Tuesday, June 12, 2007

False Dichotomy

A false dichotomy is when a choice is arbitrarily reduced to only two possibilities and presented as if these two are the only options and there are no others. Politicians love to use this rhetorical tool because it will make their opponent stammer if the don't immediately recognized the fallacy. When the President says, "You're either with us or against us." That is a false dichotomy. He leaves out the option that someone may support his motives but not his strategy.
Yesterday I received a survey in the mail from the Republican National Committee. Some may find it hard to believe but since I frequently vote Republican, at least in the primaries, I get put on scads of conservative mailing lists. As I was reading through the questions is soon became clear that this was no opinion poll at all. They were attempting to manipulate my opinions by forcing me into one false dichotomy after another. I'm paraphrasing just a bit, but the first question was something to the effect of this. Do you support the Republican proposal to renew and strengthen the Patriot Act or do you think we should just hand the key to the country over to the terrorists today? I don't think that the RNC really believes that these are the only two options. They are plenty of choices in the middle. By phrasing it in this manner they are trying to force people into siding with them or the terrorists. This is hardly a realistic choice. Personally, I believe that most of the founding fathers would have been insulted by the rights violated by the Patriot Act. This doesn't mean that I believe Jefferson was a supporter of terrorism.
The real kicker was the final question. Will you support the RNC by sending a contribution? and my choices were,
Yes, and here is my check for $_____.
No, I think we should just let the liberal Democrats just keep on screwing up the country.
What? That's it? No other choices besides give me cash or watch the country get screwed up? I think it's really sad that so many people are persuaded by such juvenile rhetorical tools. Personally, I do a great deal of research on all the issues and I vote for that candidate who shares the majority of my views. I vote in the Republican primaries often enough that I stay on their mailing lists and not on the Democrat's. However, the party that closest reflects my beliefs is the Libertarian party, but I still take issue with many of their strategies.
So during the upcoming election cycle hyteria don't be afraid to look behind the questions. Just because somebody gives you a choice between two things don't assume that those are the only two options. All too frequently in politics and in life the best solution is something completely different than the options we are presented. Have the courage to look for that solution no matter who is trying to court your vote.


  1. Canisunis3:58 PM

    And VOTE! I wish there were a way, like a medic alert bracelet, or an AA coin, to show that you voted in the last election. That way at least you will be able to tell if the person ranting about the goofball in office voiced his/her opinion when it could actually count. "Dont blame me I voted for nobody!" just doesn't cut it.

  2. A lot of psychology questionnaires have questions that give you a choice between two non-dichotomous statements, and make you choose the one that most closely matches your attitude/feeling/belief etc. The idea is that by asking you enough questions they can detect patterns in your choices. Because of my experience with these measures, I've come to approach such questions as you presented not as false dichotomies, but as "pick the one that you most identify with".

    This often leads to humorous results as I boldly state that "I think we should just let the liberal Democrats just keep on screwing up the country."