When criticizing government, society or whatever, people often retort, "If you don't like America, why don't you move somewhere else?"

What kind of fallacy would this qualify as?

At first glance, it doesn't appear to make an argument at all. However, there is an implied argument:

If one doesn't like (whatever), one should move (rather than trying to fix the problem).

Can anyone suggest what kind of fallacy this is?


P.S. For anyone looking for a clever rebuttal, this is mine:

Because I'm not the one with the problem; why don't YOU move?

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    Yeah.. absolutely false dilemma – Richard Nov 23 at 20:06
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    Informal fallacies are not required to derive from formal logic. They can be and often are, distractors intended to create confusion or sway emotion. This absolutely fits in that category. – barbecue Nov 27 at 14:05
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    My $0.02 is that this is a red herring, which is an informal fallacy or a bad faith rhetorical device. It consists of a distraction reframing towards a seemingly related but ultimately irrelevant topic. You begin at talking about a social issue that is an emergent trait of a system - which one can make a case is usually intractable through uncoordinated individual actions; and are shifted towards talking about a specific individual reaction to this issue, one that - even if we admitted individual actions can fix systemic issues - is actually a disengagement from the system. – millimoose Nov 27 at 16:51
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    It's a distressingly common form of demagoguery especially in the US / neoliberal / individualistic context to the point where it's a small berzerk button for me. Like how you can't talk about the rise of relative poverty in the first world - a thing that a) in my opinion is supported by a sound body of evidence; but more importantly for the sake of this discussion b) is thus supportable in the first place. Because if you try, the most common counter will be somebody drowning you in anecdotes of rags-to-riches self-made-men arguing that "well if they all really tried they could be not poor." – millimoose Nov 27 at 16:54
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    This sounds like the Inverse Barbara Streisand Fallacy: "I will move (to the place where there's even more white people) if Ronald Reagan is reelected!!" – RonJohn Nov 27 at 17:46

13 Answers 13

It may very well be a poor argument, but it's not a logical fallacy

People are too quick to jump on the "fallacy" bandwagon. There is no logical fallacy occurring here. It may very well be an argument that is not particularly convincing (In fact, I wouldn't use the argument), but there is nothing logically fallacious about it.

If a person asks

"If you don't like America, why don't you move somewhere else?"

Bread states that "there are other options your opponents refuse to acknowledge," however this seems somewhat of a stretch. This is clearly reading more into what was said, than what was actually being said (In fact, this appears to be a straw man argument, which is ironically a fallacy itself). From this phrasing there is nothing that says that moving is the only way to achieve change. It just raises moving as an option. Clearly, this is an option that many people take, because people migrate all the time to countries they prefer to live in. In some cases it may even be the preferred way to achieve the change that you wish in your life.

Let's take a similar example. Consider the following statement:

"If you want to earn more money, why don't you work more hours per week?"

Would anyone seriously think that this person is suggesting that working more hours per week is the only possible way to earn more money? I think that most people can see that they are simply raising one possible avenue of earning more money.

Instead, if someone said

"If you don't like America, your only option is to move somewhere else."

Then, sure, their statement would be logically fallacious.

On the other hand, Mark Andrews analyzes the statement as

“There is nothing seriously wrong with this society, so the problem must lie in your own attitudes.” That is the conclusion. When the proponent recommends that the other person leave the country, the validity of this conclusion is taken as a given. The question of the truth or falsehood of the conclusion (which has become the assumption) is sidestepped completely.

But again, there is nothing fallacious in thinking "I like the country as it is; I would prefer if you didn't change it; therefore I would prefer that you leave rather than changing the country." Again, I'm not telling you to be convinced by the argument. But there is really nothing logically fallacious going on. To the question "Why don't you move somewhere else?" You are completely free to respond "Because I would rather change [what I perceive to be] the flaws of this country rather than moving."

