Tag Archives: Iron Man arguments

Iron manning means not having to know what you’re defending

As devoted Non Sequitur readers know, the iron man is a kind of reverse straw man.  This is to say that it’s unjustifiably strengthening someone’s argument so as more easily to defend it.  This interview with Sarah Palin is the very essence of iron manning.  You see, Palin doesn’t even need to know what Phil Robertson, the Duck Dynast, has said (or what the criticisms of it are) for her to defend him.  From TPM:

Fox News host Greta Van Susteren asked Palin if she took issue with the manner in which “Duck Dynasty” patriarch Phil Robertson made his comments, which Van Susteren characterized as “graphic” and “offensive,” even if she agreed with the substance of what Robertson said.

“I haven’t read the article. I don’t know exactly how he said it,” Palin responded. “But what he was doing was in response to a question about a lifestyle he disagrees with, and yet he has said over and over again he doesn’t hate the person engaging in a lifestyle he disagrees with.”

That speaks for itself.  For reference, here’s what he said (from the GQ article):

Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men,” he says. Then he paraphrases Corinthians: “Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.

Then there’s this (which is just kind of hilarious):

For the sake of the Gospel, it was worth it,” Phil tells me. “All you have to do is look at any society where there is no Jesus. I’ll give you four: Nazis, no Jesus. Look at their record. Uh, Shintos? They started this thing in Pearl Harbor. Any Jesus among them? None. Communists? None. Islamists? Zero. That’s eighty years of ideologies that have popped up where no Jesus was allowed among those four groups. Just look at the records as far as murder goes among those four groups.

For the record, Islam includes more than 0 percent Jesus, and it’s also more than 80 years old.

Popular Science positively starves the trolls

Popular Science has completely shut off comments for their articles, citing trolling at their number one reason.  Given our interest here at the NS in the don’t feed the trolls maxim and our fixation on the Iron Man Fallacy, it’s worth a shot thinking this through.  I’ve got a defense of the decision over at WWA, especially against the Will Oremus charge that it’s a form of scientific dogmatism (or as he says: “Lazy and Wrong“).

See my post at WWA.  HERE.

Iron men at the Washington Post

Some classic iron manning from the Washington Post's Ombudsman (via Media Matters and Atrios):

When President Obama has a bad day, or more specifically, on days when the economic news has been bad, I get a slew of feedback from conservative readers that go like this:

“See, you liberal media nincompoops, this is all your fault, you treated Obama like a saint when he was running in 2007 and 2008 and you didn’t vet him, investigate him, report on him skeptically. You were so fawning (and adoring of his blackness), you missed that he was a (pick your adjective), radical, socialist, Muslim, inexperienced, dangerous, corrupt, weak Chicago politician with no track record of accomplishment, whose only talent is giving speeches.”

Those e-mails usually employ much harsher language, and some are filled with expletives.

If you watched the Republican debate Thursday night, you heard a muted version of this criticism of Obama from Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum. (Although Ron Paul almost never mentioned Obama, he criticized the entire system of government instead.)

Deborah Howell, Post ombudsman from 2005 through 2008, said at the end of her tenure that “some of the conservatives’ complaints about a liberal tilt [at The Post] are valid.”

I won’t quibble with her conclusion. I think she was right. I read all of The Post’s lengthier, meatier stories on Obama published from October 2006 through Election Day 2008. That was about 120 stories, and tens of thousands of words, including David Maraniss’s 10,000-word profile about Obama’s Hawaii years, which I liked.

I think there was way too little coverage of his record in the Illinois Senate and U.S. Senate, for example, with one or two notably good exceptions. But there were hard-hitting stories too, even a very tough one on Michelle Obama’s job at the University of Chicago Medical Center.

And that’s what The Post needs to do in covering his reelection campaign this year: be hard-hitting on his record and provide fresh insight and plenty of context to put the past three rough years into perspective.

I suppose it's a factual question (to some extent at least) as to whether the Post's coverage of Obama was light on skepticism.  (My guess is that it was as bad as their other work–they pay George Will for petesake).  The funny thing here, however, is the occasion for this moment of self-reflection. 

A person full of conspiracy-driven blather about Obama's race, religion, and socialism (Goldman Sachs style I can only guess) alleges that the Washington Post failed to be skeptical about Obama's race, religion, socialism is for the Ombudsperson a reason to reconsider its coverage of Obama.  Why?  Because he turned out to be a socialist?  Sheesh. 


Iron man

Corresponding to the three versions of the straw man scheme (straw, weak, hollow), one may identify three forms of dialectical distortion going the other way–i.e., that is the "positive" way.  That is to say, one may be guilty of not being critical enough, or of being too nice, or too interested in analyzing good arguments to bother with all of the bad ones.  The last one here, I think, is a typical philosopher problem.  

This idea of being too charitable has come up before.  See here. And here and to some extent here.

Like the classic straw man, this sort of distortion would admit of both fallacious and non fallacious varieties.  The non fallacious varieties one might employ in class (among other places), for the kids sometimes make crappy arguments that could be made better with a little tweaking.  It's the same kind of tweaking one does to make them worse, only the point is to then evaluate the better argument, the argument not given.

One type of fallacious employment, let's call it the iron man, consists in being insufficiently critical to an obviously weak argument (or arguer) when that criticism is right, proper, and necessary.  Here's an example from Jennifer Rubin's "Right Turn Blog" at the Washington Post:

Bachmann’s greatest challenge, should she run for president in 2012, will be to convince a wide cross-section of voters that she isn’t the media’s cartoon figure. But she’ll have to do it without dampening the enthusiasm of her most devoted supporters. However, candidly, the biggest challenge will be for the other candidates, who will have to debate a very smart, articulate and entirely underestimated woman. As one Republican operative told me, “Hey, I wouldn’t want to get on that stage with her.” And that is precisely why a Bachmann candidacy, far from being a “joke” or a “farce,” might be the most interesting thing to happen to the 2012 GOP primary race.

Bachmann has many more obvious challenges, but this alternate reality post happily refutes itself, as it seems to suggest her most ardent supporters will be turned off by her losing the alleged media caricature.  Bachmann may be smart in some sense, but she's nowhere near the serious contender Rubin makes her out to be.  And this doesn't help–it doesn't help Republicans in particular–clarify what the viable options are.  Bachmann, on even Bill O'Reilly's accounting, isn't a serious candidate (or person or thinker).  Why we should waste precious minutes in the 24 hour news cycle is beyond me. 

There a Poe's law corollary here somewhere.