So, this is a continuation of the series started with last week’s blog post regarding logical fallacies. Today, I’m going to discuss two of them: the strawman and the appeal to nature.
The strawman is when you set up a version of your opponent’s argument that is as illogical and insane as you can make it while still having some sort of relationship to reality. Examples include the dismissal of Paul Ryan’s budget plan as “pushing Granny off a cliff” or the notorious Obamacare “death panels.”
This one is almost always a fallacy and is almost never useful in any sort of debate, even between candidates during election seasons. The only exception is when your opponent manages to strawman himself, or when you are attempting to present the strawmen of both sides in an attempt at humor. Otherwise, skip it.
The appeal to nature, on the other hand, has a bit more nuance to it. Essentially, it’s the idea that if something occurs regularly in nature, it is therefore good, while if something does not occur regularly in nature, it is therefore bad. This, by the way, is technically different from just calling something “unnatural,” which generally means using something for a task it was not made to perform, but that is another story for another day.
Calling this a fallacy does have a lot of grounding in reality. After all, eating fecal matter, rape, murder, theft, and wastage of resources all regularly occur in nature, while mercy, charity, and the like are rather uncommon–especially for those outside the group, or on the bottom of the social hierarchy. For that matter, using leeches to bleed people is technically natural, as that is what leeches do.
However. The fact of the matter is that while the appeal to nature is not very good at figuring what is right or wrong behavior to engage in, it does actually have a place in debate, and that is when you are debating what should be done about something.
Here’s what I mean. The fact of the matter is that a lot of ideas that people enact, like abstinence-only sex education and socialist economics, ignore basic facets of human nature–the former ignores the fact that teenagers are often horny and short-sighted (although arguably all sex education ignores this to a certain degree), which can cause their horniness and short-sightedness to have worse consequences than if they had been recognized and allowed for, while the latter ignores the human desire for power and control over others, which allows said desires to run wild and free under the surface of the society, which results in having the people in charge being experts in intrigue and backstabbing as opposed to keeping people happy.
Now, I should point out that most policies, laws, customs, mores, etc., are attempts to overcome various facets of nature. However, if you set up your attempts to overcome nature in a way that ignores nature, you will fail. So, in other words, the appeal to nature is not fallacious if you are using it to point out that a particular policy will not result in the desired outcome.
‘Til next time,
Lowell Van Ness