the least helpful way to argue

There are all kinds of arguments in the world — right ones, wrong ones, constructive ones, destructive ones, sincere ones, disingenuous ones, funny ones, serious ones. But at this stage in my life as an arguer, none is as consistently, exhaustingly unhelpful as “no one is arguing that.”

This has become an absolute stock response in my comments section in the last couple of years. I will say “X is a bad idea.” And commenters will spring up to say “Straw man! No one is arguing for X!” This is particularly odd because almost always I’ve pointed to a particular argument for X, with a link. I’ll then say, in the comments, actually here’s argument X, coming from this person and this person and this person. Then, the argument immediately changes: “oh, well, sure, that guy argues for X, but hardly anybody argues for X.” Or, even more often, some version of “nobody important argues for X.” The goal posts shift massively and quickly and yet the tone of condescension endures. Well, look: ideas are worth rebutting even if they are not popular, there are many unpopular ideas that we take as perpetually worthy of fighting thanks to their former prevalence in history, and frequently the arguments aren’t actually that unpopular as people claim anyway.

In this recent fracas about Jon Chait’s article on political correctness, versions of this tactic were deployed again and again. I agree heartily with those who say that Chait slides between claims of silencing and claims of bullying, and that he conflates criticism with bullying, and with the principle that freedom of speech does not mean freedom from the consequences of your speech. But a lot of people went further, particularly on Twitter: they claimed that no one calls for actual silencing of speech that falls outside of what we think of as norms of political correctness. As I tried to say, that simply isn’t true, and the pretense that it isn’t does nothing to improve our conversation.

Here’s a perfect example of genuine censorship that arose from what we often call political correctness. Christ Church, a college within Oxford University, banned a pro-life event because a vocal minority of students felt that the event was “threatening.” That is black-letter censorship. (Incidentally, I believe in abortion rights without restriction, but I also think that the pro-choice case can survive debate, precisely because I think it’s the stronger side. Crazy, I know.) I know we on the left are doing this thing where we define the word censorship so narrowly that literally nothing but blackshirts busting down your door qualifies, but by any meaningful definition of the term, a college forcing an event off campus because some members of the student body dislike the message of that event is censorship. If it’s not, then you’ve so diluted the term for rhetorical purpose that it’s become meaningless. So: is that censorship good or bad? That you can debate. “No one advocates censorship on political correctness grounds” is not true and does nothing for anyone.

The more sophisticated version then became “that only happens in academia.” Get off of campus for awhile, nerd! You’re out of touch with the real world. Well, one, college campuses are part of the real world. There are millions of people who spend significant amounts of their time on college campuses. For another, ideas and mores from the academy have a way of spreading into the world of media. Privilege theory and intersectionality started out in academic circles before becoming the presumed vocabulary of media liberals.

But the biggest problem is that this is simply a means of avoidance. Saying “that only happens in college,” even if it were true, just prevents us from actually considering the root issues at hand. Do you want it to remain just on campus? Would you like that kind of language policing to become more prevalent? That’s an issue of stakes, and dismissing it as a straw man denies reality.

Here’s an argument that is straightforwardly, unambiguously censorious that has nothing to do with college. It’s a call for outlawing speech that the author finds unpalatable, and for failing to prosecute those who commit violent crimes against people with unpopular opinions. Now you can support this argument, or you can reject it, but you can’t pretend it doesn’t exist. And if you’re one of those types whose only engagement on the political correctness issue is to say, well of course no one wants censorship, but…, you might take this opportunity to make the first half of that statement your central focus rather than the second.

Me, personally, I think that the piece reflects the problem with the affluent, educated, white caste that does so much to set the national left-wing conversation. Such people cannot imagine the dangers of government-enforced speech codes because they have never had to live in a society without free speech. People who have lived under the fickle dictates of a ruling junta that is in the business of regularly defining proper expression might take a different tack. Here’s a good example of what government-mandated speech codes actually look like in the real world: police harassing an 8-year-old Muslim boy and his father for “glorifying terrorism.” That’s what actual government censorship looks like. It is inflicted on left-wing constituencies, not in their favor, because the state is the tool of power, and the left’s business is the defense of the powerless. Only those who live within the bubble of elite leftism could imagine that the state is suddenly going to become a meaningful champion of anti-racism.

