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June 2008
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Straw men

Some great responses by readers in yesterday’s post about the drug czar’s flawed “argument, and I’ll just add a couple of thoughts…
What the drug czar’s office is using there (and what they do so often) is the Straw Man argument – a logical fallacy based on the misrepresentation of an opponent’s position.
This is essentially the line of argument used:

Drug policy reformers claim that legalization and regulation will result in an end of all violent crime related to drugs, yet here are some specific examples of violent crimes related to drugs. Therefore, the drug policy reformers are wrong.

Classic straw man. Reformers have never claimed that legalization and regulation would end all crime. Rather, our argument has been that crime — specifically prohibition-related crime — would be greatly reduced. And that’s true. As has been pointed out by the readers here, robberies of valuable goods will happen in any area, and that has nothing to do with the prohibition vs. regulation argument, (other than the fact that under the regulation system, it’s actually easier to catch the criminals since the owners can call the police.)
If you look at the whole picture, the argument is absurd. We talk about dramatically reducing gang violence and cartel violence and street shootings and armed conflicts over territory and armed conflicts with police… and the drug czar says “but someone might try to break in and steal the drugs if they’re regulated.”
Now since since prohibitionists are always in a position of arguing without actual facts or reason on his side, logical fallacies are heavily used, and it’s useful to be able to identify them.
The Nirvana Fallacy is the assumption that there must be a perfect solution to a problem. This is bizarrely used by prohibitionists even though they cannot ever show that their solution has any chance of working at all. But you see them oddly using it: “legalization won’t stop people from abusing drugs… legalization won’t end violence..”
Burden of Proof is also used by prohibitionists in… interesting ways. They ask us to show extreme levels of proof regarding the levels of drug use and abuse that would exist post-legalization — levels of proof that are impossible with no real-world laboratory to test (which they also work to prevent). This, despite the reality that they cannot prove the efficacy of their method (in fact, the proof is that their solution does not work). So what we have is a proven failure (prohibition) in place, with plenty of evidence that regulation would work much better, yet we’re told there’s not enough proof to consider turning from a failed path.
Appealing to Motive is most often used against medical marijuana support. You’ve all seen this one: “drug policy reformers don’t give a rat’s ass about sick people — they just want medical marijuana legalized in order to get marijuana legalized”
Poisoning the well used to be used more, but is getting much harder. It’s the argument that says “look at that long-haired pot head who is talking about legalization.” But when you have people like Walter Cronkite and William F. Buckley, Jr. and LEAP promoting legalization, it’s a much harder fallacious argument to get away with.
There are others used certainly — Appealing to Fear is a big one, for example. (What others can you identify?) Understanding the logical fallacies used by the drug czar is a great help in easily dismantling his groundless “arguments.”
Marijuana: harmless? [straw man]

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