troperville

tools

toys


main index

Narrative

Genre

Media

Topical Tropes

Other Categories

TV Tropes Org
random
Golden Mean Fallacy

Kang: (disguised as Bob Dole) Abortions for all!
Crowd: Booo!
Kang: All right, then. No abortions for anyone!
Crowd: Booo!
Kang: Hmm... Abortions for some, miniature American flags for others!
Crowd: Yaaay!

Most people know that there are two sides to every issue: their side, and the wrong side. Authors (and people in general) who subscribe to the Golden Mean Fallacy have another outlook. They believe that there are in fact three sides: the side of the complete morons to the left of them, the side of the complete morons to the right of them, and their own side, which combines the good points of each in sublime harmony while avoiding all the bad. If one position is argued to be superior solely because it is in the middle, then this is the Golden Mean Fallacy, aka "Argument to Moderation."

The fallacy is not merely saying that compromise between opposing viewpoints is good. It is saying that extreme solutions are never reasonable or correct, and the correct solution can always be found in the middle, e.g. some say cyanide is a lethal and dangerous poison and should never be consumed. The opposite position would be that cyanide is nutritious and beneficial to your health and should be consumed frequently. The golden mean fallacy would state that cyanide should therefore be consumed in moderation.

The Golden Mean Fallacy is turning both sides of an argument into Strawman Politicals and declaring that the only sensible approach is to take the middle road. There is a number of benefits to this. You avoid offending either side too much, since they can each take comfort in the fact that their enemies get just as much ridicule; you get to come off as a sensible person who thinks for oneself and doesn't blindly follow any one party line; and you get twice as many people to insult and make fun of.

Another handy (and sneaky) thing with this method is that you don't actually have to be very moderate to use it. A Strawman Political is by definition hideously more extreme and unreasonable than any position in Real Life note , so there is nothing stopping you from presenting a horrific parody of one side of the issue, then presenting a horrific parody of the other side of the issue, and finally presenting your own actual opinions as a moderate option. It will look very sane and reasonable in comparison, even if in Real Life it would be considered quite extremist.

The technique is known among American political strategists as the Overton Window.

A few notes about this trope: It does not mean giving equal weight to two opposing viewpoints, when in reality one is far more credible than the other. That is called "False Balance" or "False Equivalence." It is also not saying that moderate compromises are always wrong. Sometimes an option somewhere in between two polar oppositions really is the best choice; this trope is when the author claims the best choice must be found in the middle. In other words, it is the opposite of the False Dichotomy, or Take a Third Option turned up to 11. In conclusion, use neither the False Dichotomy nor the Golden Mean Fallacy, but reason somewhere in the middle.

Compare Stupid Neutral. Contrast with Take a Third Option and Both Sides Have a Point. Named for Aristotle's concept of virtue, which presented the golden mean as the excellent ideal of behavior. Obviously, he didn't consider it a fallacy. Aristotle's golden mean also often did lean slightly towards excess or deficiency, rather than being precisely in the middle, and varied from situation to situation. However, he also said that some actions were so bad that they could never be justified, let alone be made to appear moderate.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • Martian Successor Nadesico: When the crew of the Nadesico realized that they couldn't negotiate with the Earth forces, they tried to appeal to the Jovians, only to realize that they were just as single-minded. This led to their stealing the Artifact, which allowed Boson Jumping, thus preventing Jupiter and Earth from fighting any longer for the time being.

    Comic Books 
  • Ex Machina: This comic is actually pretty fair, even charitable, in its representations of both sides of a political argument. It's the positioning of protagonist Mitchell Hundred as between both political parties that occasionally invokes this trope.
  • Knightfall: Jean-Paul Valley tried to apply this logic - and failed miserably - when he temporarily became Batman after Bane broke Bruce Wayne's back. Having been brainwashed as a child by his father into believing that the radical Roman Catholic sect they belonged to demanded that evildoers be slaughtered by "avenging angels", Valley experiences a Heroic BSOD when, as Batman, he finds a serial killer at his mercy (hanging by one hand over a vat full of molten steel in a foundry) and is tormented by visions of both his late father and the medieval French saint, Dumas, who founded their breakaway movement. The elder Valley demands that his son shoot his blades at the killer so that he will fall into the vat, while St. Dumas insists that he must save anyone in danger, no matter how reprehensible they are. Unable to reach a decision, Jean-Paul finally screams: "I choose neither one!" The inevitable result is that the murderer eventually loses his grip and falls to his death - which is even worse than it would first appear, since the murderer had to be kept alive so that Batman could find his most recent victim, who'd been placed in a sadistic torture device, with the result that the victim died too.

