Geert Wilders’ black and white thinking: ‘Either you are with us or with the terrorists?’

Written and Collected by Zia H Shah

Geert Wilders recent book against Islam can be debunked in one line by stating that it is a master piece of black and white thinking and a false dilemma. Additionally, in writing this book, Marked for Death: Islam’s War Against the West and Me, he completely ignored Jesus’ teaching: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3)  The black and white dichotomy mentioned in the title of this post was originally uttered by the Ex President of USA, George W Bush.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

A false dilemma (also called false dichotomy, the either-or fallacy, fallacy of false choice, black-and-white thinking, or the fallacy of exhaustive hypotheses) is a type of logical fallacy that involves a situation in which only two alternatives are considered, when in fact there is at least one additional option. The options may be a position that is between the two extremes (such as when there are shades of grey) or may be a completely different alternative.

False dilemma can arise intentionally, when fallacy is used in an attempt to force a choice (such as, in some contexts, the assertion that “if you are not with us, you are against us“). But the fallacy can also arise simply by accidental omission of additional options rather than by deliberate deception.

In the community of philosophers and scholars, many believe that “unless a distinction can be made rigorous and precise it isn’t really a distinction.”[1] An exception is analytic philosopher John Searle, who called it an incorrect assumption which produces false dichotomies.[2] Searle insists that “it is a condition of the adequacy of a precise theory of an indeterminate phenomenon that it should precisely characterize that phenomenon as indeterminate; and a distinction is no less a distinction for allowing for a family of related, marginal, diverging cases.”[2] Similarly, when two options are presented, they are often, though not always, two extreme points on some spectrum of possibilities; this can lend credence to the larger argument by giving the impression that the options are mutually exclusive, even though they need not be.[citation needed] Furthermore, the options in false dichotomies are typically presented as being collectively exhaustive, in which case the fallacy can be overcome, or at least weakened, by considering other possibilities, or perhaps by considering a whole spectrum of possibilities, as in fuzzy logic.[citation needed]



Morton’s Fork

Morton’s Fork, a choice between two equally unpleasant options, is often a false dilemma. The phrase originates from an argument for taxing English nobles:

“Either the nobles of this country appear wealthy, in which case they can be taxed for good; or they appear poor, in which case they are living frugally and must have immense savings, which can be taxed for good.”[3]

This is a false dilemma and a catch-22, because it fails to allow for the possibility that some members of the nobility may in fact lack liquid assets as well as the probability that those who appear poor also lack liquid assets.

False choice

The presentation of a false choice often reflects a deliberate attempt to eliminate the middle ground on an issue. Eldridge Cleaver used such a quotation during his 1968 presidential campaign: “You’re either part of the solution or part of the problem.”[4] A common argument against noise pollution laws involves a false choice. It might be argued that in New York City noise should not be regulated, because if it were, the city would drastically change in a negative way. This argument involves assuming that, for example, a bar must be shut down for it to not cause disturbing levels of noise after midnight. This ignores the fact that the bar could simply lower its noise levels, and/or install soundproofing structural elements to keep the noise from excessively transmitting onto others’ properties, but this is also a false choice because it ignores the fact that the noise could be eminating from the patrons outside the bar.

Black-and-white thinking

In psychology, a related phenomenon to the false dilemma is black-and-white thinking. Many people routinely engage in black-and-white thinking, an example of which is someone who labels other people as all good or all bad.[5]

Falsum in uno, falsum in omnibus

The Latin phrase falsum in uno, falsum in omnibus which, roughly translated, means “false in one thing, false in everything”, is fallacious in so far as someone found to be wrong about one thing, is presumed to be wrong about some other thing entirely.[6] Arising in Roman courts, this principle meant that if a witness was proved false in some parts of his testimony, any further statements were also regarded as false unless they were independently corroborated. Falsus is thus a fallacy of logic. The description that an initial false statement is a prelude to the making of more false statements is false; however, even one false premise will suffice to disprove an argument. This is a special case of the associatory fallacy.

It must be noted that falsum in uno, falsum in omnibus status as a logical fallacy is independent of whether it is wise or unwise to use as a legal rule, with witnesses testifying in courts being held for perjury if part of their statements are false.

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  1. Cognitive Distortion: How Does Black-and-White Thinking Hurt Us?
    By Summer Beretsky

    “How are you?” asked one of my co-workers as I walked into the office this morning.

    “Oh,” I said, “I’m exhausted. How are you?”

    And I can’t remember how she answered that question because I was too busy thinking about what I’d just told her about being exhausted. Was I really exhausted? Not so much, I determined, after a little more thought. I was a bit sleepy, maybe, but I’d gotten eight hours of sleep. Why did I tell her I was exhausted?

