"False Dichotomy: This is where you say that there are only two choices, when actually there are more. For instance, you might say that someone is either alive, or they're dead, ignoring the fact that they might be Dracula. Or you might say that if someone's not a Democrat, they must be some sort of Republican, ignoring the very real possibility that they may be Dracula."
A false dichotomy, also known as either/or reasoning, is the artificial reduction of all the choices available in a discussion to two. It's usually rigged to favor one answer, and usually in two ways:
The first is polarization, by offering two extremes hoping the target will commit to the favorable extreme option: "We nuke Russia now or you're one of them." The second is making only the wrong choice extreme: "You'll buy my cookies of course — unless you're some kind of paedophile."
Of course, reality is rarely so simple, unforgiving or rigged. Instead of an artificial binary choice favouring an ideology, life offers a diverse landscape of choices and consequences.
This binary approach is also a common media trope. Simply put: it is a lot easier for an audience to understand a story where characters are villains or heroes. In the simpler romances, it is more straightforward if characters exhibit a transcendent love, or an excoriating hate. Contrast Golden Mean Fallacy. Necessary for someone to be able to Take A Third Option (though, of course, doing that instantly subverts this trope by revealing the falsity of the dichotomy.)
The simplest form of this is to make the choices "A" or "Not A". In this case, "Not A" encompasses everything that isn't "A", even if that category is massive. For example, "You're either a Conservative, or not a Conservative," does include all possibilities, even though "Not a Conservative" includes liberals, libertarians, anarchists, or any other political philosophy that isn't simply conservatism by another name.
Normally "With Us or Against Us" is a false dichotomy but a head of state can declare that all those not declaring themselves to be allies are to be considered enemies. Since such a declaration is performative*
i.e., if I declare you my enemy, you are my enemy
it cannot be fallacious, and thus is not itself a false dichotomy, even if the reasoning that leads someone to say that is. It's not very smart under most circumstances, however.
The dichotomy may encompass all possibilities, but neglect to allow for belonging to more than one class. This is usually due to a linguistic quirk of English where both the inclusive or (A or B or both) and exclusive or (A or B but never both, often abbreviated xor) are just or. So the statement, "Everyone reading this page is racially tolerant or a Troper," is true for an inclusive or, but not for an exclusive or. Naturally, most statements like that are misleading in general speech. See the trope Mathematician's Answer.
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During the initial promotion for Civil War, Marvel released a pair of message board signature images reading either "I'm with Captain America" or "I'm with Iron Man". Within days, fans were creating their own versions by the dozens, the most popular being: "You're all f***d when the Hulk gets back" or THOU ART NO THOR!
A Few Good Men: Colonel Jessup, after having been accused of killing one of his own men (admittedly by accident): "I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom I provide, then questions the manner in which I provide it! I'd rather you just said thank you and went on your way. Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon and stand a post." (You are either at war or not a soldier, used against a Military Lawyer)
The "Battle of Wits" from The Princess Bride presents this. Either Vizzini's cup is the poisoned one, or the Man in Black's is. Vizzini goes through dozens of justifications and possibilities for why one would poison either one, trying to stall for time. Either way, he never considers that they were both poisoned.
Donnie: Well, life isn't that simple. I mean, who cares if Ling Ling returns the wallet and keeps the money? It has nothing to do with either fear or love.
Kitty Farmer: Fear and love are the deepest of human emotions.
Donnie: Okay. But you're not listening to me. There are other things that need to be taken into account here, like the whole spectrum of human emotion. You can't just lump everything into these two categories and then just deny everything else.
Anakin: “If you’re not with me, then you’re my enemy!”
Obi-Wan: “Only a Sith deals in absolutes.”
A lot of people then pointed out that Obi-Wan's above statement...is itself very absolute. The usually level-headed Obi-Wan is inexplicably claiming that anyone who deals with an absolute view on anything must be a Sith. Besides being idiotic, it also is ironic when you consider that everything the Jedi Order does is absolute. The rules against marriage, attachment, etc. are all iron-clad, one-size-fits-all rules, that one can be expelled from the Order for not toeing the line on. In essence, he's calling himself a Sith.
