This just in: Beardsley Bart, the prairie dog prognosticator at the Beardsley Zoo in Bridgeport, Connecticut, is predicting an early spring.
But this is Groundhog Day. Nobody cares what a prairie dog thinks. That’s a false comparison. So in celebration, let’s look at false dilemmas, false choices, false dichotomies, and why the groundhog (or even prairie dog) is never wrong.
When Punxsutawney Phil, the nation’s most celebrated groundhog, is rudely awakened in Pennsylvania on February 2nd, it makes national news. There are Phil impersonators worldwide, so your results may vary.
When the groundhog fails to see its shadow, it predicts an early spring. If it sees it, the prediction is for six more weeks of winter.
This is an example of a false dichotomy: There’s really only one outcome. Either way, spring will come at the same time, at the vernal equinox on March 20. That’s 46 days away, or about six and a half weeks. So six weeks is, by definition, an early spring by about three days.
A false dilemma is an apparent choice between two options, when actually there are others. In the U.S., elections often seem to be a choice of the lesser of two evils when a third candidate may be a better choice.
It’s related to a false choice, which means the either-or decision may offer other options, and making no choice at all has its own consequences. It’s best expressed in these lyrics from “Freewill” by the band Rush:
You can choose a ready guide in some celestial voice
If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice
You can choose from phantom fears and kindness that can kill
I will choose a path that’s clear, I will choose Freewill“Freewill” by Rush