But there I go again! I’m arguing. I’m not pretending like the opinion that I disagree with does not exist. My argument might be good or bad. You might even find it offensive. But it’s an actual argument, which means that it can be examined, critiqued, supported, and in any event understood. It at least has the potential to improve how we talk about this issue, even if it’s only by being subject to later rebuttal. In contrast, I simply have no idea what to do with the pervasive “no one is arguing that!” claim. It’s a dead end, and a cop out, and I really wish the internet would fall out of love with it.

Update: But I am hoisting myself by my own petard! So take that into consideration.

53 responses

  1. “ideas are worth rebutting even if they are not popular”

    How would you relate that to the issue of dead/live moral questions re: free speech?

    • Yeah, I feel like you’re pointed out a direct contradiction. A direct quote from the “dead moral questions” post:

      You are all debating an idea that no one at all is advancing.

      Substitute “arguing” for “advancing” and it’s literally identical, word-for-word.

  2. I find it interesting that most liberals tend to be reflexively pro-choice (because apparently it’s really about “patriarchal control of women’s bodies,” or whatever, rather than the actual issues) without any real metaphysical basis or arguments to support it. I’m curious as to what your arguments are?

    • It’s the basic question: who owns the human body? I think the individual owns the body, which is why I support freedom to terminate a pregnancy, to do drugs, and to commit suicide.

    • Shorter Paul H: “Your opinions are “reflexive” because only people who agree with me ever think things through; and “patriarchal control of women’s bodies” or whatever” deserves scare quotes because it’s already obvious that there’s no real issue there, which conclusory opinion is not reflexive or anything. Now go ahead and critique the way I’ve framed the question so I can uncork some zingers about attacking the messenger, taking things personally and not addressing issues!”

      I’ll be amazed if freddie responds to your question, fella. It’s pure distilled trollstuff that isn’t even on topic.

    • I am actually pro-life. My kid sister had an abortion and she didn’t just snap back like it is often portrayed. She made many poor decisions based on the abortion and her feelings about it. But pro-choice to me is about giving someone else ownership over their body. I don’t get how you can be reflexively pro-life when you have no skin in the game when it comes to the possible raising of the child.

    • Excellent question, Paul. Cultural liberals prefer to natter on about fictions like ‘patriarchal control of women’s boduies’ or whatever, because they know they can’t win on the real issue, which is fairly simple: should it be OK to declare some people subhuman and wantonly kill them for our own convenience?

      • Hector,

        Should it be okay to declare a potential human as more important than an actual human and to force the actual human to be essentially an incubator for 9 months?

      • Actually, it’s a terrible question precisely because it avoids every single aspect of the situation that could reasonably address any real situation on the ground.

        I am actually – no b.s., no nonsense – against elective abortions. In particular, I think there could be a theoretical case to be built about the state having an interest in preventing interpersonal violence beyond the point at which personhood could reasonably be assumed to exist in a fetal human.

        The problem is twofold: first, that we don’t have the data to establish that point. That doesn’t mean we will never have it, just that we don’t have it today. A fertilized egg is genetically human, but it is not presently a person. A 9-month fetus is a person in nearly any reasonable, untortured sense of the word. We don’t now have a way to settle the question of where the substantial rubicon is crossed, nor even enough data to settle how that moment should functionally be defined. Again: doesn’t mean we never will, just that it isn’t presently the case.

        Second and relatedly, the state – i.e., a monopoly on the use of force, police, guns, prison, the apparatus of coercive sanction – is therefore just about the worst tool you could choose if you wanted to make any positive difference on the issue.

        That is properly the work of culture. Culture does not rely on the state. Indeed, it is an overwrought insistence on the relatedness of state and moral truth that plagues much of current movement conservatism, including in ostensibly extrapolitical bodies.

        IMO if, for example, the Catholic church were serious about abortion, it would tomorrow issue an encyclical stating that, first, its position today on abortion is identical to what it was yesterday and, second, it henceforth has precisely no interest in implementing laws restricting reproductive choicemaking in any way, because the truth is above the law.

  3. I think it’s still useful to make a distinction between state-enforced censorship (generally prohibited by the First Amendment) and viewpoint discrimination practiced by private actors such as private colleges and universities — a distinction which your use of the term “black-letter censorship” elides. That being said, people who grow comfortable with viewpoint discrimination in academia are more likely to be comfortable with it when it’s practiced by the government. Given that those people will go on to be voters, and may go on to be politicians, journalists or Supreme Court justices, that’s reason enough to worry about what happens on campus.

    You point about “the affluent, educated, white caste” who “cannot imagine the dangers of government-enforced speech codes” is of a piece with your excellent post on the anti-vaxxers. In both cases, hard-learned lessons about why a particular kind of government intervention is necessary have been forgotten by those too young or sheltered to remember the bad things that preceded it.

    • “I think it’s still useful to make a distinction between state-enforced censorship (generally prohibited by the First Amendment) and viewpoint discrimination practiced by private actors such as private colleges and universities ”

      This is a question of scale. If that private actor, an employer perhaps, holds enough power over you to restrict that distinction becomes a distinction without a difference.

    • Plenty of people on the left will make the point, on any issue other than censorship, that there are plenty of non-governmental institutions that are capable of oppressing people.

      On economic issues, the idea that only governmental oppression counts is one taken only by libertarians.

  4. So what do you do in a situation where most people like you believe in X, but a small minority of people like you believe in Y, which is similar to X but perhaps more radical, but none of your opponents will acknowledge that there is a difference between X and Y and either only argue against Y or argue against parts of X and parts of Y?

    God that sounds confusing, what do you do if someone butchers your viewpoint and hides behind the fact that someone somewhere believes something like what they are refuting?

    • Then you point out that they’re arguing the “weak man”, not the “straw man” – or you just agree with them and make your points as an agreement (ie, “yes that Y person is wrong because … [insert list of reasons that make your point again])

  5. I’m curious. As a leftist, presumably you want the government to intervene in order to make things more equal in at least some areas. That means, of course, that leftists would have to gain control of the government and wield power.

    Are you perhaps saying that it is ok for leftists to wield power in the economic realm but not in the social realm?

  6. If one of the principal organizers of the referenced Christ Church protests is to be believed, the reason for preventing the event from taking place was not even that it was a pro-life event and she opposed that viewpoint. It was a debate on the issue of abortion, and both sides, including the pro-choice side, were being argued by men. From the linked article:

    “The idea that in a free society absolutely everything should be open to debate has a detrimental effect on marginalised groups. Debating abortion as if its a topic to be mulled over and hypothesised on ignores the fact that this is not an abstract, academic issue. It may seem harmless for men like Stanley and O’Neil to debate how and if abortion hurts them; it’s clearly harder for people to see that their words and views might hurt women.”

    She repeats the point that certain issues are too important to be debated — apparently only “academic” issues may be debated. And whether or not taking a given rhetorical position is acceptable depends on who is saying it. Finally, she claims that shutting down the event had nothing to do with restricting speech:

    “In organizing against this event, I did not stifle free speech. As a student, I asserted that it would make me feel threatened in my own university; as a woman, I objected to men telling me what I should be allowed to do with my own body.”

    • Yeah, it’s the bad faith trollish nature of the “debate” format that got people angry enough to recommend canceling the event. Had they simply used it as a rally for the pro-life cause without making a Hannity and Colmes-style faux debate out of it, there likely would have been no issue.

    • All of that is a perfect example of the kind of rationalization that can be abused by people in power. And if it were a pro choice event so disrupted, would you defend it in this way?

      Yeah. No. You wouldn’t.

        • You’re doing mutatis mutandis wrong. A pro-choice group having two men wouldn’t be a problem for pro-lifers because they’re perfectly comfortable having a man argue the pro-life position for them, because the pro life position simply tends to ignore the burdens placed on the people — you know, women — who have to carry the pregnancies to term.

      • Speaking only for myself, if a pro-choice group staged a “debate” with a stooge standing in as a pro-life punching bag, I would have no problem with things playing out exactly as they did here, the important details of which you’ve elided in your post.

        However, Christ Church JCR also claimed that OSFL had not secured the permission to hold the event in Christ Church at the time of the motion. A spokesperson for Christ Church confirmed they held no booking from OSFL for a debate on Tuesday. A spokesperson from OSFL told Cherwell, “As I understand it, the final decision rests with the Censors*, who haven’t given a decision yet. But the other stages of the booking were all complete.”

        (And no, don’t get hung up on the word “censor”, which is a title unrelated to censorship.)

        So, the group had never fully secured the booking, which required the student union to sign off. Oxford student unions have more autonomy than one might expect at U.S. universities, so the University basically went along with what the student union requested, which was to not hold such a contentious debate (social media was going nuts over this) in a facility that could only hold 120 people, and for which the student union would have been unable to guarantee security for.