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    This answer relies on an unconventional interpretation of the proposition. The conventional interpretation of "If you don't like America, why don't you move somewhere else?" is, as noted in the question title, "If you don't like it, move". Yes, we all know that other options exist. However that construction does (fallaciously) establish an if-then relationship between 'not liking something' and 'moving away' which implicitly discounts those other options. It's not as blatantly wrong as 'If you don't like it, all you can do is move', but it's not far off that mark. – aroth Nov 27 at 0:28
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    I see your point, but even with "If you want to earn more money, why don't you work more hours per week?" I think it's implied that 'work more hours', whilst not necessarily the only option, is (perhaps even unequivocally) the best option. Because if you're going to suggest a specific option, there's no reason to not suggest what you think is the best option. And when the "best" option one can suggest is "you go away now", you're not helpfully suggesting that alternative options exist. You're more just telling the other person to shut up. Is there a fallacy of 'refusing to debate'? – aroth Nov 27 at 8:28
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    @Eff using this same argument pretty much any informal fallacy can be claimed to be just an opinion. "Everyone else is doing it, so I should too." That's a legitimate opinion someone could have. but it's still an informal fallacy. – barbecue Nov 27 at 14:08
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    I wouldn't call it an argument but either a question or a demand. Both are valid positions in political questions. I've met the demand variety mostly in the context of political questions as counter-demand against another demand where the "original demander" was not perceived as having the right to demand a change. In any case I think that lots of political debates would hugely improve by treating this as a question and sincerely answering why one does consider to move or why not. The latter has the chance of building a bridge by openly acknowledging that not all is bad "here". – cbeleites Nov 28 at 21:37
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    I think this answer is too generous in the good faith it assumes from people who say these things. They are not trying to helpfully offer up a solution in case you haven't thought of it, and they definitely aren't looking for a reasoned cost-benefit analysis of moving compared to other alternatives. – yshavit Dec 1 at 0:29

It is the False Dilemma or Bifurcation Fallacy.

If you don't like it, then move.

Let's say you have caused some problems by questioning the decisions, speech, and actions of someone who is actively seeking social, economic, and/or political power. And you're confident that you have every right -- or even duty -- to do so. Those in power who are profiting from the situation aren't willing to change anything, hence they feel threatened by any kind of criticism. So they choose to solve the problem by employing a logically twisted rhetorical tactic against you in order to get rid of you fast. They assume that you aren't intelligent or educated enough to catch the fallacy in their argument. It goes like this:

  • Either you agree with the way we're handling things, or you don't.
  • If you like it, you're no threat to us (you can stay).
  • But your dissent creates a dilemma for us (so you can't stay). "Move."

The point is, they offer no other options. Just two: agree and stay, or disagree and leave. They're not willing to discuss it with you, because they know they'll lose that argument, so they're going to insist that you go away. But since they don't want to argue with you, they want you to think it's your choice. Thus they create a false dilemma.

"It's too bad you don't like it, because that means you should leave."

Well, not really. It doesn't have to mean that you should leave, because there are other options your opponents refuse to acknowledge. You might prefer to remain in the land of your forefathers, the land that you love, and work diligently to improve the socio-political climate where you are, along with any other important problems you and your loved ones might be facing there.

Logical Fallacies explains it well:

The bifurcation fallacy is committed when a false dilemma is presented, i.e. when someone is asked to choose between two options when there is at least one other option available. Of course, arguments that restrict the options to more than two but less than there really are, are similarly fallacious.

Example:

  • (1) Either a Creator brought the universe into existence, or the universe came into existence out of nothing.
  • (2) The universe didn’t come into existence out of nothing (because nothing comes from nothing). Therefore:
  • (3) A Creator brought the universe into existence.

The first premise of this argument presents a false dilemma; it might be thought that the universe neither was brought into existence by a Creator nor came into existence out of nothing, because it existed from eternity.

Texas State University, Department of Philosophy, under 'False Dilemma' (an informal fallacy), lists as the first example:

America: Love it or leave it.

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    Let us continue this discussion in chat. – Bread Nov 22 at 20:59
  • @John Thanks so much for your contribution! txstate.edu/philosophy/resources/fallacy-definitions/… – Bread Nov 27 at 22:53
  • Favorite example of overturning this fallacy: Kobayashi Maru – candied_orange Nov 30 at 0:21
  • @candied_orange Interesting and thought-provoking. I'd forgotten all about it, so thanks for the reminder. However, I don't see the False Dilemma as any sort of no-win situation. Just a fallacy, as far as I'm concerned. – Bread Nov 30 at 1:06
  • The Dilemma of the no-win scenario is to run from it or confront it and face it with grace. Kirk chose the third option and rejected the entire premise. By cheating. – candied_orange Nov 30 at 1:23

There is no argument, therefore there can be no fallacy

There is no fallacy here, no logical error in argument as e.g. in affirming the consequent. This is so because there is no argument here at all - only an expression of viewpoint. Fallacy presupposes argument. No argument, no fallacy : the concepts are tied.

