Updated November 3, 2020:
What is a straw man in legal terms? It can be two things:
- A person who legally owns something in name only. This is done to hide the identity of the real owner. In this case, the straw man does not make any real decisions about the business.
- An argument tactic that aims to waste time and/or mask the issues at hand to gain the upper hand and beat an opponent. This form of straw man may also be referred to as a "red herring."
What Is a Straw Man, and What Is the Connection to the Rise of the Jury Trial?
When used in an argument, the straw man technique aims to avoid the true issues at hand. This involves a four-step process:
- Opponent A holds a certain opinion.
- Opponent B argues a twisted version of opponent A's opinion.
- Opponent B argues against the twisted version of opponent A's opinion.
- Opponent A's opinion is, therefore, wrong.
In the previous example, opponent B may create a twisted version of opponent A's opinion in many ways, such as:
- Purposely misinterpreting the concept.
- Using words or phrases out of context.
When used in reference to a person, a straw man may play an important role in a jury trial. Using a straw man is essentially a work-around of the law to get the desired outcome that would otherwise be illegal. However, not all workarounds are legal. Some may use a straw man to mask illegal activity, such as money laundering. Similarly, a straw man may also be used to avoid liability in cases of illegal operations, thereby creating another person to take the fall were they ever caught.
This version of the straw man originates from compurgation, which was a type of oath used to settle legal matters in ancient times. Compurgation began to fall out of practice around the year 1600 and was later replaced by the jury trial.
Black Law Dictionary of a Straw Man
Since a straw man is not a true person, they exist only within the environment they were created, such as the state. With this, anything a person does outside of the state (or environment in which the straw man was created), does not impact them in their personal life. Similarly, their personal choices cannot be dictated by the state.
In 1933, the straw man began to benefit the government. When the United States filed for bankruptcy in 1933, the governors of the state promised to provide the necessary funds by using the assets that belonged to all people of the state. Unfortunately for the government, they were unable to use assets that existed outside the state's power, including private property. With this, the government devised a way to bridge the gap between the state and the people. This bridge was the straw man.
To implement this, the government made it mandatory that all birth certificates be registered with the Department of Commerce, and that all names be documented in capital letters. Now, bound to the state from birth, it became the people's responsibility to even out the country's debt.
Due to this system, the only way citizens can benefit from the country's services is through their straw man. Essentially, the straw man is a commercial entity acting as a transmitting utility, which is a method of transporting services to the people. These services are ultimately paid for by the straw man through things like paying taxes.
Your Straw Man Is an Artificial Person
At the time of birth, each person is issued their own straw man, legally speaking. On a birth certificate, the name that appears is in all capital letters. This name is a person's legal name. However, people often write their name using a combination of lowercase and capital letters, which is, legally speaking, a separate entity.
Even names appearing on official licenses, such as those issued for marriage, appear in all capital letters. Until the time that a person (name in lowercase letters) reclaims their straw man (the name in all capitals), the state owns the name, not the person.
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Type of informal fallacy
This article is about the logical fallacy. For other uses, see Straw man (disambiguation).
"Man of straw" redirects here. For the novel by Heinrich Mann, see Der Untertan.
A straw man (sometimes written as strawman) is a form of argument and an informal fallacy of having the impression of refuting an argument, whereas the real subject of the argument was not addressed or refuted, but instead replaced with a false one. One who engages in this fallacy is said to be "attacking a straw man".
The typical straw man argument creates the illusion of having completely refuted or defeated an opponent's proposition through the covert replacement of it with a different proposition (i.e., "stand up a straw man") and the subsequent refutation of that false argument ("knock down a straw man") instead of the opponent's proposition. Straw man arguments have been used throughout history in polemical debate, particularly regarding highly charged emotional subjects.
Straw man tactics in the United Kingdom may also be known as an Aunt Sally, after a pub game of the same name, where patrons throw sticks or battens at a post to knock off a skittle balanced on top.
Perhaps the earliest known use of the phrase was by Martin Luther in his book The Babylonian Captivity of the Church (1520), where he is responding to arguments of the Roman Catholic Church and clergy attempting to delegitimize his criticisms, specifically on the correct way to serve the Eucharist. The church claimed Martin Luther is arguing against serving the Eucharist according to one type of serving practice; Martin Luther states he never asserted that in his criticisms towards them and in fact they themselves are making this argument. Their persistence in making this false argument causes him to coin the phrase in this statement: "they assert the very things they assail, or they set up a man of straw whom they may attack."
As a fallacy, the identification and name of straw man arguments are of relatively recent date, although Aristotle makes remarks that suggest a similar concern;Douglas N. Walton identified "the first inclusion of it we can find in a textbook as an informal fallacy" in Stuart Chase's Guides to Straight Thinking from 1956 (p. 40). By contrast, Hamblin's classic text Fallacies (1970) neither mentions it as a distinct type, nor even as a historical term.
The term's origins are a matter of debate, though the usage of the term in rhetoric suggests a human figure made of straw that is easy to knock down or destroy—such as a military training dummy, scarecrow, or effigy. A common but false etymology is that it refers to men who stood outside courthouses with a straw in their shoe to signal their willingness to be a false witness. The Online Etymology Dictionary states that the term “man of straw” can be traced back to 1620 as “an easily refuted imaginary opponent in an argument.”
The straw man fallacy occurs in the following pattern of argument:
- Person 1 asserts proposition X.
- Person 2 argues against a superficially similar proposition Y, falsely, as if an argument against Y were an argument against X.
This reasoning is a fallacy of relevance: it fails to address the proposition in question by misrepresenting the opposing position.
- Quoting an opponent's words out of context—i.e., choosing quotations that misrepresent the opponent's intentions (see fallacy of quoting out of context).
- Presenting someone who defends a position poorly as the defender, then denying that person's arguments—thus giving the appearance that every upholder of that position (and thus the position itself) has been defeated.
- Oversimplifying an opponent's argument, then attacking this oversimplified version.
- Exaggerating (sometimes grossly exaggerating) an opponent's argument, then attacking this exaggerated version.
Straw man arguments often arise in public debates such as a (hypothetical) prohibition debate:
- A: We should relax the laws on beer.
- B: No, any society with unrestricted access to intoxicants loses its work ethic and goes only for immediate gratification.
The original proposal was to relax laws on beer. Person B has misconstrued/misrepresented this proposal by responding to it as if it had been "unrestricted access to intoxicants". It is a logical fallacy because Person A never advocated allowing said unrestricted access to intoxicants (this is also a slippery slope argument).
In a 1977 appeal of a U.S. bank robbery conviction, a prosecuting attorney said in his closing argument:
I submit to you that if you can't take this evidence and find these defendants guilty on this evidence then we might as well open all the banks and say, "Come on and get the money, boys," because we'll never be able to convict them.
This was a straw man designed to alarm the appeal judges; the chance that the precedent set by one case would literally make it impossible to convict any bank robbers is remote.
An example often given of a straw man is US President Richard Nixon's 1952 "Checkers speech". When campaigning for vice president in 1952, Nixon was accused of having illegally appropriated $18,000 in campaign funds for his personal use. In a televised response, based on an earlier Franklin D. Roosevelt's Fala speech, he spoke about another gift, a dog he had been given by a supporter:
It was a little cocker spaniel dog, in a crate he had sent all the way from Texas, black and white, spotted, and our little girl Tricia, six years old, named it Checkers. And, you know, the kids, like all kids, loved the dog, and I just want to say this right now, that, regardless of what they say about it, we are going to keep it.
This was a straw man response; his critics had never criticized the dog as a gift or suggested he return it. This argument was successful at distracting many people from the funds and portraying his critics as nitpicking and heartless. Nixon received an outpouring of public support and remained on the ticket. He and Eisenhower were later elected.
Christopher Tindale presents, as an example, the following passage from a draft of a bill (HCR 74) considered by the Louisiana State Legislature in 2001:
Whereas, the writings of Charles Darwin, the father of evolution, promoted the justification of racism, and his books On the Origin of Species and The Descent of Man postulate a hierarchy of superior and inferior races. . . .
Therefore, be it resolved that the legislature of Louisiana does hereby deplore all instances and all ideologies of racism, does hereby reject the core concepts of Darwinist ideology that certain races and classes of humans are inherently superior to others, and does hereby condemn the extent to which these philosophies have been used to justify and approve racist practices.
Tindale comments that "the portrait painted of Darwinian ideology is a caricature, one not borne out by any objective survey of the works cited." The fact that similar misrepresentations of Darwinian thinking have been used to justify and approve racist practices is beside the point: the position that the legislation is attacking and dismissing is a straw man. In subsequent debate, this error was recognized, and the eventual bill omitted all mention of Darwin and Darwinist ideology. Darwin passionately opposed slavery and worked to intellectually confront the notions of "scientific racism" that were used to justify it.
In 2006, Robert Talisse and Scott Aikin expanded the application and use of the straw man fallacy beyond that of previous rhetorical scholars, arguing that the straw man fallacy can take two forms: the original form that misrepresents the opponent's position, which they call the representative form; and a new form they call the selection form.
The selection form focuses on a partial and weaker (and easier to refute) representation of the opponent's position. Then the easier refutation of this weaker position is claimed to refute the opponent's complete position. They point out the similarity of the selection form to the fallacy of hasty generalization, in which the refutation of an opposing position that is weaker than the opponent's is claimed as a refutation of all opposing arguments. Because they have found significantly increased use of the selection form in modern political argumentation, they view its identification as an important new tool for the improvement of public discourse.
Aikin and Casey expanded on this model in 2010, introducing a third form. Referring to the "representative form" as the classic straw man, and the "selection form" as the weak man, the third form is called the hollow man. A hollow man argument is one that is a complete fabrication, where both the viewpoint and the opponent expressing it do not in fact exist, or at the very least the arguer has never encountered them. Such arguments frequently take the form of vague phrasing such as "some say," "someone out there thinks" or similar weasel words, or it might attribute a non-existent argument to a broad movement in general, rather than an individual or organization.
A variation on the selection form, or "weak man" argument, that combines with an ad hominem and fallacy of composition is nut picking, a neologism coined by Kevin Drum. A combination of "nut" (i.e., insane person) and "cherry picking", as well as a play on the word "nitpicking," nut picking refers to intentionally seeking out extremely fringe, non-representative statements from or members of an opposing group and parading these as evidence of that entire group's incompetence or irrationality.
The steel man argument (or steelmanning) is the exact opposite of the straw man argument. The idea is to help one's opponent to construct the strongest form of their argument. This may involve removing flawed assumptions that could be easily refuted, for example, so that one produces the best argument for the "core" of one's opponent's position.
- ^Downes, Stephen. "The Logical Fallacies". Archived from the original on 3 March 2016. Retrieved 25 February 2016.
- ^ abPirie, Madsen (2007). How to Win Every Argument: The Use and Abuse of Logic. UK: Continuum International Publishing Group. pp. 155–157. ISBN .
- ^ ab"The Straw Man Fallacy". fallacyfiles.org. Retrieved 12 October 2007.
- ^Dennis V. Lindley (2006). Understanding Uncertainty. John Wiley & Sons. p. 80. ISBN . Retrieved 25 February 2016.
- ^A. W. Sparkes (1991). Talking Philosophy: A Wordbook. Routledge. p. 104. ISBN . Retrieved 25 February 2016.
- ^ abcDouglas Walton, "The straw man fallacy". In Logic and Argumentation, ed. Johan van Bentham, Frans H. van Eemeren, Rob Grootendorst and Frank Veltman. Amsterdam, Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, North-Holland, 1996. pp. 115–128
- ^ abcdChristopher W. Tindale (2007). Fallacies and Argument Appraisal. Cambridge University Press. pp. 19–28. ISBN .
- ^Damer, T. Edward (1995). Attacking Faulty Reasoning: A Practical Guide to Fallacy-Free Arguments. Wadsworth. pp. 157–159.
- ^Brewer, E. Cobham (1898). "Man of Straw (A)". Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. Retrieved 13 May 2009.
- ^"Origin of the term "straw man"".
- ^Bosanac, Paul (2009). Litigation Logic: A Practical Guide to Effective Argument. American Bar Association. p. 393. ISBN .
- ^ abWaicukauski, Ronald J.; Paul Mark Sandler; JoAnne A. Epps (2001). The Winning Argument. American Bar Association. pp. 60–61. ISBN . Retrieved 25 February 2016.
- ^ abRottenberg, Annette T.; Donna Haisty Winchell (2011). The Structure of Argument. MacMillan. pp. 315–316. ISBN . Retrieved 25 February 2016.
