Fun with fallacies 13: Straw man argument

strawmanThose of you who get into a lot of debates online have inevitably found yourself either using, or facing a straw man. Now, this isn’t the fun kind of strawman people burn Nicholas Cage inside for participating in a crappy remake. This is the kind someone uses to make it appear that they have refuted your argument.

The core of the strawman is a misrepresentation of an opponents argument, usually into a variant of the argument that makes it easier to refute. To give an example from a debate on violence.

Participant 1: While I agree that as a general principle men should not hit women, there are certain situations such a self-defense where the action would be permissible.

Participant 2: My opponent is arguing that men should be allowed to hit women. As a feminist, I disagree with this statement, men have been using violence against women since the dawn of man, and as it is 2016 its time we stop it!

In this case, participants 1 argument is that men should be allowed to use violence to defend themselves from a female assailant. Participant 2’s counter-argument is based on Participant 1 making an argument that men should be allowed to hit women, period, no modifier.

The greatest thing about a straw man is that it can also be used in reverse, by accusing your opponent of straw-manning you, the effect is to de-legitimize the argument made and force that person to spend time arguing that he was not.

Spotting a straw man is fairly simple, you will get a gut reaction akin to “that wasn’t what I said!”. The most common response to being straw manned is to become more logical, to clarify your argument, and to justify what you said. This is the wrong approach.

The best response to being straw manned is a shit test response technique [1] called “agree and amplify”. The way to perform this technique, is to A) Agree with your opponents straw man, and B) Exaggerate it to a ridiculous level.

From my example above, participant 1 could respond something like

“Yes, I’m totally in favor of men beating the crap out of women, as a matter a fact I barely made it to this debate with my busy schedule of violently assaulting unsuspecting women in the street”

The best approach is to use a lot of humor in your exaggeration, because making someone laugh is a good way to get them on your side and because you want to make sure that your “agree and amplify” is very clearly a joke. The point is to make your opponent look ridiculous for even making the straw man argument.

For more on Shit tests and responses Illimitable Man wrote the book on it:


One comment on “Fun with fallacies 13: Straw man argument

  1. […] with the straw man fallacy, most people respond to being either accused of being a cherry picker, or when being cherry picked […]


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