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

Some pondering leads me to a few points.

  • We should pay attention to causes that lead to a robber mentality, but that doesn’t mean we should ignore tactics that lessen the chances robbers strike at our house.
  • 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.

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.

Each statement is presented as either true or false. The argument 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. Most premises in real life are not black-or-white.

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 a thief will get in if he’s determined to rob you.

No, you make it harder for any potential thief to get in. You reduce the threats that you can. You don’t ignore all threats because there is one threat you can’t eliminate.


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