Thursday, June 02, 2016

You Might Be Reading A Straw Man Argument If:

Tis the season for elections and gorilla assasinations. People are suddenly vocal about feelings, mostly on Facebook and blogs. It is also a time of sharing articles that describe how you feel about issues.

I love that Facebook and blogs let people connect, debate, and share ideas. I don't love that those same tools can alienate and insult your loved ones. So before you click "Share" and type, "YESSS THIS!!!!" or "I'm just going to leave this here..." ask yourself:

Is this a straw man argument?

A simple definition of a straw man comes from Wikipedia:

"A straw man is a common form of argument and is an informal fallacy based on giving the impression of refuting an opponent's argument, while actually refuting an argument that was not advanced by that opponent."

A simpler definition comes from me:

"A straw man is an argument that attacks ideas that you claim your opponent has, but actually...they don't think those things at all!"

Simplest of all:

"A straw man is lies."

Here are some ways to recognize them:

1. It is too satisfying

Straw men are like the sirens of the internet. They call to you, sometimes with misleading headlines, they suck you in, but instead of giving you new information or a thoughtful perspective on an issue they drown you in scorn and unrighteous indignation. They fill you with bile and harden your heart against the people who do not think exactly like you.

Everyone likes a little ego stroke now and then. Straw man arguments are satisfying to read because it is nice to see that someone else thinks that you are right and anyone who disagrees with you is a stupid loser-face with poo-breath. It's ok to indulge in that now and then. But indulge conscious of the fact that this argument only works by oversimplifying and demonizing a stance that your loved ones came to after the same thoughtful care that you put into your own stance.

2. It is too infuriating
As mentioned above, sometimes the title of a post is misleading. So you might think that you are clicking on an article that you agree with like, "40 Reasons Ecuadorian Mountain Llamas Are Better Than Venezuelan Red Llamas" but when you start reading the article you realize that this article is actually about 40 reasons why you are a brainless sack of puke for thinking that Ecuadorian llamas can even compare to the Venezuelan Reds.

This is often weirdly and deliciously infuriating. I don't know why, but sometimes it is just as satisfying to feel pure rage at the injustice of being attacked by a stranger on the internet as it is to feel validated by one who agrees with you. So you will keep reading, all the while scoffing at how the idiot who wrote this has all of your motivations and reasons for loving mountain llamas completely wrong. Obviously this writer, and all the people who love those moronic Venezuelan butt-bags, do not understand anything about llamas or love or goodness. They are what is wrong with the world!

And there you are, filled with bile, your heart hardened against the people who do not think exactly like you.

3. "An Open Letter To The Moose That Bit My Sister"
Or possibly worse,
"A Response To The Earlier Open Letter To The Moose That Bit My Sister."
It is possible that someone has written an open letter not guilty of this, but I have never seen it. Open letters generally put on a mask of caring or civility, but then viciously oversimplify and attack the letter recipient's shortcomings for the whole internet to witness. If you really care about someone and feel a need to share unsolicited advice with them, you will probably write them a private letter, or make them some muffins. Muffins are better.

So what is the big deal about sharing a straw man argument? The short answer is that it shuts down thoughtful dialogue.
No one has ever felt strongly about an issue, read a straw man argument and then said, "Ding dang! I guess I was wrong all along, time for a 180 degree turn!" No one has held opinions about an issue, then read a straw man argument and said, "Wow, thanks for sharing that, now I totally understand why you feel the way you do!" No one has read a straw man argument and grown as a person.

This type of article distracts you from the humanity of people who disagree with you, and distracts you from the actual motivations and logic that back up the feelings of those people. As a result no one ever gets a good view of how the other person feels because they are too busy being furious over the misrepresentation of their own beliefs.

Writing and sharing articles is important. Sharing perspectives, and learning about what motivates others is worthwhile. Constructing and hurling straw men at friends and strangers is not worthwhile.


J Sheppard said...

Amen my sister from BYU, who we all know is 1,000 better than the yewts with all their trampy girls and drunken idiots as football fans. I think I might write a letter expressing my distaste for all Utah fans and post it on every social media outlet I can,but then again, they can't read, and will all be busy working at gas stations so they won't be able to read it. Seriously though great article and we really miss you guys.

McRachie said...

HAHA! I don't always use straw men, but when I do it is to shield myself from having beer thrown on me by some classless Utes!