How to Build a Straw-man

traditional scarecrow.jpg

Instructions for building a straw-man

If you haven't read it, scroll down and check out the first post: The Straw-man Fallacy, Part One.

 

To build and deploy your very own straw-man, just follow these four easy steps:

Step one: ignore whatever point or premise your opponent is actually arguing – what they are trying to say is irrelevant.

Step two: think of something your opponent could have argued or said, but did not. The more likely, or the more similar to what they are saying, or the more logical the connection seems, the better.

Step three: proceed to obliterate the argument your opponent never presented. Just wallop it. Prove how absolutely illogical and nonfactual it is. For bonus points, show how it is also a great moral evil. The best straw-men are evil.

Step four: walk away victorious. Don't leave room for clarification or recapitulation – someone might notice the body parts lying around you are made of straw. Crush-and-go.

Pro-tips:

    • The more flimsy the straw-man, the easier it is to destroy him.

    • The more violent the destruction, the more awesome you will look. There should be straw flying everywhere.

    • The best straw-men look real – they can go undetected except by the best arguers – so make it look legit.

    • Expert straw-man builders can make a scare-crow so real that the person you are arguing against is not even aware of what you've done. They will actually feel defeated. They may even be convinced – but more likely they will just be angry.


The straw-man is as evil as it is popular. It is a form of distraction, so that the actual heart of the matter is never addressed. It is dishonest, disrespectful, and a general waste of time. The only value of the straw-man is to deceive people, thereby persuading them to follow an otherwise weak cause, or accept an otherwise indefensible position. It is a way to make one's opponent look silly, stupid, wicked, or otherwise cast them in a negative light – without having to do the work to find anything substantially wrong with their argument.

It is not hard to find examples of straw-men; just read the news. Here are a couple of generic examples:

A Republican wants to enforce border laws; Democrats are disgusted that she hates foreign people.

A Democrat thinks we should reform gun control laws; the Republicans can't believe he wants to throw the Constitution away.

A Christian believes the Earth is younger than 10,000 years; an Evolutionist is appalled that Christians don't believe in science.

A scientist interprets a piece of evidence as showing an old Earth; Christians won't stop talking about the scientist's worldview and it's influence on her thinking.

 

The straw-man is a dangerous foe, and we must be on guard lest we fall prey to this common deception. We could be manipulated like the people of Germany in the 1930s and '40s – it doesn't take much to whip people into an emotional frenzy, if the speaker knows how to work the fallacies. Don't let rhetoric bypass your brain.

Perhaps the greater danger, the more sinister danger, the one that takes more than mere discernment to avoid, is the straw-man begging to be built in us.

That's right, you and me make straw-men. I am certain you have made straw-man arguments before, and will do so again; it can seem too easy, too popular, and too effective to resist. But resist we must. We are humans, God's stewards of the world - and that includes the intellectual realities of the world. As such, we are responsible to argue well. In fact, to love one's neighbor means to argue with him in truth. There is nothing true about a straw-man.


So consider the straw-man: his construction, his substance, his appearance. Learn to identify him, both in what you hear and read, as well as in what you speak and write. We are living in a world of angry, illogical rhetoric. Let us sound the voice of reason, the voice of honesty, the voice of truth.

Feel the power . . . 

Feel the power . . .