The Art of the False Dilemma


A discerning electorate needs to wisen up on the logical fallacy of the false dilemma as the pundits dish out pro and anti spins for their respective candidates.

As defined in the open source reference:

The logical fallacy of false dilemma (also called false dichotomy, the either-or fallacy) involves a situation in which only two alternatives are considered, when in fact there are other options. Closely related are failing to consider a range of options and the tendency to think in extremes, called black-and-white thinking. Strictly speaking, the prefix “di” in “dilemma” means “two”. When a list of more than two choices is offered, but there are other choices not mentioned, then the fallacy is called the fallacy of false choice, or the fallacy of exhaustive hypotheses.

False dilemma can arise intentionally, when fallacy is used in an attempt to force a choice (“If you are not with us, you are against us.”) But the fallacy can arise simply by accidental omission—possibly through a form of wishful thinking or ignorance—rather than by deliberate deception (“I thought we were friends, but all my friends were at my apartment last night and you weren’t there.”)

When two alternatives are presented, they are often, though not always, two extreme points on some spectrum of possibilities. This can lend credence to the larger argument by giving the impression that the options are mutually exclusive, even though they need not be. Furthermore, the options are typically presented as being collectively exhaustive, in which case the fallacy can be overcome, or at least weakened, by considering other possibilities, or perhaps by considering a whole spectrum of possibilities, as in fuzzy logic.

A recent FV article entitled “Whose election frame will dominate?provides a perfect example of how the author uses the fallacy of the false dilemma. MCB wrote:

Slander cannot destroy an honest man—when the flood recedes the rock is there.—Chinese proverb

Pulse Asia just released its latest nationwide survey on the top choices for president. Noynoy Aquino is at 44 percent while Manuel Villar, Francis “Chiz” Escudero and Joseph Estrada are at 19, 13 and 11 percent, respectively. That makes the 2009 election a race for second place.

But that’s only true if honesty and an unblemished reputation remains the horse to ride.

Pulse Asia asked their respondents why they were voting for a particular candidate. The five top reasons cited were: “Hindi kurakot/malinis” (Does not steal/is clean) (21.2 percent); “May nagawa, may magagawa” (Has done a lot/can do a lot) (14 percent); “Para sa mahirap, galing sa mahirap” (Pro-poor/comes from the poor) (12.2 percent); “Tumutulong” (Helps a lot) (12 percent); “Reputasyon ng pamilya” (Family reputation) (4.2 percent).

Looking into the components of each of those five reasons will show why the election frame is still up for grabs.

The first and fifth reasons belong to Noynoy Aquino, obviously.

The second reason,“May nagawa, may magagawa,” belongs to padrino (patron) politicos—Disaster relief (2.7 percent); Other accomplishments (6.1 percent); Nagbigay ng pabahay (Provided housing) (4.9 percent) and one other at 0.4 percent.

The third reason, “Para sa mahirap, galing sa mahirap,” is also padrino (patronage) politics—“Matulungin sa mahirap” (Helpful to the poor) (7.8 percent); “Makamahirap/pagtingin sa mahirap” (Pro-poor) (3.7 percent) and “galing sa mahirap” (Came from poverty) (0.7 percent)

The fourth reason, “Tumutulong,” is still about padrino—“Tumutulong sa OFW” (Helps overseas Filipino workers) (6.6 percent) and “Matulungin” (Helpful) (5.4 percent).

So it seems that the way to defeat Noynoy is to change the election frame from a question of character to a contest of who is the best padrino, regardless of record and reputation.

I think the Villar and Estrada camps realize that. That’s why there is a concerted campaign to knock Noynoy off his white horse.

Estrada does not attack Noynoy directly but his campaign manager, writing an article in a newspaper closely associated with him, started a rumor that was picked up by the slimiest practitioners of jukebox journalism.

As for the ethically challenged Villar, his statement that all candidates were the same was followed with an exposé by one of his loyal lieutenants.

Rep. Crispin “Boying” Remulla alleged that Noynoy Aquino got the SCTEx (Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway) rerouted for his family’s benefit. He added that Noynoy’s family overpriced their land. In short, Noynoy was no different from Villar.

SCTEx was a road project between Estrada and the Japanese government. It started during Estrada’s term and was completed under the Arroyo administration. Noynoy had no hand in it.

The difference between the non-role of Noynoy in SCTEx and Villar’s hand in the cookie jar in C-5 is black and white.

The rerouting of C-5 and the overpricing of Villar’s landholdings happened while Villar was chairman of the Senate finance committee. Note that in fairness to Villar, I used “while” instead of “because.”

