Episode 23: A Most Annoying Cake
It was the 3rd Friday of the month which means I was at the meeting of my local chapter of the National Tent Camping Foundation or NTCF for short. This was a big meeting for us. The NTCF was going to elect a new president and one of the candidates was meeting our club to do a little promoting and get to know us all. There are a number of important issues in the NTCF and we need to know where the candidates stand before we can cast a vote.
Martin, the visiting candidate, had arrived early and was sharing tent camping stories and favorite portable stove recipes with us prior to the meeting’s start. When we got going, he began to discuss his position and ideas for the NTCF. Much was in keeping with our values and very heartening. He would continue to push light weight packing solutions, work with vendors to increase the efficiency of cookstove fuel tanks, lobby parks and townships for “lights out” times for stargazing and even broached the controversial subject of establishing a new depth requirement for outdoor latrines. This was met with a few gasps, no one really likes digging.
Then the Q&A came and the question on all of our minds was asked – where did he stand on the issue of some members wanting to use campers or RVs and saying they were just larger, harder tents? He thought for a minute, took a sip of water and gave his answer “As members of the NTCF, we should know that using tents is our primary mission and the reason we were founded; however, we should not rule out the usage or benefits of other means of outdoor enclosures.”
OK, so tents are good and we should stick with them. But wait, other things, like campers or RVs are also good and maybe we should use them? Was this an answer? It didn’t feel like an answer. It seemed more like he supported both sides of the argument. Martin used a fallacy known as Having Your Cake. It is certainly one of the tastier fallacies. I have to avoid this fallacy just to manage my waistline. What is it? It is when someone refuses to take a side in an argument and instead makes a case for each. It’s probably one of the more annoying fallacies.
Where might you run into this fallacy? Politics is a common place (seems like a lot of fallacies show up in politics, doesn’t it?). You might hear something like this “The affordable care act is the worst piece of legislation ever, but we shouldn’t ignore the good it’s done for some people.” Hold on, how can it both be so bad and do good at the same time? Seems like someone is trying to play both sides. You may also witness a discussion such as “I, a member of Party A can state that all ideas of Party B are absolute rubbish but I must admit that my competitor from Party B makes some strong points.” What does that member of Party A mean, is it an attempt to divide or a desire to bring together? It can’t be both.
You may see this in a more personal sense when hearing about other people’s likes or dislikes. You could hear a friend say “None of these new young teen movies are any good but wow that Twilight series had an interesting plot.” So, these movies aren’t good, but they are? Make up your mind! Or you might have to bear witness to “I only drink expensive, high quality craft beers unless it’s a party with nothing but cheap beer.” Is this person a beer snob or not? It’s not easy to tell. In these cases, it looks like the person is taking a stance, but really, they aren’t.
The exception to his fallacy is when someone states both positions but then also acknowledges their indecision. If you hear a statement such as “I feel that peanut butter on the top and jelly on the bottom is the right way to make a PB&J sandwich, but reversing the method is also quite delicious” you may think "Hey, that's a fallacy". But if it is followed by “There are compelling arguments for both arrangements and my mind isn’t made up” then this person has stated their indecision and removed the fallacy.
If you hear someone making a case for both sides in their argument, ask them if they can pick a side. They probably won’t, even when pushed. Be on the lookout for a reworded version of their answer. If a person won’t pick a side, then you have to determine how important the issue is to you and whether to listen to that person (or just invite them to your non-craft beer Twilight watching party). If a person tells you they’re having trouble deciding, that’s cool, at least they’re upfront about it. For me, I’m off to do some tent camping and I really hope I don’t see any RVs.