        These details may not help your argument, but they do matter.

        • But, even if the debate is between the most eloquent pro-lifer and some patsy, isn’t there still a lot of benefit to allowing the debate to proceed? First, in the interest of setting a precedent of erring on the side of freedom of expression, even when the ideas are unpalatable, and second, because the ludicrous one-sidedness of the staged debate could then be easily exposed?

          OK, then you have to weigh that against the students who could be emotionally disturbed by such a spectacle, perhaps because they’ve had an abortion themselves. I don’t dismiss that.

          But, I feel that it might be in everyone’s best interest to try and find a way for the debate to continue that didn’t put too much emotional stress on students. To find a compromise, rather than to find a reason to DQ the “debate.”

          • First, in the interest of setting a precedent of erring on the side of freedom of expression, even when the ideas are unpalatable, and second, because the ludicrous one-sidedness of the staged debate could then be easily exposed?

            Sure, I assign a pretty high value to both of those things, but I also assign a high value to letting the student government make decisions about how the school’s limited resources are used.

            If this was just going to be a hundred or so people watching a couple of tools rail against “SJWs” and “PC culture”, then no harm, no foul, but once it became A Thing on social media and people on both sides stated their intention to protest and counter-protest, it became a resource allocation issue where school security assets would have had to get involved. At that point, it was totally right for the student union and the school itself to ask the kind of “time, place, and manner” questions that we use here in the U.S. for deciding when free speech can be limited.

            And the debate wasn’t DQ’d. — my recollection is that the Oxford Students for Life guys agreed to do the debate with a (female) member of a pro-choice organization at a later date. I think that’s a better outcome for everyone.

          • OK. So are you saying the cancellation was justified because of the supposed phoniness of the debate? Or that it was justified because of the security issue? Or that either one is a valid justification?

          • The CJR cited security concerns as their reasoning. I think that’s their call, and students who believe otherwise can express their views through the appropriate channels.

            I think the phoniness is more of a reason to protest the debate than to cancel it, but of course the protests eventually bring about the security concerns, so…

            Ideally, everyone who wants a public forum to express their views would have the chance to do so without restriction, but when you’re dealing with school property (in this case administered by the student union) some tradeoffs have to be made. That’s my only point here, and I feel like Freddie took some shortcuts in his effort to connect the Christ Church incident to his belief that too many liberals are hostile to free speech.

          • Again, I think the concerns you’re voicing could be applied to essentially any political event, and that has an inherently chilling effect.

          • Fallacious slippery slope argument is fallacious, Freddie.

            Do you dispute that there are finite resources available for these events? If you don’t, then we agree that unrestrained free speech where everyone gets to use the school’s finite resources however they see fit is impossible. As the saying goes, at this point, we’re just haggling over the price.

            300+ people had exercised their own free speech rights by signaling their intention to show up and protest in a venue that only holds 120. The school had a responsibility to ensure things didn’t get out of hand. Asking the two side to find a better arrangement is not the step on the way to some kind of massive curtailment of free speech that you say it is.

          • “OK, then you have to weigh that against the students who could be emotionally disturbed by such a spectacle, perhaps because they’ve had an abortion themselves. I don’t dismiss that.”

            I think a good rule is that while it is possible to avoid certain books and political sources (you can live a full life without reading William Burroughs or Stormfront.com), you have to be able to read a newspaper or listen to an opposing argument without having an emotional meltdown. If you can’t, you need to get tougher, because the world is just going to crush you. The upshot being that if a student is “emotionally disturbed” by the fact that the pro-life club is hosting a debate somewhere on her campus that she doesn’t have to go anywhere near, the onus is on her to toughen up, not the pro-life club to cancel the debate.

            Furthermore, there’s no logical limit to this line of censorship. What about the Jewish student who is upset by the existence of BDS? What about the Catholic who is horrified by abortion? Should their emotional needs cause the cancellation of events? Almost any political or social event could be construed as disturbing to someone.

          • Yup. What you’re calling for is nuance and mutual consideration, which is just what was needed and just what no one brought to bear, either because they didn’t know how or simply didn’t want to.

