Signs of straw men and logical fallacies


“… sign, sign, everywhere a sign.” So went Les Emmerson’s song, performed by Five Man Electrical Band in 1970.

Argument by analogy is valid only if the underlying analogy is valid. Otherwise, the argument frequently becomes a “straw man,” an overstuffed dummy erected to draw attention from the real issue.

For example, if I were to say, “We need to fund a professional ethics commission,” John Q. Public might erect this straw man: “We’re already spending too much money on schools and roads. We don’t need to raise taxes.” B does not follow A. However, if John were able to divert my attention and yours from my proposal, his straw man would have succeeded.

A sign that exceeded the size limits set by Peachtree City ordinances was recently erected. Almost immediately, people began to erect straw men stuffed with words like “created jobs,” “invested life savings,” “menu for carnivores,” “size of a card table,” “farm to table,” and references to over-zealous city regulators.

The link and the analogy are nonexistent between the size of the sign and the number of employees, the capitalization of the business, whether the menu is vegetarian or meat-atarian, and whether the ingredients are from local farms or overseas agribusinesses.

Using these factors (which may or may not be facts — let’s not overlook that) in an argument creates a logical fallacy. If used deliberately, a logical fallacy is a lie. If used otherwise, it denotes ignorance. (No, this is not ad hominem.)

Lest those who have used these arguments and their fans take umbrage at what I have said, allow me remind you that the schools — public, parochial, private, and home — have created at least two and perhaps three generations of people whose education has often not included the subjects of logic or critical thinking.

After all, why should anyone be equipped to question words from politicians, advertisers, and, in fact, anyone in authority?

Is the size of the sign important? To me, it is. What is more important, however, is that we be a society of laws and that the laws be enforced. Denigration of the law or its enforcement is, in my opinion, a danger to us all.

(How’s that for a straw man? Anyone want to take him on?)

Paul Lentz, curmudgeon

Peachtree City, Ga.