Noynoy neither had the political power nor the gall to do to SCTEx what Villar did to C5.

Most important of all, Noynoy, unlike Villar, will not run away from an ethics investigation. He is not afraid to testify under oath. He has nothing to hide, nothing to lie about.

The strategy of those lagging behind Noynoy is to run gimmicks and political ads selling themselves as the patron saints of the poor while spreading black lies about Noynoy, his mother and their relatives.

The American journalist Jimmy Breslin once described political campaigns as a season of “speeches and slander, of lies and libel, of life without a conscience.”

The laggards have oodles of money to finance the sort of propaganda that would do Joseph Goebbels proud.

So the question is, what will win the people’s trust and confidence this time around: the politics of honesty and cleanliness, or the politics of patronage and slander?

Why is this a false dilema?

The following statements present the issue as if it were a dichotomy when clearly there is another issue that is not being addressed – “the political platform”.

  • So it seems that the way to defeat Noynoy is to change the election frame from a question of character to a contest of who is the best padrino, regardless of record and reputation
  • What will win the people’s trust and confidence this time around: the politics of honesty and cleanliness, or the politics of patronage and slander?

Due to the lack of a comprehensive substantiated platform, the pro-Noynoy camp is attempting to downgrade and lower the bar by repositioning the framework as one of personality trait A vs personality trait B. It might appear that this is a valid dilemma because the dichotomy of the personality traits are being discussed. What’s being missed is that this personality trait-centric framework does not address the strategic issues facing the Philippines today.

Make the people think that the Noynoy campaign – is their campaign, “the people’s campaign”, that they are changing the politics, when this is actually a continuation of oligarch rule on the electorate. Play enough Noynoy music triumphalist ads, never mind that it has any substance at all, not even an iota of a platform; play it over and over on the oligarch-owned ABS-CBN media channels; in due time, you will have people believing in something without actually knowing what exactly it is they are believing in. Joseph Goebbels will gladly pin an Iron Cross on the oligarch-backed media campaign of Noynoy. Ensrugin that the framework remains as one of contrasting personality traits removes the pressure on discussing solutions that address economic disparity. This approach is reinforced through reptitive bombardment of vacuous music ads to an oblivious audience.

Personality traits form only one aspect of a candidate’s campaign. The pinoy electorate has been on this road before. Identifying these same personality traits allowed candidates to push emotional buttons and get results – a methodology that would make Pavlov, Thorndike, Skinner, and Goebbels proud.

Philippine Electorates Voting Preferences – Andrew Mungcal’s Thesis

The findings in a 208-page thesis titled “”POLITICAL CHOICE BEHAVIOR IN THE 1998 PHILIPPINE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION: AN INTERPRETATION OF SWS SURVEY DATA” submitted by Andrew Lou L. Mungcal as requirement for getting his MA in Political Science from the ADMU show that not much has changed on how the Pinoy electorate evaluates candidates.

The research study shows that a correlation exists between the independent variables such as language, region, socio-economic class, religion, age and survey ratingsexcept sex, and the dependent variable such as a voter’s political choice behavior .

Specifically, Andrew Mungcal’s study yielded these findings:

  1. Voters tend to choose a candidate if they can identify their language with that candidate’s language.
  2. Voters tend to choose a candidate if they can connect their language with that candidate’s language as closely related.
  3. Voters tend to choose a candidate if they can identify their region with that candidate’s region.
  4. Voters tend to choose a candidate if they can identify their socio-economic class with a candidate who represents or symbolizes their causes and class interests.
  5. Voters tend to choose a candidate if they can connect their socio-economic class with the endorsement of their class leaders of a candidate.
  6. Voters tend to choose a candidate if they can identify their socio-economic class with that candidate’s education or profession.
  7. Voters tend to choose a candidate if they can connect their religion with the endorsement of their religious leaders of a candidate.
  8. Voters tend to choose a candidate if they can connect their religion with that candidate’s political party (conative image).
  9. Voters tend to choose a candidate if they can identify the idealism of their age with that candidate’s idealism.
  10. Voters tend to choose a candidate if they can identify their issues with that candidate’s platforms (cognitive image).
  11. Voters tend to choose a candidate if they can identify their issues with that candidate’s track record (cognitive image).
  12. Voters tend to choose a candidate if they can identify their emotional feelings with that candidate’s popularity or pleasing personality (charisma) [affective image].
  13. Voters tend to choose a candidate if that candidate’s rating is leading in opinion polls (bandwagon effect).