        • Tony, you wrote:

          “Speaking only for myself, if a pro-choice group staged a “debate” with a stooge standing in as a pro-life punching bag, I would have no problem with things playing out exactly as they did here…”

          That implies to me that you didn’t like the way that the event seemed to be staging a fixed fight with a false pretense of fairness, so you don’t mind that it was cancelled.

  7. Also, academia would seem to be the worst place in the world for there to be censorship, at least if finding things out about the world is the goal of academia.

  8. Government-mandated speech code for children within a public school has little to do with free speech. One can disagree with the school’s reaction to the incident but this is not a matter of free speech. No school anywhere will allow a child to say “I am with the terrorists. I want the citizens of this country to be killed.”

    A more interesting issue is the ban on (adult) racist speech imposed by various European countries.

      • You’re missing my point. I don’t dispute that the reaction may have been excessive. But this has no bearing on free speech. You’ve highlighted an example where, for good reasons, a speech code is enforced. Your argument cannot take for granted the view that speech in a public school is entitled to First-Amendment style protection. The reason you need to argue that view is that few share it.

  9. “This is particularly odd because almost always I’ve pointed to a particular argument for X, with a link.”

    To be fair, I think that it would be possible to do a better job of thoroughly sourcing your claims. Below is a list of unsourced claims you’ve made in the last month that I personally think probably should have been sourced, further qualified, or both.

    Not to say that I think the things you’re saying below are untrue. I’m also not trying to say that any of the below is bad writing. I’m only trying to argue against the statement that “this is particularly odd because almost always I’ve pointed to a particular argument for X, with a link.”

    All I’m would say is, I think it’s not “particularly odd” that you’d get frequently accused of attacking straw men. When anyone made bold claims like below — claims that many people might prefer not to be true, even if they are true — and consistently didn’t back them up thoroughly, I’d expect some of those people to suspect he was a fabulist, even if only as a defense mechanism.

    http://fredrikdeboer.com/2015/02/03/the-least-helpful-way-to-argue/

    “This has become an absolute stock response in my comments section in the last couple of years. I will say “X is a bad idea.” And commenters will spring up to say “Straw man! No one is arguing for X!”

    “But a lot of people went further, particularly on Twitter: they claimed that no one calls for actual silencing of speech that falls outside of what we think of as norms of political correctness.”

    http://fredrikdeboer.com/2015/01/31/take-control-invoke-your-privilege/

    “A remarkable number of people are choosing to frame their response as if I’m saying boohoo, woe is me. ”

    “But mostly people are asking why I didn’t “take control” (or similar language) of the situations that I described.”

    http://fredrikdeboer.com/2015/01/30/dont-be-an-accelerant/

    “Very frequently, both the loudest voices and the ones who seem most intent on creating personal strife are in fact white and from affluent backgrounds themselves.”

    “When you say “you’re just being nasty and unhelpful,” they say “why are you lecturing women of color from your position of privilege,” even though they themselves aren’t women of color.”

    http://fredrikdeboer.com/2015/01/14/boy-this-selma-vs-boyhood-debate-is-going-to-blow/

    “Which leads to things like last year, where people preemptively complained about the racism inherent in 12 Years a Slave not winning, whining about American Hustle and white privilege, and then actually seemed disappointed when 12 Years did win. “

      • For those of us who’ve read them, it is obvious that source-able links exist to some of the content to which you refer in this piece yet still don’t link to. Why you don’t is anyone’s guess.

  10. “In contrast, I simply have no idea what to do with the pervasive “no one is arguing that!” claim.”

    When you hear someone say “no one is arguing that,” most of the time it means you not only get it, but have considered the argument in ways the arguer hasn’t. It could even be said that you “get it” better than they do.

    If you’re dealing with a reasonable person, you just have to make your point. The lightbulb will go off and they’ll do a lot of the work themselves. Maybe they’ll come around to your point of view, or maybe they’ll strengthen their argument (which is what I think you’d like them to do in this case). Reasonable people can always be reasoned with.

    The unreasonable can only be buried, hopefully after long, happy lives and peaceful natural deaths.

  11. Heh. I came here directly after reading that article, thinking, “I wonder what Freddie de Boer would say about this.” The funny thing to me is that I doubt a single antifa activist would agree with officially-imposed speech codes, since most antifa are anarchists, and pride themselves on being a popular, democratic, community-based movement. (The first comment on r/anarchism reads, “The Swastika belongs under a hammer, everyone able ought to be ready to wield that hammer.”) There is no right to bash the fash; rather, there is an obligation, which falls on the people of society, not on its hierarchical institutions (so I imagine the anarchist argument would go).

