How Not To Strawman



One man. Two boys. Twelve kids.

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37 Responses

  1. Avatar LTL FTC says:

    Where is the line between “don’t strawman the illiberal* campus left” and “you can make anyone look totally reasonable if you ignore all the unreasonable things they say and do”?

    *Term used for accuracy, not insult.Report

  2. Avatar Vikram Bath says:

    Here’s an example not-at-all cherry-picked. It just showed up in my Facebook feed today. It’s a letter from Emory’s president in response to protests over someone writing “Trump 2016” in chalk on campus.

    Dear Emory Community,

    Yesterday I received a visit from 40 to 50 student protesters upset by the unexpected chalkings on campus sidewalks and some buildings yesterday morning, in this case referencing Donald Trump. The students shared with me their concern that these messages were meant to intimidate rather than merely to advocate for a particular candidate, having appeared outside of the context of a Georgia election or campus campaign activity. During our conversation, they voiced their genuine concern and pain in the face of this perceived intimidation.

    After meeting with our students, I cannot dismiss their expression of feelings and concern as motivated only by political preference or over-sensitivity. Instead, the students with whom I spoke heard a message, not about political process or candidate choice, but instead about values regarding diversity and respect that clash with Emory’s own.

    As an academic community, we must value and encourage the expression of ideas, vigorous debate, speech, dissent, and protest. At the same time, our commitment to respect, civility, and inclusion calls us to provide a safe environment that inspires and supports courageous inquiry. It is important that we recognize, listen to, and honor the concerns of these students, as well as faculty and staff who may feel similarly.

    I think Trump is awful, but is there any more innocuous way to advocate for a political candidate than “[whoever] 2016”? If such an expression is deemed threatening, what forms of political speech would be OK?Report

    • Avatar notme in reply to Vikram Bath says:

      If such an expression is deemed threatening, what forms of political speech would be OK?

      Liberal political speech is always ok. The Emory brats wouldn’t object to Bernie 216 or Hillary 2016. I doubt the Repubs there would even object to Bernie 2016 as being intimidating.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Vikram Bath says:

      40-50 out of how many? Emory is one of how many universities in America? Georgia?

      I didn’t take the article to be saying never criticize the extreme. Only a call for perspective. Criticize the 40-50 Emory students and the Emory president; don’t criticize every college kid/college president/college/liberal/Trump opponent.Report

      • Avatar Vikram Bath in reply to Kazzy says:

        I suppose it is cherry-picked in a way since obviously not every school gets an article written about it every day, and algorithms and what not raised it to my attention.

        On the other hand, how many data points are needed to establish a broader problem? E.g., do we need really need similar reports from a majority of schools all within the past year?Report

      • Avatar pillsy in reply to Kazzy says:

        Just under 8000 undergraduates attend Emory. This means we’re talking about half a percent getting upset about “Trump 2016” being chalked on the sidewalk. This doesn’t strike me as a dangerous epidemic of oversensitivity here.Report

        • Avatar LTL FTC in reply to pillsy says:

          How many does it take? What percentage of the student body does the University of Missouri football team comprise? How many Yalies were involved in the protests there?

          I agree that it’s wrong to say that college students writ large are involved in this sort of thing. However, it doesn’t take more than a few to narrow acceptable discourse to a tiny (yet constantly shifting) band.Report

          • Avatar pillsy in reply to LTL FTC says:

            So we’re supposed to worry that, three or four times a year, something on some campus will blow up in a way that supposedly narrows acceptable discourse to a tiny yet constantly shifting band because it upsets a few dozen students. We can tell that discourse has been narrowed because there will be a huge number of people explaining how ridiculous the students are being everywhere from Twitter to major newspapers.Report

            • Avatar LTL FTC in reply to pillsy says:

              Right now, it’s up to two or three times a week. And yes, we can tell that discourse has been narrowed on campus because people off campus are talking about it.Report

              • Avatar pillsy in reply to LTL FTC says:

                You seem to be suggesting that, “Are people talking about this?” is a good way to measure a trend, but all my experience suggests that it’s an absolutely terrible way to measure trend. It’s also, well, extremely reminiscent of what people were saying in the ’90s about discourse on college campuses, though I suppose some of the alleged pieties were different.Report

              • Avatar LTL FTC in reply to pillsy says:

                So, once again, when does it become a trend? What is the trigger point?

                And why the effort to deny that it’s a trend? Is it embarrassing? Wrong? If so, why not just say as much?Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to pillsy says:

          This means we’re talking about half a percent getting upset about “Trump 2016” being chalked on the sidewalk. This doesn’t strike me as a dangerous epidemic of oversensitivity here.

          My takeaway from the excerpt was not the “a handful of students said that thing” but “the administration said this thing in response to the handful of students saying that thing.”Report

          • Avatar Marchmaine in reply to Jaybird says:

            Plus, the measure is not how these flare-ups impact my daily life (not at all), but how they impact the institutions that they target – which seems to be: quite a bit.