    Film 
  • Team America: World Police epitomizes this as far the Americans are concerned. Conservatives are "dicks" who are so aggressive that they cause as much harm as good, while liberals are "pussies" who are too wimpy to get anything done in the first place, but sometimes have to stop the "dicks" from going too far. (Of course, neither of these characterizations are necessarily correct, but never mind.) Unlike South Park, which often has a character find the golden mean, the film contrasts both opposing viewpoints with "assholes" (like terrorists or the movie's Big Bad, Kim Jong-Il) who make the "dicks" necessary.
  • The Birth of a Nation. No, really. Siding neither with slavery nor with the "extremists" who want actual race equality, it supports the "neutral middle ground" of Jim Crow laws. The filmmakers seem to have thought that making Abraham Lincoln a sympathetic character and including an ass-kicking black heroine weighs up making the Ku Klux Klan the heroes of the story. Ultimately, the movie tries so desperately to be "neutral" that it becomes monstrous.
  • The Dark Knight Rises takes this approach in its discussion of class politics. The first half of the film focuses on the intrigues of Gotham's upper class and rich, unscrupulous businesspeople like Daggett, while working class characters like Bane and Selina imply or state outright that the people are tired of being abused by the rich and planning to revolt, with Selina telling Bruce that "there's a storm coming." Eventually, she gets her wish. Guess what happens after that?

    Literature 
  • In Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter, the title character considers conservatives to be bigoted troglodytes who want to exterminate vampires for being different, and liberals to be air-headed idealists who think that vampires are harmless fluffy fanged bunnies and forget that they are dangerous and not entirely human. Since Anita is a complete Canon Sue, her views are entirely accurate.
  • Angels and Demons by Dan Brown. His strawman extremes are atheism and the Roman Catholic Church; his "middle ground" is still religious, rather than agnostic. Or science and the Catholic Church. Skepticism of Langdon's postmodernist interpretations of paganism is apparently ignorant, and the Catholic Church is apparently guilty of any irrational thing any other sect of Christianity has ever said.
  • The Bavarian Illuminati however know that there must always be 5 sides.
  • The Star Wars Expanded Universe novel Isard's Revenge deals with this. The New Republic has made claims about an ex-Imperial warlord; the warlord has publicly made claims that are the exact opposite. Rogue Squadron, watching the news, note glumly that most people will probably assume the truth is in the middle somewhere.
    "It's called the gray fallacy. One person says white, another says black, and outside observers assume gray is the truth. The assumption of gray is sloppy, lazy thinking. The fact that one person is diametrically opposed to the truth does not then skew reality so the truth is no longer the truth."
  • Embodied by the Triple Demons of Compromise from The Phantom Tollbooth. One's tall and thin, one's short and fat, and the third is exactly like the other two. They are endlessly traveling in circles because the first says left, the second says right, and the third agrees with both of them. They always settle their differences by doing what none of them really want, leaving them in a permanently foul mood.
  • In G. K. Chesterton's Magic, the Duke is prone to such flights of fancy as donating to both sides of the issue.
    SMITH. [Turning eagerly to the_ DOCTOR.] But this is rather splendid. The Duke's given £50 to the new public-house.
    HASTINGS. The Duke is very liberal. [Collects papers.]
    DOCTOR. [Examining his cheque.] Very. But this is rather curious. He has also given £50 to the league for opposing the new public-house.
  • In The Dilbert Principle, the chapter "How to Get Your Way" suggests using the "Final Suggestion Maneuver" to get the last word in business meetings. The technique involves staying uninvolved throughout the entire meeting as conflicting suggestions are made, then chiming in at the last minute by disguising your suggestion as a composite of everyone else's. The theory behind this maneuver is that everyone will be so desperate to leave that they'll rush to accept your suggestion without questioning it.
  • Harry Potter
    • In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Dolores Umbridge initially presents herself as representing a reasonable middle ground between tradition and change. She represents no such thing and just wants to make the changes she's going to make to Hogwarts anyway seem like they were carefully reasoned. However, her attempt at Affably Evil is so bad that no one is fooled. From a political standpoint her position is blatantly obvious, though, her language being extremely middle-class conservative.
    • In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Lupin tells an anecdote about a boggart that came across two people at once; one was most afraid of flesh-eating slugs and the other was most afraid of headless corpses. The boggart, possibly attempting to combine "slug" and "headless", turned into half a slug, which, as Lupin points out, is not nearly as scary.
  • Subverted in the Judgment of Solomon from the Old Testament. Two women each claim to be a boy's mother. Solomon cannot tell who is lying, so he declares that he will cut the baby in half and give each woman her 'share.' The boy's true mother gives up her claim so that the child lives, which reveals who truly loved him. Subverted in that Solomon never intended this as a legitimate solution but only a trap to catch out the liar, leading to the phrase "splitting the baby" when someone destroys the subject of a dispute rather than assign it to one party.
  • Neatly illustrated by Samuel Johnson in The History of Rasselas. Rasselas falls prey to this fallacy, and is called on it by his sister Nekayah (quoting their friend, the poet Imlac):
    "'Nature sets her gifts on the right hand and on the left.' Those conditions which flatter hope and attract desire are so constituted that as we approach one we recede from another. There are goods so opposed that we cannot seize both, but by too much prudence may pass between them at too great a distance to reach either."
  • Pontius Pilate's attempts not to execute Jesus but also not to incite a riot. He failed. (The real Pilate showed no qualms about doing things which provoked riots, and likely would have just slaughtered them. He'd killed people just for peacefully protesting taxes before, and was actually recalled for provoking revolt by this).

