Sunday, August 3, 2008

Dilemma or Fallacy?

“Once we are destined to live out our lives in the prison of our minds, our one duty is to furnish it well.” - Peter Ustinov

Articles posted on another popular Blogsite have referred to a 'thousand acre dilemma' that the City of Bellingham now faces in updating it's Parks, Recreation & Open Space Plan.
The author of these articles suggests this 'dilemma' resulted from lack of proper & timely attention to detail by both elected officials and responsible City staff. While there is an undeniable element of truth in that charge, it was -and is- easily correctable, as is happening now.

Like the author, my 'druthers' are to have everything crystal clear, up-to-date and comprehensive; but you know its a rare government that ever actually fully achieves that noble goal!
As a former President once said;

"My experience in government is that when things are non-controversial and beautifully coordinated, there is not much going on." - JFK

More troubling is that this author also seems to imply that other, more sinister, motives may have been at work in creating the 'dilemma', like intentionally overstating the City's need for additional Urban Growth Area, and by setting artificially high Parks levels of service that are unaffordable and therefore unsustainable.
Maybe there are other accusations buried in his arguments too, but those are the main ones he complains about.

I beg to strongly differ with that author on these unfounded -and untrue- allegations!
But, rather than further honor the author's creative prose by countering it point by point, instead I question his flawed thinking process in the construction of 'arguments' that deliberately lead to his predetermined 'conclusions'.
Anytime one starts with the desired answer, then works backward by only searching for the suppositions and questions needed to support that answer, they are engaging in a self-serving, circular reasoning process.

That practice can lead to so 'dumbing down' a subject to the point that any attempt at honest debate is impossible.
So-called `tunnel' history, is the kind that can lead an investigator to know more and more about less and less, as one person has put it. That may be good training specialists and accountants, but impractical and unrealistic to expect from those charged with responsibility for deciding broader public policy, but who must certainly be willing to understand, weigh and make decisions using not only facts, but every perspective.

While I also question the author's motivation(s) for taking the trouble to construct such a flawed writing, those concerns are for others to conclude for themselves.

From Wikipedia:

A 'dilemma' (Greek origin, meaning "double proposition") is a problem offering at least two solutions or possibilities, of which none are practically acceptable; one in this position has been traditionally described as being impaled on the horns of a dilemma, neither horn being comfortable.

The dilemma is sometimes used as a rhetorical device, in the form "you must accept either A, or B"; here A and B would be propositions each leading to some further conclusion.
Applied in this way, it may be a fallacy, a false dichotomy.

In formal logic, the definition of a dilemma differs markedly from everyday usage.
Two options are still present, but choosing between them is immaterial because they both imply the same conclusion.

..... translated informally as "one (or both) if A or B is known to be true, but they both imply C, so regardless of the truth values of A and B we can conclude C."

Horned dilemmas can present more than two choices.
The number of choices of Horned dilemmas can be used in their alternative names, such as two-pronged (two-horned) or dilemma proper , or three-pronged (three-horned) or trilemma, and so on.

Responses to a Dilemma

In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig outlines possible responses to a dilemma.
The classical responses are to either choose one of the two horns and refute the other or alternatively to refute both horns by showing that there are additional choices.
Pirsig then mentions three illogical or rhetorical responses;

• One can "throw sand in the bull's eyes" by, for example, questioning the competence of the questioner.

• One can "sing the bull to sleep" by, for example, stating that the answer to the question is beyond one's own humble powers and asking the questioner for help.

• Finally one can "refuse to enter the arena" by, for example, stating that the question is unanswerable.

In this case, I tend to agree more with all the approach(s) suggested Robert Pirsig, because this 'dilemma' seems mainly to reside between the ears of the writer!

I am very confident that any discrepancy -real or perceived- will be appropriately addressed and corrected during the current 6-year review & update of the Parks, Recreation & Open Space [PRO] Plan.

It is important for those interested in this subject to know 3 things;

• The PRO Plan was separately adopted -unanimously- by the City Council over 2 years ago. It was then included -as a separate Element- for the first time, in the City's Comprehensive Plan in late 2006 to meet a State deadline.

• The PRO Plan must -by Growth Management Act [GMA] law- be internally consistent with the Comprehensive Plan as a whole, as must all of the seven Elements officially adopted.

• The PRO Plan is mainly a policy document that recommends guidelines that are subject to modification and change periodically. This public process is now underway and will conclude by year's end.

Rather than a 'dilemma', I see this more as a 'tempest in a teapot'.
But, that's just my opinion.

'Politics is a profession; a serious, complicated and, in its true sense, a noble one.' - Dwight D. Eisenhower

'Politics is perhaps the only profession for which no preparation is considered necessary.' - Robert Lewis Srevenson