Bearers of False Choice

Let’s say someone else wants everyone to have Option A, and you want to have a choice between Option A and Option B. Be careful of the rhetorical trick where someone will attack Option B, or even suggest that you’re attacking Option A, rather than focus on the real issue: you want a choice, and they don’t want you to have it.

Jane at the office is trying to get the vending machine stocked. She wants to stock it with only soda. You suggest that it would be cool to also have something else, like iced tea, as well. Jane then says:

“I don’t want to drink iced tea, though.”

You point out that you’re not suggesting she drink iced tea, just that it would be nice if the vending machine had more than one option. Jane says:

“Why don’t you want people to drink soda?”

You reply that you don’t care if people drink soda, you might even drink soda sometimes, but you’d like to not have to drink it every day and you don’t want to be forced to. Jane replies:

“Well, no one’s stopping you from leaving the office and going down the street to the supermarket to get iced tea if you want it so bad, but I contribute to the vending machine fund and I don’t want to use it to buy you iced tea.”

Pointing out the absurdity of this, you mention that you also contribute the same amount to the vending machine fund, and that’s part of why you’d like it to have some choices instead of just being forced to drink the same soda every day. Jane replies:

“Soda is better than iced tea anyway. Why would anyone want iced tea when they can have soda?”

You see how frustrating this conversation is? But that’s only because Jane has managed to frame the argument in a false way. At every turn, she’s made it about soda versus iced tea, which is a completely false framing. It’s actually about choice versus non-choice, but that framing doesn’t help Jane win.

Now, in real life it’s unlikely that someone would argue this much over vending machines. Unless… maybe Jane’s spouse stocks vending machine sodas for a living, and iced teas don’t line her pockets the way sodas do.

And that’s what tends to happen in real life. In the world, people tend to do the ol’ bait-and-switch about choice when they stand to benefit from one side being picked universally. So watch for that, and don’t fall for the trick.

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