    Live-Action TV 
  • Law & Order sometimes falls into this, with the creators admitting that their show has likely pissed off people on both sides of the aisle at some point.
    • One notable example would be "Talking Points," which opened with someone firing on an Ann Coulter stand-in who was painted as a bigoted harridan… but then the shooter turned out to be a stem cell research advocate who was afraid that his endeavors were being poisoned by her rhetoric.
    • At the end of the episode "Illegal," McCoy has finished preparing a report on whether or not a violent incident between police and protesters constituted a "police riot." He concludes that, after reading it, "Both sides will be angry with me." His deputy replies, "You probably got it right, then."
  • The West Wing, unusually for a political show, subverts this. Since it's about the President, there's plenty of compromise, but not because it's better; it's just what can get passed by an opposing Congress. And it's not unheard-of for one side to win. The merits of moderation were a matter of some heated debate in one episode:
    Josh: If we had a bench full of moderates in '54, Separate But Equal would still be on the books, and this place would still have two sets of drinking fountains.
    Toby: Moderate means temperate, it means responsible. It means thoughtful.
    Josh: It means cautious. It means unimaginative.
    Toby: It means being more concerned about making decisions than about making history.
    Josh: Is that really the greatest tragedy in the world, that we nominated somebody who made an impression instead of some second-rate crowd pleaser?
    Toby: The ability... The ability to see both sides of an argument is not the hallmark of an inferior intellect.
    Josh: What about the vast arenas of debate a moderate won't even address? A mind like Lang? Let them pick a conservative with a mind like Justice Brady had. You can hate his position, but he was a visionary. He blew the whole thing open. He changed the whole argument...
    • They manage, with some finagling, to get one liberal judge and one conservative judge to balance each other out, as opposed to the one moderate judge that they were arguing over. This allows for both positions to be represented while not having to settle for "moderation."
  • In an episode of Little Mosque on the Prairie, Mercy's Muslim community was divided (again): the more liberal members of the congregation wanted men and women to pray together in the same room, while the more conservative members insisted that a wall be erected between the men and women's prayer spaces. Amaar, the imam, erected a wall that stretched halfway across the room, so the conservative-minded men could pray in front of it with the conservative-minded women behind it, while the liberal congregants would pray on the wall-less side of the room. Neither faction was pleased (but it was a typical Canadian solution).
  • Babylon 5
    • The Vorlons has a saying claiming "Understanding is a three-edged sword". Sheridan finally vocalizes the meaning behind it in season 4 when he's telling off the Vorlons and the Shadows before kicking them out of the galaxy. Understanding has three sides: Your side, their side, and the truth.
    • Brother Theo (a Catholic monk) chastises Sheridan for having no clearly defined religious beliefs. Sheridan invokes this trope by saying he's "eclectic, open-minded." Brother Theo, who isn't buying it, says that Sheridan is "rudderless, adrift in a sea of ecclesiastical possibilities." Interestingly for this trope, but par for the course for B5, neither side is presented as being "right."
  • House presents most attempts at compromise as examples of this fallacy. In keeping with the series's position on the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism, it seems that we are usually meant to agree with him. This is subverted in an important instance, though, when Stacy defies House's wishes and takes a third option while he's in a coma following his infarction, saving his leg and probably his life as well.
  • This was part of Jon Stewart's show-ending rant on Crossfire. The show was infamous for bringing on people of supremely dichotomous views, whom the hosts would then egg on into an argument. The thinking was that the producers were presenting the views of the mainstream public on an issue by bringing on their loudest extremists, with the public view somewhere between them.
  • In the Community episode "Football, Feminism and You" Jeff tries to invoke this to justify his selfish behavior involving Troy. Since part of this selfishness involved Jeff delivering a very nasty We're Not So Different And It's "The Reason You Suck" Speech to Annie that reduced her to tears, Annie immediately calls him on it.
  • In Yes, Prime Minister, Sir Humphrey is trying (without much success) to find an argument against a plan for banning cigarette advertising and punitive taxes on tobacco. Eventually he's reduced to "The government should not take sides." Hacker spots the fallacy at once: "You mean, impartial as between the fire engine and the fire?"
  • In QI, when Alan Davies talked about giving honey to bees that have been hurt in order to help them recover, Dara O'Briain responded that he would prefer to just squash it. Rob Brydon followed up with his compromise plan - drown the bee in honey.
  • In The Office (US), this is Michael Scott's idea of a compromise. When Oscar protested that Angela's baby posters were offensive to him, his idea of a compromise was to have the poster made into a shirt Oscar would wear everyday so Angela could see it but Oscar couldn't. Do we even need a spoiler tag here to hide the fact that neither of them liked the idea? No. No we don't.
  • Discussed in the meta sense on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. John points out that it's the habit of debates and news articles to give both sides equal representation on topics that are not equally represented in society—that is, despite the overwhelming majority of people being on one side of an issue, a debate will still insist on having one for and one against.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • In one strip of The Boondocks, George W. Bush says (paraphrased from memory), "On one hand, Colin Powell supports affirmative action. On the other hand, Condoleezza Rice favors the death penalty for anyone who teaches a black person to read. So I figure that keeping black people out of college is good enough." (You have to expect this sort of thing from the comic.)
  • In one strip of Get Fuzzy, Bucky built a robot designed to be the most moderate Presidential candidate ever, with a hodgepodge of backgrounds, friendly demeanor, and spouting quotes like "my father shared your job and/or ethnicity!" However, Rob breaks the robot when he asks it the first controversial issue he can think of, "Don't you need to raise taxes to pay for the war?", causing it to explode from a Logic Bomb.
  • Ruthlessly mocked in a Dilbert strip. Dilbert asks his boss whether a project's budget should be $100,000 or $25,000. The Boss cited the wisdom of "Wise King Salmon" by "splitting the difference" and giving him $50,000. Dilbert concludes: "Fish are stupid."

