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Golden Mean Fallacy

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Kang: (disguised as Bob Dole) Abortions for all!
Crowd: Booo!
Kang: Very well. No abortions for anyone!
Crowd: Booo!
Kang: Hmm... Abortions for some, miniature American flags for others!
Crowd: Yaaay!
The Simpsons, "Treehouse Of Horror VII", "Citizen Kang"

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, or the middle-ground fallacy, after a middle ground between two warring camps.

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. The fallacy could be resumed in three variations.

The compromise is debatable, because ...

  1. ... one of the two options is concretely and factually true while the other is false. For example, some say cyanide is a lethal and dangerous poison for people and should never be consumed (unless you want to die). 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. But cyanide really is a lethal poison and should not be ingested, not even in moderation!
  2. ... it goes illogical or unreal. For example, a paramedic could state that a person lying on the ground is deceased, thus priority should be given to the rescue of other wounded people. Another paramedic could argue that the victim is still alive and first-aid for their injuries should be given immediately. The Golden Mean Fallacy would state that the victim is partially alive and partially dead, or undead, which is nonsense and doesn't provide a useful viewpoint.
  3. ... while achievable, it is morally unacceptable or unsatisfying for one or both parties (although that may depend on the context and the values involved), or brings more trouble than the two options. For example, two parents disapprove of their daughter's boyfriend because he is poor, and they want her to marry the spoiled son of a rich family. She instead wants to live her own life without being forced into an arranged marriage with people she loathes. Following the Golden Mean Fallacy would involve letting the girl choose among a selection of candidates approved by her parents. But this could still leave her unhappy because she has to break with the one she loves and marry someone who is the Lesser of Two Evils! Compare the Abilene Paradox, where a botched attempt at compromise leaves nobody satisfied with the solution.

One "benefit" of the Golden Mean Fallacy is not having to pick a side. It's easier to simply declare both sides to be at fault and present yourself as the reasonable middle-ground between them. That way you get to feel superior to twice as many people, and at the same time avoid excessively alienating any of them.

Note again that this trope is 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 or assumes the best choice must be found in the middle. In other words, it is Taking the Third Option every time, and the opposite of the False Dichotomy.

In conclusion, one should use neither the False Dichotomy nor the Golden Mean Fallacy, but rather find a logical medium between the two.

Compare Stupid Neutral. Contrast with Take a Third Option and Both Sides Have a Point.

No relation to The Golden Rule, except maybe the color.


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  • Miller Lite Beer had a series of commercials in the 1990s where two groups of people would be arguing over what sport to watch on TV, only for someone to resolve the argument by hitting the TV with a bottle of Miller Lite, which somehow turned on a show that combined the two concepts. Examples included "Bassball" (A combination of bass fishng and baseball) and "Full Contact Golf" (A combination of golf and football).

    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.

    Comic Strips 
  • 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 on Terror?", 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.
  • Played for Drama in The Rising of the Four Heroes. Motoyasu knows that Naofumi couldn't have raped Myne, due to both living together for years. However, he cannot bring himself to doubt Myne, and in the trial tries to find an answer that would have both correct. It fails because King Aldrecht has personal bias within the trial.

