One of the most common logical fallacies in argumentation is the either/or fallacy. We see this fallacy a great deal these days because our two-party political system is as deeply entrenched as it has ever been, and each party accuses the other of the most extreme positions on hot topics, as if no center ground is possible. Often, the either/or fallacy leads to the straw man fallacy, as the other side finds itself defending against a much more extreme position than what it truly supports.
President Trump wants a wall on our southern border. That leads Republicans to support the unfair assumption that anyone who opposes the wall is for open borders; Trump even went so far as to accuse House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of supporting human trafficking because she opposes the border wall. However, immigration is not an either/or proposition. Both sides are in favor of border security, but if the Democrats must defend themselves against the false charge that they want no restrictions at all on immigration, they waste time and energy that could be spent on reaching common ground. Thus the straw man that Democrats are distracted by and find themselves attacking instead of the real issue.
New York’s new legislation about abortion is another example that can be examined in light of either/or logic. Some of those who oppose abortion assume that those who cheered the passage of the legislation must be willing to accept killing an infant in the process of being delivered. The law actually stipulates very specific circumstances under which a late-term abortion can be performed. That “if” clause is what opponents of abortion do not hear. The either/or fallacy comes in accepting that either one opposes abortion under any circumstances or accepts it under any circumstances. If those who support a woman’s right to choose have to defend themselves against the charge that they think it is okay to kill a baby during delivery, they are attacking a straw man rather than addressing the real issue of why a woman would choose a late-term abortion.
Any time a speaker or writer argues that if you don’t believe this, you believe that, it is worth pausing to consider if that dichotomy really exists. Is it true that anyone who supports gun control wants to take all guns away from every law-abiding American? Is it true that parents who allow their children to be vaccinated do not care about their children’s welfare?
The whole idea behind Rogerian argument is that it seeks common ground from which to work toward reconciling opposing or differing positions. That’s not easy when the issue is something as heated as abortion or the killing of black men by white police officers. It’s not easy because the first step toward reconciliation is being able to accurately state your opponent’s position. As long as every statement is weighed first in terms of its political impact, that step toward common ground will be slow in coming.
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