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons: The True Neutral alignment, which started out as people who are dedicated to maintaining balance, to the point that they'll switch sides in the middle of battle. Druids had this alignment the most. True Neutral changed to what Absolute Neutral (or just "Neutral") used to be: people with no strong convictions toward any side of good or evil and law or chaos. Creatures without intelligence and people with profound apathy would have this alignment. Fourth Edition calls this "Unaligned."

    Video Games 
  • In The Elder Scrolls series, The Redguards of Hammerfell have traditionally divided themselves into two sociopolitical groups: The Crowns, decended from Redguard nobility, hold Yokudan tradition in high regard and dislike foreigners, while the Forebears, descended from the warriors who conquered Hammerfell, are more comfortable with incorporating aspects of Breton and Imperial culture into their way of life. A third political movement, the Lhotunics, emerged after the Warp in the West, who espouse both the cosmopolitan values of the Forebears and the sense of tradition and respect for the past of the Crowns, and are generally held in contempt by both sides.
  • Shin Megami Tensei: Played with. The majority of games deal with the constant struggle between Law (God, selflessness, obedience, logic, observing social norms) versus Chaos (Lucifer, personal freedom, thinking for yourself, emotions, doing what you feel like). Both sides have their strong points, but both also can (and do) devolve into extremism when taken too far. While the overall impact of choosing either varies from the fall and defilement of mankind to altering the ending's ratio of Bitter and Sweet, neither is portrayed as overall positive. Far more often, the games present Neutral (siding with humanity and relying on context instead of principle to decide actions) as the best choice. That said, there are often more than three endings (usually featuring different flavors of Neutral), and even when there aren't, Neutral usually isn't so much The Perfect Solution as the Lesser of Three Evils. Humans Are Bastards, sure, but the alternatives are worse.
  • The portrayal of prosecutors and defense attorneys in the Ace Attorney series is this. Prosecutors such as Manfred von Karma or pre-Character Development Miles Edgeworth are shown as being ruthless people who look down on the defendants as scum who are guilty until proven innocent and deserve to be locked up forever. Defense attorneys such as Robert Hammond and Kristoph Gavin are selfish and don't truly believe in the innocence of their client, only interested in benefiting themselves. Meanwhile, attorneys like Mia Fey, Phoenix Wright, Gregory Edgeworth or prosecutors Klavier Gavin, Byrne Faraday, and post-Character Development Miles Edgeworth are only interested in figuring out the truth, and are willing to make sacrifices and go the extra mile to find it out (in the case of Edgeworth and Klavier, this even means collaborating with their rival defense attorneys). The idea a case is "won" or "lost" doesn't matter when it's the truth and justice at stake.
  • BioShock Infinite has gotten a lot of heat for portraying the Vox Populi, a band of revolutionaries fighting for racial and economic equality, as every bit as ruthless as the racist establishment they're fighting. But considering how completely Infinite is enmeshed in actual history, and given the wealth of Real Life examples of The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized, this might simply be a case of art imitating life.
    • It doesn't help that Booker & Elizabeth agree that the leader of the vox populi seems just as bad as Comstock before they've been given much reason at all to think that. Approximately, the only bad thing she's done at that point is hijack a blimp Booker & Elizabeth were on, take Elizabeth hostage, & dump Booker out of the blimp from high in the air so he could (against his will) do some stuff she wanted but that was to save the slaves & she wasn't the one who dumped him out so she might not have planned that. At this point, Comstock has burned a Native American tribe to death to prove something, enslaved black people, passed up a chance to have Booker definitely shot to death so he could burn him to death instead along with a huge group of his own followers, kept Elizabeth locked up alone for well over a decade while having people secretly spy on her at all times & keep creepy samples of stuff like her period blood, & lied to everyone about everything.

