are in favor of equal rights, however the specific issue of abortion brings up unusual circumstances not covered in other areas of feminism.|
|“Forced gestationers tend to engage in all sorts of complex arguments, when occam’s razor dicates that all their positions (until fairly recently) are far better and more simply explained by wanting to punish people for sex.”||The term “forced gestationers” misrepresents the pro-life position and forces the reader to imply a variety of false assumptions about what the movement stands for. Additionally, the pro-life movement does not promote punishment for sex directly, so evidence would be required that it promotes it indirectly.|
|Fallacy||Why It’s A Fallacy|
|“Pro-choicers think that the unborn baby isn’t alive. They obviously don’t know about science.”||Unless specifically stated, pro-choicers understand that the fetus is alive.|
|“Pro-choicers are against clinic regulations because they do not care about women’s health and safety.”||Pro-choicers are against pro-life bills relating to clinic regulations, not all clinic regulations.|
|“Abortion is murder, and pro-choicers support murder.”||Abortion is not, legally, murder. Pro-choicers obviously disagree that it is murder, so it misrepresents their position to say that they are “for” it.|
So What Should We Do?
Again, it is much easier to disprove our opponent’s argument if we take it upon ourselves to frame it. If we took the time to take their arguments at face value, we might actually find that we agree on several points, and can work together to create some solutions that benefit all.
In the end, in order to maintain a fruitful and honest discussion, we should aspire to describe our opponents position in such a way where they would say, “Yes, that is what I believe.”