Pertussis, Politics and the Nirvana Fallacy (No Nirvana means no Obama?)

I was reminded of the Nirvana Fallacy when it appeared in “Pertussis outbreaks and vaccine effectiveness[1], posted in Respectful Insolence on September 5, 2012. The point of the article is that those opposed to vaccinations will argue that vaccine effectiveness below 100% is “proof” that vaccinations are all ineffective and therefore should not be used under any circumstance. A less emotional and more reasoned position is that nothing is 100% effective and that, in the aggregate, the benefits of vaccinations are profoundly positive and far outweigh any negative sequela.

The Nirvana Fallacy is also known as the Excluded Middle Fallacy or the Black and White Thinking Fallacy. As the names of these fallacies imply, someone advancing an argument by using this fallacy maintains that a particular position, action or policy is invalid simply because it isn’t perfect. In the case of pertussis vaccinations, it would be argued that vaccinations should be discontinued for everyone because they were something less than 100% effective in preventing Whooping Cough.

Use of the Nirvana Fallacy is also reaching a crescendo in the political rhetoric in the run up to the November presidential election. It’s exactly the same concept. President Obama has had documented successes in national security, healthcare and the economy. Undoubtedly there have also been aspects of those areas that could have been better. Governor Romney seizes on the latter and invokes the Nirvana Fallacy by contending that the current administration has been a failure because of less than perfect success. The conclusion the Governor would like the electorate to reach is that because the Obama administration has been “proven” to be a failure they should seek an alternative. “No Nirvana means no Obama.”

The reality is that Nirvana will never be reached by any president – or any vaccination. It is time to recognize that there will always a middle ground and that to exclude it will result in polarization and paralysis of action.

In an ideal world, the electorate would be informed not only in the relevant issues in the campaign but would have the capacity to critically evaluate the statements of both parties. One place to start is with understanding how logical fallacies are employed by many politicians. There are many internet sites that list and describe logical fallacies. A few are listed below.

The best way to learn logical fallacies is to practice recognizing them. Logical fallacies are encountered in casual conversation but possibly one of the most reliable sources for hearing logical fallacies is Fox News. Never having claimed to offer unbiased news, watching a Fox News broadcast will provide the viewer  with ample opportunities to hear logical fallacies in action.


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