Kang: Very well. No abortions for anyone!
Kang: Hmm... Abortions for some, miniature American flags for others!
Most people feel certain 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." It's also sometimes called the Gray Fallacy, between black and white options.
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. For example: 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 "realist" 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. The downside is when one side is so objectively unreasonable (see the above cyanide example) that ceding any ground to it makes you look crazy.
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 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. Another way of looking at it is by invoking The Horseshoe Effect: if the people on each extreme have more in common with each other than they do with the people in the centre, than the centre starts to look a lot more favourable.
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". It is also not saying that moderate compromises are always wrong. Sometimes an option somewhere in between two polar opposites 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; he himself made it clear that he was not espousing a purely mathematical mean between two extremes, but rather a moral best course of action that the "extremes" were defined in contradistinction to. However, he also said that some actions were so bad that they could never be justified, let alone be made to appear moderate.
Please also note that the conflict need not have a right or wrong side in order to be this. For example, a conflict between two foods for dinner could result in a truly disgusting "compromise" dish. So long as the viewpoints are incapable of compromise, in that any compromise is at least as bad as either side, anybody who tries to claim compromise is always right will be guilty of this fallacy.
Compare and contrast with Intolerable Tolerance and Culture Justifies Anything, which commit the same fallacy from the opposite direction: saying that everyone is right instead of that everyone is wrong.
- 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.
- 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."
- The Harry Potter fic Amends, or Truth and Reconciliation has an argument between Harry, Ron and Hermione about what should happen to the Malfoys in the wake of Voldemort's defeat. Harry wants them pardoned since they switched sides at the last minute, while Ron thinks they should essentially be tortured to death because he doesn't like them. Hermione, who is the POV character of the story and is just generally shown in a far more flattering light than the other two, is the one who wants the Malfoys to pay for their crimes, but only to a suitable degree and after a fair trial.
- The Birth of a Nation. Siding neither with slavery nor with the "extremists" who want actual race equality, it supports the "neutral middle ground" of Jim Crow laws.
- Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith invokes this in its opening crawl by telling us that "there are heroes on both sides" in the Clone Wars. Actually, the statement is both true and false. Although a great many of the combatants — both Republicans and Separatists — certainly have idealistic reasons for fighting, the entire war is a sham, being secretly manipulated by Sith agents who are Running Both Sides. The movie depicts both the Jedi and the Sith as power-hungry and ruthless, but the Sith are clearly worse in that their ruthlessness derives not from self-righteousness but from pure greed (and their only saving grace is that they eventually come clean about their ultimate goal).
- Spoofed in Dr. Strangelove when General Turgidson (George C. Scott) tells the President that if they execute his nuclear strike plan, only millions of people will be annihilated instead of billions, which isn't too bad. (This "joke" is later used more seriously in Watchmen.)
- In Good Night, and Good Luck., Edward R. Murrow argues with his producer, who says he needs to stop "editorializing" about Joseph McCarthy and the Red Scare. Murrow responds that sometimes it just isn't the case that two sides have equally valid points and there is a reasonable compromise in the middle.
- Denial: Prior to Lipstadt writing her book that Irving would sue over, she notes that several student newspapers (some of which are even run by Jews) run adverts proclaiming Holocaust denial, under the reasoning that "both sides deserve to be heard". Which ignores that one side is demonstrably wrong.
- 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 & 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.
- Star Wars Legends:
"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."
- Isard's Revenge deals with this idea. 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.
- Most of the cast of Death Star works for the Empire but isn't particularly happy about it, becoming less so as time goes on. But they don't know a thing about the Rebel Alliance beyond propaganda from both sides. Therefore, they tend to think of the Empire as just another big government which has done some terrible things, sure, but is basically okay, and the Rebels as well-meaning maybe but highly biased and ineffectual. As the book goes on neutrality disappears and the Rebels start to look a whole lot better.
- 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 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.
- 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."
