The selection form of the straw man fallacy depends upon the ignorance of one’s audience; in order to succeed, one’s audience must not have first-hand knowledge of how strong opponents respond to one’s position. However, we now see that the selection form of the straw man fallacy serves to perpetuate if not positively encourage such ignorance. When it succeeds, it convinces one’s audience not only of the correctness of one’s view, but also of the absence of reasoned and intelligent opposition to it. The result is a popular public discourse of heightened passion and outrage that grows increasingly ignorant of what is actually in dispute. Under such conditions, a premium is placed on holding one’s ground without regard to the reasons and arguments of those who disagree; that is, the result is a total undermining of argumentation.
On any view about the ultimate purposes and nature of public political discourse in a democratic society, the prevalence of a fallacy that undermines argumentation and encourages irrational tenacity must be seen as a threat to a properly functioning system of self-government. In this paper, we have identified a heretofore relatively unnoticed form of the familiar straw man fallacy. We have also claimed that this form prevails in popular political discourse, with deleterious effects. Having a new term (i.e., the ‘‘selection’’ form of the straw man) with which to identify and theorize this form of failed reasoning will certainly not by itself eliminate its use or diminish its effectiveness; but it is a necessary
step in a larger effort to rehabilitate public discourse.