“We Have To Do Something!”

Bad Arguments Vol 7

we have to do something

December 7th, 1941. On this day over 350 planes and 6 aircraft carriers made their way from Japan toward Hawaii to execute Operation AI. The still-famous attack on Pearl Harbor is what cited as the primary reason for the USA joining WWII. After something like that it made perfect sense for the nation to declare war. The part that makes less sense is what happened on February 19th.

Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 and authorized the deportation and internment of over 110,000 people. The people were either Japanese or of Japanese descent (which included US citizens). Primarily taken from the west coast the reasoning given was the potential security risk. We know in hindsight that it was primarily simple racism and fear. This continued until March 20th of 1946.

The question left hanging is an odd yet important one: Why do that? Why did FDR choose that particular course of action after the attack? There were no signs of hidden extreme nationalists amongst the Japanese that had left their motherland behind. The reason? “Something had to be done.” Interning the Japanese citizens was an option on the table and, with no others available to quell the unrest the rest of America was feeling post the attack, it was actioned.

This is known as the Politician’s Fallacy, or (more formally) the Politician’s Syllogism. A syllogism is a classic form of logic. The “If all As are Bs, and all Bs and Cs, then all As are Cs” is the most basic example of a syllogism. Let’s apply this to the notion of “We have to do something” to showcase why its a logical fallacy.

  1. We must do something about Americans that are scared after the attack at Pearl Harbor.
  2. Interning the Japanese is something
  3. Therefore we must intern the Japanese.

This type of error is known as a Fallacy of the Middle. The second item has no real connection or relation to the first statement. Further, the proposed solution is only backed by the concept that “something” has to be done. There isn’t anything that really justifies the course of action other than it being action. By the same logic, one could have said “giving out katanas is something” and be just as justified. Since there is no justified reasoning for the middle other than the initial claim of “something” needing to be done that becomes the core of the fallacy.

By allowing “something” to be the determinator of whether it’s logical to follow a course of action you have allowed any and all courses of action to be valid. As such, since this part is the cause of the logical fallacy, it is the part that needs to be removed. Action requires justification and this logic provides none of any real weight.

Consider some more recent examples such as the heated topic of Carbon taxes. Climate is changing and there are those that believe that it’s primarily humans to blame. The solution? More taxes! The thinking is that this will somehow curb peoples emissions and will help the environment. In reality, all it does is punish businesses that have no choice (such as delivery companies) but to have a certain level of carbon emissions and the consumers by extension. Raise those concerns though and you’ll be told that “Something has to be done.”

Another great example of this particular fallacy would be gun control. After nearly every form of gun violence (yet, oddly, never police induced gun violence) there is an outcry to restrict gun ownership or ban a particular type of firearm. Counter that with the Second Amendment, or the overall statistics of gun violence, or any counter-arguments really and, again, you’ll be met with the “We need to do something!” Perhaps even a “Someone think of the children” kind of emotionalism for good measure.

Many times something does indeed need to be done. The water crisis in Flint, for example, does need some form of resolution. Acknowledging that there is a situation and that it may need to be resolved doesn’t validate just any particular course of action though. The way this is used to support government action makes several jumps to conclusions. Why is the government the ones that need to do anything? Why does something actually need to be done at all? Why is that specific course of action the thing that needs to be done? Without answers to these questions the solutions will fall short. With Flint, it was the government choosing to “do something” that caused the issue in the first place.

We cannot allow ourselves to continue to accept this response as the justification of government overreach. From beginning to end the idea that “We need to do something” about any given situation is flawed if we’re using that as the justification itself. Instead of needing to do something, we need to stop using this phrase.

Read more articles from Killian on Think Liberty here.


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