The False Dichotomy of Political Identity


I will be the first one to admit that formal and propositional logic is a bit of a weakness of mine (I made a B in the class, while the rest of my grades were As or A-s). However, one part I have generally enjoyed and found some skill in is informal logic, particularly in spotting logical fallacies. Today, I want to bring that to you.

Fallacy of the False Dichotomy — otherwise known as the black-and-white fallacy or the false dilemma, is a fallacy in which the arguer presents two options as if they were the only options available. Then, said arguer makes you choose between them. Otherwise defined by The Skeptic’s Dictionary

The false dilemma (or false dichotomy) is a fallacy of reasoning that omits consideration of all reasonable alternatives. Sometimes calledthe either-or fallacy, one poses what looks like a true dilemma–I must pick one or the other–when, in fact, there are other viable alternatives. (There can be false trilemmas, etc.)

The problem with this fallacy, especially when presented in argument, is that the person whom you are attempting to convince is “duped” into unjustifiably believing your claims because one or other of the dichotomy is undesirable.

You see this happening a lot in political debates. Either we institute governmental health insurance or millions who need healthcare go without it. Either we sue BP for all they’re worth or any company drilling off-shore will spill oil in the same way.  Either we ban drugs or we will have a completely drugged up society.

In reality, there are a myriad of different solutions to any and all of these questions, yet many politicians, pundits, and other people influential pretend otherwise. Often times, such dichotomy are the “Democrats” or “Republican” positions, and you are either for one or the other.

I have another false dichotomy for you:

That’s right. I’m calling you out. I’m calling myself out. People tend to see politics through the spectrum of conservative vs. liberal, yet there are so many political options out there. Usually when people refer to people who don’t agree with them, they call this one or the other. Those damn liberals who want the gays to fornicate all over the place. Or those damn conservatives that want all the poor to starve with their “free market” thinking.

Do you see my problem here? What place is there in the political spectrum for a person who both wants the gays to fornicate all over the place and all the poor to starve (please note the humor here)?

The idea of this bi-lateral ideological sphere makes a lot of sense, if you consider the nature of politics itself. Politics is all about conflict — us versus them, no matter what team you have to be on. All of our sports are like this too — two teams, no more, no less (cause that would be weird). This system is understandable, as keeping up with an all-out brawl, though appealing to WWO viewers, is hard to keep with.

However, this severely limits our capability to understand the ideas of those around us, and indeed our own ideas. Forget for a second that libertarians have no place in such a spectrum (which, I am convinced, is a liberal/conservative conspiracy), but think of the millions of people in this country — and the billions in the world. Do you really think that human beings, some of the most individually variant species on the planet, can have their political ideals squished into one of two categories?

I don’t think so. Maybe that’s why political participation is so low in this country.

But the way we organize our politics leaves out these people who feel they don’t fit into either category. In addition to this, it leaves for such confusing evaluations of  “third” ideas. Imagine, what our political arena would look like, if we had an understanding of ideas at least as comprehensive as this:

Pretty radical, huh?

~V.A. Luttrell (who is too conservative for her liberal friends, and too liberal for her conservative friends)