The Straw Man

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American political discussions violate many rules of logic and debate. One of the most outrageous, easiest to spot, and hardest to parry is the Straw Man argument.

One side oversimplifies and distorts a point the other side has made, and asserts that this is the core of the opponent’s argument. Then it’s easy to ridicule it as simplistic, unsupported and possibly dangerous.

In this era of sound bites and tweets, it is most frequently used on complex issues. These require many different approaches to solve. Answers to school and workplace violence, for example, will require cooperation on mental health, school and workplace security, and specific, reasonable, enforceable, control of access to weapons and ammunition. Reasonable laws for Connecticut will not be reasonable for Texas or Alaska. It will take time to work these out.

But in the heat of the latest incident, time is a problem. Something Must Be Done Now. Enter the Straw Man.

One side proposes further gun laws such as age restrictions or limits on certain weapons. Their opponents counter with “They just want to take away your guns.” The other side proposes trained, licensed school employees who carry weapons for self-defense. Opponents say they just want to turn all teachers into armed guards.

Neither is entirely true, but a full explanation requires detail, nuance, and give-and-take. In a world of oversimplification and lack of attention to detail, the Straw Man will be back next time.

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