  12. This only half fits with the theme of the post, but I’m still thinking of that post from a few days ago and I wonder how that leftist club justified expelling the student athlete who believed (like most people) in innate gender differences. Did they genuinely feel so upset by his views that they found it “unsafe” or scary to be in the same room as him? Did they not actually feel “unsafe” but worry that some hypothetical, super-fragile person would, thus necessitating his abuse and expulsion? Or did they feel that someone with those beliefs would sabotage their movement? I mean, none of the these reasons are good, but the implications are different. I bring it up because while the expulsion of that kid from the group was not legal censorship in any form, it reflects a censorious mindset. “Free discussion is traumatic for some people in this room, so shut up and get out!”

    Likewise, when people demand protection from “triggering” writing or whatnot, are they genuinely THAT fragile or is it a more cynical effort to suppress stuff they don’t like? I’m far enough removed from campus politics these days that I honestly don’t know and am curious what Freddie and the others think.

  13. “No one is arguing that” is pretty unhelpful, but I think “not my job to educate you” is an order of magnitude worse. Who presumes to have an argument where they don’t even make the terms of an objection cogent and discrete for the opponent?

  14. Excellent post. You might get my business now that Sullivan is shutting down, although I’m certainly pretty far to your right. I still qualify as a pinko commie in Georgia, though.

    To your point: I agree, but on the other hand it’s also true that every conceivable argument is being made by someone in this big world of ours. I guess the challenge is deciding which arguments can be fairly ascribed to particular movements. But I think in this particular case you are correct to assert that censorship is being advocated by those involved in some leftist campus movements. The eternal problem is that folks support free speech in the abstract but in practice they identify censorship only when their preferred speech being suppressed; free speech has very few true defenders outside of the ACLU.

  15. I think that the “no one else is arguing that” response has the potential to move a conversation forward. For those who casually erect strawmen or cite rather insignificant examples of an argument, that comment forces them to respond with more specific examples and to fine tune their argument. This outcome alone makes the initial response valuable to the broader conversation.

    I also wouldn’t take it so personally. On a regular basis, we come across editorials from public intellectuals that seem to rely on the strawman contrivance, so I think we may be naturally suspect of arguments that attempt to paint others with a broad brush.

    Also, and I mean no offense by this, but perhaps you may refine your argument, so as not to use sweeping generalizations like “the left,” and stick to the specific people and groups offering the viewpoint that you take issue with. We can’t necessarily find fault with the way our argument is being interpreted. Besides, I think “the left” is a rather tired term that should only be used by political talking heads who are stuck in the 80’s, e.g., Peggy Noonan.

  16. Keep arguing the good argue — er, argument. Would love to see you address a phenomenon of argument that I think resides somewhere in the sphere of this political correctness debate:

    Bad thing X is known to happen often to marginalized people. Bad thing X then happens to a less marginalized person (LMP) or group, many times to a much lesser degree. What happens next is sadly predictable: non-PC crowd claim equivalency (not true), then PC crowd, frustrated by dealing with claims of equivalency, claims that Bad Thing X is not actually bad when it happens to the LMP, or that it simply didn’t happen, nothing to see here (also not true).

    Rarely, it seems does the argument land on “This is a problem whenever it happens and it shouldn’t happen to anyone; however, in deciding on where to focus the debate, let’s think carefully about who’s more at risk, who stands to suffer more, from Bad Thing X, and calibrate our argument that way.

    What’s that quote about being able to hold two things in mind at once?

  17. The hard reality that we will always have to deal with is that we get to build a political movement out of the actually existing people, or we get to build no political movement at all. Once you come to regard the vast majority of your fellow citizens as hopelessly backward, you have essentially turned the white man’s burden into the social justice warrior’s burden. You can’t organize people you visibly deride, and you aren’t as smart as you think you are when it comes to manipulating those you view as inferiors.

  18. “No one is arguing that” means “you are attacking a strawman,” or perhaps a weak man. “Steelmanning” the position that you are attacking — stating it in its strongest possible form, with the most charitable reading — may be an effective defense against this. It won’t keep people from falsely accusing you of strawmanning, but it will make it obvious that they are wrong.

    However, steelmanning may have its drawbacks if the opposing side is actually wrong.

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