Monday, December 26, 2005

The Illogic of Either-Or

There’s an argument one often hears employed in arguing against the war in Iraq that goes something like this: if we overthrew the Ba’ath regime in Iraq because it was bad, why don’t we overthrow all those other regimes that are bad in this world. This is an amazingly disingenuous argument, for those who advance it really mean that America should take no actions—not more of them. It is in fact an example of the logical fallacy of bifurcation—presenting two options where there are actually many. While some questions in this world are surely either-or questions, it's equally true some are not.

With regard to the war in Iraq, it was simply not true that we were presented with only two options: overthrow all bad regimes or overthrown none. The reality of the situation is that we cannot act everywhere at the same time, and while sometimes military action is the best—sometimes only—option, it’s not always the best option. When better solutions exist, obviously they should be pursued.

Just for fun, let’s apply bifurcated thinking to some other real-life historical situations:

During World War II, factory owner Oscar Schindler spent millions to save over 1200 Jews from the Nazi gas chambers. He also saved countless allied soldiers’ lives by intentionally producing defective munitions in his factory. He should not have saved any Jews since he could not have saved all of them.

Before the American Civil War, abolitionists created an “underground railroad” to smuggle slaves to freedom in the northern states. Since they could not free all the slaves, they should not have freed any of them.

After the American Revolutionary War, the vote was only extended to a portion of the population. If democracy was not universal to all citizens, then there should have been no democracy.

Absurd, isn’t it? Yet this is the same kind of argument being advanced in opposition to our freeing of 25 million Iraqis from a brutal, criminal dictatorship. In arguing this position, the anti-war crowd is making the perfect the enemy of the good—for while arguing that war is evil, they are effectively siding with the greater of two evils.


Anonymous Ben said...

The fallacy in your argument is the assumption that logic matters. After all, postmodernism has brought us concepts such as "personal truths" and "different ways of knowing," all of which sound to me a lot more like pre-modern faith than modern logic. Try accusing a leftie of faith-based thinking, however....

1:14 AM  
Blogger Seth said...

Well, it's my hope that logic does still matter in the long run. I think that if you beat the drum of truth and reason long enough, all but the most radical of radicals will someday come around.

Of course, I've always been foolishly optimisitic.

1:41 AM  

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