The study’s conclusions were very revealing and certainly very relevant to the current political exercise leading to 2010. The conclusions are:

  1. The study ascertains that candidate image is a factor that often affects a voter’spolitical choice behavior other than language, region, socio-economic class, religion, and age. Voters probably tend to choose a candidate based on the cognitive, affective and
    conative aspects of candidate image ifthey cannot identify their language, region, socio- economic class, religion, and age with that of the candidates’ socio-demographic profile. This relationship of voters’ emotional association to a candidate’s affective and conative image, and the connection of the voters’ socio-demographic characteristics (language, region, socio-economic class, religion, age) to a candidate’s socio-
    demographic profile, and survey ratings of a candidate are narrow identifications with a candidate.
  2. These independent variables, especially the emotional feelings and candidate image, determine a voter’s political choice behavior. However, these factors do not necessarily mean an improved quality of voting, and of election, as well as selection of leaders in the Philippines.
  3. The voters would have to be educated in their choice of leaders based on some solid criteria other than affective and cognitive images, language, region, socio-economic class, religion, age, and survey rating considerations. These criteria may include qualifications, and mature discernment of the candidates’ issues, platforms, and track record or performance.

Mungcal then proceeded to provide his recommendations:

These are the specific recommendations to agents of social change in order to educate the voters in their choice of leaders based on some solid criteria other than affective and socio-demographic considerations:

    1. Congress and the legislative bodies of Local Government Units (LGUs) should appropriate funds and enact policies and programs for State Colleges and Universities (SCUs), Locally-funded Colleges (LCs) and other public educational institutions that would sponsor seminars and trainings concerning political, economic, and social issues of national and local importance for the electorate. Congress should also frame policies that would review and amend the existing minimum qualifications of a candidate for a public office at the national level in the
      Constitution. Possibly, these minimum qualifications could be tertiary education and managerial experience in public administration or private enterprise.
    2. Political parties should institutionalize the process of selecting and screening their candidates based on qualifications, platforms and track record. They should not rely exclusively on the winnability factor of their candidates.
    3. Public and private educational institutions should include in the General Education curriculum a special course of Voters’ Education to tertiary level students or they should integrate this course in the Humanities and Social Sciences. They should also organize and support voter’s education programs at the tertiary level, through the Academic Affairs Office in coordination with the Student Affairs Office, that would study and discern on the candidacy of national candidates based on national and foreign policy issues, political and economic platforms, educational background, professional experience arid track record. In addition, public and private educational institutions should integrate in their curriculum a special course of Governance and Public Policy to elementary and secondary level students who are beginning to become voters. These would-be voters should be educated in selecting candidates based on qualifications, platforms and track record.
    4. People’s Organizations (Pos), Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and other grassroots organizations should sponsor seminars and workshops to the urban poor communities, small farmers and tenants, local fishermen, laborers and Indigenous People’s Communities (IPCs) concerning political, economic and social issues of national and local importance. Although these marginalized sectors should be very clear on how to choose their candidates who understand their needs and problems, nevertheless, they should go beyond their narrow identifications with a candidate. Specifically, POs and NGOs should provide solid criteria for these sectors of society in selecting national leaders based on qualifications, platforms and track record.
    5. National scientific opinion poll institutions should not just describe the ratings of candidates during elections. They should also analyze the candidates’ position concerning political, economic and social issues of national and global importance so that the voters and the general public would have a better discernment of issues that matter in the selection of national leaders.
    6. Broadcast media organizations should sponsor national debates in radio and television shows so that voters would have a glimpse of the candidates’ national priorities and foreign policy issues and platforms. They should also suggest to voters solid criteria for selecting candidates that would sustain political stability, economic growth, social mobility and national pride.
    7. Print media organizations should publish the issues of national and foreign policy concerns of the candidates, their track record, as well as their platforms if they would be elected in public office. They should suggest to voters solid criteria for selecting candidates based on genuine issues, track record and practical platforms. When these social agents of change heed these recommendations, there is no
      assurance, but somehow these measures could significantly help voters make their choice and decision in selecting leaders. Given all these suggestions, these may contribute and clarify reasonable criteria for the voters’ choice of a candidate.

The Strategic View

Beyond the politics of pitting one personality trait against another, the electorate has yet to grasp the underpinning economic structure of the Philippines – beyond the politics of personalities, there lies the poltics of poverty versus prosperity.

It is a no-brainer to figure out who exactly are in the prosperous segment – the oligarchs. And it is quite understandable that these same oligarchs would prefer that positions on solving economic disparity receive as little airtime as possible. Or, to present “solutions” that aren’t really solutions. Take for intstance, the anti-corruption line. This line is the most common denominator that people can understand. What’s being missed is that corruption is a symptom of a social disease – the lack of prosperitypoverty.