    Films — Animated 
  • Brave: Fergus can see that Both Sides Have a Point with regards to Elinor and Merida's feud: Elinor does indeed push Merida too hard which causes her to act out, but Merida is also too headstrong and rebellious. But rather than try to mediate the two, he sees their conflict as their own internal affair and prefers to stay out of it. He does try to encourage Elinor to speak to Merida without getting angry or judgmental, but unfortunately he doesn't encourage Merida to do the same, with predictable and tragic results.
  • In the opening of The Rugrats Movie, two operators for a circus train argue over which of them will get to take a break at the station while the other stays in the train to watch the monkeys. They comprise by both going for a coffee break, which naturally means the monkeys are unsupervised and thus all escape.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 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.
  • Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019): After the devastation wrought by Godzilla and the MUTOs' conflict in the previous movie; the government and civilians like Mark Russell without the latter's more sensible side think that humanity should be actively trying to wipe all Titans off the face of the Earth because of how destructive they are, no matter the extremes they would need to go to to accomplish this and no matter the chances of it backfiring apocalyptically. While the eco-terrorists, noting that humanity have done nothing but screw up the only planet they have for themselves and most other species whereas the Titans' Fertile Feet enable them to do the opposite, think that accelerating the remaining Titans' awakenings and ensuring they reclaim the world is worth terrorism and the slaughter of billions of people. Monarch, well-aware of both sides' valid points and also aware of how arrogant and short-sighted both parties are in their execution, resolve to keep the Titans in containment for as long as possible and resist both parties without implementing long-term solutions; which does nothing to stop both the extreme parties from persistently coming for Monarch and the Titans to fulfil their own agendas anyway, with apocalyptic results.
  • 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.
  • In a meta example, the nearly-lost 1966 Religious Horror film Incubus tanked from its misguided decision to be filmed entirely in Esperanto. It was believed that not only would it give it a layer of exoticism, Esperanto is a language spoken all across the world, and would theoretically give it the broadest international appeal, but the problem is that Esperanto was (and still is) a very fringe language where not enough people in any concentrated region spoke it, so its widest reception was that of alienation (not helped by how the Esperanto in the film is pretty poor, both in writing and pronunciation).
  • 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).
  • Invoked by Lucien Wilbanks (Donald Sutherland) in A Time to Kill when he discusses with defense attorney Jake Tyler Brigance (Matthew McConaughey) the latter's latest case, which involves Carl Lee Hailey (Samuel L. Jackson) being tried for the vigilante slaying of the two white men who raped his young daughter and left her incapable of ever having children when she grew up. Wilbanks says that if Carl Lee is found not guilty by reason of temporary insanity, Justice Will Prevail (for the Hailey family) - but if Carl Lee is found guilty and sentenced to death, or at the very least to a couple of decades in prison, justice will also prevail (for the families of the slain rapists). Theoretically, a middle ground would be some kind of plea bargain to a lesser charge and a more lenient punishment (say, second-degree murder or manslaughter and a shorter prison sentence), but that's not going to happen because neither side is willing to make enough concessions to satisfy the other: the prosecution isn't going to offer anything truly lenient for fear of making it seem like they condone the crime, and Carl Lee won't settle for minor concessions like just avoiding the death penalty but still serving 25 years or more. Carl Lee is ultimately acquitted on an admittedly questionable Insanity Defense and receives no further punishment, not even time in a mental hospital to treat the issues in question (which is usually the result of a successful insanity defense).

  • 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. Her views are portrayed as 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.
  • Brought up and criticised during the Author Filibuster in Atlas Shrugged. Very thoroughly criticised. To the point that it claims anyone who doesn't agree with the author or is part of the Dirty Communists is engaging in this fallacy, entire because they are spineless moral relativist or because they're trying to sneak in Communism. Which arguably makes it guilty of False Dichotomy instead.
    John Galt: "There are two sides to every issue: one side is right and the other is wrong, but the middle is always evil."
  • The Bavarian Illuminati however know that there must always be 5 sides.
  • Star Wars Legends:
    • Discussed in X-Wing: Isard's Revenge. 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."
    • 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:
  • 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."
  • In Honor Harrington, Manticore politics includes the Liberal, Progressive and Conservative parties, who are wrong and often evil, and the Centrist party, who are right. The Conservative party only cares about the noble's rights, and do not resemble most real life conservative parties. The Liberal party does resemble real life left wing parties, although in the book the leaders privately say their welware policies are just vote buying schemes, and the main sympathetic Liberal character states she disagrees with her party on everything except their opposition to genetic slavery which doesn't exist in real life. The Centrists are pretty much real life Libertarians. There are no parties to their economic or religious right on Manticore, but the author named his preferred party the Centrists anyway.
  • 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 Orson Scott Card himself is far from moderate on a number of issues, most notably gay rights.
  • This trope is discussed in GK Chesterton's non-fiction book "What's Wrong With The World" where he complains that too many people refuse to argue for what they actual believe and instead argue for what they believe is an acceptable compromise..which he compares to a man being forced to walk the plank by pirates arguing to walk a length of the plank that's acceptable to both parties.

