There’s nothing like a good argument, as any fan of Monty Python knows.
Having a good argument, however, demands diligence, attention to detail, self-awareness, and practice; it’s all too easy to have a bad one. The bad kind, alas, abounds in political discussion, particularly during an election season, makes frequent appearances in conference rooms and at family dining room tables, and of course proliferates like rabbits on the internet. With the aim of bettering public discourse and combating the viral spread of fallacy everywhere, I propose to launch a regular feature: the Fallacious Argument of the Month.
On the first Monday of each month I will spotlight a different fallacious argument. This month please welcome July’s fallacy, the straw man argument.
For the lazy thinker, nothing could be more fun or easier than the straw man argument. Simply set up your straw man by distorting or exaggerating your opponent’s position, and then set it ablaze or knock it down. This lets you disregard what your opponent actually said and unburdens you from inconvenient facts. (The down side of course is that no one gets to debate and discuss the issue on the merits, although that of course is the point.) Examples of straw man arguments include these two, taken, for the sake of fairness, from each side of the American political aisle:
- Anyone who loves religious liberty must condemn the ACLU for its decision to sue to have cross-shaped headstones removed from military cemetaries.
- Despite the fact that she is a parent of a child with special needs, Sarah Palin cut state funding for special education during her term as governor of Alaska.
If you have a favorite fallacious argument that you’d like to see featured here at Mediation Channel, please let me know. And don’t forget to tune in on August 3 for next month’s Fallacious Argument.