When one makes a straw figure of an interlocutor’s position, one casts it in worse lights than it deserves. And so, one interprets a ‘most’ as an ‘all,’ or a prima facie duty as an absolute one. And so with Mallard Fillmore’s recent comic, we have an imagined critical discussion. The person in the black turtleneck says “we should be more like Scandinavia.” Fillmore’s rebuttal is that there’s a brewery in Scandinavia that makes beer from urine, presumably with the thought that this is a counter-example. He then predicts that this should have “no impact” on the black turtleneck guy’s thesis.
Of course, it’s a joke. But the humor in the joke, I presume, is that the urine-beer point is supposed to be a kind of analogy-breaker, instead of a counter-example.
So, in the first instance, the Fillmore argument is a straw figure. He interprets black turtlenecks’ thesis as: we should do all the things that Scandinavians do. All it takes is one counter example. So pee beer. You could also have other things. Black Metal, weird furniture design, love of Schnapps, obsessions with wool mittens. Those are things that Americans could probably take the pass on. (Sidebar: I’ve always thought I should like Black Metal, but I just can’t seem to get into it.)
As I take it, black turtleneck won’t be phased by the urine beer counter-example, because his argument isn’t that we should do all the things they do, just those from a relevant class. So, decent treatment of workers, living wage, encouraging bicycles, social safety net.
So, here’s how I think that Fillmore’s argument works in the second instance. It’s supposed to be a kind of analogy-breaker, and the line is that if you’re comfortable with all the social things that come with being a Northern European Socialist Utopia, then there are other things that come along for the ride. External costs. And urine beer is just one of those things. So the thought is that if you experiment with society to a certain degree, you break common sense. And you end up with piss beer.
The irony, of course, is that if reductio of social policy can be done by way of what kind of beer a society produces, then we are in for some trouble. And Fillmore implicitly recognizes that point. See the next comic: