MINFIG: Strawman, Steelman, LegomanPosted: February 13, 2020
Most of you have heard the term “straw man” for an intentionally weak argument. I only recently discovered that the tern “steel man” has become fashionable for the opposite (we’ve also referred to it as “strongman” or “brick man”): restating your opponent’s argument in the strongest possible terms.
Building on that, I propose the term “legoman” for when we explicitly show exactly how the argument is put together, to make it easier for our interlocutors to deconstruct our reasoning and reconstruct alternatives. This is what I call ‘pre-future’ thinking: we don’t claim to have all the answers, but we must present our best current understanding in a way that helps our community evolve better understandings in the future. This is what I see as the heart of the scientific method, and what I am hoping to transplant into the humanities!
That said, the gendering of the term is starting to grate on me. As an alternative, I have started using the term MINFIG: Maximally Informative Narrative For Inspiring Generativity.
Why This Matters
In Truth Bowl (now Fish Bowl) we are attempting to find a new operational definition of truth-seeking to supplant “adversarial debate,” which goes back at least as far as the Romans!
In fact, I think something like the term “truth-seeking” is key to this enterprise. Traditional debate (and thus traditional politics) starts with the assumption that one side is “right”, and it is the job of the judge (or the voters) to pick the best “truth defender.”
I start from the premise that the “true” perspective is not a digital yes-no we get to pick from, but an analog manifold we can only approach asymptotically. And thus the goal of Truth Bowl is to help the teams cultivate both a) more accurate perspectives, as well as b) the skills that make them better at developing such perspectives.