- The Zadie Smith novel White Teeth, which in part deals with the challenges faced by first- and second-generation Muslim immigrants (most of them from South Asia) in 1980s London, adds an interesting ethnic/cultural dimension to the "false-moderation" theme. These immigrants are caught between two adversarial European forces: anti-immigrant native Britons who harass them with insults and even violent attacks (in other words, being too right-wing) and Europeans both native and immigrant themselves who have been steeped in the "decadent" late-20th-century Western lifestyle (in other words, being too left-wing) note . The Muslims don't generally bother to determine which is which, and indeed seem to conflate the two camps much of the time - which is both unfair and counterproductive when you factor in that the "decadent" Britons are often the South Asians' best friends precisely because of their cultural tolerance, while the xenophobic Britons would probably agree with the Asians they so despise about the shameful decadence of modern Western society precisely because of their bigotry. In any case, the Muslims think of themselves as the only decent people in the midst of a society gone mad...even though even the "good" ones (including one of the book's protagonists) seem a little too quick to jump to the defense of the Keepers of the Eternal and Victorious Islamic Nation (KEVIN), a glorified street gang and vigilante group willing to resort to book-burning and much worse to enforce their moral standards on all those "demonic" right-wing and left-wing white Britons. One of the book's major points is that in a multicultural and permissive society nobody is perfect, and tolerance should be the order of the day as long as people do not express their views violently.
- Downplayed in The Candidates (based on a true country). Both the Republican and the Democratic candidate is shown to be equally bad and said to not represent the American people, but there's only the faintest hint of what a candidate who did would even look like.
- Orson Scott Card's Empire is (according to Word of God) a novel calling for "tolerance" and opposing "polarization", without mentioning which specific political values should be upheld beyond "compromise". This is only made worse when the novel itself clearly favors the right over the left, not to mention that Card himself is far from moderate on a number of issues, most notably gay rights.
- 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."
- In another, the judge rules on whether a certain piece of evidence is permissible in court, and his compromise leaves the prosecution and the defense both unhappy. The judge jokes that this is how he knows he's made the right decision.
- 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" It's worth noting that the "moderate" in this case is only considered so because of the American tradition of politicizing the Supreme Court. In most other western countries, the fact that the judge wouldn't even consider allowing his own politics to affect his judgement would be a prerequisite to getting the job.
- 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).note
- Babylon 5:
- The Vorlons had 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 vs. Cynicism, it seems that we are usually meant to agree with him.
- Arguably, the "middle ground" procedure that was performed on House after his infarction could be seen as this (certainly House would see it as such). House is refusing amputation, but is in agony in the aftermath of his initial surgery, leading to concerns that he could end up being in significant pain for the rest of his life, so Cuddy proposes a less radical surgery to remove just the damaged muscle tissue but not the entire leg, which Stacy consents to on House's behalf. The result? He still ends up suffering severe pain for the rest of his life, and loses much of the function of the leg on top of it.
- Fridge Brilliance: This is at least part of the reason that House hates compromises.
- Arguably, the "middle ground" procedure that was performed on House after his infarction could be seen as this (certainly House would see it as such). House is refusing amputation, but is in agony in the aftermath of his initial surgery, leading to concerns that he could end up being in significant pain for the rest of his life, so Cuddy proposes a less radical surgery to remove just the damaged muscle tissue but not the entire leg, which Stacy consents to on House's behalf. The result? He still ends up suffering severe pain for the rest of his life, and loses much of the function of the leg on top of it.
- 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, by claiming (not entirely unreasonably) that Annie was also being a bit selfish regarding Troy. Since part of Jeff's selfishness involved him 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 out on it. Jeff concedes the point and admits that he may have been "a little more wrong".
- 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. His example is the debate on climate change science, a subject on which 97% of the world's scientists agree, and he proposes a new format for debate: instead of having one climate change denier debate Bill Nye the Science Guy as this trope describes, three climate change deniers would debate ninety-six climate change-believing scientists... and Bill Nye the Science Guy.