            And, if these institutions were local co-ops of kale purveyors I don’t think any of us would even take notice (my guess is that Kimmie has the scoop on the kale scandals, in case you’re curious)…but these institutions are (or at least were) foundational for what we’ll have to account for in 20-years.

            Possibly these episodes are actually eroding their inherited Auctoritas (per Rufus) or possibly they are foreshadowing what we can expect once this cohort grabs the levers of power. Or both.Report

          • Avatar Troublesome Frog in reply to Jaybird says:

            That was my takeaway as well. This looked like a good moment for a college administrator to teach an important lesson: sometimes people will advocate for and vote for political candidates that you don’t like and you’ll just have to live with that fact. Writing a general letter to everybody that more or less fails the Turing Test is at best a missed opportunity and at worst legitimizes the worst excesses of student self-centerdness.

            The scandal isn’t that a small fringe of college students have a weird worldview. That’s a given. The scandal is that the university doesn’t seem to be doing anything to address it. Whether it’s a “trend” is another matter, but this incident is disappointing.Report

    • Avatar Troublesome Frog in reply to Vikram Bath says:

      I’ve read that letter twice and I can’t figure out what it means. The letter might as well have said, “Some students complained to me about this, and it made me reflect on how delicious apple pie is. I thought I’d take the opportunity to mention it.” Was somebody on either side of this issue supposed to take some wisdom from it and behave differently?Report

      • Avatar LTL FTC in reply to Troublesome Frog says:

        Confusion about the meaning is by design. It’s the only way a university president can say “your claims of victimhood and hurt feelings do not automatically take priority every single other consideration” without a nationwide hashtag campaign for his head on a figurative pike.Report

    • Avatar trizzlor in reply to Vikram Bath says:

      Presumably “David Duke 2016” or “Hitler 2016” could be interpreted as a threatening expression. Threats are about context.Report

    • Avatar Will H. in reply to Vikram Bath says:

      Process disputes are legitimate concerns.Report

  3. Avatar Doctor Jay says:

    Online media has more than a little to do with this. I can’t tell you how many pieces I’ve spotted that are fit the pattern of “somebody I’ve never heard of did something horrifying”. Honestly, they are worse than trend stories.

    Maybe by writing about them, you’re making them too important? And ignoring them would be better for your health and better for the culture? Just a thought.

    But of course, these pieces get clicks, so more of them get written.Report

    • Avatar LTL FTC in reply to Doctor Jay says:

      How many does it take to make a trend? Per the post, I’m going to refrain from linking to a parade of horribles, but there seems to be a constant drip-drip-drip that follows a consistent pattern based on consistent principles.

      How much is too much to ignore? Will it ever go too far, or are we so terrified of wrapping up some good people or ideas in a larger, disturbing trend that all we can do is plug our ears and repeat “if I say the right shibboleths they won’t come for my job” until it dies down of its own volition? Does everybody have to be as cowardly as the president of Emory?Report

      • Avatar Troublesome Frog in reply to LTL FTC says:

        This raises a question for me: Is it a trend in actual occurrences or is it an old phenomenon with a new trend in active reporting? Or is the new trend just that we’re taking such people seriously instead of ignoring them like we used to?Report

        • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Troublesome Frog says:

          This is a good question and at least a partial response to @vikram-bath . When there was much discussion a year or so about changes in/to comedy, one argument was that there were always people offensed by X… They just finally had a way to make their voice heard.Report

          • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to Kazzy says:

            This is likely the truth. I think it’s important to remember how much gatekeeping there was even 10 years ago as far as getting your voice out there if you weren’t part of the establishment. For example, transgender activist pissed off about representation on a show on network TV in 2003 could…complain to their friends and maybe get an article published in the local alt weekly. Now, they can write an article on Medium or write something on Twitter and have it shared on FB thousands of times before lunch.Report

            • Avatar Troublesome Frog in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

              I wonder if a lot of our problems come from our inability to eyeball how large a phenomenon is on the Internet. Our brains work a certain way, and I’m guessing that the ability to tell when “everybody” is talking about something in the tribe goes pretty far back. But that only works when you’re taking the temperature of your village, not when you’re literally trying to figure out what *everybody* is saying.

              I don’t think we have a good concept of relative and absolute scale on the Internet. If 1% of Internet users agree that something is important enough to make noise about, it looks like a torrent of shifting opinion when in reality it’s the same 1% of weirdos we used to ignore back when they were handing out pamphlets while wearing tin foil hats.