  • It is also worth pointing out that while there is a "toll of moving" there is similarly a "toll of changing." There are a lot of costs associated with changing a country. It is up the individual to weigh these costs and benefits against each other. – Eff Nov 22 at 10:00
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    I find the problem with "move or shut up" arguments, is that they imply there exists a place where you can move to that has no issues. Cost of moving is meaningless if there is no valid place to move to. – Tezra Nov 27 at 21:21
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    @Mark Meuer. I have shortened the answer. Best : GLT – Geoffrey Thomas Nov 27 at 21:32
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    @guest271314. I have agreed to edit out the non-essentials. Thanks for comments. Best - GLT – Geoffrey Thomas Nov 27 at 21:33
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    If it isn't actually an argument but is brought in place of one, wouldn't that make it a non-sequitur? – Shufflepants Nov 28 at 22:30

I suppose that there are a whole pile of fallacies behind such arguments. The one that first comes to mind is that the argument assumes what it sets out to prove.

“There is nothing seriously wrong with this society, so the problem must lie in your own attitudes.” That is the conclusion. When the proponent recommends that the other person leave the country, the validity of this conclusion is taken as a given. The question of the truth or falsehood of the conclusion (which has become the assumption) is sidestepped completely.

This is an Informal Fallacy.

In contrast to a formal fallacy, an informal fallacy originates in a reasoning error other than a flaw in the logical form of the argument.

This is a recommended course of action, albeit it a recommendation born of frustration with the complaint.

To me, the problem is not with recommending that I move. And directed at some people, they could indeed move. the problem is that moving is not a valid solution to the problem that I perceive. "Moving" suggests that I am only capable of selfish interest, and do not care for anybody else in this country, that I do not care about social justice, or the negative effects of corruption, or whatever else my complaint might entail.

Say, for example, that my problem is rampant racism, or sexual harassment of women, or lack of employment rights for gays, or a denial of abortion rights. I don't have to be in any persecuted minority to be upset about any of those. Thus, the suggestion:

If you don't like it, move!

Doesn't address the problem I perceive, if I were living on the other side of the world, or on Mars, I could still be upset about what I perceive as the same injustices in my original home country.

This could also be true when I am in the harmed class to which my complaint applies. If I complain that my Home Owners Association Governors are throwing dinner parties for themselves with my fees, it does not solve the problem for me to move to another neighborhood; or would only address my selfish interest: Implicitly I am complaining about corruption and self-dealing, and the problem is bigger than my own fee, it is a moral position that what is happening is wrong for everybody. Moving out of the neighborhood would not stop the corruption and self-dealing.

A suggested solution that doesn't solve the problem at hand is an "informal fallacy," it is an error in reasoning that has failed to fully consider the nature of the complaint.

It is not a fallacy at all

First of all, this kind of criticism is usually aimed at people who are first or second generation immigrants. They came in US searching for better life conditions, which implies that their own old country had worse life conditions, and they were unable to improve them. If they could not improve a country with a lower living standard (lower goal post), there is a pretty reasonable chance they could not improve a country with a higher living standard (higher goal post). In fact, possible outcome could be worse living standard for US citizens.

Second, even when this critique is not aimed to immigrants, there is another problem. Person X could argue that he wants US to resemble some other country, let's say Sweden. Currently, large parts of US population abhor idea of US looking like Sweden. Therefore, person X has a long struggle ahead of him to convince or force others to accept his Swedish ideas. It would be more economical for him just to move to Sweden, instead of wasting energy and life on something that others do not want.

EDIT: Based on comments bellow, I need to clarify that phrase "if you don't like it, move" should not be considered as an argument in a debate, or as a reason for rejection of certain proposal (idea, request for change). Those arguments and those reasons (rational, irrational , whatever ...) happened before. Person being persuaded is not going to change his mind on certain question, and is simply communicating his decision to person trying to persuade him. Phrase "if you don't like it, move" is just a figure of speech. We could debate do real reason for rejection contain some logical fallacy, but that should be done case by case, not generally.

  • >"Currently, large parts of US population abhor idea of US looking like Sweden." - I wish the US population had the same sentiment regarding turning US into Russia. – Ark-kun Nov 23 at 8:28
  • @Ark-kun No. For example, it is much easier to introduce Internet into the country that doesn't have any, then to improve infrastructure of the country that already has optical fibers. As for Russia, it is actually much closer to American way of living then Sweden , especially int the interior. – rs.29 Nov 24 at 7:44
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    @rs.29 - Now I understand what you're saying. It does make sense that people would target immigrants with "Why don't you just leave?" Nevertheless, the question is a very common insult in the broader political arena. I've been targeted by it many times. – David Blomstrom Nov 25 at 3:31
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    @rs.29, I think the fallacy folks are stuck thinking that this would be a flawed argument... you're right that "it's not a flawed argument": it's not really an argument at all, and thus, critically, carries no epistemological weight. – elliot svensson Nov 27 at 18:27
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    @elliotsvensson Whole idea of "if you don't like move" is that argument happened before. Proposal is already rejected . It is just a figure of speech to tell someone to stop trying to persuade others. – rs.29 Nov 27 at 18:32

A good way of responding to a question, even one asked in bad faith, is to answer it in good faith.

