Tag Archives: False Dilemma

Polarization Perfectionism

Hi all, I’m back blogging here at the NS again, after a long break.  Ready to get back to it.  Thanks, John, for keeping the fire burning.

David French, over at National Review, has some pretty dark views about whether the partisan divide will ever be bridged, given the polarization of the political populace.  He makes some nice observations that polarization yields the view that one’s opposition is less open-minded, intelligent, honest, or even hard working than the average American.  (He leaves out the fact that polarization is both the result and cause of the divide, which is that it’s too often that we only talk to and read our own side…).

His argument that we can’t overcome polarization is on the basis of what he sees as who would need to be the leader for it. Namely, the new president, Mr. Trump.  The Donald has alienated folks given the way he’s campaigned (and given the inaugural), so folks don’t trust him.  But even if he were to soften his tone and recognized his political opponents as more than craven losers, French doesn’t think it’d make things better.

…if Trump stopped tweeting, spoke only in the most measured tones, and relentlessly reached out to black and Latino voters while also governing as a conservative, many millions of leftists and their media supporters would still howl in fury at his political program. You would relentlessly hear that Trump was somehow worse now than when he insulted his opponents, because that was only talk, while his policies represent actions.
This is a case of what’s sometimes called the Perfectionist false dilemma.  The reasoning goes like this:
We can either adopt some change to improve things or leave things as they (unfortunately) are.  The change won’t fix everything, nor would any fix be quick.  Therefore, the fix isn’t worth it.
Of course, the conclusion does not follow when it’s put that way.  Why? Because the reasoning leaves out the tertium quid of the ameliorating option of making things a little less bad.  Sure, in the Trump case, people still would distrust him and oppose him.  But that’s likely because of his long and bad history, and moreover, if he (as French notes) doesn’t change  his policies, he would merely be play-acting.  (Sure, if you only change your rhetoric, that’s not going to improve the divide by anything…)
But the main issue would be: if T were to change the rhetoric and actually heard the voices of those who were critical, then there may be some policy shift.  That would help with polarization.  Moreover, if he would take the time to explain his policies to those who disagree, maybe we’d understand why what he’s doing is more than sheer keptocratic manipulation.  But, hey, he’s just the President, not a miracle-worker, right?

False dilemma, inclusive disjunction

Mark Steyn’s lead post at NRO today was an argumentative (and organizational) trainwreck.  Here’s just one of the fallacious lovelies.  Steyn observes that lefties have in the past been against marriage, as a kind of anti-bourgeois bit of posing.  And now the lefties want marriage for homosexuals, now as a kind of ennobling and civilizinginstitution.  He  poses the dilemma for them:

Which of these alternative scenarios — the demolition of marriage or the taming of the gay — will come to pass? Most likely, both.

I like the fact that you can have an inclusive ‘or’ in ordinary English, but this one seems wrong.  First, it seems that the two features are at least prima facie inconsistent — if marriage is demolished, then it won’t play the taming function it’s supposed to play.  Right?  Second, are those the only two options or consequences? How about gay unions going on as they have for years and years, but now with legal protection from the state?


Did he just false dilemma himself?

Jed Babbin, over at The American Spectator, has some objections to the gender-integration of combat troops.  He breaks the issue into two questions:

First and foremost is whether the presence of women will add to or detract from the readiness and capability of the unit to perform its mission. The second is a moral question: Will having women serve in harm’s way benefit our military and society at large?

OK. That sounds fine.  Though the second moral question seems improperly formed.  Shouldn’t it be less an issue of serving society at large but more an issue of equal treatment of those in the military (i.e., not having a glass ceiling for women)?  Well, regardless, Babbin holds that the answer to the second is a NO, but he feels like the PC police will descend on him if he says much more about it:

The question of benefit to society has been mooted politically.

He then turns to the question, again, whether the presence of women will add or detract from readiness:

So we are left with the first question, which has to be answered with a resounding “no.”

Wait.  He posed the dilemma (add or detract), and now he says ‘no.’  Now, that doesn’t mean that he’s going to be arguing for a third option (though, given the way the question is posed, it should). Given what he says later (like, having women around yields “complete the destruction of the warrior culture”) it’s pretty clear that what Babbin means to say is that it will detract from readiness.  But, sheesh!  Somebody over there is playing (and being paid to be an) editor, right?


