Continuing the discussion on logical fallacies, Brittany and Connor explain what the “straw man” is and how you can combat this tactic during a debate.


Here’s a transcript of our conversation:

Connor: Hey, Brittany.

Brittany: Hi, Connor.

Connor: You know, we’ve talked before about a bunch of different, what are called logical fallacies, logical fallacy. Again, it’s like this way of making a bad argument. if you’re arguing or making, an argument unfairly or in a way that doesn’t make sense or it’s just kind of wrong. I know you and Emma have actually started to break down some of these fallacies one by one, including the appeal to emotion, which we see of course all the time, but all the time. I wanted to continue this trend and, talk with you today about what’s called a straw man. This is one that I see a lot as well. Now, Brittany, I don’t know about you, but I don’t like being wrong. Do you like being wrong?

Brittany: No, I’m, I never wrong Connor, so I don’t know what that feels like.

Connor: Here we go. Okay. You’re just never wrong, you know, like, this is true of everyone, right? Not just people we disagree with, but ourselves as well. We all don’t like being wrong. And often when we’re confronted with some information that kind of contradicts our point or is kind of against what we’re saying, it’s hard for us to face it. you know, head on. this might also happen when we’re caught off guard and we don’t know how to respond. Maybe we’re not prepared to have a response to what someone is saying about like, criticizing something we believe or something that we think is true. But instead of saying, you know, I don’t know, or, let me think about that, right? We may be tempted to engage in what’s called a straw man argument. Now, Brittany, before I have you give some examples of straw man arguments, let me explain why we call it a straw man. I think of the example of, literally like a straw man, right? I can kind of like build this straw man. Oh, look, it looks like, I’ll say I have an opponent named Bob, and I think Bob is wrong about everything. So I’m gonna build this, this straw man, it looks like Bob. And so when I tear it down and beat it to smithereens or light it on fire, it’s like I’m, I’m lighting bob on fire, right? This, but the straw man is not Bob. and if I want to kind of beat up Bob, I need to actually beat up Bob and not a straw man that’s designed to look at him. And so this idea behind the straw man is you’re attacking something or someone, that is not the actual argument. Instead of confronting the actual argument, instead of debating like the specific idea, you’re actually bringing something else up, this kind of fake straw man, and then you’re attacking it and patting yourself on the back and saying, you know, look how great I am. I beat this argument. I proved you know that I’m right and you’re wrong, except you were not fair because you were you know, using a straw man rather than the real argument. So, Brittany, have you ever been guilty of this?

Brittany: Oh my gosh, yes. Before I understood anything about the economy or politics, you know, the one specific instance is I remember arguing with a friend about how FDR was right about everything. I’m ashamed of that now, but it is what it is. But the conversation turned into one about student loans, and I was getting student loans at the time, so I got very, very defensive and, you know, my friend said, student loans are equal to stealing money from taxpayers so somebody else can go to college. And my response was, you know, so you hate the poor and you don’t want poor people to go to college. Now this is a straw man argument, right? I created a whole new argument that he wasn’t making. He was talking about stealing money from taxpayers, which is absolutely true. And I took it into, why do you hate poor people? Right? I created this straw man that didn’t exist. But it’s also interesting cuz you’ll notice that there was also a little bit of an appeal to emotions in my response, right? It it’s like they’re not all inseparable. they have little elements of both, right? Because I was trying to, call upon like, oh, someone think of the poor people. We need to think of these sad people who can’t go to college even though the degree is useless. So there’s that going on and when we resort to the straw man argument, we weaken our own position because we’re not backing it up with facts. We’re just diverting from answering the question. So let me give you some more examples. And Connor, you and I can talk about some ways we can combat these.

