The “Straw Man” Fallacy

Occasionally, when somebody does not have a response to a point I make, they reply by saying, “You’re making a straw man argument.”

For example, “Socialists do not wish to coerce or force people to do anything. It’s a straw man argument.”

Or, “AA doesn’t wish to impose faith or the group on people; you’re making a straw man argument.”

This used to puzzle me. But then I came to understand that the person who responds this way (a) does not have a response to my points, and (b) does not wish to be held accountable for the implications of his points.

For example, someone who supports the socialist/redistribution of wealth policies of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders will say it’s a “straw man” argument to claim they’re forcing people to do things against their will, even though they are; or it’s a “straw man” argument to claim that they’re punishing success and rewarding mediocrity, even though they are.

The person making the straw man argument is essentially saying, “I know that these ideas or polices you reject are not intended to end up as you’re saying they end up. Progressives do not intend to do these things.” Instead of explaining or defending why their ideas lead to the sorts of negative consequences they do, they simply say, “My ideas do not lead to bad consequences. It’s a straw man argument.”

I no longer try to understand what someone means when they make this claim. It’s just as empty, and just as designed to intimidate (in a less obvious way) as the claim that you’re racist, anti-woman, or anything else. They might as well be saying, “I have no response to what you say. All I know is I don’t like what you’re saying, and I’m going to call you a name without any content or meaning.”

The next time you make the case for freedom and capitalism over statism and socialism, or for any other rational idea, such as free will and personal responsibility, and a person accuses you of fighting a “straw man,” then make that person explain why his ideas, if practiced consistently, lead to the consequences they do. Hold him or her responsible for the logical outcome of his or her ideas, when practiced consistently.


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