    Okay, grab a paper & pen. Give this little challenge a try: below, you’ll find several pairs of opposites. Some of them are grade-school simple; some are a little more complex. However, these are words that you probably use on a daily basis. Here’s the challenge: write down each of the below pair of opposites on a piece of paper. Then, write down a word — a SINGLE word — that accurately describes the middle ground between the pair of opposites.

    Example: hot and cold. A good answer here would be “warm”, “lukewarm”, or “temperate”.

    Ready? Promise not to scroll down until you complete this entire activity? Good. Okay, here we go:

    1. black and white
    2. large and small
    3. up and down
    4. left and right
    5. fast and slow
    6. easy and hard
    7. young and old
    8. loud and quiet
    9. good and bad
    10. near and far
    11. pass and fail
    12. happy and sad
    13. clean and dirty
    14. shy and outgoing
    15. calm and anxious

    Got your list? Alright, take a good look at all of the words you’ve written down. Do they have anything in common? If your list is anything like mine, all of the “middle ground” words are similar in a way: they’re all a bit muddy and bland. Let’s go over some possible answers: obviously, the color “gray” falls between black and white, and I’ll bet you wrote that one down. Where are you if you’re not left nor right? Well, you’re “moderate” or in the “center”. If you’re not young or old, perhaps you’re “middle-aged”. What if you’re buying a shirt and it’s not small or large? It’s probably a medium.

    Medium, middle-aged, moderate, average, gray. Maybe you even wrote the words “normal”, “so-so”, or “average” on your paper. Most writers try to avoid using these words & other gray-colored language altogether. (Unless they’re, um, writing a blog entry about those very words.)

    Did you have trouble nearing the end of the activity? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. I couldn’t find any way to describe the middle ground between “shy and outgoing” or “calm and anxious” with a single word. Or even with a bunch of words. There’s no convenient word or phrase in the English language, it seems, to describe the middle ground between several sets of the polar opposites listed above. How does this deficiency of the English language harm us?

    Read further.

  2. 15 Common Cognitive Distortions
    By John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

    15 Common Cognitive DistortionsWhat’s a cognitive distortion and why do so many people have them? Cognitive distortions are simply ways that our mind convinces us of something that isn’t really true. These inaccurate thoughts are usually used to reinforce negative thinking or emotions — telling ourselves things that sound rational and accurate, but really only serve to keep us feeling bad about ourselves.

    For instance, a person might tell themselves, “I always fail when I try to do something new; I therefore fail at everything I try.” This is an example of “black or white” (or polarized) thinking. The person is only seeing things in absolutes — that if they fail at one thing, they must fail at all things. If they added, “I must be a complete loser and failure” to their thinking, that would also be an example of overgeneralization — taking a failure at one specific task and generalizing it their very self and identity.

    Cognitive distortions are at the core of what many cognitive-behavioral and other kinds of therapists try and help a person learn to change in psychotherapy. By learning to correctly identify this kind of “stinkin’ thinkin’,” a person can then answer the negative thinking back, and refute it. By refuting the negative thinking over and over again, it will slowly diminish overtime and be automatically replaced by more rational, balanced thinking.
    Cognitive Distortions

    Aaron Beck first proposed the theory behind cognitive distortions and David Burns was responsible for popularizing it with common names and examples for the distortions.

    1. Filtering.

    We take the negative details and magnify them while filtering out all positive aspects of a situation. For instance, a person may pick out a single, unpleasant detail and dwell on it exclusively so that their vision of reality becomes darkened or distorted.

    2. Polarized Thinking (or “Black and White” Thinking).

    In polarized thinking, things are either “black-or-white.” We have to be perfect or we’re a failure — there is no middle ground. You place people or situations in “either/or” categories, with no shades of gray or allowing for the complexity of most people and situations. If your performance falls short of perfect, you see yourself as a total failure.

    3. Overgeneralization.

    In this cognitive distortion, we come to a general conclusion based on a single incident or a single piece of evidence. If something bad happens only once, we expect it to happen over and over again. A person may see a single, unpleasant event as part of a never-ending pattern of defeat.

    4. Jumping to Conclusions.

    Without individuals saying so, we know what they are feeling and why they act the way they do. In particular, we are able to determine how people are feeling toward us.

    For example, a person may conclude that someone is reacting negatively toward them but doesn’t actually bother to find out if they are correct. Another example is a person may anticipate that things will turn out badly, and will feel convinced that their prediction is already an established fact.

    5. Catastrophizing.

    We expect disaster to strike, no matter what. This is also referred to as “magnifying or minimizing.” We hear about a problem and use what if questions (e.g., “What if tragedy strikes?” “What if it happens to me?”).

    Read further.

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