Readers of the NonSequitur are familiar with the Straw Man Fallacy varieties and especially the Iron Man. John was down at Vanderbilt for a Friday Colloquium talk, and we had a chance to record an episode of Philosophy15 on Straw Men and Iron Men. And the connection to longer-term argumentative pathologies, swamping in particular, was part of the agenda.
A new episode at Philosophy15 is up, and in it Talisse and I talk through the related phenomena of what we’d been calling in our old 3QD piece, Spitballing and Swamping. The topic’s gotten good coverage here at the NS, but it’s worth noting that spitballing has a close connection to what John and I have been calling the iron man. (An earlier post about the connection here.)
The connection is that with spitballing, a speaker makes a number of statements, mostly controversial, usually vague, and always memorable, and waits for people to react. When they respond critically, one strategy is for the spitballer to then say that they’ve interpreted the statement incorrectly — that’s not what I said! And then follow up with more stuff, or rely on allies to craft interpretations of the statement that are more plausible. Hence, spitball and rely on iron-manners in the background.
Swamping is still a concept in the works. One version of it is that it is the use of spitballs to completely fill the space of discussion with matters that are pure distraction. And so, for example, one may be enraged with the tweets from an orange monster and the consequent iron-manning the monster’s minions pursue in light of criticism, but this distracts us from the policy decisions the orange monster’s other minions are making at the EPA or in the Department of Energy. Moreover, it makes it impossible to have any discussion that is not about the spitballer. The crucial thing about swamping, then, is that we are in a way complicit with the strategy, because it’s we who go along with the outrage and drama of spitball consequences. We, as it were, pull the wool over our own eyes.