- Naturally, this was parodied mercilessly on That's My Bush!. For example, in the episode "Mom E DEA Arrest," there are two opposing sides presented: The people who use drugs and see no problem with it (i.e. the imprisoned druggie and his raving friends) and the political leaders who believe Drugs Are Bad and should never be used under any circumstances. After Laura Bush makes a "The Reason You Suck" Speech to George Bush's mother (Barbara Bush, of course), the druggie decides that the solution to the whole "War On Drugs" is that... it's okay to use drugs occasionally but not on a regular basis.
- Tiffany Malloy from Unhappily Ever After could be considered a farcical send-up of this trope. Because the series was a Spiritual Successor to Married... with Children - even having some of the same creators - Tiffany is often compared to Kelly Bundy, though unlike Kelly she was not stupid (not deep down, at least) and actually tried to preserve her dignity (publicly, at least). Tiffany's assessment of herself was that, while she was gorgeous and obviously a sexual tease, she struck a balance between the other smart girls who were overly intellectual and cared nothing for their personal appearance (she said to their faces that they were "dried-up old prunes") and outright slutty bimbos (most notably her arch-nemesis, Sable) for using their good looks only to gain sexual pleasure rather than trying to gain a sociopolitical advantage over men. This had the effect of making Tiffany seem like the most normal and reasonable person on the show, despite obviously being a Manipulative Bitch and just one step up from a hooker. Of course, it helped a great deal that every other member of the Malloy family was either moronic or delusional.
- The way the gun control debate in Season One of The Punisher is presented is somewhat less than nuanced. The far-right position is represented by a Mad Bomber who thinks blowing up a bunch of civilians is an appropriate response to "the government trying to take away our guns." The far-left position is represented by a Dirty Coward whose loathing of guns somehow doesn't keep him from wanting armed mercenaries all around him the moment his own hide is on the line. Sitting in between them and looking really good in comparison to both is Karen, whose opinion boils down to, "we should have guns, but not use them to shoot innocent people."
- The Newsroom discusses this trope, with Will stating that he doesn't need to give both sides of an issue equal respect and weight, implying that the truth is somewhere between them. He should just report "the truth," whatever side of the political divide it falls upon.
- Team America: World Police epitomizes this as far as 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 Bible: 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.
- A Japanese folktale invokes this: Two hungry cats are arguing over two rice cakes — one large, one small — and take their dispute to a sage. The sage decides that the only way to solve the argument is to eat part of the large rice cake so they are the same size, but he intentionally takes a too-large bite so that he subsequently has to take a bite of the other rice cake to equalize them again. He does this until both are gone, ultimately saying "there, now you're both equally dissatisfied." By giving a solution that is equally distasteful to both parties, the sage was giving An Aesop about greed and envy.
- C.S. Lewis' famous trilemma was a response to this, namely the position that one could believe in the Bible but deny the divinity of Jesus, to avoid the "extremes" of orthodox Christianity and atheism. Lewis points out that this doesn't make sense, because in the Bible, Jesus claims and acts consistent with divinity, meaning that if you want to accept the Bible and deny Jesus' divinity, you have to either claim that Jesus was delusional or that he was lying. Some have criticized this trilemma on the basis that Jesus could simply have been genuinely mistaken about his divinity or that the Gospels were simply fictional, but Lewis' response was that taking this position still requires one to both deny the veracity of the Bible and deny the divinity of Christ, meaning that it's still an all-or-nothing proposition.
- 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."
- 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; usually, Neutrality simply puts a temporary hold on the Law-Chaos Forever War, something that even some Neutral representatives are willing to admit. Humans Are Bastards, sure, but the alternatives are worse.
- 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.
- The "Synthesis" ending of Mass Effect 3 is criticized by people for falling into this trope (among other reasons). "Control" seems to prove the Illusive Man was right in that seizing power over the Reapers was the only way to win and the Reapers were wrong because there's the potential for organics and synthetics to peacefully coexist, and outside of the Reaper forces, the new AI God Shepard leaves everyone else free will. "Destroy" seems to demonstrate that Shepard believes the Catalyst/Reapers were right that synthetic and organic life cannot co-exist, and ends the war by implied genocide on synthetic species and individuals such as EDI, with no guarantee the conflict simply won't happen later when the technology invariably re-emerges. "Synthesis" implies both the Illusive Man and the Reapers were right. Organics and synthetics can't coexist, so the solution is to forcibly change everyone, organic and synthetic, against their will to eliminate the distinction. To make matters worse this was Saren's argument in the first game, and Shepard thought it was both stupid and a sign he'd lost his mind.
