Monday, November 06, 2006

Ditch the Straw Man

Perhaps I am a little dense, but I finally figured out the Journal Times editorialists' favorite technique for advancing their point of view. It is the intellectually dishonest "straw man" argument. First present a weak or non-existent point of view supposedly held by your opponent, then refute it. Here are some recent examples:

On the marriage protection amendment. Here is the straw man: "Much of the push for the constitutional amendment has come from religious groups who oppose gay relationships as being a sin under their church teachings." And the easy refutation: "It is foolish to think banning gay marriages or civil unions will make gay relationships disappear.

On the death penalty referendum. Here is the straw man: Perhaps "in this day of reality television shows, Wisconsin would welcome back such morbid entertainment." And the easy refutation: "We on the JT editorial board are morally superior than you bloodthirsty Republicans, and have evolved such that we enjoy more sophisticated entertainment, like the opera." OK, OK, they didn't really write that, but I can't quote them directly because their actual opinion is not in their archives. But you get my point, I hope.

This rhetorical technique is quite dishonest, because it avoids and/or lies about the opposing argument. The best argument for a "yes" vote on the marriage amendment is the preempt courts from redefining marriage. But did the JT take on that argument? No. Do people want the death penalty in order to enjoy hangings, or their equivilant, on the public square. Of course not. A better rationale is to prevent further murders and to punish murderers. Did the JT take on those points? No.

Now I will demonstrate how easy this is. Straw man: Homosexual activists are opposed to the marriage protection because they think everyone should engage in homosexual activity. Defeating the referendum will help promote their agenda. And the easy refutation: The consensual sex between consenting homosexuals is their business in our view, but we would urge them to respect those who prefer heterosexual sex.

This kind of argument is for lazy and dishonest people. It has no place in a real newspaper.

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