Gun Control vs. Power to Fight Tyranny? False Dichotomy 101

Given a choice, consider that the choice itself is false.

Posted Mar 25, 2018

One of the most effective weapons of extremists is to present us with a false dichotomy.  

You can choose God or you can choose the Devil.  

You can choose political candidate Z or you're un-American.

You can have gun control or the right to fight tyrannical government.

False dichotomies like these are nonsense, but they work wonderfully to manipulate people.

False dichotomies prey on the human tendency to consider the choices we are given instead of other choices that weren't offered (but that probably still exist). 

The reason we often overlook the alternatives is that in order to consider a question, we appear to have to 'believe' it first. 

Daniel Gilbert wrote a beautiful piece of research explaining that in order to consider whether something is false, we first have to entertain what it would mean for it to be true.

So if we're asked a question, we may naturally try to answer it before we consider that the question itself might be a load of rubbish.

We often accept the truth of a statement when it is posed as a choice between two alternatives.  In fact, I did it just yesterday when posed with the gun control versus power to fight tyranny argument.  And yet, it felt all wrong.

It felt wrong because a false dichotomy offers us a false truth (a choice between A or B). And we naturally ask ourself which we'd rather have. And of course if we don't want one, we must therefore choose the other.

That's the trick. It is all too human to do that without ever asking yourself if there might be a C, or a D, or an E.

Let's examine the nonsensical dichotomy between gun control and powerlessness against government, as if people got their power from guns. 

The claim is that rifles only killed a small number of people last year but rifles can be used to fight tyranny.  

So you have a choice between gun control or the power to fight an evil government.  What do you choose? 

Please note that anytime someone gives you a choice between two options, you should always consider the alternative that there may be more alternatives.

First, Gandhi, MLK, and Mandela didn't use rifles to change people's beliefs or to overturn the social norms that created suffering for millions. Indeed, the rifles used against them were powerless to stop the movements they motivated. Most people who change government don't use rifles to do it, they use the collective will of people.

Second, it took 9 nations (the Allies) to defeat the tyranny of the Axis Powers (Germany, Italy, and Japan) in WW II and they used rifles, air-power, and nuclear weapons that individuals do not have (because we all agree that would be stupid).  If a few yokels with guns could have stopped that tragedy, they were absent in this situation.

Maintaining the rights of a few overconfident but optimistic individuals with rifles seems a steep price to pay for a complete lack of control over a tool that used improperly kills thousands and terrorizes millions.  

The dichotomy is false in this situation.  But I'm sure there are more just around the corner. 

My Twitter.


Gilbert, D. T. (1991). How mental systems believe. American psychologist, 46(2), 107.