- A point of contention certain fans have with Kingdom Hearts is the idea of balance between light and darkness. Ideally, it would be more effective if those who use darkness for their own personal benefits weren't committing world ending catastrophes while those of the light aligned nature are fighting to thwart them. With sole exception to Riku and Terra, both of who catch all sorts of hell for using the dark powers in the process, the preaching of light and darkness finding a balance is pretentious at most. In Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep, Aqua learns of this balance early on and ultimately falls victim to Xehanort and the Darkness, losing 10 years of her life in the process. By the end of her arc, she really does learn that "darkness is really nothing but hate and rage."
- Bruno the Bandit. More about religion than politics, but the principle is the same. Atheists are pig-headed, verbally abusive, and so fanatically devoted to "reason" that there is no amount of evidence that would convince them to change their minds, not even a god making an appearance right in front of their eyes. The church is dogmatic, inflexible, and more interested in hoarding wealth to glorify itself than in practicing any of the charity it keeps preaching. Yes, thank heavens for the existence of liberal Catholi... ahem, Ailixism! Is anyone at all ever portrayed in a positive light in that webcomic?
- This comic strip offers a wry comment on the subject. It also unintentionally illustrates how the Golden Mean Fallacy is often weaponized against arguments by depicting them as extreme when they may actually be quite reasonable to an impartial observer. Say, for example, if you can just get everyone think that "their" beliefs are inherently wrong and/or evil (like, say, equating an opposing viewpoint to blending kittens), then your own beliefs don't need to be defended or supported because you've already set them up to be manifestly pure and true.
- This is how politics works in Sore Thumbs.
- Jesus and Mo have reached that precarious and profound middle ground between being extremely drunk and extremely sober.
- In Sinfest, Slicky tries an apple from the Tree of Knowledge and can't handle it. Slicky dives into Lethe and forgets everything. So he tries to combine them into "Forbidden Fruit and Lethe Water Power Drink".
Slick: I know that I know nothing! What the fuck?
- The Order of the Stick,
- Haley, Belkar and Celia are trying to get past a checkpoint controlled by hobgoblins. Belkar wants to massacre all the checkpoint guards, but Celia convinces Haley that it's better if they sneak through the checkpoint while keeping all the hobgoblins alive. Belkar decides to kill one of the hobgoblins anyway, then argues that killing one is a reasonable compromise between killing them all and sparing them.
- Therkla's attempt to keep both her mentor and her crush alive, by telling Kubota to stop trying to kill Hinjo and simply take his followers elsewhere to found their own kingdom if he wants to rule so much, and telling Elan to let them go in peace. Elan rightly points out that he's a criminal who tried to kill them (and should therefore be arrested), but Therkla manages to shush him. Kubota is even more unsatisfied, since he doesn't want to rule over only a few people instead of all the refugees of Azure City. He kills her for time to escape and then dies himself after being recaptured.
- Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal
- In the strip "Omni", it's revealed that evil exists because even though God is all-powerful and all-good, he's also all-balanced, meaning that he sees every side of every argument, no matter how stupid one side is.
- The sensible compromise between telling your child Santa exists and telling him he doesn't exist is obviously telling him that Santa is dead.
- In a The Non-Adventures of Wonderella strip, Wonderella bemoans the stupidity of 'just hearing out' a supervillain who wants to enslave humankind.
Talk show hostess: Now, Wonderella, perhaps the truth lies somewhere in the middle!
- 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.
- Parodied with the The Onion article "Government Admits It Was Only Behind Destruction of North Tower" in which the American government DID bomb the north tower, only for a random suicide plane to crash into the south tower.
- Parodied in r/dirtbagcenter, which is generally centrists making fun of themselves by embracing the Golden Mean Fallacy or insisting that two sides of a debate are exactly the same.
