The Binary Fallacy

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A couple of years ago, some co-workers and I were out for lunch, and someone asked me if I preferred Star Trek or Star Wars. I said “Both”, and then proceeded to hear from everyone else about how I had to choose one or the other.

This conversation has been on my mind lately, because I keep seeing the same issue over and over again. People are faced with decisions that are presented to them as binary all the time: Coke or Pepsi, Windows or Linux (or Windows or OS X), Left-Wing or Right-Wing. The problem I have is that the vast majority of these binary decisions (ie. you have to choose one or the other) is a load of crap.

More often than not, those that are presenting these decisions are advocating for their preference, and are trying to simplify the decision – you’re with us or against us. But what about other options? Going back to the conversation I had, I DO like both Star Trek and Star Wars – I appreciate that they are two different approaches to the same idea – looking at the human condition. That being said, there are those who prefer one approach or the other, those who disdain both attempts at storytelling but enjoy other Science Fiction stories, and yet others who disdain Science Fiction altogether.

While the Star Wars/Star Trek analogy may seem a bit silly, it illustrates that one CAN choose one or the other, but that choosing something other than one or the other is a perfectly valid option. This idea also hearkens back to Aikido, which teaches that self-defense does not have to mean the destruction of the person attacking you, and that there are other ways to deal with aggression.

The next time someone presents you with a one-or-the-other kind of decision, take a step back and ask yourself “what would happen if I chose something else?”

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