    Webcomics 

    Web Originals 
  • Parodied: No matter what the issue, JP Nickel gives you... Both Sides!!!note 
  • Discussed in this Angry Aussie video, as an argument when discussing creationists' arguments against evolution.
  • Parodied in a Scientific American April Fool's joke:
    Good journalism values balance above all else. We owe it to our readers to present everybody's ideas equally and not to ignore or discredit theories simply because they lack scientifically credible arguments or facts.

    Western Animation 
  • The Simpsons does this a lot. Admittedly, it might be mostly because they live in such a Crapsack World that any idea, plan or policy is almost by definition horrendously flawed, but the writers still want to offer some kind of uplifting moral at the end of the episode.
    • See the quotes page from "Treehouse of Horror VII" in which Kang and Kodos run for president disguised as Bill Clinton and Bob Dole.
    • The episode where Lisa goes vegetarian tries to pull this at the last minute.
    • Lampshaded in the episode in which Homer gets his jaw wired shut. In the middle of a long story about the old days, Grandpa says: "...after that, things got pretty quiet until FDR challenged Superman to a race around the world. FDR beat him by a furlong, or so the stories say. The truth lies somewhere in between..."
    • And then there's the debacle with the children of Springfield trying to figure out why all the adults had disappeared from the streets after Grampa started selling his aphrodisiac:
    Millhouse: Ahem. OK, here's what we've got: the Rand Corporation, in conjunction with the saucer people under the supervision of the reverse vampires are forcing our parents to go to bed early in a fiendish plot to eliminate the meal of dinner.
  • South Park uses this trope a lot to deliver its message. Strawman Politicals from both sides clash and make the problem worse, until someone delivers a final speech concluding that neither side is correct. For example, we shouldn't support the Boy Scouts' decision to exclude membership to gays, but we also shouldn't ban the organization because they should be free to exclude people in their own company. Sometimes, the solutions have been highly unconvincing compromises presented as perfect for everyone, giving rise to complaints that the makers try to force the trope. Through the show's many seasons, however, they have lampshaded and subverted the common formula a number of times:
    • The episode on gay marriage, for example, parodied this trope by having a politician offer a "compromise" solution in which gay people could get all the legal benefits of marriage, but instead of using traditionally straights-only terms like "marriage," "married," and "husband and wife," they would be called "butt buddies". Much like in Real Life, no one was particularly pleased.
    • In the NAMBLA episode they have the head of NAMBLA try and pull this, which Stan and Kyle shoot down immediately.
    Kyle: Dude. You have sex with children.
    Stan: Yeah. You know, we believe in equality for everybody, and tolerance, and all that gay stuff, but dude, fuck you.
    Kyle: Seriously.
    • An attempt at having a golden means solution, which shows just how fallacious this trope really is, appears in the episode "I'm a Little Bit Country." Half of the town opposes the war in Iraq, while the other half supports it. After going back in time and meeting the founding fathers, Cartman believes he has the right answer. He says that America needs the pro-war people to support America's wars so America looks like a strong country, but we also need the anti-war people to oppose these wars so America looks like a compassionate country. Both sides are happy with this answer, even though it basically means the war will continue, and all the anti-war crowd gets is the ability to continue protesting. Cartman's answer is pro-war, but is presented as being a golden means solution.
  • Futurama made fun of this at the end of one episode, where Bender states the moral he learned:
    "I'll never be too good or too evil ever again, I'll just be me."
    "Do you think you could be a little less evil?"
    "I don't know, Leela. Do you think you could survive a 600-foot fall?"

