False Dilemmas – either you like this post or you don’t!

2 Aug

Welcome back to Fallacy Friday!

What would you say to these Mom-type statements?

·         You can either pick up your toys now or after dinner!

·         Either you take ‘Puppy’ out for a walk or clean up his mess!  

·         It’s either the flute or the violin those are the only instruments that won’t be too loud for this apartment complex.

Moms often frame and limit choices to channel their children in a direction suitable to the parent.  And if kids are wise, they won’t come back with, “That’s a fallacy, Mom!  You’re offering me a false dilemma.  I could pick up my toys tomorrow morning….Dad could take ‘Puppy’ out now, not me…..and what about an acoustic guitar, that wouldn’t be too loud?” 

So when presented with 2 choices, that is to say, a dilemma, we have to determine if the choice is an actual dilemma or a false one, meaning there are other possibilities. Sometimes we intentionally try to manipulate someone along a path they might not choose – creating  a false dilemma and hoping the recipient won’t notice.  But then at times, there truly are only two choices.

Here are some actual, that is to say true, ‘either/or’ situations:

·         Either Susie is pregnant or she is not.

·         Either the check is in the mail or it is not, (if we mean by ‘in the mail’ that we have given it over into custody of the postal service).

But what about the choice below – Is it a false dilemma or a true one?

  • ·         Either you’re with us or you’re against us.

Sometimes armies or political groups or other régimes try to force this black and white choice. But it can be too simplistic and successfully resisted.  Switzerland has tried to maintain neutrality through many conflicts. But it all depends on how one defines ‘against’.

If someone suggested to me that either I join the efforts to fight global warming OR if I didn’t then I would be fighting against their efforts, I would beg to differ.  I would argue that I in fact DO fight global warming but not in the way they perhaps want to dictate.  I conserve resources.  I take active measures not to pollute by choosing to walk instead of drive when feasible.  The only way we would come to any resolution is if I would agree with their vision of what ‘with them/ against them’ looks like. If they defined ‘with’ as more activist steps rather than my passive/conserving measures, then I could understand and perhaps concede their point.

Of course this is all hypothetical in that I have not had this conversation with an activist who fights to raise consciousness of a global warming problem.

In the end, we come back to TERMS.  There is often times no point in discussing someone’s assertion UNTIL there is consensus about terms.  As you can see in the discussion above, even prepositions such as the dual pair with/against must be included in the understanding of concepts.

I hope that the next time you frame a choice or have one imposed on you, that you will stop to ask if there are any other possibilities.  Either there are or there are not!  Now is that a true dilemma or a false one??

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