Hey, that’s what I think about the left and the right

For some reason — I forget why now — I was about to use the phrase “begging the question,” and I thought I’d better make sure I remembered what it meant.

So I looked it up. I did not find the Wikipedia explanation helpful. I thought I understood it from the definition, but the actual examples confused me, rather than clarifying, as examples are supposed to do. I must admit that after reading that, I doubt I could tell an instance of begging the question from “circular reasoning.”

But I was intrigued to read about another related fallacy, the “complex question.” To wit:

Begging the question is similar to the complex question (also known as trick question or fallacy of many questions): a question that, in order to be valid, requires the truth of another question that has not been established. For example, “Which color dress is Mary wearing—blue or red?” may be fallacious because it restricts the possible responses to a blue or red dress. Unless it has previously been established that the dress is one of those two colors, the question is fallacious because it could be neither of them…

Aha! Now I have a new name for the thing that I hate most about the way most of us engage politics.

Practically every political proposition set forth in our era is couched as red or blue — left or right, Democratic or Republican, liberal or conservative. Whereas to me, the correct answer is almost never blue or red.

But most people today will not allow you to answer any way other than “red” or “blue.” I mean, you can answer “green” or “brown” or “gray” or “khaki” or whatever you like — they just refuse to hear it.

This is the bane of anyone who tries to think about issues, rather than buying a prefab set of “red” or “blue” answers right off the shelf, and present honest conclusions based upon that thought. If you’re disagreeing with someone of the red persuasion, everyone assumes you are blue, and tells you so — and vice versa. The idea that you are neither red nor blue simply isn’t admitted. Because our public debate is not couched in terms that make it possible.

“Complex question” is misleading terminology. Yeah, I get that the question is complex, in the sense of having a complicating additional element, but the effect is to force the world into a binary choice — which is oversimplification.

But hey; I didn’t come up with the term…

4 thoughts on “Hey, that’s what I think about the left and the right

  1. Matt Warthen

    This sounds more like what you’re looking for is the fallacy of False Dichotomy, but it seems that all of those fallacies can be “conjugated” into a False Dichotomies. I guess it can be Begging the Question or a Complex Question if the conclusion implied in your question is that the dichotomy in question is true, but ultimately doesn’t it come back to the fact that there are more than the two options given?

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      In our politics today, the idea that the dichotomy presents the only two possible answers is always assumed to be true.

      Which greatly reduces our ability to have rational discussions about reality…

  2. bud

    Sometimes the correct solution really is either red or blue. Abortion is one of those. I find any solution in the middle wanting. One of the extremes (Always legal or always illegal) are the only real options worthy of consideration. Others include blue laws, most war decisions and of course the elimination of minting pennies.

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