- ^Adrian Desmond and James Moore  'Darwin's Sacred Cause: How a Hatred of Slavery Shaped Darwin's Views on Human Evolution' Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
- ^Talisse, Robert; Aikin, Scott (September 2006). "Two Forms of the Straw Man". Argumentation. Kluwer Academic Publishers. 20 (3): 345–352. doi:10.1007/s10503-006-9017-8. ISSN 1572-8374. S2CID 15523437.
- ^ abAikin, Scott; Casey, John (March 2011). "Straw Men, Weak Men, and Hollow Men". Argumentation. Springer Netherlands. 25 (1): 87–105. doi:10.1007/s10503-010-9199-y. ISSN 1572-8374. S2CID 143594966.
- ^Douglas Walton (2013). Methods of Argumentation. Cambridge University Press. ISBN .
- ^Kevin Drum (11 August 2006). "Nutpicking". The Washington Monthly.
- ^Friedersdorf, Conor (26 June 2017). "The Highest Form of Disagreement". The Atlantic.
- ^Messinger, Chana (7 December 2012). "Knocking Down a Steel Man: How to Argue Better". The Merely Real (blog).
Have you ever heard of the strawman theory? If not, strap in. If you’re interested in finances, law and history, you’re going to want to read this.
This theory is wildly popular and founded on fascinating origins. Here is the basic gist of the theory: you have yourself, a flesh and blood human being, then you have your strawman. No, your strawman is not a horror movie ghoul that’s going to eat you alive; your strawman is the virtual version of yourself, created by the United States Constitution, which absolves you of any financial responsibility towards the US government. So, if your strawman is real in law, there would be no taxes to pay, no reclaiming of property, no bankruptcy, no social security. Here’s how the theory explains itself.
The Grammatical Glitch
Strawman believers, also known as Freemen, use the foundations of linguistics and grammar to back up their claims. These theorists claim that due to the fact your name is often printed in all-caps on legal documents such as birth certificates, checks and legal papers, these documents are citing your straw-man, not you. For example, if your name is John Smith, your birth certificate will say JOHN SMITH. Strawman theorists would say that only your strawman can be tied to this document, not you yourself.
So, apply this theory to checks, bankruptcy orders, and legal claims. Anywhere your name is printed in all-caps, under strawman theory you are not liable to have anything to do with that document.
The History Of The Strawman Theory
Leading all the way back to Roman times, the phrase capitis deminutio, which literally means ‘decrease of the head’, referred to the separation of a human being from their legal counterpart. Strawman theorists believe that the US constitution, written originally in 1789 at the constitutional convention, is a constitution based on fraud which does not hold up in current US law.
Has The Strawman Theory Ever Applied in Real Legal Proceedings?
The short answer is no, it has not. It is largely regarded as a conspiracy theory and in a court of law, the strawman theory would not be taken seriously. Rightly or wrongly, the strawman theory is often seen as a way for people to get out of paying their dues to society.
Modern Strawman References
- The strawman argument. This refers to an unfair debate tactic, in which a person will twist the words of their opponent and attack them with this angle. For example, if you said, ‘Cows can sometimes be aggressive when threatened,’ and your opponent said, ‘So you are saying that all cows are inherently evil and deserve to go extinct?’ This is a strawman argument.
- Strawman accounts. These refer to the idea purported by strawman theorists that the government owns all bank accounts, and therefore is responsible for their activity. This is considered a ‘scam’ by the FBI and other governing bodies, as it is used to attempt to absolve personal responsibility from bank account holders.
Whatever your views, you’ve got to admit that this is a fascinating theory which has you gripped!
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Straw Man Fallacy Examples
Of the many types of logical fallacies, the straw man fallacy is particularly common in political debates and in discussions over controversial topics. The basic structure of the argument consists of Person A making a claim, Person B creating a distorted version of the claim (the “straw man”), and then Person B attacking this distorted version in order to refute Person A’s original assertion.
Often, the distorted interpretation is only remotely related to the original claim. The opposing argument may focus on just one aspect of the claim, take it out of context or exaggerate it. The straw man argument, in this way, is an example of a red herring. It’s meant to distract from the real issue being discussed and is not a logically valid argument. The best way to understand this phenomenon is with some straw man fallacy examples.
Choosing a Pet
Making a decision is a popular time for straw man arguments to arise. For example, imagine a husband and a wife are trying to decide whether they should adopt a dog or a cat.
Wife: I'd rather have a dog than a cat.
Husband: Why do you hate cats?
The wife never said that she hated cats, only that she preferred dogs. The husband either assumed or pretended that her argument was against cats instead of for dogs. Now the wife must argue that she doesn't hate cats — which completely changes the course of the discussion. This example of a straw man argument is related to slippery slope reasoning.
You Don't Care About My Happiness
Teenagers are experts at straw man arguments. As they learn the ins and outs of adult conversation, teenagers experiment with controlling the direction of a discussion. For example:
Parent: Your curfew is at 10 pm tonight.
Teenager: But the party doesn't even start until 9:00.
Parent: It's a school night, so you need to be home by 10:00.
Teenager: You just want me to be unpopular! You don't care about my happiness!
Anything that gets an adult off of the main discussion would be considered a win for the typical teenager. If the parent's next comment is defensive, such as "I do care about your happiness," the teenager has successfully turned the conversation away from the undesirable curfew time. With any luck (and some rhetorical skill), they may be able to guilt their parent into an even longer curfew.
The War on Christmas
The inflammatory statement "the war on Christmas" is a straw man argument on both sides of the political spectrum. You may hear (or engage in) this type of discussion around the holidays:
Person A: The children’s winter concert at the school should include non-Christmas songs too.
Person B: You won’t be happy until Christmas songs are banned from being played on the radio.
This example of a straw man argument is related to slippery slope reasoning. Person A may be requesting a more diverse or inclusive selection of songs at the children’s winter concert. However, Person B interprets this request as a desire to remove all Christmas songs from public performance entirely. Whether or not Christmas songs are playing on the radio is not related to whether the children’s concert will include songs from other traditions and holidays, like Hanukkah or Diwali.
Medicare for All
Politics is a popular place to find logical fallacies, particularly straw man arguments. Consider the controversial issue of universal healthcare, known on some platforms as Medicare for All.