Hope you like false on your dilemmas

David Catron’s piece at the American Spectator is titled:

Is Obamacare Socialism or Fascism?

How about liberal, progressive, or egalitarian for tertium quids?

(N.B., check out Catron’s opening paragraph, where he insists that he won’t eat healthy food, and thinks that’s a good thing to do given what he thinks is coming in Obama’s America.)

Adventures in false dilemmas

Here's the title of Howard Rich's post at American Spectator.

Barack Obama: Socialist or Nouveau Fascist?

Rich argues that Socialism isn't quite right about Obama's policies, as he does let many who have done well keep their spoils.  So it's fascism.  But the fascism label, Rich concedes, "isn't perfect".  That's why he calls it Nouveau Fascism. You see… when the term doesn't work, just call it a new version of that! 

If it impedes economic growth

I watched the first Republican debates this last Tuesday.  Michele Bachmann, I felt, got the short end of the stick. Even for her coming out party (she declared herself in the race at the debates), she was too often talked over and seemed to get the fewest direct questions. John King spent way too much time asking "Elvis or Cash," "Iphone or Blackberry," "Boxers or Briefs."  Bachmann didn't get a chance to shine. Too bad for fallacy hunters like me.  But when asked what government program she'd cut to reduce the deficit, she did offer up a classic false dilemma (video):

And I would begin with the EPA, because there is no other agency like the EPA. It should really be renamed the job-killing organization of America

Short reply: it is part of the government's job to think 20+ years down the road even when you don't.  Too many complain about the government being on people's backs, but, you know, if you have dangerous chemicals that could end up in my drinking water, the government should be on your back like a family of spider monkeys.  Got toxic waste and need to dispose of it? G-man, I hope, has a long, long, long list of forms and so on that you need to fill out and verify before so.  Why?  'Cause nobody (not even the polluters) wants to live in a world of trash.

(N.B., I once had a colleague who confessed that he rooted for the polluters when watching the late 80's cartoon series Captain Planet.  So I will back off my statement that polluters don't want to live in filth.  Apparently, one of them does, or at least doesn't see the comic book justice of having his trash ending up in his bedroom.)

Better we didn’t shoot him?

Jay Homnick at The American Spectator isn't buying the "apotheosis of Obama" narrative he thinks is being told about the operation to take out Osama Bin Laden.  Partly because the target didn't really matter any more. He says:

Osama has been dead for years, of course, in the operational sense. He has not been in the position to lead anything. He was lucky enough to be physically in this world so he could read his own obituary. . . . He turned out to be in a suburban hovel rather than in a feral cave, but the basic reality was just as advertised. Once he went over-the-hill in Tora Bora, he was reduced to watching the reruns of his greatest episodes.

So operationally, it wasn't a high priority to get OBL.  He'd been cut off from the operations.  Ant it seems that when he's giving directions to others, it's more like advice.  Not orders.  And so:

I hate to say this, really I do, but it looks like we have done Zawahiri and Awlaki a huge favor by taking out their dotty old pensioner. They are off the hook of paying sentimental obeisance to the old mullah emeritus, plus as a bonus they get to invoke his martyrdom as a call to arms. Otherwise they might have had to smuggle him back to headquarters someday and deal with him up close.

We've been slowly working out this notion of the false dilemma with only one lemma (the false whatever), and I think this is a good version of it.  Homnick may be right about the consequences of killing OBL, but consequentialist arguments must always be constrastive.  That is, if you make a consequentialist argument against doing X, it must not only be from the bad consequences of doing it but you must show that those consequences are worse than not doing X.

Donald Effin’ Trump

Over at National Review Online, Dennis Prager has some important things to say about Donald Trump's choice of words.  Well, what choice of words, first:

The following comments were made in a public speech last week by a man considering running for president of the United States.

On gas prices: We have nobody in Washington that sits back and says, ‘You’re not going to raise that f***ing price.’”

On what he would say as president to China: “Listen, you mother f***ers, we’re going to tax you 25 percent.”

