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I've heard many people say if you X, then you're part of the problem. I'm not a logic or philosophy expert so I was wondering if this is a logical fallacy (or something along those lines)? If so, what is the name of the fallacy?

A personal example (I'm Man B):

  1. Man A: You going to vote?
  2. Man B: No, I' don't vote.
  3. Man A: Why not?
  4. Man B: Personal reasons.
  5. Man A: You're part of the problem.

That's the entire conversation. Man B has personal reasons why Man B doesn't do something, then Man A (although asked as if he wanted to understand) concludes that Man B is part of a problem only Man A is aware of. Man A may care about low voter turnout, who the winner is, the future of voting, principle of honoring your nation's history, etc.

For the sake of argument, say Man A cared about the future of voting (and it's effect on future communities). And also say Man B doesn't want to vote because he doesn't have time to be properly educated on each candidate (2 jobs, grad school, kids, sick parents, etc.), and therefore does not want to vote blindly. However, Man A does not think this is a good enough reason and concludes Man B is just "part of the problem". Note, for Americans, don't think of this in context of Donald Trump as a candidate. It's obvious why Trump is a bad choice (for most people I know at least). Think of all candidates being fair choices.

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    Your question is too abstract to answer. If the problem is gun violence, then 'If you are shooting people right now, you are part of the problem' is quite logical. Can you give some examples that capture when you think this has been used as a fallacy? (There are probably several different ways to lead into or out of a fallacy into that statement. And I don't want go guess for you and distort your intention.) – jobermark Mar 23 '16 at 14:27
  • @jobermark I updated with a personal example. – But I'm Not A Wrapper Class Mar 23 '16 at 16:02
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    @CyberneticTwerkGuruOrc Everybody that doesn't vote is part of the problem. Man B doesn't vote. Man B is part of the problem. I don't see the fallacy. – ShamanSTK Mar 23 '16 at 16:15
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    @CyberneticTwerkGuruOrc You haven't defined the problem. But that's not a logical fallacy. The logic can be valid, and not sound. You seem to be looking for an issue with soundness, but you haven't given enough detail. If the problem is low voter turn out, the logic would be both valid and sound. – ShamanSTK Mar 23 '16 at 16:38
  • @CyberneticTwerkGuruOrc That's not a logical fallacy, you just haven't defined terms. However, that's an issue of soundness, not validity. The logic is valid. We don't know if it's sound because the premises are vague. – ShamanSTK Mar 23 '16 at 16:43
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I think you are looking for "False Dilemma" or "False Dichotomy." This is an informal fallacy that implies there are only two alternatives or possibilities. "If you are not part of the solution then you are part of the problem" is a perfect example. This implies that you must be one of the two when in reality, there are many situations in which an individual does not affect the situation or circumstance and is not affected by a situation or circumstance. In that case, they are neither part of the problem or part of the solution. False dilemmas are used in order to force an answer.

  • Yes, this is more of the logical fallacy I was looking for. I think there is more to it since Man A has some conclusion that he believes is correct and assumes Man B can follow that same trail of logic without explanation. That accusation itself seems illogical too. – But I'm Not A Wrapper Class Oct 6 '16 at 17:15
  • The problem is people believing they can be isolated from the effects and consequences of any situation existing, or that there exist situations over which they have no influence, neither of which is the case. Therefore, if you're not a part of the solution you're a part of the problem. — This isn't a logical fallacy at all. It is a philosophical stance with which you may not agree, but which nevertheless you cannot dismiss as internally inconsistent nor fallacious; it is neither. – Wildcard Jan 11 at 2:28
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Under an interpretation of "the problem" as being "not enough people vote" there is no fallacy. By not voting you are "part of" the problem; taken impersonally, you are embroiled in the action of "not voting". Taken more personally, you have chosen to prioritize other facets of your life over voting, again this is "part of problem".

What I suspect that you are reacting to is the implied moral judgment inherent in being "part of the problem". This is a case where your interlocutor is using ethos based persuasion on you. He/she is reminding you of a commonly held moral belief of democratic societies and using this moral sentiment as a lever in an attempt to persuade you to change your beliefs and actions. This is isn't a fallacy, there isn't even a strictly logical argument being made.

The only case of a real logical fallacy that I could see applying would be a non-sequitur -- if "the problem" was toenail fungus then whether you vote or not won't have an effect on it (unless one party had a very unusual plank in its platform...).

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Reasonable people could reasonably disagree, but I would tend to say that there are circumstances under which it could be used as a logical fallacy. But it REALLY depends on how it's being used. As others have noted, when it's just a statement of impersonal fact (e.g. you're contributing to the problem of low turnout), then no.

But it's not too difficult to envisage an instance where "you're part of the problem" is part of a consequentialist argument intended to convince a person to take a different action, and I think that's the sense concerning which the OP is inquiring. In that sense, when used in a personal way as part of an argument of that kind, it would potentially constitute an ad hominem attack, which would be a logical fallacy.

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