- Played straight in r/ENLIGHTENEDCENTRISM, which is a more left-leaning subreddit than r/dirtbagcenter which uses the fallacy to make fun of centrists.
- CGP Grey discussed in his video on Brexit how the UK government could do a semi-Brexit by entering the EEA, would would leave both sides - unhappy. The only people who'd win would be the politicians who'd manage to avoid a political shitstorm.
Grey: Nothing Brexit voters actually cared about would change: Immigration, EU membership fees and binding EU laws, all this would remain the same. The only thing different would be the UK giving up all her representatives in the EU Parliament, so she would have zero influence on EU law she would still have to follow, which is not something pro-EU voters probably wanted either.
- 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.
- 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, with them all proposing different sinister actors behind this and arguing over them, prompting Milhouse to wind up including them all with another reason for it:
Milhouse: 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 who bring up their orientation (since it's not in line with the organization's moral code, in that it should only be discussed outside of their groups) in their own institution. Other times however, 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.
- 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, because it basically means the war will continue, and the anti-war crowd gets to continue protesting.
- 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?"
- American Dad! has one episode where Stan and Francine argue over how to raise Steve, with Stan preferring strict discipline and Francine preferring a hands-off approach. To determine who's right, Stan has Steve cloned and each of them will raise one how they see fit. This results in Stevearino (the clone) becoming a crazy cat killer due to Stan's overbearing rules while Francine's coddling devolves the original Steve into a spoiled brat who does nothing but sit on the couch and eat junk food. At the end of the episode, they realize that Steve needs both of them to parent him so he balances out.
- Okrent's Law: The quest for balance creates imbalance because sometimes things are true.
- 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 advisers 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.
- 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 I was that it was compromised by this principle. The French delegation wanted to cripple Germany so that they could return to her 'glory days' of being the primary power of continental Europe; the Italians wanted as much Austro-Hungarian territory as they could get; the British wanted to avoid upsetting Germany or France or Italy so they could resume doing business with them all; and the U.S. delegation wanted to redraw the map of Europe on the model of North America because they believed that the ethnic heterogeneity of the region had caused the war and that peace and international cooperation would be easier if Europe was ruled by ethnically homogenous nation-states. The treaty ended up:
- So harsh that the Franco-British leadership and public would later feel guilty about enforcing it. note
- Too weak to actually cripple Germany (permanently that is, it did stunt them for a short while and eventually lead to Hitler's rise). The burden of paying Reparations was smaller than that of maintaining the pre-war German military. note
- Too miserly with Italy. The Italian leadership and public felt cheated by and resentful of their wartime allies. note
- Too committed to the principle of nation-states. Europe was now dotted with half a dozen small and poor states which would have to support disproportionately large militaries to defend themselves from Germany and Russia (and each other) and would quickly fold in the event of an economic depression.
- Insufficiently committed to the principle of nation-states. Refusal to institute population transfers to ensure ethnic homogeneity in the new states meant that most of them had large ethnic minorities, giving those states incentives to institute ethnic cleansing or wage war to 'liberate' their people from other states.
- 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.
- Defied 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. 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. It leads to kids not reporting that they're being bullied, because they figure they'll only get punished as well.
- The Compromise of 1850 in the United States 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, and fell prey to Okrents Law besides. 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 by some as a perfectly reasonable way of doing things. Or depending on your point of view, it's an even worse idea than it was back then now that some states have grown to have over ten times the population of others leading to a situation where a representative elected by one-hundred thousand voters has the same amount of policy making power as a representative elected by a million voters.
- The second compromise, the Three-Fifths Compromise (slaves count as three-fifths of a person), was a more literal application of this trope (but then, a perfectly literal application would have been to count a slave as two-point-five-fifths of a person) and is often considered the founder's greatest failure. It has since been redacted by the Thirteenth Amendment.
- Many people today don't seem to realize that not counting the slaves at all was the anti-slavery position, and that it was the pro-slavery faction that advocated counting them as full people - for purposes of allocating congressional delegates, presidential votes, taxes, etc., certainly not for giving them any rights or the vote. The compromise was an attempt to reduce the political power of slave holding states from what it would have been if slaves had been counted as full persons, with the hope that eventually the free states would have enough congress members to make slavery illegal through legislation. It didn't work out that way.