    Real Life 
  • Some American schools teach both evolution and creationism in science class, under the guise of teaching "different schools of thought" and letting children decide for themselves which is correct. This type of thinking asserts that evolution and creationism are equally valid scientific theories, which is simply not true. Evolution is science, while creationism is religion.
    • There are also the people who think intelligent design must be right because it combines science and religion, ignoring the fact that science is evidence based, and religion is blind faith.
  • Some people consider this a problem with modern journalism: to appear "objective", many reporters and commentators will interview both sides of an issue and avoid as much as possible indicating that one side is demonstrably in error.
    • Okrent's Law: The quest for balance creates imbalance because sometimes things are true.
    • Joe Klein of Time, for a while, had a consistent reputation for painting both sides as dangerous extremes, most notably when he regarded liberal Democrats opposed to warrantless wiretapping to be just as out of touch with the American base as the right was on the Terri Schiavo right to die issue. Plus a cover story he wrote called "Ascendancy of the Center", with perhaps the most Anvilicious yet banal cover image in print history: a Venn diagram made of two circles, the right one red, and the left one blue, with the center represented by the overlap violet.
    • Some modern day reporters avert the trope by being blatantly biased.
    • A major issue concerning news coverage of climate change. The scientific consensus that man-made climate change is occuring is roughly 97% among climate scientists and scientific publications (with the remaining 3% generally using poor or biased methodology), but news coverage, in the interests of "objectivity", gives climate denialists equal showtime, giving the impression that scientists are polarized on the issue when they're actually not. The BBC has more recently recognized this fallacy and is making efforts to stop giving airtime to climate deniers.
  • In Livy's writings, the Samnites manage to trap a Roman army in a narrow pass, but since the relations between the two people was tense, but not yet at war, their commander vacillated about what to do. One of his advisors said he should let them go, and try to win friends with the Roman people. Another one said that they should wipe out this army and try their best to crush Rome while it was reeling from the blow. He eventually settles on humiliating the Roman army, accepting surrender and token tribute from them, and then letting them go home. The result? The Romans get pissed, but are still at more or less full strength, and come back with a vengeance, stomping him hard.
    • That same man may also have been the ancestor of Pontius Pilate, who might be the most famous (attempted) user of this trope in history.
  • Congressman John Tanner (D-TN) on his fellow Blue Dog Democrats: "We're too liberal in our home areas and too conservative in Washington. I mean, we get it on both sides, and which means I think we're doing something right."
  • One of the theories about the Treaty of Versailles that ended World War One was that it was compromised by this principle. The treaty was harsh enough to upset the Germans but not harsh enough to stop them from retaliating.
  • This can be a problem in wikis (just like the one you're reading!) - two opposed people get in an Edit War, and the only ways to appease them both are (a) come up with something halfway between the two, or (b) have the article contradict itself.
  • This can be exploited for marketing purposes with what is known as Goldilocks pricing. Suppose you have two products, Product A is the basic version which gives just the essentials for a low price, and Product B has all the bells and whistles but is more expensive. Many people will see this and decide that A does all they need, and so there is no point in paying extra for B. On the other hand, bring out Product C which is slightly better than Product B but with another price hike, and suddenly B becomes much more tempting, as it offers most of what you get from C but at a lower price. The classic example of this is Economy, Business, and First Class seating on airlines.
    • The general subversion with this is when there's not enough difference between the three, causing one of them to eventually drop away. A good example would be the end of Third Class and Second Class rail services in the UK (technically "Standard Class" is Third Class, as it was the second class that was legally abolished in the 1910s).
  • Averted by Aristotle, even though he is often looked to as the source of the fallacy. Though he does argue that each virtue is a mean between two extremes, he remarks that it would be stupid to infer that therefore we should seek moderation in all things
  • The idea that teachers should deal with school bullies by staying neutral is an example. Many schools treat bullying as though it were a mutual conflict where both students are equally wrong, rather than one student abusing another. Of course, without evidence, even if it seems clear one kid most likely started it, teachers are usually expected not to be biased towards either party, especially once parents get involved. It leads to kids not reporting that they're being bullied, because they figure they'll only get punished as well.
