Argument with husband: what is this rhetorical device called: straw man? Reductio ad absurdum?

My husband and I are discussing renting our garage to someone to make some extra money every month.

Me: We should restrict the renter to storing a car or a boat. I don’t want someone to put a bunch of boxes that might have drugs or guns in them in our garage.
Husband: That’s not going to happen. You’re making the terms of the rental too restrictive. Find me one news article online about a person renting their garage out to someone who stores something illegal in it. That doesn’t happen.
**Me: **It’s a legitimate concern. I’m not going to find a news article to prove that to you.
Husband: You might as well be saying, “Aliens are going to land in our garage.”

It’s at this point the conversation falls apart, because I get pissed off that I’m not being taken seriously.

Later, he scales back from comparing my concern to aliens landing in our garage, to it being as likely as a plane crash. Then he says we should just go ahead and deadbolt the front door and never leave the house if I think the world is such a dangerous place.

[FWIW, my response is that a) aliens are not real; drugs and guns are real; b) you cannot prevent a plane crash from happening, but you can prevent someone from storing illegal items on your property by restricting the rental contract; c) I’m glad you brought up deadbolting the front door: it’s a preventative measure we take against intruders even though we don’t think intruders are likely to come into our house. Similar to the preventative measure I have suggested re: renting the garage.]

This is a common conversation pattern I’ve noticed. Anytime our disagreements disintegrate into me yelling or crying, it’s as a result of his using this rhetorical device: equating my position with something absurd.

Tonight he referred to it as a logical device called “reductio ad absurdum”. But I looked up the definition and that doesn’t seem to be what it is.

That’s not quite right as a descriptor, because he’s not talking about the result of my preventative measure of restricting the rental contract to a car or a boat. He’s saying my preventative measure is absurd and completely unnecessary.

I think the device is more like a straw man argument, but I’m not sure it exactly fits that definition either.

The reason I need to know what it’s called is so that I can look up how to respond logically to it, rather than getting upset it’s being used at all, and ending the conversation in frustrated tears.

I think it’s called: “Your husband is totally right,”

Strange, but it happens sometimes.

Strawman fallacy.

He’s equating your preventative measures as “proof against aliens” when in fact you are not making an argument regarding alien protection in any way, shape, or form.

FWIW, I agree with you in your rental agreement protective measures.

Can’t they just put drugs, guns or whatever else in the trunk of the car?

This is a good page to look at: Logical Fallacies and the Art of Debate.

It’s definitely not a reductio of any kind. I’d hesitate to even call it a straw man; it’s a straw alien. Since he pretends to be oh-so-cool-I-can-too-argue-logically-so-there-and-I-know-you-can’t-rip-my-throat-out-but-it-get’s-you-so-annoyed I’d call it an argumentum ad logicam, or, had he said it as a gambit alone, an argumentum ad ignorantium, which sounds better as a comeback.

Yes. I don’t think it’s safe to rent the garage to a stranger at all. My compromise is to restrict it to a vehicle. And I plan to make the person show me the inside of the trunk, but I realize they can do that and then put things in the trunk later without me knowing about it. I’m not happy about renting the garage, period; but I’m compromising.

Ha! :smiley:

Thanks, I was looking for a resource like that.

I’m a manly man who thinks your husband is being a dick by ridiculing legitimate concerns. Having strangers store boxes in your garage can cause all kinds of problems that have nothing to do with illegality.

When some friends moved here from Texas and stored boxes of their stuff in our garage for a couple of months before they bought their own house, we ended up with roaches in our garage. Never had them before, and took forever to get rid of.

His point about aliens is, indeed, a straw man fallacy, because he is attributing an absurd claim to you that you do not in fact make. (As you rightly say, reductio ab absurdum is something quite different.)

As for his original argument, he is not committing a logical fallacy, just making a factually false claim. I am sure it has very often happened that people have stored illegal materials in rented storage space. How likely it is to happen to you depends on a whole lot of factors, but his claim that it never happens is silly, and I bet those news stories exist (though they might be difficult to Google for).

