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AmericanDreaming's avatar

Straw Man vs Steel Man

We should all strive to steel man, never to straw man. If you must resort to misrepresenting an opponent or opposing view in order to refute it, then perhaps yours is not the stronger. You'd be surprised how much more productive a conversation can be when one adheres to the principle of charity. Many otherwise failed conversations can be salvaged by just one side's charity.  Don't always assume the worst of someone you don't know. Give them a fair and honest chance.  : )

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BlueW's avatar
I'm trying to get more into the habit of steelmanning. In my experience, discourse seems to go a lot better when the opponent knows you're making an honest effort to represent their views fairly; in an argument over the second amendment, I once had someone online say that my summary of his argument was a "better argument than [he] could made himself". While I think at the end of the day we still disagreed, I still hold that the conversation was more productive than it may have been if I had been focused simply on deconstructing his individual points without attempting to reflect on what his argument really was.
AmericanDreaming's avatar
FoxGrins's avatar
How does making them agree with their own view make it a solid argument, that makes no sense...

The point of debunking false claims and idiotic beliefs is to poke holes in it and find the points in it that are inevitabley not true, not reassure your opponet's wrong claim and somehow make them agree with something they already believed to begin with.
AmericanDreaming's avatar
Steel manning is not an argument, it is a principle of conversational educate that helps people have productive dialogue.  If you and I debate, and I keep constantly straw manning your position, we aren't going to get anywhere.  If instead I not only don't straw man you, but I go out of my way to demonstrate that I understand exactly what your position is, we will understand one another better, and will likely have a more civil, receptive, and fruitful discussion.
FoxGrins's avatar
And in cases where i already know where someone is coming from but dont care about their hateful and/or ignorant viewpoint all the same, my goal is still to debunk their claims, not coddle them.
AmericanDreaming's avatar
Judging by your track record (that I've seen), I don't think that's working out very well for you. Might want to rethink your approach on this.
FoxGrins's avatar
My 'track record' is just simply saying what I think. No planning or trying to manipulate what I mean to someone else, no lying and no coddling, bending knee to others to make them feel good about harmful views has never been my style. I think of it like nazi germany. You had a selection of incredibly deranged people who hated jews, blacks, gays etc. and those incredibly deranged people had a bunch of 'yes men' that sat there and didn't bat an eye at applauding, accepting, or being complacent with whatever the bigwigs had to say, as a result of this we had one of the most disgusting genocides of human history to date with a war to chase it all down. So why should myself, or anyone, discuss with empathy or light heartedness, with people about how 'we understand and accept' their racist, sexist, anti lgbt+ etc. views? To do so, would be to close my eyes and march along to the slaughter house, worse, to allow these things to continue harming others by telling showing/telling any number of people  "yeah, i'm ok with that and I see where they're coming from" . Plain and simple, some things don't deserve respect, some people need to stop being treated with kid gloves and own up to the fact their hurtful views do in fact have consequences. Talk about 'my track record' all you want, at least at the end of the day i'm not rolling over and bearing neck to the bastards bearing their fangs. 
PathtoEnlighten's avatar
Exactly. :) A person can only legitimately become a true champion wrestler by wrestling the toughest opposition and the same goes for debates.
Dracoan's avatar
Quick-5's avatar
Well, fighting against Superman seems far more impressive than fighting a scarecrow.
Jester-of-the-Clown's avatar
In days past, this pursuit was expressed in hypothetical dialogues.
CoasterOnCrack's avatar
i never wanted to be any side
laibhargaid's avatar
I believe that in an honest debate, there is no opponent, only two seeking after the truth of the matter.
Having said that, I also agree with the logic of the above, as few debates are truly honest.
AmericanDreaming's avatar
I much prefer conversations over debates. That is not always possible, as some people are too dishonest, or too narrowly fixated on "winning" rather than learning.
laibhargaid's avatar
True. I find, personally, that the further apart the positions in a discussion are, the harder it is to resist the temptation to 'win' at all costs.
It is good to hear from you.
VinnyMartello's avatar
Depends upon the debate. I personally enjoy a good heated confrontation with different-minded people who also like rising to the occasion. Me and one of my best friends are both Americans (to specify political culture). One of us is a conservative christian and the other is a liberal agnostic. But honestly, we have the best conversations. It's stimulating to challenge people of opposite beliefs, even enjoyable, if and only if the challengers in the ring wear boxing gloves instead of brass knuckles.
Zoomer1958's avatar
Another way to show charity is to make the occasional rhetorical concession: "Yes, I think you're right"; "I agree with you on that point."  That strategy shows a number of positives: (1) it can build bridges between opponents thereby reducing hostility and close-mindedness; (2) it illustrates that you're simply interested in the truth, not in egotistically scoring rhetorical points merely to win arguments; (3) which thereby can enhance your appeal to ethos in the minds of your opponent and other auditors: people are more likely to open up to your point of view if they think you're a good person; (4) an unwillingness to make concessions on the part of your opponent shows him or her in a bad light, consequently (works against his or her ethos).  It should be stressed that the occasional concession is in no way a throwing in of the rhetorical towel; you can still give up a few of the minor battles without losing the argumentative war.

Warning: as recent experience on this site has shown me, this strategy will not work with many religionists and Republicans, whose minds are like hermetically sealed boxes.  You will never be able to shed any light into them.  My attempts to make friendly concessions with these people only resulted in further hostility on their part toward me.
AmericanDreaming's avatar
Well said. I go into that too in The Comprehensive Guide to Debating: Part 2.

I also sadly must agree with your second point as well. Concessions, hedges, emphasis on points of mutual agreement, and nuance are as likely to be taken as signs of weakness as of honesty when talking to such people. Once they sense "weakness" (intellectual honesty is of course no weakness, but one of the greatest strengths), they become more vicious, not less.
Zoomer1958's avatar
Quite right.  Such people do see concessions as a weakness, and such people know nothing about intellectual honesty, which may explain, indeed, why they don't recognize it in others or value the concept in themselves.

I'll try to take a look at The Comprehensive Guide!
Graeystone's avatar
I'd like to be Steel. . .but metal poisoning!
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