Meme Series (Post 4)—A Swing and a Miss


Straw Men –Everybody Loves Them!


They stand there patiently while you beat them into tiny grains of chaff. Then you go home and pat yourself on the back for slaying the dragon.  In fact, maybe we should call them straw dragons instead of straw men!

Straw dragon

The problem is, no matter how completely you destroy a straw man (or dragon), the real one is still there, right behind you, unhurt.

Some straw men are so lifelike that it can be hard to tell the difference. As a result, people on two sides of an issue can make all kinds of arguments and pleas and never realize that they are talking right past their opposition.  The opposition then turns around and defeats a straw man next to you and the two of you stare at each other in amazement, wondering why neither of you are crying “Uncle!” in the face of such devastating reasoning.

Straw Man Examples:

I’m going to give you examples on both sides of a controversial issue. We’ll start with this pro-life meme that I’ve seen repeated in several different ways:

bad memes life

The reason this is attacking a straw man is because pro-choice people are not arguing that a zygote or a fetus is not alive. They admit it’s alive—just like every cell in your body is alive. They disagree that it has person-hood equal to the person-hood of a child that is born.

The reason this is attacking a straw man is also because no one would consider the killing of a Martian bacteria to be morally wrong. It may be undesirable, because someone wants to study it, but not any more wrong than using antibiotic hand sanitizer.

The reason for the confusion is because the pro-life/pro-choice argument is often framed by the question of “when does life begin?” A better phrasing of that is “when does a child become a ‘person’ wholly deserving of the full rights we give to all human beings after birth?” Depending on your point of view, this may be at conception, or implantation, or viability, or when the heart begins beating (referenced in the meme), when brain waves exist, or at birth.

No matter when you believe person-hood develops, everyone understands that the fetus at every stage of development is alive and is a developing human with at least the potential for person-hood. This has no comparison to a Martian bacterium (or an endangered species, which is protected because it is rare, not because it is worth more than a human.)

Then there’s this one:

bad memes life 2

The reason this is attacking a straw man is because many pro-life people care about both these problems. I have known many pro-life people who give generously to those in poverty, support relief agencies, foster children and/or adopt children, and who volunteer in soup kitchens and homeless shelters.

The reason this is attacking a straw man is because from a pro-life perspective, these are two completely different problems. The fact that some pro-life people do not support already-born children is really irrelevant to whether the pro-life position is moral or not. No matter when you believe person-hood develops, everyone would say that it is morally wrong to kill a person.

Once people are born, the question of how to take care of them is complex. Although people may disagree on the best way to help the poor, no reasonable person is advocating that they starve to death (or be killed).


Although I present both of these memes as attacks against straw men, they are not without some truth. Pro-choice people could be encouraged to think about the preciousness of life in all forms and all stages, and pro-life people could be encouraged to think about how to be pro-life to people at all ages and states of need.

Unfortunately, that’s unlikely to happen because in each case, the person from the opposing side coming across one of these memes will scoff and say, “But that has nothing to do with my opinion! I can care about Martian bacteria and starving children alike without changing my mind about the legitimacy (or not) of abortion laws!”

Principle 6: Make sure your meme accurately describes the view of the other side. Avoid straw men.


The following memes are what I would consider extreme straw men.  Otherwise known as outright non-sequitur.

If you agree with me about B, you must agree with me about C, right? What’s that? B has nothing to do with C? I don’t understand…

non sequiter 2

Alrighty then.  Removing Confederate statues is not going to cure cancer either, but if it’s the right thing to do, why wouldn’t we do it? (If it’s not the right thing, explain why.)

non sequiter cropped

Got it. Environmentalism will not solve third world poverty.  Guess there’s absolutely no other reason to be an environmentalist?

non sequiter 3

I know what you’re thinking, but the top picture is not at an airport and the bottom picture is not at a cemetery or memorial. I bet Obama might have smiled or even fist pumped at some time on 9/11 when he was home and playing darts or something. I bet Donald Trump knows how to look somber and bow his head at a funeral. Whether the comparison is valid or not can’t be proved by taking photos out of context.

People who think National Socialists are socialists because the word is in the name must have similar issues with Buffalo wings. cropped

Holy Toledo! Wait till someone tells them the Holy Roman Empire, Holy Matrimony and the Holy Spirit are not all equally divine! And don’t get me started on the disappointment of buffalo wings! This is known as “equivocation” and it’s silly.

Principle 7: Make sure your comparisons make sense. Apples and oranges are both fruits, but be careful what categories you use to compare them.


I admit that memes using straw men and non-sequitur still make statements about the poster’s point of view with tangentially related illustrations. They still can serve a useful purpose.

For like-minded people, these memes are mostly about smiling and nodding together, and maybe shaking their heads about the foolishness of their opponents.

For opponents, these memes are helpful to show how the “other side” sees your position and where your side is communicating badly.  (If you can keep your temper about being misrepresented.)

For fence-sitters it can be a toss-up.  But I would hope that most people don’t make decisions based on slick, one-sided memes.


Here is a full list of my opinions so far:

Principle 1:  Check facts and don’t share falsehoods. Lies do not “support” anything.

Principle 2: If you don’t agree with what a meme actually says, then don’t repost.  Find another one.

Principle 3: Make one or two clear points. Resist oversimplification.

Principle 4: Don’t use multiple exclamation points.

Principle 5: Don’t beg or manipulate people to share your meme.  If you don’t think people will share it, then make it better!

Principle 6: Make sure your meme accurately describes the view of the other side. Avoid straw men.

Principle 7: Make sure your comparisons make sense. Apples and oranges are both fruits, but be careful what categories you use to compare them.


Reminder (Posted on all my Meme Series Posts)

I am not responding to or critiquing memes here on the basis of whether I agree or not with their underlying points. I have opinions which I may mention from time to time, but that is not the point of the discussion on this blog. I’m more interested in how these memes convey their messages and what principles I would put in place if I were the “meme police.”

I’m not saying that people shouldn’t be free to post these things or that they are 100% useless for getting ideas across. Far from it.  Obviously, people are free to say anything they like and post anything they like and make any memes that they like. 

Likewise, I am free to critique them as I like. I’m getting these thoughts off my chest and offering them to you as food for thought.

(I also don’t go around thinking bad thoughts about people who post annoying memes. In fact, I kind of like knowing what my friends are thinking, which is why I’m critiquing these on this blog rather than complaining to people who post them.)



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