Politician A: Providing medicare for all citizens would be costly and a danger to the free market.
Politician B: You don't care if people die from not having healthcare.
Politician A's position is about the impact of universal healthcare on the free market, as it would endanger the private insurance industry. Politician B has bypassed that argument and made it about not caring if people die. Now Politician A has to defend their sense of humanity rather than their fiscal responsibility.
Introduction of new technology always invites a variety of opinions. Autonomous vehicles, known more generally as “self-driving cars,” are only one example of technological innovation met with controversy. For example, an opponant of self-driving cars might argue with an advocate in this way:
Advocate: Self-driving cars are the natural extension of active safety and obviously something we should do.
Opponent: You just value new technology over people's jobs. Switching to self-driving cars will endanger driving jobs in the transportation industry. Those jobs are important to the economy and the community.
Both positions are technically correct, but the opponent's argument has nothing to do with the advocate's position. The opponent created a straw man about the transportation industry and claimed the advocate prefers new technology, which is not what the advocate said. If the advocate then responds to the comment about jobs, they have allows the opponent to derail the conversation.
Making a budget is, in a way, forming an argument for your priorities. Politicians do this publically, which leads their constituents to make straw man arguments about what the politicians care about. For example:
Senator: I will vote to increase the defense budget.
Public: Why don't you care about education?
The public has translated the senator's support of more money for defense as a lack of support for education. But did you see the senator mention education at all? This straw man argument can devolve into a hasty generalization by the public as well.
The Theory of Evolution
No one knows where we really came from, and yet the theory of evolution is a hotbed of controversy. And where there's controversy, there's room for fallacies. For example:
Person A: Evolution is one possible explanation for the origins of life.
Person B: Don't ignore the scientific evidence of evolution. It proves that man shared a common ancestor with apes, and that the Earth is over four billion years old.
Can you spot the straw man? Person A didn't say that the theory of evolution is certainly untrue. However, that's the straw man that Person B is arguing against. Person B has steered the conversation away from its original point — evolution being a theory, not a certainty — and now Person A will likely become defensive.
How to Counter Straw Man Arguments
Straw man arguments prevent people from really listening and considering each others' viewpoints. Now that you’ve seen the ways a statement can be distorted or taken out of context, here are some ways to counter those arguments and steer the conversation back on course:
- Point out why you believe the objection is a straw man argument. Challenge your opponent to justify their distorted view and explain how it is identical or equivalent to your original assertion. Your opponent must then defend their view.
- Ignore the straw man argument entirely, and simply continue elaborating on your original point. That will move the discussion back to the point you are trying to make.
- Use a "steel man" rhetorical response to strengthen your opponent's straw man. Basically, when you hear a straw man argument in response to your point, rephrase their argument in the most positive and charitable way possible. Ask for their agreement with your rephrasing, and then state your counterargument to that point. (For example, in the cat vs. dog example above, the wife can say "You think that I only want a dog because I don't like cats." The husband agrees. Then the wife can spend time explaining why she prefers dogs to cats — and likely convincing her husband that a dog is the better choice.)
Calmly countering the straw man fallacy allows you to regain control of the topic. This will stop the conversation veering off on a tangent and moving further and further away from the original point being made.
Avoiding Logical Fallacies in Your Arguments
Being able to recognize, identify and understand logical fallacies will empower you to better interpret and evaluate the value of what someone has to say. Beyond the straw man fallacy, you should also be on the lookout for examples of begging the question. Once you're ready for another challenge, take a look at ad hominem arguments. They often work together. A personal attack on a person’s character is often irrelevant when discussing the actual issue at hand!
B.A. Psychology & English
Strawman the theory is what
Astrawman is a fallacious argument that distorts an opposing stance in order to make it easier to attack. Essentially, the person using the strawman pretends to attack their opponent’s stance, while in reality they are actually attacking a distorted version of that stance, which their opponent doesn’t necessarily support.
For example, if someone says “I think that we should give better study guides to students”, a person using a strawman might reply by saying “I think that your idea is bad, because we shouldn’t just give out easy A’s to everyone”.
Because strawman arguments are frequently used in discussions on various topics, it’s important to understand them. As such, in the following article you will learn more about strawman arguments, see examples of how they are used, and understand what you can do in order to counter them successfully.
How a strawman works
In general, the use of a strawman consists of the following three stages:
- First, person A states their position.
- Then, person B presents a distorted version of person A’s original position, while pretending that there’s no difference between the two versions.
- Finally, person B attacks the distorted version of person A’s position, and acts as if this invalidates person A’s original argument.
Essentially, person B creates a strawman, which is a distorted version of their opponent’s original argument, which makes it easier for them to attack their opponent’s stance.
This means that there is a flaw in the premise of the strawman argument, since the stance that it addresses doesn’t accurately reflect the stance that it was originally meant to address. As such, the strawman fallacy is considered to be a type of an informal logical fallacy, and specifically a type of a relevance fallacy, since the person using it is attacking a stance that is not directly relevant to the discussion at hand.
Note that, in some cases, the use of the strawman might involve a slightly different process. For example, the person using the strawman might not present the distorted version of their opponent’s stance before attacking it, but will instead use an attack which simply addresses the distorted stance directly.
Examples of strawman arguments
The following is a typical example of a strawman argument:
Teaching assistant: the homework assignment was much harder than we thought, so I think we should give a few extra points to students who completed it.
Professor: that’s a terrible idea. If we give everyone a perfect score for no reason, students won’t bother working hard in the future.
In this example, the professor uses a strawman argument, by misrepresenting their assistant’s stance in three ways:
- The professor argues against giving everyone a bonus, while the teaching assistant suggested giving it only to students who completed the assignment.
- The professor argues against giving students a perfect score, while their assistant suggested giving students only a few extra points.
- The professor argues against giving students a bonus for no reason, while their assistant suggested giving them the bonus because the assignment was harder than expected.
In doing all of this, the professor makes it much easier for themself to attack their assistant’s stance.
Keep in mind that it doesn’t matter whether the overall claims of the professor who is using the strawman are true or not (i.e. that if everyone got a perfect score for no reason, then students won’t work hard in the future). This is because the professor’s argument is a fallacious misrepresentation of their opponent’s stance, meaning that it’s entirely irrelevant to the discussion in the first place.
Another example of a strawman is the following:
Alex: I think that a bigger portion of our company’s budget should go to customer support, because we’re currently struggling in that area.
