“Tl;dr”: The Abominable Straw Man

Straw man argument: an argument made against a prescribed and fallacious opinion rather than an actual opinion in an attempt to make one’s own argument seem more sensible.

This may be intentional or caused by a genuine lack of knowledge and understanding regarding another’s opinion. 

Before reading anything else on this page (read: anything anywhere) it’s crucial to understand the importance of engaging with opinions that you disagree with. So often do I find that the masses would much rather condense your argument to a social-media-friendly mis-quote than actually analyze the content of it. This isn’t just a tendency for one demographic, but rather a product of human nature. It’s difficult to empathize and understand every position. I would even argue that we shouldn’t try to understand every argument. Plenty of beliefs are toxic enough that validating them with a response would only serve to anger you. Anger typically doesn’t produce meaningful and critical discussions. There is, of course, a difference between sifting through bigotry and sifting through an opinion that you may believe to be bias.

With that said, I still implore you to seek out those opinions that go against your own. It’s important to listen to sensible opposition to our core beliefs. Doing so may do one of two things: it may allow skepticism even within your own ideologies or it may help to strengthen your currently held positions. When you find yourself unable to even moderately illustrate the opinions and beliefs of your opponents, you have a problem. This is how straw man arguments arise.

When you read or hear other perspectives, and other points-of-view you may gain an insight on particular issues that you may not have had access to before. You may also find yourself countering their arguments, which proves especially handy around the holidays when you’re “debating” with stubborn family members.

In her Ted Talk presentation, The Danger of a Single Story , Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie speaks on the issue of allowing yourself to see only one perspective (Video Link). Now, Adichie is speaking in a cultural and global sense, but her point still holds true in socio-political debates. It is a danger to both yourself and others when you fail to challenge your beliefs, and are unable to think critically about what others tell you.

It is equally dangerous to try and speak on an opinion (especially an opposing one) with little understanding of the opinion, its context, and the research behind it.

Tl;dr : Beware the abominable straw man, and remember that when it comes to legitimate intellectual opinions, always go for the longer version.

 

 

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4 comments

  1. julesdevine · February 14, 2016

    Such an insightful post! In our Facebook culture of “likes”, we all need to heed your sage advice. As made evident on Facebook, you’ll see people offering up opinions without a truly knowledgeable grounding in the facts and multiple sides of an issue. We need to listen more to differing beliefs and opinions and engage in healthy debate and dialogue. Thanks for sharing the Adichie link. We need to stop the “straw man.”

    Like

  2. timmcgrathblog · February 15, 2016

    Very well written. I agree that it is very crucial to engage with opinions one may disagree with.

    Like

  3. Kristen Suarez · February 15, 2016

    Very well written! I enjoyed your post, and admire your willingness to discover others viewpoints. Open-mindedness truly helps in all aspects of life. Thanks for the great read!

    Like

  4. tj_augugliaro · February 15, 2016

    I see this kind of thing almost everyday. Whether it be on Facebook, twitter, Instagram, Yik Yak, you name it someone says something that is either in the main stream or against it and all of a sudden *bam* the trolls come out. Everyone is incredibly quick to be a “keyboard warrior” that they often times do not have a firm grasp on the topic at hand. even I am guilty of jumping onto random banter band-wagons. But this is an awesome read!

    Like

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