    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."
    • 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. This is kind of like the journalistic aphorism that if one side says it's raining and the other says it's sunny, the journalist's job is to look out a window.
    • 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."
    • Parodied in the penultimate episode of season 4. The interim Earth Alliance president tells Sheridan that half the military wants him given the Medal of Honor for rebelling against ex-President Evil Clark, and the other half wants him shot for the same actions. She then cracks that she believes in compromise, which by rights means she should give him the Medal of Honor, then have him shot. (The actual compromise she proposes is not an example—while she thinks Sheridan did the right thing, he chose a very dangerous path to do so, and having such a divisive figure remain in the military would cause too many problems, so asking for him to turn in his badge and granting amnesty to those who followed him was the most reasonable possible course of action under the circumstances.)
  • House: 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 is at least part of the reason that House hates compromises.
  • 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 "Not So Different" Remark 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.
  • 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.
  • That's My Bush!: Parodied. 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.
  • Unhappily Ever After: Tiffany Malloy 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 (2017) 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.
  • Friends utilized this trope a lot in an attempt to keep all six characters favorable in the eyes of the audience even when issues rose up that split the group. The most notable instance was the infamous "we were on a break" argument, where Ross slept with another woman after Rachel wanted a vague "break" from their relationship. The following episode dealt with the fallout where neither party took the blame and looked to their friends to declare who was more in the right. Eventually, the other four tell Ross and Rachel that who's right or wrong isn't important to them, but that if they couldn't get over it and be civil to each other, then the whole group could not be together from that point. While Ross and Rachel both believe themselves to be in the right for the series, they take the words to heart and bury the issue for the sake of the group.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: After putting out an ambitious two-part episode about the problems of unemployment and homelessness in society, Ira Steven Behr was upset to discover a vocal minority of viewers who criticized the "liberal" agenda of the episode and wanted the episode to include "the other side" of the issue. Stevens wondered what "other side" there was to represent of homelessness being bad.

    Puppet Shows 
  • 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.

    Myths & Religion 
  • 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. The fact that as obligate carnivores, cats cannot actually digest rice cakes making the dispute moot isn't addressed.
  • 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.

    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, descended 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 is similar to Saren's argument in the first game, and Shepard thought it was both stupid and a sign he'd lost his mind (though Saren's position differed in that he wanted organic life to be useful enough to the Reapers that they would allow it to continue because of that, rather than true synthesis).
  • This fallacy crops up across Dragon Age in so many different places, but the most notable is the Mage-Templar conflict.
  • 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." One of the explanations for this failure to balance is that all of the 'correcting' takes place within the worlds of light, rather than worlds mixed in light and darkness. It's like trying to add equal darkness to the sun - totally unnecessary and now a dark universe is even more dark.

    Web Comics 
  • 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 ordering Kubota to stop trying to assassinate Emperor Hinjo to take his place and simply take his large pack of followers elsewhere to found or conquer their own kingdom, and telling Elan to let them go in peace. While Elan rightly points out that he's a criminal who tried to kill them and Kubota pulls the honor card on Therkla, she calls both of them out for wasting valuable lives and resources in a crisis, fighting each other over a meaningless title, defunct deeds, and their overinflated egos. Kubota still rejects the deal, since he would rather rule over all of Azure's city's starving remains than accept a humble (and wise) secession, so 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!

    Web Original 
  • 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 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.
  • 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.

    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.
    • 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: "Then after World War Two, it got kinda quiet, 'til Superman challenged FDR to a race around the world. FDR beat him by a furlong, or so the comic books would have you believe. 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 force them to change. 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.
    • Another example is when Jimbo wants to keep South Park's flag for tradition's sake, and Chef wants to change it because it's explicitly racist. They agree to compromise so that, instead of showing a bunch of white people lynching a black man, it's changed to show people of all colors, lynching a black man.
    • 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.
  • In Disenchantment King Zøg feels this way about "fairness", believing it's impossible to make a decision that will please everyone and so encourages his son to go with his gut and just make decisions he feels are right.
    Derek: How do you make a decision that's fair?
    Zøg: You can't. Someone always feels like it's not fair to them. And the fairest decisions? Those are the ones where everybody feels screwed.

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Video Example(s):


The Simpsons - Kang

Kang trying to get the crowd on his side.

How well does it match the trope?

4.83 (12 votes)

Example of:

Main / GoldenMeanFallacy

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