Absurdity

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Pelosi with gavel

Nancy Pelosi (left) used not just a hammer and a Negro but an absurdity argument when she noted that, if we were to wait to pass a bill until we could read what was in it, no work would ever get done.

Absurdity (formally, Reductio ad absurdum, or in the original Russian, Союз Советских Социалистичесикх Республик) is the debate technique of putting absurd words in your opponent's mouth. Showing that, if the opponent's assertion were accepted, all Hell would break loose is a winning move in debates, and a damned sight better than either throwing food at him or pulling his tie and ripping his jacket, though all of these alternatives are still practiced at the varsity level.

edit History

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For those without comedic tastes, the so-called experts at Wikipedia have an article about Absurdity.

The Greeks loved debate even more than some of their more notorious inventions, and especially loved the tactic ("εις άτοπον απαγωγή") of demonstrating that their debating partners were total horse's asses. The earliest example of absurdity in debate is generally attributed to Xenophobe of Colostomy, who famously rebutted Homer's statement that the gods have human form by remarking that any god who looked like Homer would be the God of Poor Grooming and Ban-Lon Togas.

That shut him up, and Xenophobe won the debate and got the pretty girl (as debate winners often do, though these days they all seem to have horn-rimmed glasses and pimples).

Plato, in the manner of Socrates, raised absurdity to an art form that we now call the Socratic method. Typically, Socrates' opponent would make a simple assertion and Socrates would walk it back to show that the opponent was both smelly and unfaithful to his wife. Though absurd, the technique was so effective that opponents eventually turned to the only rhetorical tactic that would make him stop, arsenic.

Aristotle clarified that an assertion could not be both true and false. This set him apart from the debaters of the day, and formed a solid rule of debate that lasted until Bill Clinton insisted that "I meant it when I said it." The principle of non-contradiction is accepted by all philosophers worth their salt, and has served double duty as the source of the titles of the more tedious chapters of Atlas Shrugged. However, lately, some niche-seekers have asserted that statements can be true and false. This branch of philosophy is derived from the branch of mathematics that holds that parallel lines meet, somewhere over the horizon, resulting in a daily pile-up of hundreds of cars on the Interstate, surely just over the next hill.

edit Straw man

Crying John Boehner

The "War on Women," though technically a straw man, keeps getting Democrats elected, and entertainingly reduces Republicans to stuttering and crying, to boot.

A related example of putting words in your debate opponent's mouth is the straw man, in which the debator, instead of showing the untenable results of what his opponent said, tries to show the untenable results of something he didn't say. This is far easier, as there are always many more things a person didn't say than that he did say, and most of the former are wrong, even when a lot of the latter are too. Although technically a fallacy, it is successful enough to have gotten a name.

edit See also

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