On Iraq: “We build a school, we build a road, they blow up the school, we build another school, we build another road, they blow them up, we build again. In the meantime we can’t get a f***ing school in Brooklyn.”

Ho hum.  The reality is that I love me some F-bomb.  I do object to Trump's sentiments, though.  But it's not the fact that Trump puts some salt on his verbiage, it's the fact that he thinks he can yell at China and say he can tax a trade partner at 25 percent.  Protectionism is great, until you pay for it with their tariffs and so on.  We're in the can with the Chinese, but I'm unsure that this is the solution. Washington doesn't set gas prices, either.  And Iraq?  Anyone who was for the war knew going in it was a 'you break it, you buy it' deal.  And Brooklyners don't need a school for f***ing.  They already know how (joke by amphiboly — like cooking school).  Regardless, Prager has other issues.  Yeah, it's with the dirty words, especially with their use in public.

But there is a world of difference between using an expletive in private and using one in a public speech. For those who do not see the difference, think of the difference between relieving oneself in private and relieving oneself in public. It usually takes a university education and a Leftist worldview not to see the enormous moral distinction between public and private cursing.

One disanalogy: nobody has to clean up a puddle when I tell a dirty joke.  Another: I'll still privately curse in front of my neighbors. One more: some cursing is artistic and is wasted unless it is shared with the world.  I can't help it: It's OK for someone to collect all the dirty language someone else has used.  Fine, fine — I do understand Prager's point, though.  It is unseemly to curse like that.  I get it, and I've even got a university education and everything (read the quote again, if you didn't get that last one).  I'm glad that Prager made sure to get in an unseemly jab at educated elites while chastising a Republican for acting indecently and uncivilly.

If we cannot count on Republicans and conservatives to maintain standards of public decency and civility, to whom shall we look?

Geez. Is this another false dilemma without the other option?

Bully for false dilemmas

Thomas Sowell thinks most of the contemporary rhetoric about school bullying is nonsense.  Empty rhetoric, says he.

There is a lot of talk from many people about bullying in school. The problem is that it is all talk. There is no sign that anybody is going to do anything that is likely to reduce bullying.

The trouble, as Sowell sees it, is that teachers can't decisively respond to bullies in the classroom.  Why is that?  Because the courts are more interested in protecting the rights of the bullies.  And you see, when the courts are all over the teachers, when the government interferes with how discipline in the classroom is handled, nobody can be in charge.  And then there are bullies. 

Might educators abuse their power, if the courts did not step in? Of course they could. Any power exercised by human beings can be abused. But, without the ability to exercise power, there is anarchy.

And so there are two choices: anarchy consequent of judicial meddling to preserve the rights of bullies or . . .  What?

For years, there have been stories in New York and Philadelphia newspapers about black kids beating up Asian classmates. But do not expect anybody to do anything that is likely to put a stop to it.

If these were white kids beating up Hispanic kids, cries of outrage would ring out across the land from the media, the politicians, the churches and civic groups. But it is not politically correct to make a fuss when black kids beat up Asian kids.

I am going to take a shot at what Sowell's suggestion is:  racial profiling for bullying.  Alright, that's crazy.  How about not being worried about the racial politics of identifying violent individuals, regardless of the color of their skin?  That seems plausible, but is that outlawed by the courts?  No.  So that's not a different option. Okay, I don't know what the proposal is. Certainly not about how teachers should run class, now.

Sowell isn't very clear about what he sees as the alternative.  Fine, maybe we can see his alternative in the way he handles a contrast case: 

Britain was once one of the most law-abiding nations on earth. But the reluctance of the left to put some serious punishment on criminals has been carried so far there that only 7 percent of convicted criminals actually spend any time behind bars. Britain has now overtaken the United States in various crime rates.

Ah, so it is the state punishing criminals, but more severely?  How does that have anything to do with teachers in classrooms?  Or bullies?  Now it's about crime rates.  Huh.  Some false dilemmas derive from there being two options posed, but the best third option suppressed.  This false dilemma has one option posed (and rejected), and then no clear alternative offered.  Maybe should be called the 'false whatever-lemma'.