Straw man

From Academic Kids

A straw man or man of straw is a dummy in the shape of a human created by stuffing straw into clothes. Straw men are used as scarecrows, combat-training targets or swordsmiths test-targets, effigies to be burned, and as rodeo dummies to distract bulls.

As a rhetorical term, "straw man" describes a point of view that was created in order to be easily defeated in argument; the creator of a "straw man" argument does not accurately reflect the best arguments of his or her opponents, but instead sidesteps or mischaracterizes them so as to make the opposing view appear weak or ridiculous.


Rhetorical use

The straw-man rhetorical technique is the practice of refuting weaker arguments than one's opponents actually offer. To "set up a straw man" or "set up a straw-man argument" is to create a position that is easy to refute, then attribute that position to your opponent.

One can set up a straw man in several different ways:

  1. Present only a portion of the opponent's arguments (often a weak one), refute it, and pretend that all of their arguments have been refuted.
  2. Present the opponent's argument in weakened form, refute it, and pretend that the original has been refuted.
  3. Present a misrepresentation of the opponent's position, refute it, and pretend that the opponent's actual position has been refuted.
  4. Present someone who defends a position poorly as the defender, refute their arguments, and pretend that every argument for that position has been refuted.
  5. Invent a fictitious persona with actions or beliefs that are criticised, and pretend that the person represents a group that the speaker is critical of.

Some logic textbooks define the straw-man fallacy only as a misrepresented argument. It is now common, however, to use the term to refer to all of these tactics. The straw-man technique is also used as a form of media manipulation.

Decision making

A "straw-man proposal" is a simple draft proposal intended to generate discussion of its disadvantages and to provoke the generation of new and better proposals. As the document is revised, it may be given other edition names such as "stone-man", "iron-man", and so on.

Straw man in law

The term straw man can refer to a third party that acts as a "front" in a transaction (i.e., who is an agent for another) for the purpose of taking title to real property, breaking a joint tenancy, or engaging in some other kind of transaction where the principal remains hidden or to do something else which is not allowed. A straw man is also "a person of no means," or one who deliberately accepts a liability or other monetary responsibility without the resources to fulfill it, usually to shield another party.

At one time, men of straw were men that could be found in the courts who placed a piece of straw in their shoes (also called straw-shoes). Jurists knew that these men of straw were available to testify for a price, and they would be asked leading questions: Don't you remember that you saw him at the market at the time of the murder? And the straw-shoe's rejoinder would be: yes. Then the straw-shoes would perjure himself for a price in court, just as the jurist had so cleverly (but fraudulently) suggested.

In literature

Heinrich Mann's Man of Straw (1918) is the first book in his Das Kaiserreich trilogy and an unremitting critique of Wilhelmine Germany at the turn of the Twentieth Century. It portrays the life of a man, Diederich Hessling, a fanatic admirer of Emperor Wilhelm II, who becomes a straw man for authority and the existing order. Throughout the story, Diederich's inflexible ideals are often contradicted by his actions: he preaches bravery but is a coward; he is the strongest proponent of the military but seeks early relief from service; his greatest political opponents are the revolutionary Social-Democrats, yet he uses his influence to help send his hometown’s SPD candidate to the Reichstag so as to defeat his Liberal competitors in business; he starts vicious rumours against the latter and then dissociates himself from these; he preaches and enforces Christian virtues upon others but lies, cheats and regularly commits infidelity.

Diederich’s ideals: blood and iron, and the might of opulent power are exposed as hollowness and weakness. Diederich Hessling, the informer child (and later adult), the Neo-Teuton, the Doctor of chemistry, the paper manufacturer, and eventually the most influential man in town, is a critical allegory depicting German society’s increasing susceptibility to chauvinism, jingoism, ultra-nationalism, anti-Semitism and proto-fascism. His character is often juxtaposed, in both words and appearance to another man of straw, the Emperor, Prince Wilhelm II. 'It almost seems to me. You look so very much like - His ...'

Man of Straw. Penguin Books, London, 1984, c1918. (ISBN 0140065849)

In movies

The Scarecrow straw man was one of the main characters in the classic movie based on the book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

Rodeo dummies

In the sport of rodeo, the straw man is a dummy made of a shirt and pants stuffed with straw, traditionally propped up with a broom. The straw man is placed in the arena during bullriding events as a safety measure. It is intended to distract the bull after the rider has dismounted (or has been thrown), with the idea that the bull will attack the straw man rather than attack its former rider. Two so-called rodeo clowns--people dressed in bright colors whose job it is to distract the bull if the rider is injured--are in the ring as well and are usually far more effective than the straw man.

External links

nb: strmann he:דחליל_(כשל_לוגי) de:strohmann


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