Friday, March 24, 2006

The Falcon and The Strawman

So critical thinking has made the big time. There it was on Yahoo News, an AP story about our very own President using strawman arguments.

For those who aren't familiar with the term: a strawman is (1) an intentionally weak argument that someone constructs and falsely claims his opponent to be advocating, in order to refute and then claim to have defeated the opponent, or (2) Alan Colmes. The idea is that it is easier to beat the stuffing out of a scarecrow than a real person, so instead of assessing the actual argument the other side is putting up, you substitute a stupid argument, attribute it to them and then claim victory by undermining the stupid argument instead of the real, more interesting one.

(It strikes me that Hannity and Colmes are to political discourse what the Harlem Globetrotters and the Washington Generals are to basketball. Rumor has it that George Bush wanted to place the coach of the Washington Generals among the Joint Chiefs of Staff, saying that as a coach, he'd done a heck of a job. )

This fallacy certainly is not the exclusive property of either side of the political aisle, but it is wihtout a doubt true that talk radio has become the megaphone through which certain strawman arguments can be drilled and drilled and drilled into the heads of those under its spell.
So some questions seem in need of discussing. If the AP could bring up example after example of this fallacy being repeatedly committed over the span of Bush's presidency, why are we only hearing about it from them now, six years and two elections in? How did we allow our political discourse to become so polluted? What effect does this have on democracy? What effect does it have on our own politcal, ethical, factual decision making processes? And, most importantly, what the hell can we do about it?

(My answer: teach logic, critical thinking, and write a book -- more on the last one to come). Other suggestions?