    • The general principle is usually expressed, as probably everyone has heard, "It takes two people to start a fight/argument". Approximately 90% of the time someone says this, it's because they don't want to go to the trouble of finding out if one of those two people was right. Or it's because they can't figure out that it actually only takes 1 person to start a fight, it just takes 2 people to make it a fair fight rather than a merciless beat-down.
      • They also try punishing both people equally sometimes. e.g., Kid A hits Kid B, Kid B shoves him away, brawl ensues. 99% chance kid B is punished just as bad even when they see it was self-defense.
  • The Compromise of 1850 in the United States was an attempt at this, as it was designed to avert an impending crisis over slavery by giving both sides some of what they wanted. The result was the compromise simply kicked the can down the road ten years. The following decade caused the battle lines on both sides of the issue to harden considerably, and practically guaranteed that the issue would be solved with guns, not words.
    • The events surrounding the "Border War", intended to be a compromise between pro- and antislavery settlers when Kansas became a state, wound up killing many.
    • Generally, U.S. politics immediately prior to the Civil War revolved around this trope. Most presidents of the 1850s struggled desperately to find some way the free states and slave states could peacefully coexist with each other, which required seeing the pro-slavery and anti-slavery positions as being of equal value. Even worse, this kind of thinking tended to default in favor of the South, since someone caring only about peace would see anti-slavery people stirring the pot and pro-slavery people in favor of maintaining the status quo.
      • This in particular was what led to conflict between Andrew Johnson and the Radical-Republican led Congress. This would eventually lead to his impeachment.
  • This is apparently how Stalin won debates before he became undisputed ruler of the Soviet Union. He would ask for the two opposing sides of an issue, then say he belonged to a sensible middle, undermining both rivals.
  • Whenever Canadian policymakers refer to a "uniquely Canadian" or "made in Canada" solution to a problem (which they do all the freaking time), it essentially means somewhere between a U.S. and EU approach, even if one approach or the other might very well be preferable.
  • Sales. You think it's worth $30, they say it's worth $100, but it's note  on sale for $60! That's less than the mean. Given the proliferation of this tactic, it seems to work.
    • At least in the US, the same item cannot stay perpetually on sale usually due to legislation aimed at protecting consumers from this sort of practice. Loop Hole Abuse kicks in when the store rotates a few models which are virtually indistinguishable to the consumer. Imagine three nearly identical $500 USD snowblowers, one with an "Ice-Cracker Blade," one with an "EZ Pull Starter," and one with "Power Traction Mode." One is always on sale, and they're both next to the $250 USD No Frills model and the $800 USD Deluxe model. That's how this trope is used, in conjunction with the Goldilocks pricing strategy mentioned above.
    • Of course, the same item can sell at roughly the same price almost all the time if the store simply "changes" the sale. Many department and big-box stores will offer an additional 10-20 percent off the sale price (40%) if you shop with the store's card (because they make a huge profit off of your debt). The next week, the same item is on sale for 50 percent off with no additional discount. Both deals sound good, but which is better?note 
    • Then there's the matter of MSRP, which is invariably set unreasonably high, so that a $30 MSRP product (that is really worth only $10) looks like a steal when it's "marked down" to $20.
  • Historian Gaddis Smith observed that during the Cold War, when strategists were called upon to provide the president with a list of options for a crisis situation, they'd usually provide five options. Option #1 would be "capitulate", option #5 would be "nuclear war". The strategist's actual proposal would be option #3.
    • The KGB did something similar with their intelligence predictions, formulating three predictions: Best Case, Middle Case, Worst Case. The Middle Case was always the one presented, supplemented with data from the Best and Worse cases.
  • During the Constitutional Convention, two of the compromises were essentially this. First was the Great Compromise, which took the Virginia Plan (allocate votes based on population) and the New Jersey Plan (each state gets the same number of votes) and put them together. No one really thought that was a good idea, but since the issue had become a deadlock, they accepted it and today it is seen as a perfectly reasonable way of doing things. The second compromise, the Three-Fifths Compromise (slaves count as three-fifths of a person), was a more literal application of this trope and is often considered the founder's greatest failure. It has since been redacted by the Thirteenth Amendment.
  • Ronald Reagan's "evil empire" speech argued that anyone who saw the United States and Soviet Union as moral equals was using this fallacy: "I urge you to beware the temptation of pride, the temptation of blithely declaring yourselves above it all and label both sides equally at fault, to ignore the facts of history and the aggressive impulses of an evil empire, to simply call the arms race a giant misunderstanding and thereby remove yourself from the struggle between right and wrong and good and evil." Notably, when re-election time came along, his tone became much more conciliatory, suggesting that swing voters at least, weren't quite so certain of the dichotomy.
