Posted in Ed vs. Logical Fallacies on November 14th, 2007 by Ed

Do you ever stop and think about how much easier your life would be if you were willfully ignorant, narrow-minded, and provincial in the extreme in your worldview? The complexity of any issue could be reduced to Good vs. Bad or Black vs. White. As one's appreciation for nuance and complexity asymptotically approaches zero, the reward is the ability to "solve" all of the world's problems in the time allotted for commercial breaks.

False dilemma (a.k.a. "Either/Or" Fallacy) is somewhat incorrectly named because it need not always involve a dilemma. Nevertheless, its basic form is illustrated by two quotes (h/t Non-Seq for the Parker quote):

" And we will pursue nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism. Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists. " – Our Fearless Leader, Joint session of Congress, 9/20/01

"In any case, by the same logic, we might also say that (immigration amnesty) is good for the country because then everyone would be legal. Rather than fix something, we simply accommodate circumstances. As in: Kids are having sex anyway, so we'll just give them condoms." – Kathleen Parker, "Incentives Fueling Illegal Immigration" Chicago Tribune 11/7/07

Isn't it precious how Kathleen introduces a patently fallacious bit of reasoning with the phrase "by the same logic"? Keep trying, sweetie. You'll learn how to use the potty eventually. The fallacy in the President's statement is quite obvious; even logically-challenged people recognize that there is some ground between complete, unquestionable American hegemony and bedding down with al Qaeda. So rather than beating that dead horse, let's look more closely at Parker's setup:

The choices are X and Y.
We are not choosing X.
Therefore Y.

Consider, for instance, her "analogy" about teen sex. What is the public interest in preventing kids from having sex? Well, there are social consequences in the form of sexually transmitted diseases and unintended pregnancies. Both of those problems can be virtually eliminated with things like birth control, testing for diseases, condoms, and education. Not so in Kathleen ParkerWorld! Our options are two: stop kids from having sex, or fail to stop them from having sex. That is her sole, cloyingly simplistic answer to everything: it must be stopped. Terrorists threatening us? Kill all the terrorists. Teen pregnancies and STDs? Stop kids from boning. Illegal immigrants? Stop illegal immigration. Let's apply her "logic" for a moment: Spraying water on houses that are currently on fire is idiotic – it is "simply accomodating the circumstances." Either we stop house fires from happening or we are effectively doing nothing.

It just….it makes so much sense I can barely stand it. False Dilemma is one of those "brute force" fallacies, the kind employed by either the lazy, the careless, or those whose attention span for sociopolitical issues approximates that of the fruit fly. I suppose that if the complexity of real life overwhelms one's cognitive abilities, creating a simpler one makes a lot of sense.