Maine GOP Platform: a case study in Straw Man fallacy

The following paragraphs are ones I wrote in response to a thread analyzing the Maine GOP Platform (May 8, 2010).  I’m only posting it so that I can refer to it in other posts, such as the very next one on this site.

I hope these comments aren’t too far off topic (making the Constitution mean what they want it to).

The first thing that struck me in the preamble was the setting up of a straw man that starts with a philosophical “conversely”(1) statement.  Not that the statement itself constitutes setting up a strawman, but rather it is stated as something of a justification: It firstly asserts that the enemy exists and identifies what intent of the enemy is, namely to “throw off the shackles of restraint” in order to take control of the people.  (Actually, if the straw man isn’t a distortion of an actual position, but rather the invention of a position with its attribution to your opponent, that’s not Continue reading

Poisoning the Well: Freedom of Speech without Consequences

The other night I listened to a clip from a Sarah Palin speech where she said we had to “hold the press accountable when they’re making things up and not telling the truth.”  In another speech, she says, “They talk down to us. Especially here in the heartland. Oh, man. They think that, if we were just smart enough, we’d be able to understand their policies.”

Before that, I listened to Dr. Laura tell the networks that she wants to “take back” her Second-Amendment Rights to free speech that have been “hijacked” by the likes of Media Matters. This, after she machine-gunned an African American caller into her show with the ‘N’ word.

One of the things I try to do on a regular basis is review logical fallacies and try to identify what it is that I sense is going on in even up-beat sorts of rhetoric. When I consider the tactics that these two women are employing, it occurs to me that some sort of poisoning the well, among other fallacies (such as ad hominem),  is occurring.

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No true Scotsman … er … dog-lover

The other day, we were at a restaurant with our little dog, Picasso. While there, a couple of ladies sat down next to us with their own dogs — three of them. Not a problem. However, during the course of our visit and meal, there were occasions when then dogs barked.

This rankled me somewhat, and I made a comment that I think it rude for owners to subject others in a closed environment like a restaurant where dog-barking is not a distraction that is expected or appreciated. Serious conversation ensued:

– Dogs (like humans) need to be put into the environment about which you want to train them.
– Fair enough. But maybe something like the environment without imposing on people around you?
– But how would that be an authentic context?

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pthd, pthd, pthd — Meep meep!

A friend of my said, in the course of a conversation of a political nature, that, since politics is in its current state with the strength of extreme characterizations of partisan positions, providing ample fodder for humorists, Colbert is successful; and he would not be as successful if this were not the case.

My first thought was this was a tautological (petitio principii, begging the question, or circulus in probando, circular reasoning) because it sounded like he was saying, “Colbert is successful in the current circumstances that allow him to be funny, but under different circumstances, he would not be successful.”  The circle would happen by unconsciously accepting the assumption that the requirement for his success is due to the extremes in political positions, actions, statements, etc.  If there were not extremes, which create comedic fodder, Colbert would not be “successful.”

But I wasn’t sure, so I peppered him with an opening salvo of queries. The exercise was to try pealing back the layers of assumption for some sort of insight into why he would make such a statement and reveal what he was “really saying.”

Note: when I say “humor”, I mean humor, comedy, and satire; by humorist, I mean humorist, comedian, and satirist.

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