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I think this just exists to ease our conscience to be able to say, well at least we tried something even though everyone knows it didn't change anything. Because just "standing by" fells wrong to us, even if we know we can't help.

What do you call this fallacy?

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  • It is called the politician's syllogism: we must do something, this is something, therefore, we must do it.
    – Conifold
    Mar 13 '20 at 22:32
  • Lookup Fabius Maximus, nicknamed "Cunctator". He defeated Hannibal by doing nothing. Or take General Kutuzov as described in "War and Peace" who also did his best to do nothing. And there is the old saying "Never interrupt your enemy when he's making mistakes".
    – gnasher729
    Mar 14 '20 at 23:00
  • @gnasher729 Outstanding reference. He's an adjective now. merriam-webster.com/dictionary/Fabian
    – J D
    Mar 15 '20 at 0:02
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I'm not sure this is strictly speaking a logical fallacy. Logical fallacies are errors in reasoning, and this is merely a statement (one that is sometimes false). I think there are a lot of 'truisms' that, on analysis, turn out to be false (such as 'what doesn't kill you makes you stronger') but it is not a logical fallacy.

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It is more of a simply false, BS, wrong statement than a misleading logical fallacy. Doing something is not by definition better than doing nothing. Murdering an innocent person is not better than doing nothing.

If someone tells you he dislikes your favorite TV show, bashing his skull in with a hammer as a response to the perceived slight is not necessarily better than doing nothing.

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Doing something is better than doing nothing.

This is an existential statement. You can always choose action or non-action. "Action" and "non-action" are terms that refer to the quality of being. You are either engaged in some kind of activity or you have chosen not to do any activity. For example, you have chosen to think. Thinking and doing are different qualities of being.

If you have chosen to do some action but don't produce any value or make no useful effort, then better start doing something valuable. Then the quoted statement makes sense.

On the other hand, it is perfectly ok to do nothing or to choose non-action. Then you are excluded from any positive or negation reactions to your doing or your actions. You stand in the neutral position and nature or existence doesn't gives you back any reaction. According to my understanding, this is neutrality.

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A conscious decision to do nothing is also an action. And there are situations where doing nothing is the best course of action. For example: You watch two people arguing. You could try to interfere, to stop them arguing, and instead of arguing with each other they start arguing with you, and it's two against one. Instead, you can do nothing, and watch the argument calm down just by itself.

Or a very clear example: Your car stands still at a red traffic light. The best action to take is to do nothing. Wait for the light to turn green.

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