Bob: if we spend all of our money on customer support like you’re suggesting, we’ll go bankrupt in a year.
In this example, Bob is using a strawman, when he distorts Alex’s original stance in order to make it easier to attack. Specifically, while Alex proposes that the company should spend a bigger portion of their budget on customer support, Bob attacks the idea that the company should spend all of their budget on customer support, which is a different, much more extreme stance (i.e. a strawman).
Types of strawman arguments
There are countless ways to distort an opposing view when using a strawman. Common ways to do so include:
- Oversimplifying, generalizing, or exaggerating the opponent’s argument.
- Focusing on only a few specific aspects of an opponent’s argument.
- Quoting parts of the opponent’s argument out of context.
- Arguing against fringe or extreme opinions which are sometimes used in order to support the opponent’s stance, but which the opponent didn’t actually use.
In addition, there are various other ways in which people create strawman arguments, which can be as minor as changing small details in their opponent’s original statement, or as major as completely fabricating claims that their opponent has never made in the first place.
However, all of these techniques share one thing in common: they all involve someone distorting the opposing stance, in order to make it easier to attack.
As such, strawman arguments are relatively simple to recognize in discourse. Essentially, when you realize that there is a mismatch between someone’s stance and the stance that their opponent is attacking, it’s a clear sign that a strawman is being used. Nevertheless, in practice it can be sometimes difficult to notice or to be sure whether this type of argument has been used, especially if the person who is using the strawman knows what they’re doing.
How to counter a strawman
A good way to minimize your vulnerability to strawman arguments in the first place is to use clear and definitive language, with as little room for misinterpretation as possible. This makes it more difficult for your opponent to distort your stance, and makes it easier for you to correct them if they attempt to do so.
However, while this reduces the risk of someone using a strawman against you, nothing can prevent someone from using this type of argument if they truly want to, so it’s important to know how to respond to the use of a strawman argument.
In general, there are three main strategies you can use:
- Point out the strawman. Call out your opponent on their use of the strawman, by explaining why their argument is fallacious, and how it distorts your original stance. You can put them on the defensive by asking them to justify why they believe that the distorted stance that they present is the same as the one that you originally proposed; since the two are different, your opponent will either be forced to admit that their argument was invalid, or they will try to justify it by using even more fallacious reasoning, which you can then attack.
- Ignore the strawman. You can choose to ignore the distorted version of your argument that your opponent presents (i.e. the strawman), and continue to advocate for your original position. This can be effective in some cases, but if they continue to focus on the strawman, you may have to use one of the two other techniques mentioned here, in order to ensure that the discussion progresses, and in order to avoid giving the impression that you’re incapable of addressing your opponent’s argument.
- Accept the strawman. In some cases, it might be necessary or preferable for you to accept a strawman when you’re defending your stance, meaning that instead of arguing in favor of your original stance, you could start defending the distorted version of your stance, as presented by your opponent. Keep in mind, however, that the longer you go down this route, the more difficult it will be to go back and point out your opponent’s fallacious reasoning, since by defending the argument presented in the strawman you appear to accept it as your own stance.
Overall, since a strawman argument is fallacious because it distorts the stance that it argues against, the correct way to counter it, from a purely logical perspective, is to point out this distortion. This is also the most effective choice for countering the strawman in most cases, but there are some situations where it is better to use an alternative approach, by either ignoring the strawman or accepting it.
Accounting for an audience
Strawman arguments are often used during debates that are being viewed by people who are not a part of the discussion itself. The presence of such an audience is important to take into consideration when you choose how to respond to a strawman, because it can influence the effectiveness of the different strategies that you can choose from.
Essentially, when arguing in front of an audience, your focus should often be on addressing and persuading them, rather than on persuading your opponent. This is one of the main reasons why people use strawman arguments in the first place, even when they know that doing so won’t help them convince their opponent that they’re wrong.
As such, when choosing which approach to use in order to counter a strawman that is being used against you, think about which one will appeal the most to your audience. Different techniques will work better on different audiences, and some people, for example, might need you to explicitly call out the use of the strawman, while others might expect you to simply ignore it entirely.
Accounting for unintentional use of strawman arguments
When deciding how to counter the use of a strawman by your opponent, it’s important to apply the principle of charity, and keep in mind that the use of a strawman argument can sometimes be unintentional. This is because, in some cases, people distort their opponent’s stance because they misunderstand it, rather than because they want to make it easier to attack.
As such, as long as it’s reasonable to do so, when responding to a strawman you should begin your response by asking your opponent to justify their use of the strawman, instead of just attacking them for their fallacious reasoning.
Doing this is beneficial not only because it promotes more friendly discourse, but also because it also increases the likelihood that the other person will see the problem with their reasoning and accept their mistake. Furthermore, if there is an audience watching the debate, doing this can improve your image, by showing your willingness to debate in a reasonable and non-confrontational manner.
How to avoid using strawman arguments yourself
It’s important to remember that you might be using strawman arguments unintentionally. If you identify cases where this happens, and specifically if you notice instances where you distort your opponent’s views in order to make them easier for you to attack, try to keep this distortion in mind, and correct it before approaching their argument again.
One way to ensure that you’re not using a strawman is to try to re-express your opponent’s position, and then ask them whether they agree with your description of their position before you start arguing against it. This is the best way to make sure that your opponent agrees with your formulation of their stance, and is a good way to engage in productive discourse.
Now, there may be times where you might choose to use a strawman argument intentionally, for whatever reason. However, keep in mind that while this technique can be persuasive in some cases, research suggests that using this type of argument is not always the best option from a strategic perspective, aside from the inherent logical and moral issues which are associated with using fallacious reasoning.
Specifically, a study on the topic showed that as a rhetoric technique, strawman arguments are useful only when listeners are relatively unmotivated to scrutinize them, meaning that they don’t care much about what’s being said. This is because, when listeners are invested in the discussion and care enough to pay attention to the arguments that are being proposed, the strawman technique is generally ineffective, and can even backfire by reducing the persuasiveness of the person who is using it.
Variants of the strawman
A hollow-man argument is an argument that involves inventing a weak fictitious position and attributing it to a vaguely-defined group who is supposed to represent the opposition, before attacking it in an attempt to discredit your opponent.
