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.
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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.


  • side note – funny thing to me about your site name is that often times people pronounce my last name as "gin" even though that's incorrect. that's probably only "funny" to me.

    oh the fallacy of the world. i have this desire to turn your response to parker's comment into some play on words involving phallicy/fallacy but i will leave it at that.

    i don't think my life would be easier if i was aloof and saw everything in a nice, clearly defined box and i don't really ever stop and think about it. i just took a personality test that said that drawing conclusions "can create stress" for me. i'm okay with embracing the paradoxical which i think unnerves a lot of people.

    as for g dub's comment? who is the illusive "us" to whom he refers? that's something i could be interested in finding a conclusion to.

    here's to living in a complex, untidy world!

  • Ya know, I think Parker's arguments are even worse in context. But the paragraph you highlight is probably the worst in the entire piece.

    Has *anyone* ever argued that amnesty is good for the country because then everyone would be legal? As long as we're talking logical fallacies, this seems to be her unsuccessful attempt at a reductio ad absurdum, winding up instead at a particularly lame slippery slope.

    As for kids having sex, in addition to her lousy argument (that you dissect), there's the little matter of empirical data and all the jazz. Contrary to the views of the anti-condom crowd, making condoms available does *not* pressure or encourage kids to have sex. It makes it easier for them to have *protected* sex *if* they have sex. It's interesting that some religious colleges, that refuse to dispense birth control, have higher student pregnancy rates. Funny, that.

    But see, that's the beauty of a bad argument. It can be wrong on multiple levels.

    To return to Parker and her main point, the "deterrent" effect, if your family is starving or otherwise destitute, and your best chance in sneaking into the U.S. already, the presence of social systems is an added bonus. However, it's not as if you weren't going to go before, but that sealed the deal! Has she ever talked with an illegal immigrant, or read an interview with one? Does she understand what motivates them?

    Also, I find it particularly amusing-repulsive-pathetic the right-wing argument that we can't offer a particular social service because illegal immigrants might then use it. Really. Shut down them public libraries, kids! (I've seen that argument the most often with health care.)

    Still, my favorite false dilemma/choice of recent memory is this gem from Bush, on many occasions:

    "Do I trust the word of a madman and forget the lessons of September the 11th, or take action to defend America? Given that choice, I will defend America every time."

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