              So on one hand, we should probably still be ignoring those people because they still represent the same nonsense-peddling fringe they always did. On the other hand, 1% of the Internet is pretty big in absolute numbers. They may not represent anything like popular opinion or a politically viable constituency, but they can fling *truckloads* of poop now that they’re coordinated and have worldwide reach.Report

              • Avatar Morat20 in reply to Troublesome Frog says:

                Couple that with the fact that, unless the movement was REALLY massive, what college kids were getting up to on college campuses was….unseen by everyone else.

                I remember college. Bluntly put, there was a lot of naive, passionate, enthusiastic people looking for something big to tackle. Some issue to sink their teeth into, make a stand on, scream at people about. Partially because hey, adult now, and it’s time to Change the World and also because it looked good to the cute girl/boy you were crushing on.

                There was, in retrospect, a lot of stupid crap that school administrators treated gravely (with, again in hindsight, I suspect a similar feeling to praising a 4 year old’s finger art) because, in the long run, engagement and passion were things to cultivate and not eyeroll about, no matter how annoying or stupid it was.

                So like historically, we didn’t SEE college-aged protests until they shut down schools and made national news. Now? Any grouping of a few hundred kids can pop onto the national radar, and there’s always a few hundred kids in a large school that’ll scream about anything. And I think that those of us who grew up before social media tend to equate simply hearing about it with what was, up until the last decade or so, the truth — “it must involve a whole lot of students”.

                SJW’s are….passionate teenagers and college kids and a sprinkling of academics. Same as they’ve always been, just a slightly different set of causes — the causes always do change. My generation didn’t usher in the end of the earth, neither did my parent’s or their parent’s, or any generation going back to Plato who all kvetched about kids these days.

                I think you’re right. Social media has, basically, screwed with our ability to judge the volume of something. It makes everything seem like it’s turned up to 11.

                We’ll adjust, eventually.Report

        • Avatar LTL FTC in reply to Troublesome Frog says:

          There is a longer history of commencement speaker protests, but based on the reasoning that a speech was a form of endorsement by the university or the student selection committee. In the past, there were protests (turning backs, etc) going back to the Vietnam era, but no-platforming appears to be a recent-ish UK import.

          The new, post-University of Missouri demand lists have a completely different rationale: using the claim of extreme emotional fragility in order to cast disfavored speech as harmful to a group or groups of favored students and the elevation of that claimed harm above all other considerations.

          Back when I was in college 15-ish years ago, the protesters were mainly interested in national political issues, but there was a living wage campaign specifically targeting university contractors. I can’t speak for every institution, so YMMV, but this seems new to me, as well as many, many others.Report

          • Avatar LTL FTC in reply to LTL FTC says:

            I take back the “post-University of Missouri” bit. Lest we forget the Wellesley statue of the man in his underwear and a few other similar incidents in recent years since Tumblr-style SJ came into vogue.Report

      • Avatar pillsy in reply to LTL FTC says:

        Maybe it’s the President who’s being oversensitive here, then?

        Or, you know, maybe he’s issuing a meaningless statement in order to avoid further annoying communications with a double-handful of kids freaking out over nothing much. This is something that college Presidents have been known to do as well.Report

  4. Avatar Catchling says:

    The standard term for this flavor of straw man is “weak man”. (I don’t know the origin.)Report

  5. Avatar Stillwater says:

    Yes, his focus is on “issues” with liberals but the take away is a worthy lesson for both sides (which he mentions in the final section).

    Personally speaking here, I think the effort to reduce this sort of thing to “sides” (and there are more than two) is a big part of the problem, since it perpetuates the idea that The Issue, as well as The Response, and the Response to the Response, reduce to expressions of isms rather than individual people who hold they’re beliefs for (often) a multiplicity of reasons. That is, it’s an attack on isms rather than anything substantive about the issue being debated.

    ETA: IOW, reducing this stuff to “sides” is just another iteration in the ism-wars.Report

  6. Avatar Damon says:


    I don’t recall anything in the news about “conservative” students feeling threatened by Sanders or Clinton political comments. Maybe that’s just me, regardless, what a bunch of spineless weasels. Get your asses out there and add chalk comments rebutting these slogans instead of whining about it.

    *wanders off grumbling about those damn kids*
    *and get off my lawn you damn kids*Report

    • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to Damon says:

      Sanders or Clinton isn’t saying that people of a certain religion shouldn’t be banned from entering the country or that the government should do its best to kick out every illegal immigrant, whose skin tone matches millions of actual legal residents who may get caught in the crossfire as well. That’s a lot more of a possible danger to a person than having to pay a higher tax rate.Report

  7. Avatar El Muneco says:

    Does this mean that I’ll have to drop “Latest from Crooks and Liars” and “Dispatches From the Culture Wars” from my RSS feed? I mean, those are nothing but hilarious-but-real examples of extremism – mostly from the same set of loonies – portrayed for comedic effect as if they had some real influence.

    On the other hand, they also often include David Barton and Ken Ham, who really do have real influence…Report