As such, hollow-man arguments represent a more extreme version of strawman arguments, since while a strawman is a distorted version of an original stance, the hollow-man is an argument which is almost entirely fabricated, and which has little to do with the stance of the person that it’s meant to represent.
Hollow-man arguments can often be identified through the use of weasel words, which include phrases such as “some say…”, that are not attributed to any specific person or group. This is because the use of such phrases makes the statement vague enough that it’s nearly impossible to refute, while absolving the speaker of any responsibility with regard to their truthfulness.
An iron-man argument is an argument that involves distorting your own stance in order to make it easier for you to defend. Essentially, an iron-man is constructed in a similar way to the way you would construct a strawman (i.e. by misrepresenting an original stance), but this time it’s in order to strengthen your own stance, rather than to weaken your opponent’s.
One of the most prominent ways to create an iron-man argument is to use vague statements that are easy to agree with, even if they don’t have much to do with your actual point. For example, consider the following exchange:
Reporter: recently, citizens have been complaining that you haven’t actually passed any anti-corruption laws since you were elected, despite your promises. What can you say about that?
Politician: all I can say is that we are working hard to make sure that we do what’s best for everyone, and I just to be sure that we end up doing the right thing. Following our moral compass takes courage in hard times, but only if we remain steadfast in our beliefs will we be able to prosper and grow strong together.
Here, the politician doesn’t say anything that is directly related to the question that they are being asked. Instead, he’s simply making abstract statements that almost anyone would agree with, and adopts this vague agenda as his stance. This means that instead of defending his true actions, he’s arguing in favor of concepts that are much easier for him to defend, such as “doing the right thing”.
A steel-man argument is an argument that involves distorting your opponent’s argument in order to make it easier for them to defend, and more difficult for you to attack. Essentially, you create a steel-man argument by carefully examining your opponent’s original stance, and then framing it in the best light possible before you move on to address it.
This is the suggested course of action under the principle of charity, which suggests that you should argue against the best possible interpretation of your opponent’s argument. One way to do this is by using the following steps, which were suggested by philosopher Daniel Dennett (and which he based on the work of psychologist Anatol Rapoport):
How to compose a successful critical commentary:
- You should attempt to re-express your target’s position so clearly, vividly, and fairly that your target says, “Thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way.”
- You should list any points of agreement (especially if they are not matters of general or widespread agreement).
- You should mention anything you have learned from your target.
- Only then are you permitted to say so much as a word of rebuttal or criticism.
— From ‘Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking‘
Doing this can lead to more productive discussions, and increase the likelihood that your opponent will be willing to listen to what you have to say.
A note on terminology
Some scholars use the term ‘iron-man argument’ to refer to any argument which distorts an original position in order to improve it.
However, the distinction between iron-man and steel-man arguments is important to make, since the goals of these two types of arguments are completely different. Specifically, while iron-man arguments are used in order to make it easier for you to defend your own stance, steel-man arguments make it more difficult for you to attack your opponent’s stance.
This means that iron-man arguments are generally seen as a form of fallacious reasoning, which should be avoided, while steel-man arguments are generally seen as a reasonable debate technique, which should be encouraged.
Summary and conclusions
- Astrawman is a fallacious argument that distorts an opposing stance in order to make it easier to attack.
- There are various ways in which one can distort an opposing argument, with some common ones being exaggerating the original argument, focusing on specific details in the original argument, and quoting parts of the original argument out of context.
- The main way to counter a straw man is to point out its use, and to then ask your opponent to prove that your original stance and their distorted stance are identical, though in some situations you might also choose to either ignore your opponent’s strawman, or to simply accept it and continue the discussion.
- When responding to a strawman, it’s important to take into account any audience that might be watching the discussion, and to choose an approach that will appeal to them.
- Variants of the straw man include the hollow-man argument, which involves inventing a fictitious position and attributing it to the opposition, the iron-man argument, which involves distorting your own stance in order to make it easier for you to defend, and the steel-man argument, which involves distorting your opponent’s stance in order to make it harder for you to attack.
Strawman theory (also called the Strawman illusion) is a pseudolegal theory prevalent in various movements
This article is about the pseudolegal theory. For other uses, see Straw man (disambiguation).
Strawman theory (also called the strawman illusion) is a pseudolegal theory prevalent in various movements such as sovereign citizen, tax protester, freeman on the land, and the redemption movement. The theory holds that an individual has two personas, one of flesh and the other a separate legal personality (i.e., the "strawman"). The idea is that an individual’s debts, liabilities, taxes and legal responsibilities belong to the strawman rather than the physical individual. The strawman theory is recognized in law as a scam; the FBI considers anyone promoting it a likely fraudster, and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) considers it a frivolous argument and fines people who claim it on their tax returns.
Strawman theory traces its origins to the ancient Roman legal practice of capitis deminutio ("decrease of head"), a term used in Roman trials for the extinguishment of a person's former legal capacity. Capitis deminutio minima meant a person ceased to belong to a particular family, without loss of liberty or citizenship. Capitis deminutio media involved loss of citizenship and family, but not liberty. Capitis deminutio maxima involved loss of family, citizenship and liberty (i.e., a slave or a prisoner of war). Strawman theory commonly takes the term capitis deminutio, spells it "Capitis Diminutio," and claims capitis diminutio maxima was represented by an individual’s name being written in capital letters. This led to the idea that individuals had a separate legal personality now called a "strawman".
The theory holds that an individual has two personas. One of them is a physical, tangible human being, and the other is the legal person, often referred to as a legal fiction. When a baby is born in the U.S., a birth certificate is issued, and the parents apply for a Social Security number. Sovereigns say the government uses that birth certificate to set up a secret Treasury account which it funds with an amount ranging from $600,000 to $20 million, depending on the particular sovereign belief system. Hence, every newborn's rights are split between those held by the flesh-and-blood baby and the corporate shell account.
Proponents of the theory believe the evidence is found on the birth certificate. Because many certificates show all capitals to spell out a baby's name, JOHN DOE (under the Strawman theory) is the name of the "straw man," and John Doe is the baby's "real" name. As the child grows, most legal documents will contain capital letters, which means that his state-issued driver's license, his marriage license, his car registration, his criminal court records, his cable TV bill, correspondence from the IRS, etc., pertain to his strawman and not his sovereign identity. In reality, the use of all capital letters is typically done to make certain statements clear and conspicuous, although this is not always the case.
