Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Black, White and Shades of Grey

I just read a rant (related to testing during software development) where the author presented two options. He then tore down one while building up the other. It was presented as two mutually exclusive positions. The problem with his argument is the situation is much more complex than two mutually exclusive situations. In this particular case, there are a whole range of positions not only between the two presented, but also on either side of them.

As I thought about this article, it occurred to me this is another angle related to what I tried to communicate in my previous ramblings about science and politics. In our society right now, we are so fond of using false dilemas in our arguments that we forget to investigate other methods of discussion. So often we get locked into a black and white discussion of option A or B and forget there are many other options to consider.

Just as an example, the recent debate that raged, and probably will again, over the USA's Federal budget. Everyone talked about raising taxes or lowering spending, as if these are the only two options available. One or the other. But just these two variables give nine combinations, not simply two.

TaxesSpending
RaiseLeave
RaiseLowerMentioned a few times here and there
RaiseRaisePopular among the more liberally minded
LowerLeave
LowerLowerPopular among the more conservatively minded
LowerRaise
LeaveLeave
LeaveLower
LeaveRaise

Of course there are many, many other variables in the whole discussion regarding the economy, both from a national as well as international standpoint.

But the budget and economy is not the point of this article; it's just an example. Just as the software design issue I opened with is an example. I think it would do us well as a society to stop trying to pit one thing against the other in a dualistic, mutually exclusive type of way.

It's a logical fallacy. It gives the appearance of debate and argument, but it's really a means to try to manipulate your opponent. It's a dirty tactic and does not serve to promote dialog and resolution of issues.

It serves to divide us into various waring camps were we try to get our strategy to be the "winner." This simply causes all of us to lose. Rather, we must remember we have common problems, and we do best to focus on all the various ways available to fix them, not just two mutually exclusive possibilities out of the multitude of potential solutions. These different things we get so passionate about are the means to an end, not the end in and of itself.