Black-and-White Thinking, an Example

From a Reader’s Digest letter of a couple of years ago, under

Points to Ponder

Senator Elizabeth Warren misses the point when she uses the expression gun violence. The enemy in our society is violence of all types, and if we take away one tool, those who are driven to hurt others will find another. Instead, we should focus on what causes people to act out.
-T. H., Williamsburg, Virginia

My pondering leads me to a few points.

·       We already know a fair bit about what causes people to act out violently.

·       A good number of cases are situational and immediate. Once the moment has passed, so has the deadly impulse.

·       The rate at which death can be delivered is many times greater for some guns than for other instruments, e.g. knives.

Argument of Letter

  • All perpetrators of violence are the same.
  • All acts of violence occur after the selection of a tool of violence.
  • If you remove any tool of violence, there is another tool which the perpetrator will use.
Each thing is either true or false. An image half black and half white.white

Each thing is either true or false.

The argument logic is based on all-or-none (i.e. black-or-white) thinking. Premises can be facts, explanations, evaluations, or predictions. Each has their characteristic features.

Real Variations Missed

  • Perpetrators of violence have different characteristics. Some plan violence. Some impulsively act violently. Some accidentally cause violent deaths.
  • The tool of violence selected is not always the result of a conscious decision. The tool is often picked from whatever is handily available at the time the violent impulse comes to mind.
  • The various tools that can be put to violent use have different characteristics. An automatic firearm can kill 30 children across a wider physical space in just moments, while a knife-wielding assailant has a more circumscribed radius of terror.

You don’t leave the front door of your house open when you go out, reasoning that any thief will get in if he’s determined to rob you. No, you make it harder for any potential thief to get in.


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