Copyright Futurescapes21C. All rights reserved. 2019.
Posted March 18, 2019.
I don't "jump" to conclusions, I arrive at them slowly and often painfully, sometimes after decades of digging and reflection. One is that conservatives, traditionalists and the common sense majority have been beaten into submission and sidelined in the culture war by neoliberal activists and their political enablers. Dissenters or resisters, as we might refer to ourselves, have for the most part been waging ineffectual rear guard actions. While there are no doubt several reasons for this state of affairs, the most obvious has been an inability to counter the relentless bombardment of lies, weaponized language and deception. Let's face it; we have been losing the war of words. Given that dissenters now find themselves struggling to retain the basic right to express an alternative view, it's clear we have no choice. We must fight back.
Our resistance begins with learning some rhetorical self-defence. In the process of countering the assault on things we hold dear, we can also elevate the calibre of political discourse. But we must first recognize the kinds of logical fallacies being brought against us daily. This week, I am examining tactic #11, The False Dichotomy or false choice.
Tactic #11: The false dichotomy (false choice, dilemma, alternatives, excluded middle)
Growing up on a grain farming and livestock enterprise in the fifties and sixties, I worked with livestock, cattle in particular, from childhood. By the age of 13, I had probably learned most of the basic techniques for effectively handling cattle, including how to round up a group of cows and herd them into a corral or a head stanchion for branding or medical treatment. It's a matter of learning cattle psychology. And some of that learning has sensitized me to the fact that humans we the people are being herded by the powers-that-be today.
I instinctively know the feeling of being politically "driven" down a trail of someone else's choosing and "corralled" in a political construct. Sometimes it's obvious, a matter of the daily programming and prodding by corporate media arm-in-arm with Big Brother, and sometimes it's more subtle. But we can be certain that we are being herded, corralled and yes, branded metaphorically speaking. And the false dichotomy has proven to be one of the most useful tactics in the hands of our overseers.
The false dichotomy typically takes the form of "either-or" choice between competing alternatives. Its devious nature stems from the fact that while only two choices are presented, a bigger array, often including much better alternatives, is excluded. In other instances, the structure of the choice may imply equivalence between two alternatives where none exists. If you say to your three year old, "If you clean up your plate, you can have either ice cream or a serving of cooked cabbage for dessert, you haven't really given them a choice -- even if he or she does like ice cream. A third variety of false choice would be a situation where two or more choices on offer aren't substantially different from each other.
I do have a confession to make on the subject of parenting in this regard. When we were raising three young children, my wife I did employ versions of the false choice in order to keep things manageable. Imagine that it's 6:45 am and you have to get the kids ready for school, breakfasted and out of the house by 7:30. What do you do to avoid loss of precious time to protracted wardrobe selection by your 4 year old? You present the binary choice: "So, would like to wear your khaki shorts or your blue jeans to school today?" Now that was easy wan't it?
Politicians often employ only a slightly more sophisticated version of the false dichotomy in order to nudge the populace down a particular (pre-ordained) path. And it works because we don't challenge the framing of the choice, or question the credibility of those in authority. But the results of the adult version of the false choice are so much more consequential. Nine days after the deadliest terrorist attach in US history, George W. Bush called for readiness on the part of the military and urged Americans to be patient and strong. As national leaders often do, he was speaking to both a domestic and foreign audience at the same time. He noted that many countries had offered sympathy and support to the US. The rest he said (Here it comes), face a choice. "Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists."(1)
Perhaps it sounded like a no brainer to a traumatized populace -- "I'm sure not siding with the terrorists, so I guess I'm with 'us.'" Few could ever have imagined the catastrophic consequences of that choice. It committed us to an unending series of illegal, bloody and devastating regime change wars in the Middle East and Northern Africa.(2) Remarkably, it continues to this day with Syria the latest and Iran now clearly in the sights of the Washington Neocon-Military industrial Complex. Now, some at least understand the devious nature of the forced binary choice, particularly when in this case, the 9/11 incident used to provide the pretext for the so-called "War on Terror" was a false flag event.(3) So, we have a devious false choice based upon a deception used to secure consensus for a series of illegal wars resulting in the ugliest of war crimes.
The false dichotomy tactic is also used to shape human behaviour in far more mundane matters. Back in 2012, Vic Toews, Justice Minister in the Steven Harper government, was seeking to push surveillance legislation through parliament that would allow the federal government to collect IP addresses, email addresses, mobile phone numbers and other identifying information on anyone who interested them without a warrant. Federal and provincial privacy commissioners objected, warning the government that this could constitute a violation of privacy rights. Toews countered with a false dichotomy, saying people "can either stand with us or with the child pornographers."(4) Suffice to say, his "my-way-or-you're-child-pornography-enablers" wasn't well received. What about "I'm with neither of the above."
