Rules of engagement

In a recent exchange of opinion on another blog I was accused of building a Straw Man, but I stuck one up my opponent by proving that he had used arguments Ad Hominem. Touche!

(This proves that both me and my opponent are very clever chaps and that we both understand the classical laws of logic - see!)

Regardless of the merits of what He said or what I said or what He said I said which I didn't say and vice verca, are these classical rules of engagement important in the modern political arena?

If a fallacy of argument helps you to get one over on your political opponent and helps to kick him square in the goolies - what's wrong with using it?

And isn't appealing to the rules itself a fallacy of argument? - In being a diversion from the issue in question to an issue of the rules of engagement!

Do other bloggers, writers of letters to the editor or commentators on politics in general really rate these rules?

Should they be obeyed?

Or should they be abused, with a passion, in order to advance the cause?

(NB This post is not an admission that I have used fallacies of argument against anybody! As if I would! It is just a general question!)


  1. I think most arguments use straw targets, in the sense that they either attribute false or simplistic positions to their opponents in order to refute them, or they radically exaggerate or simplify that position in order to make it appear untenable or impracticable. Or they extend the opponent's position on one topic into other topics where it may not work.
    Most forms of philosophical dialogues, from Plato onwards, use them, and certainly all politics does.
    Second rate cultural and political commentators use straw targets too to set up an already discredited position, which they then attack as if it were generally held, in order to look intelligent and strong as they knock it down.
    An example of a straw target use would be a Western Mail reporter (let's call him David Williamson) writes and article claiming that a lot of people don't believe that bears shit in the woods, and that these sylvan-excrement-sceptics (the 'straw targets' in question) are a genuine barrier to full understand of woodland issues. He then writes a piece forcefully putting an irrefutable case, largely copied from existing research, in favour of densely-wooded areas being the bear's preferred defecatory location, and waits for the applause.
    (That or a letter from Dr John Etherington complaining about how windfarms are a threat to woodlands right across Wales, and blaming them for the extinction of bears.)
    D Rodway, Cardiff

  2. Damn these so-called rules of engagement... I waste far too much of my time at the Guardian's CommentisFree site and have grown to despise the rhetorical style of argument there... Stick yer ad hominens up yer straw man's arse say I.

    Such 'rules' are fine in the world of logic and philosphy (from where I believe they are derived) but what do they really say about the ACTUAL strength of a proposed policy on, say, bear defecation exclusion zones. Bugger all I reckon.

    All politics and economics act on and are acted on by human behaviour, when you find a human being who operates entirely by the rules of logic please frame them for me.

    Sorry for wimbling away on yer blog, which I just found through blogcymru.

    Hope yer well and all that.

    The Cardiff Drunk

  3. Fuck em Alwyn - make and play by your own rules

  4. In my discussions/debates with people. I don't expect them to agree with me and I love to hear their opinion whether or not it agrees with mine.

    What is most important that the two parties treat each other with respect. Regardless of my initial viewpoints on what someone says. I will always take the views away for consideration.

  5. DR - you missed out a letter from Dr Christopher Wood about how Wales should patent its bearshit, and one from Gwilym Levell about how Welsh-speaking bears want a woodland republic.

  6. If a fallacy of argument helps you to get one over on your political opponent and helps to kick him square in the goolies - what's wrong with using it?

    Are you seriously suggesting this, Alwyn or are you winding us up?

    Happy New Year.

  7. Are you seriously suggesting this, Alwyn or are you winding us up?

    Most of the posts on this blog are wind ups - I hope that the moniker that I use emphasises that point!

    But if a Straw man or an ad hominem leaves an opponent in a state of not liking it up 'em what's wrong with that?

    If one wants to be serious about the point:

    Since the days of Punch 150 years ago the political cartoon has been an effective way of challenging the ruling classes. Cartoons are rarely fair argument; they are usually over simplifications of the protagonists case coupled with rude caricatures of the protagonists personality. They brake all rules of "fair engagement" - but they have proved much more effective than many a disciplined argument in bringing errant politicians down.

    If it's good enough for the respected cartoonist, why isn't it good enough for the common blogger?

  8. The internet tramples of decent debate in some many different ways, so I think rules of engagement are now a thing of the past.

    Consider anon trolls on political blogs, who seem the only ones who throw insults – I bet they are merely political staff being sneaky and point scoring.

    Straw men are ever more important for opinion formers in such a fragmented society we now live in, they provide simple and clear stereotypes for people to digest in sound bites and news bulletins. I am not saying that is a positive development, but how can you crystallise information when it is so infinitely available via the internet?

    I recommend Drew Westen’s book, which is lucid in the way it describes how our brain responds to simple political messages…