It shouldn’t take an English professor to identify the fallacy in Kristof’s op-ed piece for The New York Times on June 5, 2011. And, maybe, it doesn’t, for this paper’s readership is falling faster than a rock from Newton’s head. What gives this highly educated and Pulitzer prize-winner the chutzpah to commit the forced choice fallacy—of exactly the Love-America-or-Leave-It kind?
His entire essay rests on requiring readers to choose between the outrages of Pakistani politics, or shutting up and supporting Obama’s governance. Like Walt Disney during World War II, Kristof oversimplifies the conflict which turned naked before the world on the day US Seals shot the world’s iconic leader of terrorism—who just happened to be in a religious retreat at the time.
Kristof’s editorial leads off with this tease: “Op-Ed Columnist: Our Fantasy Nation?
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
If Republicans seek a country with low taxes, little regulation and traditional family values, I have the perfect place for them. Body armor suggested.”
To describe Pakistan in this way—and Pakistan is his chosen polarity to zip past all the choices between the United States of America and Osama Nation East—is an affront to Republicans and even Republican elephants at the Bronx Zoo. So, why attack the other side of a two-party system, when the best this writer can do is illustrate the deplorable state of American education?
How does a supposed leader of American journalism—with all its outstanding reliability—commit the Either Or Fallacy—and publish his grade D paper in The New York Times, in the Sunday edition, no less? Maybe he skipped Freshman English, since his rhetorical gifts, early on, proved both slippery—as in slope—and fanciful indeed.
Lest the rest of his readership—however few that might be now—forget, The Prentice Hall Reference Guide, Custom Seventh Edition, defines this abomination of logical argument as “establishing a false either/or situation that does not allow for other possibilities or choices that may exist” (42).Note also: Kristof’s evidence consists solely of generalities. Thus, he has also committed the first fallacy listed in PHRG: “Hasty Generalization; A conclusion reached with too few examples or with examples that are not representative” (40). Not one specific name or date appears in his delightful outline of a highly complex and conflict-riddled society:
“This society embraces traditional religious values and a conservative sensibility. Nobody minds school prayer, same-sex marriage isn’t imaginable, and criminals are never coddled…. So what is this Republican Eden, this Utopia? Why, it’s Pakistan” (1).
Readers in a democracy enjoy a choice: They can either read stuff like this—and George Carlin would be the first to call it “stuff”—or they can engage with a complex analysis of a complex subject, as found in AA Khalid’s “Pakistan’s State of Nature,” published May 23, 2011, on Pak Tea House:
“Questioning needs to be directed at the centres of concentrated power in Pakistan – it is only recently that the clerics have become such a centre after decades of being sponsored by the Army. Pakistan is a hard country where the real dynamic forces are those of manipulation, ruthless power grabbing and cold calculated political consolidation.”
Now, which summary of political realities—Kirstof’s or Khalid’s--will attract readers who understand Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation, as expressed succinctly on the website Sir Isaac Newton: The Universal Law of Gravitation?
“Every object in the Universe attracts every other object with a force directed along the line of centers for the two objects that is proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the separation between the two objects” (par. 6).
Or, to put the principle at stake here even more succinctly: Readers who prefer attacking Republicans to serious cogitation will find Kristof’s editorial light-weight and attractive, if they want to spin in his fanciful orbit. By contrast, readers who prefer getting down to business in Pakistan will lay down The New York Times after finding this editorial in its heavy-weight pages, and wonder: Could we spend our cold cash more wisely—in the search for gravity?