I was in college when I first learned about The Facebook, which was connecting college kids across the nation, and that was my first introduction to what would become Social Media. Since then, we have all seen the massive growth of Social Media platforms, and witnessed the results of giving everyone a platform and a voice. I am going to save the argument of the inherent benefits and ills of social media for another day. What I would like to focus on instead, is the inability of even some very learned people, to formulate the simplest of arguments, defaulting instead to several of many logical fallacies.
I will also pass over crapping all over our current educational systems in this country, but instead only point out that most of those reading this will likely have to google logical fallacies, which really just proves my point. Logical fallacies are errors in the logic of an argument, whether made intentionally or not, which can misconstrue the truth of that argument … or said more simply, they’re mental tricks. And while I intend write up my own explanations of other logical fallacies, I’m starting with false dichotomy as I just keep seeing them everywhere, and I feel the need to explain this idea to more people so we can begin to roll back some of the cult of ignorance that exists in this country.
So to breakdown the phrase false dichotomy, we’ll do the same thing I teach to Medic students, to look at the pieces of the words. Words ending in –otomy refer to something being cut, with –chotomy particularly referencing it being split, and then once we add the di onto the front, we specify that it is being split in two. A dichotomy then, in reference to an argument, would be an argument where two, and only two options are given, and what makes it false, is when more than just those two options actually exist.
And while this may appear a very simple logical fallacy, it is not always as easy as it appears to parse it out. Especially once you start mixing your logical fallacies, it can become much easier to lose track and miss something as straightforward as a false dichotomy. So much so, that people often label themselves voluntarily … Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal, pro-life or pro-choice.
There is no reason that after more than 200 years of this democracy that our choices for leader are being whittled down to the two terrible options we are repeatedly being given. And regardless of what controversial topic we’re discussing, splitting ourselves into a false dichotomy only ensures we will continue spinning in circles around the issue rather than making any actual forward progress on a solution that works for the most people.
I know I find myself falling into this trap sometimes too, but I’m hoping by writing this, that we can learn together to recognize the cognitive biases and logical fallacies whose delusions we are laboring under. People have been discussing these fallacies and biases since at least as long as the ancient Greeks and Romans. They learned then, and we can learn now, that becoming aware of your own thoughts and how they can be manipulated, by yourself or someone else, will only improve your thinking. And it is my hope that more people thinking clearly will create better answers to the questions that have been plaguing us for centuries.