Excluding the Middle

This is going to be one of those seemingly pointless posts that doesn’t say a whole lot (and I’ll try to keep it short); it’s mainly just a background type of thing that I want to put up once so that I can just link to it in the future since I’ll be referring to it repeatedly.  I figure most of my readers will still be hungover from July 4th celebration anyhow and won’t really be paying attention or able to focus on anything more detailed.

What I want to discuss is a concept that I call ‘excluding the middle’ but which is more formally referred to as a logical fallacy called ‘the false dilemma‘,  the ‘either/or fallacy’ or a whole host of other things.  It’s something I see a lot in both Internetz articles and Internetz arguments.

In brief, people have a tendency to play this cute little game where a given situation can either be exactly one thing (their preference) or exactly one other thing where that other thing is some ludicrous stupid-ass extreme example that they use to attempt to prove their preference simply by how extreme (and dumb) it is.  But compared to something stupid, anything is better by comparison.

As an example, I am apparently quoted as having said that “…compared to the Standard American Diet, a diet of bug spray and skittles would be healthier.”   One extreme compared to another and the second is only better because of the awfulness of the first.  Except that I was joking…mostly.  In most arguments, the folks falling prey to this trap are not.

Now, whether or not this is just some aspect of human nature where we want things to be one thing or another, or because people are bad at making logical arguments or what I have no idea.  Nor do I really care.  It’s called a logical fallacy for a reason and I’m going to give you four explicit examples to try to get my point across.

But simply, life is not binary and most things comes in varying degrees of extreme and shades of gray.  As my favorite author once put it “The universe can count beyond two.”  He was using this statement in a different context (to point out that most things fall into a yes/no/maybe type of situation and there are rarely simply yes/no answers) but it applies here too.  Hopefully this little piece will help you count beyond two.