Straw-men make us dumber.
Rather than argue with each other, we’re able to attack fictional characters, the utter extremes of our disagreement for the sake of political or social gain. It makes us dumber and it raises the spirit of aggressive, partisan politics.
It’s a bad habit, and on the internet, it’s more important than ever to stay alert to.
For the uninformed, straw-men are the bland, faceless critics of whatever it is you think. They exist without nuance and carry over to the logical extreme of what you imagine your , opponent will say: since you’re in charge, you make them as evil, dumb, mean, and insane versions of your enemies as possible.
Straw-men allow you to argue past your opponent at a convenient replacement for your ire. Rather than deal with people and all the complications that involves, a straw-man allows you to fight an idea.
The problem is without a person to ground the opinion in, you’re liable to misplace it. Even if nobody said it, a straw-man only has to be convincing and easy. This can be confusing because the best straw-men sound plausible or, at least, familiar. They trigger your emotional reactions- that’s the point. If I’m a Boston sports fan (I am) and I hate the Yankees (I do) the fact exists plain and simple. But if I want to season it, I can add a straw-man. I can say that some people (read: Yankee fans) think buying a title is just as good as earning one.
Now, obviously, they don’t say that. That’s my interpretation of the Yankees and their garbage legacy of evil filth. But by putting it in the mouth of a straw-man I accomplish two things. First, I fake neutrality and a moral high-ground by even mentioning my opposition. And, second, I get to exaggerate my opponents as though it were journalism.
Look above. That’s a serious, important tactic otherwise talented and smart people you agree with use. And even if you agree with the larger point, it’s worth holding the tactic to scrutiny.
The real issue with fighting against straw-men is that you want to believe straw-men. They make your opponents sound so dumb and evil. But we owe our own opinions a level of credible inquiry. Straw-men arguments are lazy, and they prey on our excitement to believe any idiocy or slander of our enemies as true. It’s a cop out, and you should opt out.
The living, breathing straw-man is Donald Trump.
Maybe that’s funny. It’s supposed to be, a little. But it’s also scary and uncomfortable. Donald Trump is a loser, an idiot, a weirdo bully who somehow ran a casino to a loss and declared bankruptcy multiple times, securing bailouts, taking money from inheritance and taxpayers with the nerve to lecture us about hard work and his own personal greatness.
Donald Trump is festering garbage, a bewigged goblin monster. And that’s part of the problem. It’s so much more satisfying to attack him. But if you’re a Good Vague Liberal like 90% of our readership, it’s a lot more difficult and awkward to debate or come to terms with millions of other Republicans, people with different upbringings and cultures, hard-workers who we truly disagree with even as we respect them.
That’s complicated and hard, so we burn the straw-man. It’s fun, but it doesn’t engage or improve.
It’s hard to build a better world out of straw.