Upgrade the Argument: From the Steel Man to the Titanium Man
Let’s start with a definition of terms.
Straw man: A distorted misrepresentation of one’s argument or position, which often involves oversimplifying it. When one attacks a strawman instead of one’s actual argument, this is called the “strawman fallacy.”
Steel man: The strongest, most accurate representation of one’s argument. This involves reinforcing one’s position as they have articulated it.
Titanium man: Taking the core of one’s argument and rearticulating it at a higher level of nuance, sophistication, abstraction, and complexity. The argument is buttressed with more perspectives, contexts, and variables.
In our hyper polarized political climate, it is all too easy to straw man opposing arguments. Steel manning is a good antidote to this tendency. However, the titanium man takes this one step further by upgrading an argument to higher levels of complexity, which allows us to gain new uses, insights, and meanings from any argument, while also avoiding the pitfalls of the straw man.
Titanium Man Examples
In his book The Listening Society, Hanzi Freinacht demonstrates the titanium man by rearticulating the same argument at increasingly higher levels of complexity and abstraction. Here’s an example of titanium-manning a feminist argument:
“Feminism means to stand up for women and crush patriarchy.”
“Feminism is to apply the principles of gender equality and to make these principles prevalent throughout society.”
“Feminism means to work towards a long-term equilibrium where self-reproducing inequalities have petered out and people of all sexes and genders have less reason to feel insecure and frustrated.”
“Feminism is an interest group movement as well as a social justice movement. As an interest group movement it must be weighed against other interests and perspectives. As a social justice movement it must be coordinated with other social justice issues such as class, ethnicity, global inequality, other gender issues (including men’s issues), and the exploitation of animals and nature.”