The Straw-man Fallacy, Part One

The broad masses are more amenable to the appeal of rhetoric than to any other force.
— Adolf Hitler
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What if he was right?

Hitler was a great speaker, after all . . .

But that was then, and this is now. If the radio changed everything for men like Hitler, and the television blew the radio out of the water, what does the smartphone mean?


Rhetoric is all around. The most copious supply of rhetoric is of course on the internet. Anybody can say anything to any number of listeners. Blogs burgeon, podcasts proliferate, and when it comes to social media . . . even the sky does not seem to limit the vast number of words (and pictures) exchanged.

Of course, not all words are rhetorical, but many are. Rhetoric can be defined simply as

Persuasive speaking or writing

Under this definition, it's easy to see that most words are rhetorical – people are usually trying to persuade us of something.

Most of us spend some of our time each day wading through this expanse of information called internet, and rightly so. We stand to gain much through this medium - it is a powerful tool - but we have to be aware, thoughtful, and alert as we navigate this muddled mess of communications. The tools of listening, logic, and critical thinking are more essential than ever before, if for no other reason than that we can encounter so much information simply with the swipe of a finger. In such a vast and variegated digital landscape, discernment is a must.

In light of all that, I want to say a word about one of the most dubious and fearsome weapons of rhetoric available: the fallacy.

A fallacy is a failure in reasoning that invalidates an argument

Fallacies make up the bread and butter of many arguments. They even sneak into our own argumentation. I am no exception (am I doing it right now? Can you tell? OoooOOoo).

One informal fallacy, the so-called 'straw-man,' offers great bang for your buck. He is cheap, almost free in fact, because he is made of sticks and straw. He is powerful because of how good he can make you look, and how obvious he makes your argument sound.

The best part is, the straw-man is easy to craft.

To make your own, just follow the instructions in the next post: How to Build a Straw-man.