Labels Distract — Duh!

I agree with Conor Friedersdorf http://theamericanscene.com/2010/01/02/torture-and-pacifism and Andrew Sullivan http://andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com/the_daily_dish/2010/01/radical-pacifists.html that one may oppose waterboarding or torture without thereby becoming a “radical pacifist.”

Moreover, i suppose that identifying captious characterizations is one job of  pundits.

However, spending much time on misleading labels can distract us.  What Marc Thiessen did at http://corner.nationalreview.com/post/?q=NDMzNzk4YzM5YWY1ZmU3MTg2YjIwYzNmNjcyNWQ5ZDU=

was ham-fisted, to be sure, but mostly self-satirizing.  Here is the gibe:

“Those  who argue that we should not used enhanced techniques even on the KSM’s of the world are effectively arguing from a position of radical pacifism.  They are opposed to coercion no matter what the cost in innocent lives.”

Instructors in composition classes are familiar with this technique.  Indeed, I named this technique after a colleague who deployed it as his default participation in discussion or debate.  That colleague always committed people with whom he disagreed to positions that they had not and never would have taken.

For the purposes of “politics and language,” we should note the adverb that excuses or smooths this “strawman argument.”  The adverb is “effectively.” 

Whenever I must qualify what I am saying with “effectively” or “in effect” or “is tantamount to” or similar locutions, I risk misleading those who hear or read me.   To use “effectively” may be beneficent if  that usage alerts listeners or readers to legerdemain.  I concede a weakness in my argument when I admit that I am positing effects of thinking or writing.

Now I have prolonged this spasm by posting about it here.  Sorry.

Advertisements

2 Responses to “Labels Distract — Duh!”

  1. O. Says:

    “Indeed, I named this technique after a colleague who deployed it as his default participation in discussion or debate. That colleague always committed people with whom he disagreed to positions that they had not and never would have taken.”

    Yes–not so much the “straw man” fallacy as the “straw interlocutor” fallacy. If you can’t legitimately oppose a person’s claims, invent other claims you can oppose–because you just invented them and endowed them with flaws.

  2. Left, Center, Right: Wrong « Politics and Language Says:

    […] Left, Center, Right: Wrong January 25, 2010 — O. As Wild Bill has noted, “Labels Distract–Duh”. […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: