Thursday, October 9, 2014

the strawmen are coming and they look just like you

Let's play a game of name that fallacy:

A: That guy over there is being rude to the waiter.
B: Yeah, looks like he's being a prick. I can't stand people like that.
A: When he leaves, I'm gonna follow him home and go all Dexter on him.
B: Don't do that.
A: Why are you defending him?!

When B says "don't do that (kill him)," is she implying "because he's a fine human being"? Is she defending him? No and yes. She's defending him, verbally at least, from being killed on absurd grounds. She's not defending his character. So there's equivocation on the oft-used apologist favorite "defend." 

For a while I've been calling this fallacy the false dichotomy-strawman combo. 

It's a false dichotomy in that it posits only these two choices: guy is a prick + kill him OR guy is not a prick + don't kill him.

It's a strawman because it's not just perfectly possible but simply an everyday feature of many people's lives to negativ
ely appraise behavior without experiencing death wishes or other extremely dehumanizing thoughts. The person who says "don't kill him" is simply not saying "...because I'm totally OK with his behavior."

But now it seems to me that all false dichotomies create strawmen, and more interestingly still, are at the foundation of the distorted view of the other that is the hallmark of tribalism. 

First the strawman creation issue. Take that famous false dichotomy, "have you stopped beating your wife?". If it's known that the man had been beating his wife, it's neither a false dichotomy nor a strawman. If it's not known whether he'd been beating his wife (or if he even has a wife, etc.), the question is both a false dichotomy and a de facto strawman. Either he was beating his wife and stopped or he was beating his wife and still is. Either way, he's being attacked on phony grounds (as it's not yet known). 

The false dichotomy builds the strawman, which can then be attacked with relative ease. The false dichotomy happens without the perpetrator's awareness. You might become aware after the fact, secondarily/metacognitively, but it's already there. You're looking at the strawman but blind to its creation. Anyone who has ever had the feeling of self-righteousness (i.e., everyone) has been comparing themselves to a strawman. And yet they weren't aware of it.

I think everything is a kind of strawman, finally -- this entire human experience, that is, existence as perceived, the shadows on the walls of Plato's cave, qualia, the results of neurons modeling environments to control them.

But for now, back to the maybe slightly less complicated issue of tribalism and how the false dichotomy creates the other. Here's the giveaway --
guy is a prick + kill him OR guy is not a prick + don't kill him. The second option, the only one (apart from his own position) made available to B, by A, connects two propositions that are entirely unrelated in B's more nuanced (and less murdery) perspective. The other, from the vantage point of the tribalist, is simply the mirror image of his own position. The inside of any distinction is the definition of good, its opposite the definition of bad, and so as long as the line is held, tribalism is untouchable. Not based on a rational assessment of the other's position, which would be death (non-repetition) for the tribalist position, it's always going to be a strawman produced by a false dichotomy created independently of consciousness. It has to be a strawman in consciousness. This is how it survives. Its false dichotomous creation has to be inaccessible to consciousness. This is how it survives.

1 comment:

Callan S. said...

Well, yah, it survives. And what else do you want? (I ask, risking overbalancing the matter since by asking, I am relying on a 'in your tribe' recognition - if a spam bot were posting, you wouldn't respond to it as it's not of the human tribe)

To me it seems like being human is being tribal - it's more a question of, with the circle that defines what is in or out of the tribe, trying to stretch that out to include peoples one might not otherwise include in it (possibly in the future, AI, even)