A Sherlock Holmessequel-by-other-hands has Holmes called upon to judge which of two violins is the one Davy Crockett played at the Alamo. He quickly identifies one as a fake, but realises that he was intended to; the owner wanted him to declare a violin as genuine, and so was presenting him with the false dichotomy of "which one's the fake?" They both are.
Bella believes she must either be with Edward or with Jacob. She also believes she must either become a vampire or grow old. Later, she believes that she must either wait until her belly is full-sized to deliver, or abort it, because no life-threatening pregnancy was ever solved by putting the babies on life-support to save the life of the mother.
"George W. Bush: Great President, or The Greatest President?"
He also divides the supermarket into cheese and non-cheese. Assuming that he classifies everything with cheese in it as cheese, it's a real dichotomy... but not a particularly important one.
What about cottage cheese and other borderline dairy products?
On Parks and Recreation, Leslie tried to drum up public support for building a park by phrasing the question, "Wouldn't you rather have a park than a storage facility for nuclear waste?"
RPG game Paranoia: if you aren't a fanatic supporter of the oppressive totalitarian regime, a loyal servant of The Computer, you are a death-dealing commie mutant traitor. This one is notable because everyone in Paranoia is a commie mutant traitor at heart, so instead of there being more than two possibilities, it turns out there's only one.
Well, some of the commie mutant traitors do love the Computer.
Many, many debates about alignment in the D&D game have arisen because of the False Dichotomy of assuming every possible action must be either "Good" or "Evil", while overlooking the existence of "Neutral" as an alternative.
This frequently comes up for the paladin class, because the phrasing of their code of honor implies that even tolerating any act of evil or chaos can cost them all their class features.
Part of a trick played on Kyousuke in G Senjou No Maou, which is especially amusing because he just saw it pulled on his idiot friend. The trick pulled on his friend was the question "Which river is the longest in the world? A. the Amazon B. the Yangtze C. the Edo?"*
He picked the Edo river. Like noted, he's an idiot.
while it was never stated that it was actually a multiple choice question, and thus the answer is the Nile. The trick played on Kyousuke comes immediately after, where he gets asked, "Will you go on a date with Mizuha at a classical concert or somewhere else?" and he accidentally picks option one before realizing that 'don't go on a date at all' was also a valid choice, but is too proud to back down now.
"Pix plz" was parodied by Chainsawsuit. Note how the jerk distills Black Hat down to "Stalking girls" or "White Knighting". So if anyone calls someone online out on their misogyny, they're only doing it to get into girls' pants and/or out of some need to defend their honor. The actual content of the criticism is to be brushed aside in favor of allegations about the critic. To be fair to Straub, this is inherent in any accusation of "white knighting".
In Edition Wars: Invaders from the Fourth Dimension, a story in The Order of the Stick book Snips, Snails, and Dragon Tales, the Fourth Editionversion of Haley is able to knock out Durkon by stabbing him in the foot, because nowhere in the rules does it say that she can't knock him out by stabbing him in the foot.
4E Elan: Then that means you used— 4E Haley: Yes. I used the power of abandoned verisimilitude! 4E Elan: Anything is possible when you don't care about what's actually possible!
Called out in the Fantasy theme of Irregular Webcomic!: When one of the Player Characters asks the DM "Would you rather have campaign progress or character development?" the DM promptly replies "It is not a dichotomy!"
In the accompanying rant, it is commented, "Of course not. In a dichotomy, you do get one of the options."
In fact you can test this yourself, go to any wikia based site and bring up a commonly held but non-verifiable belief, you won't have to wait long to see this kind of argument show up.
The Love It or Hate It trope. There is a group of middle-of-the-road viewers/readers/players, but they are generally ignored. (However, the reason it's a trope in the first place is because that middle-of-the-road group is far smaller than for most fandoms.)