The main use of strawman theory is in escaping and denying debts, liabilities and legal responsibility. Tax protesters, "commercial redemption" and "get out of debt free" scams claim that one's debts and taxes are the responsibility of the strawman and not of the real person. They back this claim by misreading the legal definition of person and misunderstanding the distinction between a juridicial person and a natural person. In accepted legal theory there is a difference between what is known as a natural person and that of a corporate person. A corporate personhood applies to business, charities, governments and other recognized organisations. Courts recognize human beings as 'persons', not as a legal fiction joined to a flesh and blood human being but as one and the same. They have never recognized a right to distance oneself from one's person, or the ability to opt out of personhood.
Believers of the theory also extend it to law and legal responsibilities, claiming that only their strawman is required to adhere to statutory laws. They also claim that legal proceedings are taken against strawmen rather than persons and when one appears in court they appear as representing their strawman. The justification for this is the false notion that governments cannot force anybody to do anything. A strawman is therefore created which the adherent believes he or she is free to command. Proponents cite a misinterpretation of a passage in chapter 39 of King John's Magna Carta stating in part that, "no freeman will be seized, dispossessed of his property, or harmed except by the law of the land”.
Freemen believe that separating from their strawman or refusing to be identified as such enables escape from their legal liabilities and responsibilities. This is typically attempted by denying they are a 'person' in the same way as their strawman, or by writing their name in non-standard ways, using red ink, and placing finger prints on court documents.
Judge Norman K. Moon found such tactics an unconvincing argument in 2013 when an individual named Brandon Gravatt tried to overturn a drug conviction and get out of prison. The case was summarily dismissed by the court.
It is impossible to dodge the law by insisting that an individual is different from his or her person. If a court can establish a person's identity, regardless of consent or cooperation, the court will engage in proceedings and sanctions against the individual. This is due to the legal principle known as Idem sonans (Latin for "sounding the same") which states that similar sounding names are just as valid in referring to a person. The earliest legal precedent is R v Davis in the United Kingdom in 1851.
If two names spelt differently necessarily sound alike, the court may, as matter of law, pronounce them to be idem sonantia; but if they do not necessarily sound alike, the question whether they are idem sonantia is a question of fact for the jury.
This is a dynamic list and may never be able to satisfy particular standards for completeness. You can help by adding missing items with reliable sources.
|Case||Defendant||Case notes||Court Ruling|
|United States v. Washington (1996)||Kurt Washington||Kurt Washington was charged with two counts of tax evasion. As part of the proceedings, he filed a motion to dismiss the charges on numerous grounds, including that the person charged was a strawman.||"...the defendant contends that the Indictment must be dismissed because “KURT WASHINGTON,” spelled out in capital letters, is a fictitious name used by the Government to tax him improperly as a business, and that the correct spelling and presentation of his name is “Kurt Washington.” This contention is baseless."|
|State of Colorado v. Drew||Donald James Drew||Donald Drew was previously convicted after pleading guilty to first degree kidnapping and conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance. Drew then filed a motion to vacate that conviction.||“The core of defendant’s argument on appeal is that (1) he was born Donald James Drew, and the person charged in this matter was DONALD JAMES DREW; (2) the capitalization of the name created a “Strawman/Stramineous Homo/Ens Legis/ Artificial Person” (artificial person); (3) the artificial person was convicted; (4) he has been incarcerated as surety chattel or security for the artificial person; and (5) he has been denied due process. “Claims so premised are patently frivolous and without merit.”|
|Jaeger v. Dubuque County||Raymond Jaeger (plaintiff)||Raymond Jaeger filed a $2M lawsuit against Iowa state law enforcement & Department of Natural Resources, alleging illegal search and seizure. The ruling was made in response to a motion to strike the presented active defense.||"The court finds Jaeger’s arguments concerning capitalization otherwise specious. The court routinely capitalizes the names of all parties before this court in all matters, civil and criminal, without any regard to their corporate or individual status...Jaeger’s motions to strike are denied as to improper capitalization."|
|United States v. Furman||William Michael Furman||William Furman was charged with two counts of conspiracy related to a scheme to defraud a bank and launder money. After being convicted, Furman filed an appeal based on the strawman theory, alleging both a literal misspelling of his name and the "improper" capitalizations typically seen in such arguments.||"Here, the difference between "Micheal" and "Michael" is a mere transposition of letters with presumably little (if any) auditory significance, and the difference between "WILLIAM MICHAEL FURMAN" and "William Michael Furman" is a mere change of case with absolutely no auditory significance."|
- ^ abc"SOVEREIGN CITIZENS MOVEMENT". splcenter.org. Retrieved 14 June 2018.
- ^"Redemption / Strawman / Bond Fraud". fbi.gov. Retrieved 14 June 2018.
- ^"Internal Revenue Bulletin: 2005-14". irs.gov. Retrieved 14 June 2018.
- ^"26 U.S. Code § 6702 - Frivolous tax submissions". law.cornell.edu. Retrieved 14 June 2018.
- ^Lord Thomas Mackenzie Mackenzie (1862). Studies in Roman Law: With Comparative Views of the Laws of France, England, and Scotland. W. Blackwood. pp. 71–72.
- ^Weill, Kelly. "Republican Lawmaker: Recognize Sovereign Citizens or Pay $10,000 Fine". thedailybeast.com. Retrieved 14 June 2018.
- ^"Sovereign Citizens Movement". Southern Poverty Law Center. Retrieved 2018-09-12.
- ^"What is PERSON?". thelawdictionary.org. Retrieved 14 June 2018.
- ^"What is JURIDICAL PERSON?". thelawdictionary.org. Retrieved 14 June 2018.
- ^"What is NATURAL PERSON?". thelawdictionary.org. Retrieved 14 June 2018.
- ^Meads v. Meads (ABQB 571 (CanLII) 18 September 2012) ("A strange but common OPCA concept is that an individual can somehow exist in two separate but related states. This confusing concept is expressed in many different ways. The ‘physical person’ is one aspect of the duality, the other is a non-corporeal aspect that has many names, such as a “strawman”...").Text
- ^Lovejoy, Hans. "Taking on the law as a 'strawman'". echo.net. Retrieved 15 June 2018.
- ^"Magna Carta: Muse and Mentor". loc.gov. Retrieved 15 June 2018.