If someone asks you, "Why don't you just move?" Consider the question, then answer them. Why don't you move? This shows you take them seriously and helps them understand you. It can also help you understand yourself better. It can also help deescalate an argument.

If the question is instead phrased like a command "If you don't like it, then move." You can still treat it as a question and explain your reasons for not moving, or put in conditions. "I would love to move, but the financial costs and the risks involved are to high. Or: my family, friends and job is here, I do not want to abandon them."

Just make sure your explanations are sincere and not just attempts to deflect the question. Example of an insincere answer would be claiming it is to expensive and asking them to finance the move, then if they would say yes you would change your mind.

While identifying fallacies can be fun, in this case I think it would be pointless. "Why don't you just move?" Isn't a logical argument, it is an emotional one. They are not really trying to put forth a logical argument, they are expressing frustration with the discussion. My answer would be to address that frustration instead of trying to catch them in a logical fallacy.

Simply on the basis of seeing this bumper sticker quite often throughout my life here in America I am also going to include the Bandwagon fallacy, ad populum. Just because it seems to be a popular and damaging argument used through advertisement.

I also agree with the bifurcation fallacy based on it assuming there is only ONE option in this situation of not liking where you are.

And I am also going to include, ad hominem fallacy, because I feel the insinuation may be directed toward immigrants or any minority in disagreement with current laws or traditions or sacrosanct arguments and can include such aspects as: culture, education level, religion, ethnic majority, eccentric behaviors, gender preference etc.

This statement is not logical in form. It is an imperative i.e. Do something! although in this case it is qualified.

An apparently similar statement in logic is: If X (is true) then Y (is true). However "If you don't like it, move!" is different. The "!" gives this away. It is of the form used in (imperative) programming languages and algorithms: If X (is true) then do Y. Since it is not logical it can't be fallacious.

The negative response to a direct imperative is simply not to accede, for example, civil disobedience. In the case where the "command" is qualified you can justify refusing by saying that the pre-condition is not met, e.g. "But I do like it".

Other responses are to challenge specifics and context of the particular "command" and the particular pre-condition. E.g. that the utterer does not have the right to tell the addressee to do whatever is suggested, or that the pre-condition has no relation to the suggested action etc etc.

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    If you have references with specific quotes that would strengthen the answer and give the reader places to go for more information. Welcome to this SE! – Frank Hubeny Nov 24 at 11:51

It’s an enthymeme, not a fallacy per se

An enthymeme, in its most common form (and at the risk of oversimplifying), is a syllogism with one of the premises omitted. It is often used in debate and argumentation to advance a speaker's point; that is, it is a rhetorical device.

In this case, the full syllogism would be:

P1: Those who do not like America should leave

P2: You do not like America

Therefore

C: You should leave

P1 is then omitted, producing that characteristic enthymemetic dissonance that you are then interpreting as a fallacy.

That said, the very fact that it raises a red flag for you at all is perhaps because you are familiar with logic and so you are alert to the bad smell. To the untrained person, however, the enthymeme is often simply undetectable, which is why it can be an effective rhetorical device to get past the person’s critical/skeptical faculties unnoticed.

Historically, the enythmeme and its use is recorded at least as far back as Aristotle. For more details see, for example, the entries at SEP, and Wikipedia.

  • With a reference to Aristotle or any other canonical definition of enthymeme cited, I would deem this answer close to perfect – Philip Klöcking Dec 3 at 11:39
  • Good idea Philip; added a couple. Feel free to add or modify if anything more appropriate comes to mind. – tkp Dec 3 at 13:35

I'd say it depends on the context whether and where I'd see the fallacy.

  • The question puts it into a political context, i.e. in a context where - as long as both sides stay within what is legal/according to constitution - differing/opposite positions are allowed, and therfore not fallacious.
    The rebuttal is rude - but whether it is unneccesary rude or the rudeness was earned by a similarly rudely expressed criticism we cannot judge from the question's scenario. @Eff brings up the point that it can actually be a genuine question (still in political context) - If you don't like it, why don't you move?
    I like this way of looking at the phrase as it opens the possibility to rescue the debate and get it back into a civil political debate: if I do consider moving I can explain that - and if not, it allows me to make clear that I don't think the (US) are bad overall: because x, y, z are too good to make moving away a serious consideration - IMHO just this particular point would be even better if done that new way. If I actually want to improve things (as opposed to: stir up things or "win" a debate), it's probably a far more convincing position to clearly acknowledge the points where I agree with my opponent and express my sincere appreciation for the country/society/community. And, of course, if the criticism did not express that there is in fact non-trivial agreement, the criticism can sound far more total than it is meant.