A popular joke on YouTube is to comment on a video by reciting the number of "dislike" ratings the video has at the time of commenting and accusing all of them of something; common examples include "[X] people missed the 'like' button," "[X] people had no childhood," "[X] people are Justin Bieber fans," or some kind of threat. Such comments tend to be found in the highest rated comments, but luckily, subversions and parodies are replacing them in that spot.
Khan: From Laos, stupid! It's a landlocked country in South-East Asia between Vietnam and Thailand, population approximately 4.7 million!
Hank: (long pause) So are you Chinese or Japanese?
When Darkwing Duck is attempting to improve his PR, Nega Duck sabotages him by asking him if he's stopped digging potholes on Main Street. Caught up in the flow of questions, Darkwing answers "yes" right before realizing the nature of the question.
In Dragons Riders Of Berk, Hiccup must choose between beating Snotlout at The Thawfest Games or letting Snotlout win, with it being shown that if Snotlout doesn't win, he's in for hell from his father (of breaking the family streak) to the point of Snotlout outright panicking when he thinks it'll happen. It's never brought up that maybe Snotlout's dad is taking this too seriously, shouldn't have his love for his son based on a game, or anything of the sort.
It also doesn't help that Snotlout is an obnoxious winner, not even realizing that Hiccup threw the race for him, when part of Hiccup's dilemma was if he was just winning to be a jerk (he Took a Level in Jerkass so they could wonder that, too) instead of helping out a friend.
In the American Dad episode "Son of Stan, pt. 2", Stan and Francine argue over whether the proper way to raise Steve is to be totally strict, or totally permissive.
There's a standard joke about someone moving to Northern Ireland and being asked by the locals if they're Protestant or Catholic: when they explain that they are in fact atheist/Buddhist/Muslim/other, the locals respond "Yes, but are you a Protestant or a Catholic atheist/Buddhist/Muslim/other?"
Similar joke: an atheist is asked "But is it the Protestant God or that Catholic God you don't believe in?"
Curiously enough, there actually are people who define themselves as Catholic atheists, Muslim atheists, etc. That is to say, they follow the value-system of a religion even though they don't believe in the supernatural reasoning behind it.
Or they come from a Catholic/Protestant/Muslim cultural background.
Alternate punchline to the above:
"Actually I'm a Muslim."
"Oh dear. Then I must be the unluckiest Jew in Ireland."
Similar to the above, there's a story about a man who was on vacation in a foreign country when it fell into Civil War. As he's making his way to the American Embassy, a man walks up to him with a gun and says "Are you a Christian or a Muslim?" Having no idea what answer the soldier wants to hear, the man responds "I'm a tourist!"
Boxers or Briefs? Any time a guy is asked for his underwear preference it is always reduced to this. There are many choices now, you know, like boxer briefs, trunks, jock straps, panties, chastity belts, thongs, etc. Or Going Commando. Plus for many it is not exclusively either-or.
Depends. (Either as in, "Depends on what I'm feeling like wearing today," or the adult diaper brand.)
Or you can point out (as Newt Gingrich did) that it's maybe not the first thing you need to know about candidate for the presidency. The answer isn't useful.
The famous Epimenides paradox (Epimenides the Cretan says "all Cretans are liars") can be interpreted such that it isn't paradox. There are several interpretations that support the original statement ("Cretans other than Epimenides always lie", "all Cretans, including Epimenides, sometimes lie", etc.) without being paradoxical. On the other hand, such an interpretation misses the point of the exercise: we're supposed to assume that "all Cretans are liars" means "all Cretans always lie", so that we can think about the consequences of such a statement.
Unfortunately as originally stated, the sentence is not a paradox at all to begin with. It's not direct enough to create a strange loop. The statement 'This sentence is false' cannot truly be evaluated as true or false. However, Epimenides' statement may be simply considered to be false without any paradox arising from it.