Connor: Brittany, let me, let me actually interject before we go into the exam. Yeah, that’s fine. I wanna highlight what you just said. You know you said something like, when we use a straw man argument, we weaken our own position. I think that’s really interesting because this is true of a lot of logical fallacies. If you are like, I’ll use this example, okay? I recently saw a video of this mom who was at like a city council meeting and she was trying to oppose vaccine passports, right? This idea that the government should be able to require you to get a vaccine to like, you know, travel or go to the store or whatever. And so she’s standing up in front of these people to give the, her remarks, she’s kind of sharing her thoughts, she’s standing up for, you know, medical freedom, right? And she proceeds to talk about like, all kinds of crazy stuff, you know, that Bill Gates put, you know, microchips, microchips, inside of the vaccine, and, and they have magnets. And if you stand too close to the, you know, refrigerator you’re gonna get, your forehead will get stuck. And like, all this time I’m just like, wait, what? And so when you use bad arguments, now, she wasn’t so much talking about straw man, although perhaps somewhat, but the point is she was using bad arguments and it really, undermined her influence. All of a sudden, immediately people were like, wait, what? Like now I’m never gonna pay attention to you again. Yeah, you’re not a truthful person. You’re not, you’re trying to, you know, maybe appeal to emotion, right? Or you are using a straw man about, you know, microchips and 5G inside the vaccines or whatever. You’re trying to make these other arguments rather than focus on the issue at hand. And so it’s very important for us when we are trying to defend the truth or persuade people to believe in free markets or whatever we’re doing, it’s really important that we use good arguments that we not use any logical fallacies. Why? It’s because of what you said, Brittany. We don’t want to weaken our own position. And if we start attacking a straw man like you did with your friend about college loans, immediately you look less credible, right? It’s like, ah, well, you know, you’re using unfair arguments, so I’m gonna, you know, disregard everything you say because now your opinions carry less weight. So it’s very important for us, especially as we become teenagers and adults, and that’s why this book that we have, the Guide to Logical Fallacies is written for teenagers. It’s so important that we realize, we learn how to argue properly and well, and that we avoid these logical fallacies so that you can tell the truth so that you can be effective and persuade people. So I just wanted to kind of comment on that, cuz what you said was really insightful, that when we resort to logical fallacies, including the straw man, we weaken our own position and we don’t want to, we wanna be right, we wanna have strong positions, but that’s why you need to learn about these fallacies and then avoid them like the plague.

Brittany: I think that is absolutely right. So we’re gonna give a couple of examples. And it’s funny, they’re gonna sound almost comical, but if you start paying attention to this, people do this all the time in real life and they are silly. So let’s say there’s a wife and she says, you know, the wife says, I’d rather have a dog than a cat. And so the husband would respond, why do you hate cats? It really, honestly, sounds like something like a standup comic would use, right? But this is, this is real. So here’s one that we hear all the time. So let’s say there are two politicians or yeah, politicians arguing. The first one would say, providing Medicare for all citizens, which is like, free healthcare would be costly and a danger to the free market. And then politician B comes along and says, you don’t care if people die from not having healthcare. So we heard this a lot with COVID, right? With masks, right? People would say, you know, I don’t wanna wear a mask. And you’d have somebody will saying, why are you trying to kill my grandma? And you’re like, wait, what? How did we get here? How did I go from, I don’t wanna wear a mask to it? I’m now killing your grandma. So, you know, another person might say automation, which is like kiosks where you can order food at McDonald’s, things like that. You know, automation will make our lives more convenient. And someone else might say, oh, so you want people to lose their jobs to robots. So it becomes about something that it isn’t. And one of my favorite examples, I’m not gonna read all of them because I just watched a video and there were 17 in the entire video I think, but Jordan Peterson, who have talked about a lot, he was interviewed by a lady named Kathy Newman and there were all these memes made about it cuz she kept saying, so what you’re saying is, so she would put words in his mouth and she didn’t even bother to find out if what she was saying was true. So there was one thing where she says, does it bother you that your audience is primarily male? Isn’t that divisive? And he said, no more divisive than the fact that YouTube is primarily male and Tumblr is primarily female. And so then she’s like, so you’re saying that’s just the way it is. There’s nothing you can do to solve it. And the cool thing that Peterson did is he didn’t let her get away with it. And it’s because he is a psychologist. I think that he could see what she was doing and it became a really famous interview. And maybe I’ll link a clip in the show notes because he combated it so well, and so instead of being flustered and saying like, wait, what did you say? He would, break it down and say like, no, wait, that’s not what we were talking about. Yeah. And at one point he just starts laughing at her because it becomes so absurd that everyone, even people who didn’t like Jordan Peterson were seeing how ridiculous this was cuz it was just an interview of a straw man, I guess.

Connor: And it creates sympathy for the victim.

Brittany: Yeah, that’s exactly what it did.

