Many of the Facebookers among you will recognize a new meme that is occupying status updates this week. Disappointed by the degree of credit that President Obama is receiving for the death of Osama bin Laden, some of our less thoughtful friends are updating their status like this:
Let's be clear on this: OBAMA did NOT kill Bin Laden. An American soldier, who Obama just a few weeks ago was debating on whether or not to PAY, did!! Obama just happened to be the one in office when our soldiers finally found OBL and took him out. This is NOT an Obama victory, but an AMERICAN victory!! REPOST IF YOU AGREE!!
There are many things that could be criticized about this statement. I want to focus on one fallacy of reasoning that is committed here and an appropriate reply to it.
The opening of this unfortunate facebook meme asserts that President Obama did not kill bin Laden but that an American soldier did; in fact, it seems to take the fact that a U.S. soldier killed Osama bin Laden as evidence that President Obama could not have killed bin Laden, as though killing could not be a collaborative act. Thus the meme commits the fallacy of introducing a false dichotomy.
False dichotomy is the fallacy of mistakenly restricting a debate to two options, when in reality more than those two options exist. In this case, our facebook friends are mistakenly offering the false dichotomy "Either Obama killed bin Laden or a U.S. soldier killed bin Laden", where the 'or' is supposed to be treated as an exclusive 'or'.
A compelling reply to this unfortunate meme runs something like this:
If you accept the claim that "Obama kid not kill bin Laden; an American soldier did", you must also accept the claim that "Osama bin Laden did not kill anyone in the World Trade Center attacks; ten hijackers did." Given that you do not think bin Laden has killed anyone, you must be quite upset at the assassination of a man that you consider to be innocent in those attacks!
This reply, coupled with some commentary about the nature of false dichotomy, will cause your conservative facebook friends to immediately retract their post, to register to vote as Democrats, to join the Peace Corp, and to carry worms stranded upon the sidewalk to safe ground. I promise.