    While not being about the US, I know/knew people who being citizens of the same country which they critized a) some left (which was a crime), b) some stayed trying to change things - and in hindsight decided that was good even though they didn't move much, but a bit naive. Naive also because friends of them c) also decided to stay to try changing things - and were oppressed by their government to the point that they were thrown out of their country. I.e. if the critisism is a serious overall criticism with not just some important single point but comprises major parts of political and everyday life, then "why don't you move/leave?" is the question to ask. Seriously. And maybe moving is the thing to do.

  • Different scenario, not political - criticism of something we/this society cannot change. If someone tells me: "Your winters are just shit: no sun, wet fog and sooo cold." I may answer "if you don't like it, move!" and honestly admit that also "natives" of my region consider moving to nicer climates: so it can be a sincere question or advise and as such it is again not a logical (or even informal) fallacy.

  • Finally, if you don't like pi being 3, why don't you move to place where they use π = 4? Here we finally have constructed a fallacy: treating a mathematical fact as politically negotiable (category error).
    As needed, replace π = 3 or 4 by any scientific theory/finding that is either true or false and that is subject to politics.

I'm not going to mark this as the correct answer, because I'm not sure there is a correct answer. However, I want to attempt to answer it myself, just to add to the discussion.

Imagine a conversation where Mr. A is complaining about the Demopublicans, media corruption, the vanishing middle class and on and on. Mr. B replies "If you don't like it, why don't you move to Cuba?"

Sometimes, the response is "somewhere else," but the Mr. B's often name a country that is widely loathed by right wingers and/or is widely regarded as a terrible place to live for one reason or another. For example, Cuba is generally poor and authoritarian.

Whether or not this qualifies as a fallacy depends on both the context and the precise wording, particularly the words "why don't you move," which can be loosely translated "you SHOULD move."

EXAMPLE

Mr. A: "Thanks to capitalism, I'll never retire!"

Mr. B: "If you don't like capitalism, you should move to Cuba!"

There is an element of cherry picking in B's response. Instead of Cuba, he could have suggested moving to a socialist state that isn't being targeted by the U.S., like Sweden.

One might also argue that there's an element of - I'm not sure what to call it - obfuscation or over-complication? In fact, there are many reasons why a U.S. citizens might not want to move to Cuba or China, including the cost of moving and the fact that most U.S. citizens don't speak Spanish or Chinese. It almost sounds like a straw man argument, particularly because the discussion wasn't originally about Cuba or China.

Or you could accuse Mr. B of dodging the question. Instead of engaging in an intelligent discussion about capitalism, democracy, or whatever, he suggest that the argument can be boiled down to a simple comparison between the U.S. and the Cuba.

It has already been noted that such a question could be construed as a false dilemma fallacy or even a simple insult - an ad hominem attack.

Finally, the "why don't you move" retort could be an example of all the above, a classic example of killing two birds with one stone.

I would claim that it's not so much a logical fallacy. It is more of presentation of one option which one of the parties would prefer. Then you could maybe wiggle it a bit and make it look like a binary choice fallacy. "You can stay or you can leave, your choice!". Only two options are given, trying to implicate that whatever you choose, how stuff works will always remain the same. That you have no chance of changing it.

But in practice there are of course many other combinations.

  1. You can stay and try to strike some secret deal or
  2. You can stay and try and change the rules or
  3. You can stay and break the rules

But honestly for one person to try to change how stuff works, it just ain't worth it. It's way easier to try to move ourselves to find where we fit in than to change the whole world around us. And if enough people do that, then it could actually become an issue for whoever likes the current way of things.

  • Sorry, I had to down vote your answer because of the last paragraph. So if people don't like the way Florida is being battered by climate change, they can just move to California, which is also being hammered by climate change? Or move to the country with the highest standard of living in Africa (Libya), only to see it blown to pieces by NATO? – David Blomstrom Dec 6 at 1:43
  • @DavidBlomstrom I don't know much about Africa in general or Libya. Climate change is not a topic easily politically changeable by anyone. You can't just make a law saying "climate, you ain't allowed to behave worse than this!". Which is why this question does not refer to it. – mathreadler Dec 6 at 10:01

protected by Philip Klöcking Nov 24 at 11:50

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