- ^Williams, Jennifer. "Why some far-right extremists think red ink can force the government to give them millions". vox.com. Retrieved 15 June 2018.
- ^United States v. Brandon Gravatt (Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit 26 June 2013) ("Brandon Shane Gravatt appeals the district court’s order denying his 18 U.S.C.§3582(c)(2)(2006) motion for sentence reduction. We have reviewed the record and find no reversible error. Accordingly, we affirm the district court’s order. United States v. Gravatt, No. 5:01-cr-00736-CMC-1 (D.S.C. March 27, 2013). We dispense with oral argument because the facts and legal contentions are adequately presented in the materials before this court and argument would not aid in the decisional process.").Text
- ^"What is IDEM SONANS?". thelawdictionary.org. Retrieved 15 June 2018.
- ^John Frederick ARCHBOLD (1867). Archbold's Pleading and Evidence in Criminal Cases ... The twelfth edition, including the practice in criminal proceedings generally. By W. N. Welsby. Henry Sweet. p. 190.
- ^United States v. Washington (1996) (U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York 12 November 1996).Text
- ^The People of the State of Colorado, v. Donald James Drew (Colorado Court of Appeals 13 May 2010).Text
- ^Jaeger v. Dubuque County (U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Iowa 18 March 1995).Text
- ^United States v. Furman (U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana 13 April 2001).Text
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Not to be confused with the logical fallacy Straw man.
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Though not a stub by pure word count, this article lacks depth of content.
Strawman theory (also called the Strawman illusion) is a pseudolegal theory prevalent in various movements such as sovereign citizen, tax protestor, freeman on the land, the redemption movement and various "get out of debt free" scams.
The theory holds that an individual has two personas, one of him or herself as a real flesh and blood human being and the other, a separate legal personality or person (usually written in CAPITALS) who is the "strawman". The idea is that an individual’s debts, liabilities, taxes and legal responsibilities belong to the strawman rather than the physical individual who ran up those obligations, conveniently allowing one to escape their debts and responsibilities.
Strawman theory should not be confused with the actual legal concept of a strawperson, with which it only bears a tenuous similarity, or with the logical fallacy known as a straw man argument.
The strawman theory is recognised in law, but only as a scam: the FBI considers anyone promoting it a likely fraudster. The IRS considers it a frivolous argument that will get you a $500 fine if you use it on your tax return, and a $25,000 fine if you then try to argue the point in tax court.
Strawman theory traces its origins to the ancient Roman legal practice of capitis deminutio ("decrease of head"), a term used in Roman trials for the extinguishment of a person's former legal capacity. Capitis deminutio minima meant a person ceased to belong to a particular family, without loss of liberty or citizenship. Capitis deminutio media involved loss of citizenship and family, but not liberty. Capitis deminutio maxima involved loss of family, citizenship and liberty (e.g. being made a slave or a prisoner of war).
The term was later revived in the US by the tax protestor and sovereign citizen movements and combined with a misreading of the definition of person from Black’s Law Dictionary (an American law dictionary). Strawman theory takes the term capitis deminutio, misspells it (commonly as "Capitis Diminutio") and claims that capitis diminutio maxima was represented by an individual’s name being written entirely in capital letters (even though Latin only had capitals back then). This led to the idea that individuals had a separate legal personality now called a "strawman", represented in capitals.
Strawman theory holds that an individual has two personas. One of them is a physical, tangible human being, and the other as their legal person, personality or strawman, often referred to as a legal fiction. (The term "legal fiction" is used by woos as if it were synonymous with intangible, rather than using its correct meaning.)
The main use of strawman theory is in escaping and denying debts, liabilities and legal responsibility. Tax protestors, "commercial redemption" and "get out of debt free" scams claim that one’s debts and taxes are the responsibility of the strawman and not of the real person, freeing the real person from the need to pay them.
Sovereign citizen's movements and freemen on the land also extend this concept to law and legal responsibilities by claiming that it is only their strawman that is required to adhere to statutory laws such as paying taxes, having licences and obeying traffic laws. They also claim that all legal proceedings in courts are taken against your strawman rather than you as a person and that when one appears in court they appear not as themselves but as representing their strawman. The justification for this is their false notion that governments cannot force anybody to do anything against their will. They therefore create a strawman which being their own creation they are free to boss about at will.
Woo peddlers believe that by separating oneself from their strawman or refusing to be identified as their strawman they can escape their various liabilities and responsibilities such as paying their debts or obeying laws they don't like. This is typically done by denying they are a person and the same thing as their strawman or by writing their name in various bizarre ways such as the following:
- John of the family Smith
- John of Smith
- John (commonly known as)
By doing this they are refusing to represent the strawman. In addition to capitals, the use of titles such as Mr and Mrs are claimed to indicate a reference to a person’s strawman. Surnames are also typically referred to as part of the legal fiction and advocates will often insist that they don't have a surname but rather a family name.
Some woos believe that the strawman is created by the government when a birth certificate is filed. Woos sometimes then try and present their birth certificate when their strawman’s name is called for, such as in court.
There is a legal principle known as Idem sonans (Latin for "sounding the same") which states that similar sounding names are just as valid in referring to a person. The relevant UK precedent is R v Davis 1851.
“”If two names spelt differently necessarily sound alike, the court may, as matter of law, pronounce them to be idem sonantia; but if they do not necessarily sound alike, the question whether they are idem sonantia is a question of fact for the jury.
The strawman belief seems to stem from a misunderstanding of the concept of legal person-hood. In actual legal theory there is a difference between what is known as a 'natural person' (which is a human being, i.e., not a legal fiction) and that of a corporate person (a legal fiction known as corporate personhood, which applies to businesses, charities, governments and any recognised organisation). Courts recognise human beings as 'persons', not as a legal fiction joined to a flesh and blood human being but as one and the same (though in the past not everyone was recognised as a person before the law). They have never recognised a right to distance oneself from one's person, or the ability to opt out of personhood. Where this defence has been tried in court, judges have rejected it. It is impossible to dodge the law by insisting that you are different from your person. Whether or not a court can establish your identity, then regardless of whether you give consent or cooperation, it is free to engage in proceedings and sanctions against you.
The use of block capitals to fill in forms is often used as evidence for the existence of strawmen. The idea is that the form is asking for your strawman's identity. In reality this is done for ease of reading by humans and computers alike; it is not evidence of some legal conspiracy.