Connor: So in this case, you know, as you point out, even people who don’t like Jordan Peterson are kind of on his side on this one. And so, look, if you think socialism is bad and you start using straw man to attack socialism, then some people might be led to support socialism just because they hear your arguments, your bad arguments, your logical fallacies, and they’re your straw man. And they’re like, that’s crazy. So I guess I do support socialism, right? Like we are in a war of ideas. And if you don’t unlike imagine yourself on a battlefield, you wake up one morning spontaneously, you know, awaken in the middle of a literal battlefield, and you’re unprepared, well, you’re gonna lose, right? If you don’t know that the war’s happening, if you’re not prepared to fight and defend yourself, then you’re already gonna fall victim. You’re, just gonna get, you know, killed, quote-unquote. And so here we are in this mental war, this war of ideas, this psychological battle, and, there’s a lot of these crazy ideas going, around that can really negatively affect your life or positively affect your life. And it’s really important that we try and sift through all those ideas and understand what the truth is. And, I remember there’s a book called The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Great, very, very famous book. so probably the parents out there have read it, at least heard about it. Really, really good book. And in that book, the author Stephen Covey, he has this principle, one of these, habits that I really love. And I think it totally applies certainly to logical fallacies in general, but definitely to the straw man argument. And it’s, he says this, seek first to understand, then be un then to be understood, right? what that means is we often, like we said earlier, we wanna be right. We wanna know it all. We wanna say all the things, and we have this desire to just like, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Instead what he’s saying is like, hold on, listen first, seek first to understand. Understand the other person really try like Jordan Peterson, right? If that interviewer first really tried to understand and asked him some clarifying questions and really tried to understand what he meant, right, then she would be in a position of better going after the truth. Now, of course, interviewers like her, I feel like Brittany are not always after the truth, right? No. They’re after like, gotcha journalism where they make, hey, if someone look stupid, and oh yeah, a bunch of people are gonna watch this video on media now. And, you know, we’ll sell more advertising and things like that. So unfortunately, you find out as you get older that, not everyone’s really interested in the truth. Some people just wanna play games. They wanna, deceive, they wanna try and, you know, give false impressions, get more money. And so these things are a challenge for those of us who really care about the truth. And so that’s why for us, you know, seek first to understand, try and really understand the other person’s point of view. Why? Because if you don’t, like, maybe here’s the thing. You may inadvertently attack a straw man. And what that inadvertently word means is like accidentally without knowing, you may think that you’re being accurate and attacking someone’s, you know, viewpoint. You may try and, you know, be attacking this, you know, the college loan example that you brought up. But if you don’t fully understand the point, if you don’t really understand what that person believes or is trying to say, and you start launching into this argument against why it’s all kinds of bad, they’re gonna be like, well, that’s not what I actually believe. Yep, you’re attacking something that I never said. And so you’re gonna look silly again. You’re not gonna have credibility. And so that’s why taking some time, being patient, really seeking to understand, asking a few questions, and then thoughtfully providing an answer or a response or a rebuttal, you can kind of go attack and criticize and kind of critique that idea if you want. But you first have to understand what it actually is so that you’re attacking the actual idea and not a fake version, not this straw man idea.

Brittany: I think you’re absolutely right. And like you said, this is a war of ideas we’re in, right? Nobody is trying to purposefully look dumb or purposefully, you know, appeal to emotions, do these things. So it’s really important to recognize one when other people are doing it, but also when you are doing it. Cause I guarantee you’ve done it before it happens. We’re all human. So kind of make a note, maybe this is the activity you can do after, is see how many times you notice in the real world that people are doing this, people are making this drama and arguments.

Connor: Well, guys, head to the show notes page, will link to the guidebook for logical fallacies. We’ll link to that Jordan Peterson clip, which is fun to watch. These are important things to be learning about. These logical fallacies are really gonna help us develop critical thinking. And look, we don’t wanna be in debates all the time. It’s not about criticizing and critiquing other people, but how we even just discuss ideas with other people. How we interpret what’s happening in the media, what we’re seeing at schools, how we, you know, have our family discussions. It’s really important. And, you know, pro tip for the teenagers out there, if you learn to debate really well that you know you’re gonna win more arguments with mom and dad, great, but mom and dad, you know, you didn’t hear that.

Brittany: You didn’t hear that.

Connor: Well, but you know, it’s important that we raise, you know, adults, right? Who can develop critical thinking, who learn how to have good arguments to think clearly, to not fall prey to these flawed ideas that are gonna lead them down bad paths, towards bad ideas in this psychological war. So guys, make sure to head to Check the show notes page. Thanks as always for being subscribed. We’ll see you on the next episode. Until next time, Brittany, we’ll talk to you later.

Brittany: Talk to you later.