It seems to be an overwhelming tactic of the reactionary right – to structure all issues as an “either/or” choice.
This means that any challenge to their position “x” is taken as proof that the challenger supports position “y”. Instead of defending “x”, they attack “y”.
It is an old, old, old rhetorical trick.
Most recently it has been used, in a bunch of forms, by those who sought to garner support for the war in Iraq. Any challenge to the invasion of Iraq is instantly met with “but the Iraqis are better off!”, as if the choice was between “x” an invasion where lots of innocents died and “y” Saddam Hussein running his totalitarian state unchecked.
The whole point of opposition to the war was that there was *another way*. There were many, many other courses of action that were vastly preferable and at least worthy of exploration but which were completely ignored. They continue to be ignored, because it suits those who went to war to use that simple rhetorical device of “either/or”.
The media do not make this clear. The media, print media especially, seek balance through “quote/counterquote”. So someone says the war was unjust; the counterquote is “but the Iraqis are free”. Nowhere in the mainstream media is the illegitimacy of this argument made clear – it is left to the columns of left-wing pundits, if it is even mentioned there.
Yet this is the most important thing we need to know about the debate over the rightness of the war – the proper parameters of the discussion.
It is not an “either/or”, but the media portrays it as such. Recognise this, and you have a disconnect. A step along the road.

And while I’m thinking about the war, and disconnects associated with it, how come no-one has pointed out the most damning fact to come to light in the whole Hutton inquiry, namely this: Downing Street sought to make the dossier as strong as possible in order to garner support for the war.
The only conclusion one can reach from this is that they had already decided to go to war on grounds other than WMDs.
If they already had enough evidence of WMDs to go to war, they would not have needed to strengthen the dossier.
(There is another possible conclusion, namely that the PM had been convinced but didn’t think his backbenchers would be. This is hardly any more flattering for those involved.)
It’s a logical puzzle and there’s no way out of it that doesn’t make the government look bad. However, the mainstream media has done nothing to point it out. That’s why you’re reading it here in a blog by a New Zealander instead of somewhere more reputable. But hey, don’t take my word for it – do the sums yourself. If they were trying to strengthen the dossier, then they’d already decided to go to war based on reasons other than WMDs.
Maybe this just proves that the real reason they went to war was to liberate the Iraqis, after all. Silly me.

5 thoughts on “Either/Or”

  1. Sadly I think false dichotomies are used by both sides. Isn’t it human nature to want to simplify everything, so you can have the conviction of a nice neat answer instead of those nasty messy lesser-of-two-evils situations?

  2. false dichotomies like left and right. But Pearce has put it better than I will. And I still wind up thinking of myself as left.
    Oh, but avoid “if it’s a dichotomy, it’s false”.

  3. Of course, false dichotomies are in use all over the place. However, my reading is that they are a very common tactic used by the reactionary right, and much less in use by the left. The left favours other rhetorical strategies. (I could string out reasons why I think this is so, but it’d be a long comment and I’m at work.) Do you disagree?
    And, yes, ‘left’ and ‘right’ are ultimately misleading terms and an example of the problem. (Voltaire’s Bastards by John Ralston Saul gave me some perspective on this). But they’re also useful signposts, and I’m going with the signposts at the moment. If we deconstruct everything too quickly, we won’t get anywhere.

  4. Well – I was going to say that they are used all over the place.
    The only thing I have to add is the the left uses the black and white tactic just as much as either or. It’s similar but generally focussed on making the opposition out to be an extreme position and arguing from there. Like many extreme left feminist arguments about the patriarchy, or radical liberal arguements about the church.
    Thats not to say the right doesn’t use this. In fact I think both sides, if you can really break any of this down to sides (surely thats a big part of the problem, characterising it in sides rather than addressing people) both of them are guilty of using lots of dodgy rhetoric.
    No one is innocent.

  5. Matt – thanks for the comment. Yeah, yer right. You must see a lot of it being a Christian and all – a *lot* of lefties have a hate on for Christianity.

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