- 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. Reagan's opponents, of course, charged that the controversy was never about whether the Soviet Union was good or bad (it was clearly bad, assuming you were a mainstream American), but whether America's moral superiority gave it license to do whatever it wished to thwart the Soviets and still remain morally superior. 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".
- 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.
- 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 (since the organization does not condone having leaders discuss homosexual behavior with Scouts). One side wants no gay members; the other points out that gay children grow up.
- The Alaska Boundary Dispute: Because of ambiguous phrasing in the Anglo-Russian Convention of 1825, a three-way dispute arose between the U.S., Canada and British Columbia on the borders of the Alaska Panhandle. At one point this nearly came to violence over the death of a pig, only averted because the commanders in the field agreed that would be profoundly stupid. The tribunal that ultimately decided the question basically split the U.S. and Canadian positions, leading to a result that was definitely inconsistent with the wording of the Convention.
- The trend towards centrism and the major focus on making Conscription equal (load equality) for all Israelis (as some Ultra Orthodox Jews are exempt from service so they can focus on their religious studies) in the Israeli political climate around the 2013 elections, which led to the adamantly centrist Israeli Future Party (yes, thats its name) winning almost one sixth of the seats in the Knesset (the Israeli house of representatives). This trend was thoroughly mocked in a skit on the Israeli satire show, featuring the representative of the extremist sect of the Israeli centre, who insisted on load equality in everything—for instance, when he sees a man stealing his bicycle on the street, he protests and gives him a tool to break locks and steal everyone elses, too, in the name of load equality in crime.
- Fascism claimed that it was a post-ideological movement based purely upon practical policy prescriptions, taking effective communist and capitalist programs and using them to advance the national interest. In doing so it de facto created a new ideology. Some ideologically liberal academics, especially in the USA, teach their students that Fascism was a compromise between group and individual identity since it neither erased national boundaries nor respected individual rights like the latter. That is a valid perspective, but believing that it was important at the time is a misconception arising from a backward reading of the age's issues. Certainly, rich people of the time did promote individualism to try to protect their wealth being taxed/expropriated by collectives (whether by communities, unions, or nations) - but belief in individualism was neither prevalent nor something the Fascist program was particularly dedicated to eradicating.
- This trope went in three directions simultaneously during the American Civil Rights Movement. At one extreme were the "good" segregationists who condemned lynching and the Ku Klux Klan but also condemned race-mixing; next to them was the conservative, legalist wing of the integration movement (embodied by the NAACP and many white moderates/liberals) that condemned both segregation and the civil-disobedience tactics employed by activists to the left of them; and next to them was the movement's progressive wing (embodied by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.), which deemed the NAACP wing too passive but also considered civil disobedience to be a good, peaceful alternative to the tactics of the movement's more militant wing (Malcolm X, etc.). It is a credit to the rhetorical skill and political acumen of Dr. King's faction that it is now considered the golden mean on civil rights by most Americans, even those who are uncomfortable with citizen activism and identity politics (though those who hold such views often erase King's anti-capitalism and opposition to The Vietnam War), while the "good" segregationists are generally seem as functionally indistinguishable from the KKK. This example is also a good illustration of the Values Dissonance of a group thinking its positions are moderate even as other groups think they are too far to the right or the left.
- Funnily enough this applied to the trials of German War Criminals after World War II, and particularly the trials of German military (Wehrmacht) personnel. Italy, Poland, and the Soviet Union wanted every senior military officer who'd killed civilians or POW during the war to be hung or spend the rest of their life in jail (since said personnel had directly killed several million of their citizens, and enabled the killing of millions more). Britain and the USA wanted junior military officers who'd killed British or American POW hung or jailed, and the rest to go free (since said personnel had killed several dozen of their citizens, and letting the rest go free would avoid alienating the West German military establishment and so faciliate a swift reconciliation). Neither side walked away happy. The Anglo-Americans were pissed at being forced to compromise their principles and try more than a dozen senior military officers who had committed no crimes against Anglo-American military personnel. The Italians, Poles, and Soviets were pissed that these men were all released after less than six years in jail and many more senior Wehrmacht officers were never tried on the grounds of ill-health.