Addressing poverty is not just anti-corruption, it also includes systems change that will involve consitutional change, an investor-friendly policy regime, land reform, the environment, education, and health care among others.

Framing the debate as a battle of personality traits does not address the strategic issues facing the Philippines in the 21st century. Not only is it barriotic, it is irresponsible.




  1. Bong,

    You make a very impressive and strong argument—BUT DUDE, seriously, do you think the average Filipino would be able digest what you wrote here? Although I would concede that you bring up very good points, 99.999% of the Filipino Population will not get it (The Black and White Elite Intellectuals included). Yes, yes, the voters should be more intelligent and discerning…. yada yada yada. But you are way ahead of your time dude. Perhaps in 50 to 100 years we can engage in emotionally detached logical discussions such as these.

    But its time for a Reality Check. You are up against populist writers who appeal to the emotion; to an imaginary sense of the greatness of the Filipino. Or, to paraphrase Alexander Hamilton, “They flatter the people.” And you counter them with LOFTY Intellectualism? Seriously dude, remember Senator ROCO? The choice of intellectuals pero kulelat kasi masyadong out of touch with the common Pinoy, an overeducated ivory tower type.

    See you at Starbucks 🙂

  2. Conyo:

    Exactly. You reap, what you sow.

    Thus, the Philippines is in a big mess because 99.999% of the Filipino Population DO NOT GET IT (The Black and White Elite Pseudo-Intellectuals included) 😀

    Here’s the reality check – You don’t step up, you go kulelat – just like the kulelat the Philippines is in right now 😀

    Pinoys wanna feel good – but they do kulelat stuff – and expect nonkulelat results – kaya ayun, kulelat ang Pilipinas. 🙂

    As to being 150 years ahead… that could be possible.. but since Singapore gets it, South Korea gets it, Taiwan gets it, Hong Kong gets it, Indonesia gets it…. but 99.999% of the Filipino Population (The Black and White Elite Pseudo-Intellectuals included) does not get it… and they could be 150 YEARS BEHIND SG, SK, TW, IN :))

  3. It feels great to be part of the 00.001% who get it. 😛

    But on the other hand, it doesn’t feel great either. The country’s sinking because of it.

    The false dilemma is a popular and effective device to get the dimwits to your side. By telling there’s no other option, they might flock to you. Yeah, it’s a really tough job to try and make the 99.999% get it. But as John F. Kennedy said, “we do these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” This challenge is still a worthy cause.

  4. So what’s your solution, then?

  5. you should check out barrio7, where they, uhm mock(?), your comment about popularity ratings dropping by saying that a proportional fall in noynoy’s rating should be applied to all, in which case, noynoy would still rank above the others…

    the obvious problem is that over time, as the preference for one falls, it must always be that preferences for some other candidate will rise…

  6. That’s CPA math being applied there. It’s too sophisticated for people like us to understand.

  7. i totally agree with the recommendations… cant hurt…

    but i want to know… how does he know platforms/plans do not play a role?

    a second question, if it doesnt play a role…
    is it because:

    1) there are no plans?


    2) everyone has the same plans for the issues that matter (i.e. everyone supports ag reform, everyone agrees that govt should help generate new jobs, etc…)

  8. to be fair, BOTH bong and barrio7 were being simplistic with the analysis.

    barrio7 only responded to bong’s analysis.

  9. Well, the devil’s in the details isn’t it? I think it’s probably fairly safe to say that for most issues, the candidates have pretty much the same general opinions, i.e. everyone is for reducing/eliminating corruption, generating more jobs, improving education, etc. So if they just stick to the non-specific motherhood statements on these topics, there’s very little to choose one from another.

  10. “Well, the devil’s in the details isn’t it?”

    Here’s the problem. Many Filipinos believe that getting into too many details makes you a devil. If you’re too intelligent, you’ll get mentally ill daw. Such superstitions our culture has. Or they’re just too plain lazy.

  11. These are very strong emotional hooks we are up against. George W Bush’s ‘war on terror’ was launched on a false dilemma (‘you’re either with us or against us’). As Point 7 in the recommendations noted – the Media has the power to play a strong role in changing how the debate is framed and turn these elections into what elections were meant to be — a battle of ideas rather than personalities. Instead, the Philippine Media continues to play a key role in the dumbing down of Pinoy society. That’s what ‘press freedom’ has turned out to mean for us — the freedom to go stupid.

