My Keloland colleague, Dr. Newquist, swats the ball back into my side of the court. I accused him of misusing the term "straw man," which indicates an informal logical fallacy. He replies as follows:
In addition to his addiction to the ad hominem argument, Ken Blanchard loves to indulge in the rhetorical fallacies of bifurcation and equivocation. He gives a very narrow definition of the straw man fallacy and then asserts I was wrong in a definition I gave. Insisting that only his definition is correct, he says mine was wrong. That is called the fallacy of bifurcation.
I defy my colleague to show a single example of an ad hominem in my writing. Before he goes looking, I should caution him: I mean by ad hominem the actual fallacy and not the common misuse of the word to indicate any personal criticism. The fallacy (a precisely defined logical term) means refuting an argument by pointing out that someone unpleasant held that view.
Professor Newquist likes to accuse me and others of logical fallacies but, oddly for a former English professor, he doesn't seem to know what any of these fallacies are. Bifurcation means pretending that there are only two possible positions when there are many. Example: "If you don't vote for Obama, you are voting for racism." It doesn't mean insisting on a narrow definition when a broader one is legitimate. Equivocation means surreptitiously shifting from one meaning of a term to another within an argument. Example: "If you aren't in Detroit, you must be somewhere else; and if you are somewhere else, you can't be here." Hat tip to the Three Stooges. It can hardly be the case that I am insisting on a single, overly narrow definition and committing equivocation at the same time!
Professor Newquist defined the "straw man fallacy" in his original post in this way:
It is when one person makes up a bunch of stuff about someone and then attacks that someone for possessing all the fabricated things attributed to him or her.
In my post of Wednesday, I pointed out that he was quite wrong, and provided this definition from the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy:
You commit the straw man fallacy whenever you attribute an easily refuted position to your opponent, one that the opponent wouldn't endorse, and then proceed to attack the easily refuted position believing you have undermined the opponent's actual position.
In his reply to me he offers another definition from this source:
Description: It is a fallacy to misrepresent someone else's position for the purposes of more easily attacking it, then to knock down that misrepresented position, and then to conclude that the original position has been demolished. It is a fallacy because it fails to deal with the actual arguments that one has made.
But that perfectly confirms my "narrow" definition, and gives no support at all to his broader one! I am astonished that he does not see this. It is true, of course, that many important terms have both a narrow and a broad meaning. But sometimes the broader meaning emerges from misuse of an originally well-defined term. The expansion of the meaning of ad hominem from a specific logical fallacy to indicate any personal criticism is an example. One would have expected an English Professor to be opposed to that sort of thing. Professor Newquist seems determined to promote it.
Likewise, in contrast to Professor Newquist and, perhaps, Umberto Eco, I think fascism means fascism. Eco's essay on Ur-Fascism (I am grateful to David for bringing it to my attention) contains a very convincing description of the culture of fascism, and warns us that it may creep up on us. His purpose is not to condemn contemporary civilization (or any administration) but to alert his readers. Professor Newquist says this:
Fascism is undergoing a renaissance in the 21st century. It has pervaded American politics. Our current regime is fascist in many aspects. It espouses a belligerent nationalism. It is militaristic. It is moving toward totalitarianism with its warrantless wiretaps, its advocacy of torture, its systematic defamations of its opponents and its repressive policies and actions, its control by a corporate hierarchy that is allowed to set policy and rig the economy to only its advantage, It fits the descriptive taxonomy that defines fascism.
I pointed out that this is nonsense. In all the aspects of policy that Newquist mentions, we were much more inclined to his "fascism" in previous decades than we are today. In earlier wars much more brutal interrogation techniques were used than any that are suspected today. And in the past, the treatment of prisoners of war was rarely subject to any judicial review. That is why the current case before the high court, Al Odah v. U.S., has very little case law to fall back on. American society is much more culturally diverse than it was before. No one who dislikes President Bush or his policies is afraid to say so. And now the Supreme Court is, for the second time and quite properly I think, about to review
the rights of detainees in this new kind of war. We are moving away from what Newquist calls fascism at a steady pace.
As for "contempt for the people of South Dakota," my colleague denies it. But he said this:
When college freshmen from small communities in South Dakota return home for vacations, they find that their former classmates and friends, except for those who also went off to college, regard them with suspicion and resentment, as leaving the community for college is a snobbish affront. If they succeed and make their way in the outside world, it is regarded as an unforgivable sin. When a political leader goes to
Washington, his/her constituents begin to suspect that they are being betrayed. If that leader gains success and recognition, the folks back in the province get resentful and feel neglected and betrayed that anyone would dare fix on horizons beyond their parochial vision. This, among other appeals to petty jealousy and resentment, was used effectively against Tom Daschle, as it was George McGovern before him and crops up against Stephanie Herseth Sandlin.
Well, maybe I have a more broad conception of contempt that David has. But this looks like contempt to me.