- Britain under the Labour Party of Clement Attlee did this in the period 1945-50 when attempting to ensure the future prosperity and well-being of Britain and her people. They instituted a Socialist Welfare State but retained a Capitalist Free Market Economy. The Welfare State was hamstrung by the lack of funding for education (just bodies to 'promote the importance of education') and the Free Market policies didn't work out because the UK economy needed government control and investment to make a smooth transition to modern industrial production (all they had was advisory bodies to 'encourage more competitive practices'). note
- In the 1960s a international standard time was needed (to be used in space, for example) and English speakers wanted to call it "Coordinated Universal Time" while French speakers wanted to call it "Temps Universel Coordonné" and both refused to let the other language be shown as more important. The time standard is now known as UTC because that initialism doesn't work in either language.
- The handling of rape cases at American universities often falls into this trope. Sadly, there is often not enough evidence for a conviction, especially if the only evidence is conflicting stories from the alleged victim and alleged perpetrator. In many cases, the Universities have taken the compromise of banning the alleged perpetrator from the University until the alleged victim has finished their studies. If the accused is innocent, this is a miscarriage of justice. If they are guilty, this is a horribly inadequate punishment that makes a mockery of the victim.
- St. John Henry Newman accused himself of this. He had been a priest of the Church of England, and argued that the Anglican Church was a true church because it was the middle path between the doctrinal excesses of Protestantism and the ritual excesses of Catholicism. He changed his mind when he started doing research for his book On The Development of Christian Doctrine, and learned that several heresies in Christian doctrine were the result of trying to chart a compromise between a different heresy and the orthodox teaching, only to make an entirely different error that didn't actually resolve the conflict.note This convinced Newman that he had been wrong, and to convert to Catholicism.
- People who speculate about the 1996 murder of JonBénet Ramsey are divided in two camps, mostly: People who think the family did it, and stalled the investigation on purpose; and people who think an intruder broke in, and the police's investigation was faulty. Then there are some other people who try to "compromise", by proposing that an intruder did it, but the family stalled the investigation anyway because they were either in league with such intruder, or mistakenly believed one of their own had done it.
- Professional negotiators are taught to avoid this with the example of two people who want an orange: one to make juice, and the other to make a cake. The naive solution would be to cut the orange in half, giving both parties less of what they actually want. The correct solution is to give one the peel and the other the pulp of the whole orange, which is an actual compromise giving both exactly what they want.
- Ever since the Iraq War, The Mainstream News Media has been constantly accused of this for better or for worse.
- A tactic typically used by the US military when advising the President of options in a conflict is to present options ranging from the most extreme to the most underwhelming, with their preferred choice snugly in the middle. This has at least once backfired, with Trump picking the most extreme one.
- The Labour Party's indecisive stance on Brexit was one of the contributing factors to their catastrophic losses during the 2019 Britain election. In an attempt to win both Reman and Leave voters, party leader Jeremy Corbyn took a more neutral stance on Brexit by supporting second referendum while not explicitly issuing a pro- or anti-Brexit position.note This approach however backfired badly as pro-Brexit voters ended up voting for the Conservatives, which ran on an explicit pro-Leave platform, while many anti-Brexit voters either stayed home or voted for the pro-EU Scottish National Party. Subsequently, Labour suffered its worst election defeat in over 50 years because Corbyn's indecisive stance on Brexit failed to win any side of the Brexit debate.
- 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.)
- There's a joke (or riddle, or witticism; take your pick) asking whether half a Cute Kitten is a compromise between all of a kitten and no kitten at all. The answer is no, it's not at all cute and indeed more horrible than either of the other two, because it's a kitten bloodily sawed in half.
- Another joke goes: Should we drive on the right side of the road or the left? Let's compromise, and all drive in the middle!