Rhetoric Referee: The Straw Man

 

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American political discussions violate many rules of logic and debate, but one of the most outrageous, easiest to spot, and hardest to parry is the Straw Man argument. Usually this takes the form of one side oversimplifying and distorting a point the other side has made, asserting that this is the core of the opponent’s argument, and then proceeding to ridicule it as simplistic, unsupported and possibly dangerous.

In this era of sound bites and tweets, it’s most frequently used on complex issues that require many different approaches to solve, such as school or workplace violence. A true solution will require cooperation on mental health, school and workplace security, and specific, reasonable, enforceable, control of access to weapons and ammunition. In a complex society, 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 because Something Must Be Done Now. Enter the Straw Man. When 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.” When the other side proposes permitting trained, licensed school employees to carry weapons for self-defense, the first says they just want to turn all teachers into armed guards.

Neither is entirely true, but to fully explain their true proposals requires detail, nuance, and give-and-take. In a world of oversimplification and lack of attention to detail, we’re likely doomed to hear more from the Straw Man next time.