The myth of false dichotomies

Posted by watchmen
May 18, 2024
Posted in Impulses, OPINION


impulBy Herman M. Lagon

In a world with so many seemingly sharp divisions and binary options, false dichotomies remind us to reconsider our assumptions and seek a more sophisticated understanding of life’s opportunities. Presenting more than two options as the sole ones is a logical fallacy called a false dichotomy. We risk missing out on a middle ground or more advantageous alternative when we reduce complex issues to their simplest forms and then jump to conclusions.

Think about the widespread notion that people are naturally more alert in the morning or later in the evening. People whose energy levels are highest in the early evening or whose productivity is lowest in the stillness of the afternoon are not considered by this dichotomy. Similarly, the notion that one can only adore felines or canines alone rules out the wonderful prospect of appreciating both or discovering company in other animals, such as birds or reptiles.

There are many examples in daily life when simplistic views are privileged over more sophisticated ones. Consider the claim that everyone has to be an extreme exercise freak or a total couch potato. Those in the middle, who participate in moderate, infrequent physical activities that benefit their health but do not constitute their lifestyle, are mostly ignored.

Another place where false dichotomies might flourish is in technology. We all fall somewhere on a spectrum of digital literacy, and dividing people into those who are extremely tech-savvy and those who are severely challenged by technology overlooks this reality. Nobody has to be an expert on every single device and feel powerless when fixing the most fundamental problems.

Furthermore, there are rarely any clear-cut options in life regarding personal commitments and decisions. It ignores that most people’s commitment and interest levels fluctuate when they say you must be “all in” or uninterested in anything.

Even journalism is susceptible to this kind of oversimplification. The decision is more complex than picking between winning journalism contests and publishing articles frequently. In their pursuit of influence and an extensive portfolio, many writers aim for a happy medium between quantity and quality in their craft.

The personal choice between realism and fantasy ignores that many people can find a way to anchor their ambitions in realism, transforming aspirational goals into attainable objectives. Combining creativity with pragmatism frequently produces the most satisfying and fruitful results.

A more comprehensive range of options can strike a chord in a diverse and complex community. Many of us have an innate ability to see beyond dichotomies, reflected in our adaptability and tenacity. This viewpoint is especially relevant when discussing national identity and policies, because generalizations sometimes fail to do social justice.

Embracing more nuanced perspectives can profoundly impact education here and abroad. Better and more thorough learning outcomes can be achieved if we stop arguing about whether learning by doing or memory is more successful and instead acknowledge that both approaches have their place in a well-rounded educational strategy.

Our judgment can be clouded by oversimplified dichotomies when it concerns politics. Using simplistic language like “you’re either with us or against us” impedes critical discussion and compromise, essential to a robust democracy.

Despite the close relationship between mental and physical wellness, people sometimes falsely believe they must compromise on one for the other. This false dichotomy arises in health debates as well. Taking care of one’s physical and mental health is not two separate but equally vital aspects of a well-rounded approach.

There is another cultural false dichotomy with the purported choice between environmental sustainability and economic growth. New methods and technology are showing how communities can succeed economically while improving the state of the environment.

The simplistic “friends or lovers” division ignores the rich diversity of human relationships, each of which can enrich our lives in its unique way and at its unique moment.

If we want to navigate life’s enormous landscapes wisely and humorously, we need to question the idea that our choices are often as limited as false dichotomies suggest. By being open to a range of possibilities, we can improve our decision-making in our personal, professional and public lives.

Ultimately, false dichotomies limit our capacity for knowledge and growth. Realizing that life is rarely an either/or proposition helps us make better decisions, whether about our careers, our social engagement, or even our leisure time. It is full of potential, occasionally, and maybes that warrant our attention. All of us can live fuller, more satisfying lives if we refuse to accept life’s oversimplified solutions and instead welcome its complexity.



Doc H fondly describes himself as a “student of and for life” who, like many others, aspires to a life-giving and why-driven world that is grounded in social justice and the pursuit of happiness. His views herewith do not necessarily reflect those of the institutions he is employed or connected with./WDJ

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