It ceases to be a paradox when you consider that the opposite ("not all Cretans are liars") does allow for some Cretans to lie, including Epimenides.
Unfortunately, this is not true; considering the opposite of a statement does not cause the original to become logically consistent.
That's just a second False Dichotomy. The statement doesn't need to be logically consistent, since the situation is: namely, Epimenides is a liar. As such, we can reject what he says, and as such, there is no reason to reconcile his being a liar with him saying "all Cretans always lie".
Even if the Theory of Evolution were disproven, Creationism would not automatically take its place. These aren't even mutually exclusive as species may be created but still evolve over time.
The "debate" between Religion & Science is itself an example.
Inverted with the current (as of July 2011) spending vs taxes debate in the US. Quick primer: raising taxes and cutting spending are the only two ways to decrease debt ("taxes" in this usage meaning any form of government revenue, which even if not directly taken from citizens still dilutes the value of their money). Both sides want to decrease debt to avoid hitting the debt ceiling. The Republicans refuse to raise taxes but they're not saying they want to cut spending. The Democrats refuse to cut spending, but they're not saying they want to raise taxes. Both act like refusing one doesn't mean they're pushing for the other, as if a magical third parameter (or fourth, counting debt) exists.
Actually, there is a third parameter: enlarging the revenue base upon which taxes are levied, by growing the economy. (This is one sense of "raising taxes," but distinct from raising tax rates.) Naturally, Democrats and Republicans each claim that their preferred strategy will accomplish this.
This in itself is something of a misconception, as only one recent researcher has endorsed the idea that Tyrannosaurus was an obligate scavenger and has now appeared to have abandoned this view.
The majority of modern carnivores both hunt and scavenge, and no one nowadays suggests otherwise for Tyrannosaurus. (In fact, we even have direct fossil evidence of both behaviors in tyrannosaurids.) Though this "debate" appears to have been one that had more to do with dramatic license by people who were producing television programs than a real, serious argument among paleontologists.
"America - Love It Or Leave It" is a popular false dilemma. The dilemma suggests that a true patriot must embrace everything ever done by America, or becomeun-American. However, since America as a nation was founded on the concept of respectful political dissent, one must doubt the premise of this false dilemma very seriously.
Zionism vs Antisemitism
"Homophobia" vs LGBTQ support. Either you support gay marriage because you're gay yourself, or you're against it because you hate gay people. There's quite a good deal of in-between groups that rarely get heard from, such as "unionists" who believe gay marriage is wrong, but should not be banned because marriage is an intrinsic right, or straight people who have no problem with gay marriage.
To put this in perspective, it's akin to claiming someone in favor of Civil Rights was secretly black.
The abortion debate - you're either in favor of killing innocent little fetuses, or you're in favor of forcing women to have a child they don't want, can't care for, or even kill them due to complications from a pregnancy. Social scientists have found that the same people will oppose bothif the same issue is phrased in these two manners.
Naturally, all Republicans/conservatives are against gay marriage, gun control and abortion, while all Democrats/liberals are for gay marriage, banning guns, and abortion.
"If you're not a feminist, you're a misogynist."/"If you're a feminist, you're a misandrist."
Conspiracy theorists frequently commit this. Either you accept that their conspiracy is true, or you're a mindless sheep who believes whatever the establishment says. Obviously, it's impossible for one to believe the establishment lies sometimes, but they happened to be telling the truth this one particular time.
Above statement is the trope itself. Both parties can be lying, for different reasons (say, the government did not commit an act, but it's actions/policies allowed it, which they try to negate).
Abused by anti-vaccine advocates. Either vaccines are completely safe or they are too dangerous to use. Cost-benefit analysis is rarely used.
The Burden of Proof: If Alice and Bob are arguing, then many people believe that either Alice is "obviously right" and it's up to Bob to prove her wrong, or Bob is "obviously right" and Alice has to prove him wrong. In reality both need to present proof of their side of the argument. This is why both the prosecution and the defense get a turn to speak in a trial, instead of just one or the other.