What these examples illustrate is that the false choice isn't benign -- it usually integrates a barb -- a smear. Being an enabler of terrorists or child pornographers is hardly a neutral choice -- like choosing between strawberry or chocolate ice cream. And that's what makes it a favourite of neoliberal culture warriors. The false choice-smear can be handily used to brand anyone with whom they disagree. It can incorporate a dog whistle invitation to their followers to treat the targets as socially undesirable. And that implies their views are unworthy of consideration. Essentially, the dissenters are thus sidelined and rendered voiceless. Mission accomplished.
Hillary Clinton clearly likes the false dichotomy as evidenced by her attempt to corral and brand Trump supporters as a "basket of deplorables." The implied "either-or" in this case was that either you are voting Democrat or you are socially repulsive -- politically unclean. It's a dismissive move and an invitation to her followers to condemn opponents. It also serves to check any Democrats who may have been tempted to stray. But it backfired, and Clinton was called on it. And like those situations where a coach overhears his team being trashed by opponents, Trump used the pejorative to rally his supporters. They turned the insult on its head, and began identifying as "the deplorables."
There's another big picture false choice that bedevils US voters. It's the presumed political choice between Democrat and Republican. Scratch their respective surfaces and you find that both inevitably lead you to same establishment powers-that-be. It's cynically described as the "war party," an entity whose backers include global corporations, criminal "bankster" backers, the Neocon lobby and the military industrial complex -- also key beneficiaries.
Despite its obvious Machiavellian nature, the false choice-smear remains a popular weapon in the hands of neoliberal leaders and their disciples. The underlying proposition behind its use in the on-going political struggle is simply, "If you don't agree with (my position), then by deduction, you are "bad." With its either-or, framing, there is only black and white, good versus bad -- no middle ground, no nuance and no room for give and take or compromise. Here are some current examples framed to include some of the most popular smears.
Either you support Justin Trudeau's failing immigration policy and his plans to ramp up immigration rates and embrace the UN Migrant Compact or you are .....("anti-migrant,"anti-immigration" or "xenophobic.")
Either you support anti-Russian sanctions and the "resurgent Russia" narrative or you are a ("Putin apologist" or "Kremlin stooge").
Either you support the US led-Canada-aided regime change campaign in Venezuela or you are (an enemy of the "people of Venezuela" and contributing to their starvation.)
Either you supported the illegal regime change war conducted by the US and its Western and Middle Eastern allies against President Assad and Syria or you were (an "Assad Apologist," supporting a brutal dictator engaged in "butchering his own people")
Either you support imposition of the Liberals' planned carbon tax to deal with that vaguest of all enemies, "climate change" or you are a (backward climate-denier irresponsibly ignoring the future of your grandchildren.)
Either you as a political leader enthusiastically participate in Gay Pride celebrations on a regular basis or you are (unfit to lead, a "homophobe" or worse.)
Either you embrace transgender activists' gender theory and its inclusion in the curriculum of grade school children or you are (a "hater" or "anti-transgender.")
Either you remain silent about the many forms of political interference by AIPAC and the State of Israel in the politics of the United States or you are..(an "Anti-Semite").
I encountered a logic-defying false choice retort while writing this essay. It's author asserted that holding captured Canadian ISIS fighters in Syria accountable for their crimes constituted "hatred." The presumptive nature of such attacks gets even more twisted when one ventures into the abortion debate where opposition is construed as "murder." The irony is inescapable.
It should be clear by now, that use of the false dichotomy is solely a debating, or more accurately, a bully tactic, nothing more. You can't exclude acres of middle ground and a range of possible choices and nuance and pretend that false choice smears lend anything to our political discourse. They are mindless attacks intended to stigmatize; the rhetorical equivalent of an incendiary device tossed into a crowded outdoor market.
Culture war combatants trying to impose their faulty logic on the world are really trying to silence opposition and achieve narrative control. They reveal, in the process, a remarkable ignorance or at least a lack of appreciation for the best features of a liberal democracy, including the freedom to think and express oneself freely. It's time to make it clear to our opponents that that attempts to squelch those with an alternative points of view isn't going to go unchallenged. We aren't going to reciprocate with smears, however. We are going to call neoliberal champions of identity politics to engage in genine debate. At some level, seeking meaningful policy solutions to challenging social and political issues should be more rewarding than playing childish word games. And somewhere in the vast expanse between wildly posited "either" and "or's," we may even discover some common ground.
1. Bush: You're either "with us or with the terrorists' -- 2001-09-21, VOANews, October 27, 2009
2. America's war on terror has cost the US nearly 6 trillion and killed roughly half a million people, and there's no end in sight, Business Insider, November 14, 2018,
3. 9/11 Finally the truth comes out, Global Research, Paul Craig Roberts, January 5, 2019
4. On-line surveillance bill: critics are 'siding with the child pornographers', National Post, February 14, 2012 https://nationalpost.com/news/canada/online-surveillance-bill-critics-are-siding-with-child-pornographers-vic-toews
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