  12. The solution is to let the idiocracy run its course. Let Noynoy be president so the country will be REALLY RAN LIKE HELL by Filipinos (imagine Fraternity Finals on a national scale).

    After “da Finals”, the people will be so disillusioned that Jinggoy wins the next election election by a super-jolog-landslide. Now the real fun begins. We shall elevate the concept of RAN LIKE HELL to an art. Even the most solid-diehard “nationalists” like Buencamino and Manolo pack up and leave, relocating to nearby Australia where Benign0 can taunt them at Starbucks everyday.

    Given the short memory span of the people, the younger Estrada is removed via Twitter-Facebook revolution that shall be known as “Edsa IV: The New Hope.” Kris, now older and sporting a Cory-esque makeover, is installed as the next President. The madness that follows would be such that even Satan would say: “You guys are fcuking nuts!”

    Finally, the majority of Pinoys start to get it. Not because of some profound collective awakening, but simply because at this point Pinoys are living in other countries that know what the fuck they are doing. So you see, there IS a master plan.

    Ain’t God a fcking genius?

    See you at Starbucks 🙂

  13. I think one doesn’t need to be that hifallutin’ intelligent to know what a false dilemma is. All one needs is just a good load of common sense and a questioning mind to know the difference. I guess all one needs to do is ask, “why the hell is this joker saying there’s only this or that when there’s a lot more to choose from.” No need for any conyotics or stuff like that. But I guess even this is lacking.

  14. That solution in corporate terms is wasteful spending.

    You know very well it leads to cost overruns and catastrophic results and yet you persist in that direction. You are trapped in an endless loop 🙂

  15. Hmm, reminds me of a friend who replied to my “what if the Phils collapses?”: “then it’s better that it collapses, so we can change everything and start clean.” I find myself drawn into that thinking, although I believe that it would be the worst case or a drastic scenario. If we could do something already before collapse, it might be better. Unless breaking up the system is the only solution. :/

  16. Actually, collapse is not the end of the world. Many countries’ economies collapsed, experienced hyperinflation, survived wars, etc. Many of them emerged stronger than they originally were — many certainly stronger relative to the Philippines.

    The Philippines for its part seems to be experiencing some kind of cancerous slow death which is a worse kind of collapse…

  17. GabbyD:

    it was quite simple – that assumes you know a time series when you know one.

  18. was was quite simple? that a candidate’s decline is steady? thats not simple at all… nothing tells you that this will be true, and as barrio7 has indicated, if u follow this strictly, it will lead to bogus results…

  19. GabbyD:

    The extrapolations were scenarios (increasing or decreasing).

    However, the point of the matter is there is a decrease of 16% – 60% in Sep to 44% in Oct.

    The message is not to fall for the spin, while everyone was going hyper over the lead – such lead was actually reduced – and 16% reduction is major.

    if the 44% is sustained – the implication is the makings of another minority president.

  20. In programming, there’s a truism that goes its better to debate the blueprint because when a flawed approach gets to the execution stage, the costs have become substantial.

    by not providing details, leaders skirt accountability since they cannot be held to a categorical statement of policy details.

  21. […] handlers will frame this campaign as an Aquino versus Villar — a false dilemma. You know why? Because if Noynoy and Gordon were compared -Gordon makes Aquino will look like an […]

  22. […] between Villar and Aquino. Makes up for an easy dichotomy. Alas my dear Watson, I don’t buy false dilemmas. So when I remind Noynoyistas that Villar is not the only candidate in town, I see a deer staring […]

  23. They are dumb logically because their FOCUS are making the verb agree with the subject, correct grammar, spelling, cross-referencing to some famous dead poet ….. THESE DUDES SIMPLY CANNOT CONNECT THE STRUNG-OUT NUMBERS …… They should be teaching english than editorializing and columnizing ….

    ONE IDIOT PERYODISTAS responded to me at one time ….”that was our beat reporter got from the authroities…” They might as well txt their Q and get their A in same manner. WHAT GOOT IS A BEAT REPORTER IF IT CANNOT ASK QUESTION …..


    Like in the movie, “LAW ABIDING CITIZEN”

  24. It is unfortunate, the Filipinos have high IQ that tops the chart …. but Filipinos love to led, commanded, controlled and they meekly follow that is why 98% of our OFWs are in service industries …. YEAH, LED, COMMANDED, CONTROLLED …. and they follow like CARABAOS … of course CARABAOS are lazy BUT WHEN YOU WHIP ‘EM THEY PLOD AND LUMBER ALONG NO QUESTIONS ASKED …

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