Maybe, instead of trying to find the news stories to back you up, ask advice at your local police station.

On the other hand, though, if your renter is a crook, restrictions written into your rental agreement about what can be stored in the space are not going to stop them from storing illegal stuff there. Crooks, unfortunately, do not follow rules or keep to agreements. So your husband may be right that it is pointless to write such restrictions into the agreement, even though the argument he is making is a based on a false premise.

What you could do, is make it a condition that you and your husband have a right to inspect what is stored on your property whenever you want to.

Just don’t rent to Hester Mofet.

There isn’t anything particularly logic-based going on here. You’re both just speculating about unknown risks and then standing your ground.

You both agree that there is a non-zero possibility of drugs being stored in the house.

You: This risk is too high for me to be comfortable.
Hubby: The risk is low enough that I am comfortable.

But neither of you have the proof/data to back up your risk assessment.

So it just becomes a matter of hubby saying “I know you’re uncomfortable, and I don’t care. I trust my evidence-less analysis of this situation more than I trust your evidence-less analysis of this situation.”

You can’t really fight an argument based on faith – from both sides. You think the risk is too high, he thinks it’s too low to bother with, but in the end neither of you really know the truth.

And even if you presented data to the contrary, it might just make him more certain of his own belief.

Learn to communicate and compromise better instead of arguing about silly debate terms.

Roaches! I hadn’t considered that one. Yikes!

I think that’s a good thing to add to the contract. Thanks for the advice.

I agree it’s relevant that we’re speculating, and that the true disagreement is not a factual thing. It’s how comfortable we feel with the risks of this endeavor.

If he had said, “The risk is low enough that I am comfortable,” I think we could’ve had a productive conversation about it. Instead, he attacked my position by equating it with something absurd. This is a pattern of his, and I want to read about how to respond to this type of argument logically instead of getting upset by it.

rather than trying to stop illegal things from being stored, I’d about protecting myself (legally) from illegal things being stored.

At the end of the day - be it car, boat or boxes, it is too easy for people to hide drugs / guns for you to stop them.

But this doesn’t stop you from writing it into the contract that they can’t store such things.

An inspection seems to me to be overly onerous - and I wouldn’t agree to it, even if I were 100% honest.

Sounds to me like fallacy of the excluded middle. Either your renter will be perfectly safe, or aliens will be landing on your lawn in the next minute. You don’t seriously believe in aliens, do you? Q.E.D.

It’s called “calling out crazy”.

You know, if you’d mentioned roaches in the first place, rather than the knee-jerk fallback of drugs (which doesn’t make much sense when you stop to think about how drug running works), you’d probably have won the argument already. In a way–logical or not–your husband was just responding to that.

And what if the car is stolen?

This is the real issue when renting property. It’s ultimately not about drugs any more than roaches. It’s about how much you want the income versus the imposition that earns it.

Not related to argumentative lingo but nevertheless a practical consideration:

Let’s Make a (Drug) Deal (Remember the TV show?)

  1. A garage full of free drugs


  1. A car in the garage with a murder or kidnapping victim in the trunk.

Hmmm…lots of folks would opt for what’s behind garage door # 1.

It sounds like you (both of you) have established a pattern of behavior that will probably only be broken when your husband realizes how much it bothers you. You could try responding to him in the same way, but IMO it’s not likely to go well, unless you’re able to do it very calmly and are prepared to just let it go if he doesn’t get the point. The best thing is to talk openly about it (as suggested by Reply). Nobody likes condescension, although some people use it as a means of quickly ending confrontation. Then again, you should also make sure that you are being reasonable with your husband. Maybe he resorts to exasperating you because you are not reasonable when debating a course of action. If both of you have created the problem (and by getting upset, you have played a part in creating the problem), both of you will have to do something to solve it. It irritates me when people resort to similes or metaphors in such situations. When it happens too often, I ask them to please stick to the subject being discussed. But the first step is to calmly explain what’s bothering you. Be as reasonable as possible in order to get him to see your point. Then, if necessary, at a later date, you can say, “Remember that conversation we had?”