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False Dichotomies

Beware of false dichotomies. In life you are often taught you are, or must, be one of two things.

Republican or Democrat.
Conservative or Liberal.
Introvert or Extrovert.
Artist or Scientist.
Genius or idiot.

Dichotomies are a special kind of belief and like all beliefs can have a powerful impact on how you view the world, make decisions and do things. What makes dichotomies insidious is how they cut off all the related beliefs about the opposite of what you are labeled, and they give you a cognitive bias toward all the associated beliefs of your new label.

Political Parties As An Example

The political dichotomies are the easiest to use for examples. If you can only choose between these two, then you must accept all of the positions of that party. Which most people would say they don’t no matter which side they pick in the debate.

For example, let’s say for a moment you believe in small government and low taxes, but don’t think drugs should be illegal. Are you a Republican? Many people hold such beliefs and find it strange to be forced under one label.

That’s what a false dichotomy is like.

Now say you live a community that seems abandoned by the government and is being destroyed by drugs. You identify as a Democrat because you believe the government should be doing more to help the people of the community. But you also don’t want drugs made legal because you see them destroying your community. You are being forced into a one or the other category.

That was a lot of political stuff and you might not even agree with my categorization of the two parties involved, but remember it was just an example to show you how we are often cajoled into a false either/or choice.

Accepting a Side Creates a Bias

What’s worse than the dissonance of not feeling like you fall into only one of the two choices you are given, is it influences strongly your unchosen positions.

Let’s say you identify as a Democrat, but you’ve never thought about immigration issues. When the issue starts coming up on the news, you are going to be much more likely to side with those you have already identified with. You’re more likely to accept their position because you believe you are one of them.

Introvert/Extrovert Is A Lie

My favorite – or least favorite – false dichotomy is Introvert/Extrovert. You either like to be around people or you hate it. There is no other choice. But what about the anime watching party you went to that one time and had a great time meeting and talking with fellow anime nerds you’d never met? That wasn’t very introverted.

At the same party there was that guy standing in the corner not talking to anyone, but you’d seen him at a business gathering just a couple days before and were amazed how he’d talked with almost everyone in the room.

The bias of labeling yourself as an introvert gives you is a dread of going to anything where you are going to be around people. You know it is going to be horrible because you are an introvert and that’s how groups are supposed to make you feel.

In the Republican/Democrat dichotomy you have a bunch of factors that you don’t agree with completely one side or the other. In the introvert/extrovert dichotomy you are really trying to make an either/or out of a range.

I was set free when I read that there was a name for someone that sometimes felt like a wallflower and sometimes connected with every new person they met. Ambivert.

False dichotomy broken. I was somewhere in the middle.

It was such a relief.

Here’s the distinction you need to take away from this. Forget the specific examples, and think about the underlying truth here. When presented with an either/or choice, ask if the dichotomy is real. Is there another option? Are you somewhere in the middle?

Photo by Mario Purisic on Unsplash

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