    • Around the same time, Reagan's ambassador to the United Nations, Jeane Kirkpatrick, made much the same argument in an essay called "The Myth of Moral Equivalence".
  • As mentioned in the quote CNN has been accused of taking this trope and running with it.
  • Lots of countries, such as England, America, Japan, Sweden, the Netherlands, etc. have a proverb that is some variation of, "If two people quarrel, both are wrong." Many readers of this page might recognize the more familiar, "It takes two to tango." Sometimes this proverb makes sense (a lot of times, to be fair), but other times, one person has clearly done something unethical or irrational (a police officer who arrests the wrong man for a murder, for example, or a child who throws a softball through someone else's window and breaks it); if you claim both parties are wrong in those cases, then even if you're arguing for something in the middle you are actually punishing the one person who didn't tango, by making it wrong for him/her to protest in addition to the pain already inflicted on him/her. Of course, be careful when arguing that particular point, since usually the proverb about quarreling is correct.
  • One of the principles in Buddhism is the Middle Way, which is a principle that one should always take the path between the two extremes. Of course, they apply it to more esoteric things than most examples here, but one example was the middle between self-indulgence and asceticism.
  • Satirized by none other than the great Groucho Marx, who was visiting an exclusive beach resort. When he inquired about buying a membership, he was informed that the property was "No Semites Allowed." To which the Jewish comedian replied: "My son is only half Jewish, does that mean he gets to wade in halfway?"
  • Because of two vocal factions reacting to the Boy Scouts Of America's ban on gay members, the group proposed to allow gay youth but not gay leaders. One side wants no gay members; the other points out that gay children grow up.
  • Arguments about minority rights tend to attract really misguided supporters of this philosophy. For example the idea that the Golden Mean for gay rights is to allow some rights for gay couples but not equal to straight couples. The problem is how it sets the field up: These people see "no gay rights at all" and "equality" as the two extremes when equality IS the middle ground. The real other extreme would be to demand privileges to gay couples or to take rights away from straight couples. The reason people get away with ignoring this is that, being a minority, there's no real danger in gay supremacists (who are a tiny minority OF a minority) ever getting that much power in any community larger than a small village and even then only if they painstakingly build and maintained a gay majority. So most people don't even think it a possible opinion to have. This tends to go for all minorities but gay people are a good example since, aside from some strange unforeseen change to human biology, homosexuality will always remain at a stable 2-6% of the population and has no chance to become a majority or even equal in size to the straight population. Also most gay people have straight families. So the balance of opinion is really badly skewed in all ways. And of course the whole golden mean thing is a fallacy anyway (and there are definitely more arguments in favour of equality than just "because it's the middle ground") but the point is that it's not even getting the premises right.
    • However, given that as of 2014 homosexual activity was punishable by death in countries such as Yemen, Brunei, and Saudi Arabia, one realizes that no matter how extreme a position is, someone will likely earnestly hold a position even more radical.
    • As the Three-Fifths compromise and then segregation showed, the Golden Mean Fallacy's deficiencies are cruelly exposed whenever it is applied to a question of rights, because once something is defined as a "right", it permits no compromise.
  • This sometimes happens with agnostics who claim to hold a better position than atheists and theists alike because it is a middle ground. The question of God's existence is either yes or no, so a middle ground makes no sense. However, it's not the Golden Mean Fallacy to think there is not enough evidence to be conclusive either way.
    • Douglas Adams (who was atheist) brought this up when friends suggested he be agnostic "just in case" he's wrong about God's existence. Adams disagreed with this way of thinking, saying that if there is a God, He would probably have more respect for someone who had made a decision and stood by it, rather than trying to have it both ways.

    Other 
  • Rational Wiki covers this under Balance fallacy.
  • Fark "independents" (read: Republicans) use the fallacy so much, it has its own initialism: BSABSVR. (Both Sides Are Bad, So Vote Republican.)

Looks like this fallacy but isn't:

  • Supporting a middle position based on its own merit rather than simply because it's in the middle.

Gender-Equal EnsembleThese Tropes Are EqualThe Golden Rule
Genericist GovernmentPolitics TropesThe Golden Rule
Gambler's FallacyLogic TropesHard Work Fallacy
Godwin's LawThe War on StrawGood Is Dumb
Genetic FallacyLogical FallaciesHard Work Fallacy
Godwin's LawWe Are Not Alone IndexGood Cop/Bad Cop
GeekImageSource/Web ComicsGPS Evidence

random
TV Tropes by TV Tropes Foundation, LLC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available from thestaff@tvtropes.org.
Privacy Policy
82907
1