Friday, October 9, 2015

Today's Logical Fallacy is... False Dichotomy!

(False Dilemma, Black/White Fallacy, Either-Or Reasoning, Fallacy of False Choice, Fallacy of Exhaustive Hypotheses, Fallacy of False Alternative, Fallacy of the Excluded Middle)

Closely related to the straw man fallacy, this occurs when choices are artificially reduced to only two options, ignoring all other alternatives, either intentionally or unintentionally. It implies that there really is only a choice between two extremes with no room for compromise, and it is usually worded in such a way to favor one answer over the other. Not only is this fallacy misleading and dishonest, it impedes rational discussion.


Dichotomies allow us to make choices easily and without a lot of stress. Many like to think of the world in black and white in order to feel more comfortable when making choices. While that can be beneficial in some instances, it’s not an accurate portrayal of reality as most of life’s choices exist on a continuum and real world choices include taking variables, conditions, and contexts into consideration. Rarely are our choices simple with obvious and disparate results; instead, they take on many different forms and interweave to form a complex tapestry of consequences. While eliminating your options may help you make a decision, that doesn’t mean that your decision will be the correct one; you very easily could have eliminated it.

The two big assumptions that the false dichotomy makes is that the two options are mutually exclusive (cannot be both) and exhaustive (no other options available); likewise, there are two ways to commit this fallacy. The first is to assume that there are only two options when there are really more (“Do you want a blue car or a red car?”). The second is to assume that the options are mutually exclusive when they are not (“Either the eyewitness saw an alien, or he’s a liar”).

This fallacy is very common in fiction and the media. Audiences enjoy stories with clear villains and heroes, displaying obvious good and evil. We find comfort in seeing the world portrayed this way; it helps us find comfort in our own moral choices to know what “we” would do under those circumstances, even if our own lives would never have such obvious options.

Perhaps the greatest example of false dichotomy in America concerns the two-party system: you are either a republican or a democrat, and if you encounter a member of the other party, then you automatically associate them with being “wrong.” Of course, not only can both parties can be simultaneously right and wrong, but parties may not even be united on any subject. Even if someone admits that he doesn’t agree with everything in his party and finds that his views are more aligned with one of the many other less-common parties, his will still often dismiss them as being “inconsequential” or “insignificant.” Voting for a third party, in his eyes, is risking the loss of his established party, the “better of two evils,” even if he doesn’t agree with the established party.

Examples:

America…love it or leave it! (Since America was founded on the concept of respectful political dissent, not only is this a fallacy, one could also say that anyone who loves America would want to fix its problems and thus disagreements are truly American).

It’s owls versus jobs, the environment or the economy.

Either I keep smoking, or I’ll get fat. I don’t want to get fat, so I better keep smoking.

Either you use Speed Stick deodorant or you’ll stink to high heaven. You don’t want to stink, so you better use Speed Stick.

If you criticize [insert favored group], then you must hate [the group]. (e.g. “If you criticize Christians, then you must hate Christians.)

If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.

Better dead than red.

Your grades show you just aren’t trying. Either study more, or drop out of school!

Either you are 100% straight or you are queer--it's as simple as that, and there's no middle ground!

Either you’re with me all the way, or you’re my enemy and must be destroyed!

Whilst rallying support for his plan to fundamentally undermine citizens' rights, the Supreme Leader told the people they were either on his side, or they were on the side of the enemy.

She loves me; she loves me not.

You’re a German Christian? So was Hitler. You must hate Jews.

You don’t support the Israeli occupation of Palestine? You must be an anti-Semite.

You support the existence of an Israeli state? You must support the occupation of Palestine.

Either you favor a strong national defense, or you favor allowing other nations to dictate our foreign policy.

Either you buy a large car and watch it guzzle away your paycheck, or you buy a small car and take a greater risk of being injured or killed in the event of an accident.

You can put your money in a savings account, in which case the IRS will tax you on the interest, and inflation will erode the value of your money, or you can avoid maintaining a savings account in which case you will have nothing to fall back on in a financial emergency.

If you want better public schools, you have to raise taxes. If you don't want to raise taxes, you can't have better schools.

You can’t believe in God and in Evolution. Since you don’t want to go to hell, you must reject Evolution.

You're either part of the solution or part of the problem.

The fossil record is incomplete, so that means that we were created in 6 days.

You don’t support same sex marriage. You must be a homophobe.

If you're not a feminist, you're a misogynist.

We must deal with crime on the streets before improving the schools.

Unless we increase defense spending, we will be vulnerable to attack.

If we don't drill for more oil, we will all be in an energy crisis.

Either John Edward is a con-man, or he really can communicate with the dead. He seems too sincere to be a con-man, and I'm not so gullible that I can be easily fooled, therefore he communicates with the dead and there is an afterlife.

"Since science has not perfectly explained phenomena X yet, my moonbat wingnuttery must be true."

"Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists." George W. Bush. (Believing that some measures taken by the government were unnecessary, excessive or morally suspect obviously doesn't entail a murderous disregard for human life.)

C. S. Lewis perpetrated the famous "Lord, Liar, Lunatic" false trilemma:

"A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse." C. S. Lewis “Lord, Liar, Lunatic” false trilemma. Either you accept Jesus as "the Son of God," or you think that "love thy neighbor" is no more valid than "I am a poached egg" and "Be ye merciful" is a command from "the Devil of Hell."

Texas governor Rick Perry issued a debate challenge to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi during his 2012 GOP presidential candidate campaign, despite the fact that Pelosi isn't running and is a Democrat. Performing poorly in debates against other GOP candidates, he asked Pelosi to debate his own plan to reformat Washington, D.C. versus (his version of) the status quo — and if she refused, declined or did not respond, he told her that "I will take it to mean you will continue your obstructionist ways in the face of much needed Washington reform." Pelosi reportedly laughed at the request and declined, saying she was unavailable to debate due to a busy schedule.

“Either you accept this conspiracy, or you’re a mindless sheep who believes whatever the establishment says.”

Revenge of the Sith

Anakin: “If you’re not with me, then you’re my enemy!”

Obi-Wan: “Only a Sith deals in absolutes.” (Which is itself an absolute. Silly Obi-Wan.)

"Would you say you worship Satan, or do you simply respect his no-nonsense approach to discipline?” (Dilbert cartoon)

In King of the Hill, Hank Hill and his friends can't wrap their head around their neighbor Khan Souphanousinphone not being either Chinese or Japanese, even after he corrects them.

Hank: So are you Chinese or Japanese?

Khan: No, we are Laotian.

Bill: The ocean? What ocean?

Khan: From Laos, stupid! It's a landlocked country in South-East Asia between Vietnam and Thailand, population approximately 4.7 million!

Hank: (long pause) So are you Chinese or Japanese?

Khan: D'oh!