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Relative Privation

(also known as: it could be worse, it could be better)

Description: Trying to make a scenario appear better or worse by comparing it to the best or worst case scenario.

Logical Forms:

Scenario S is presented.

Scenario B is presented as a best-case.

Therefore, Scenario S is not that good.

 

Scenario S is presented.

Scenario B is presented as a worst-case.

Therefore, Scenario S is very good.

Example #1:

Be happy with the 1972 Chevy Nova you drive.  There are many people in this country who don’t even have a car.

Explanation: This person does have a very crappy car by any reasonable standard.  Only comparing his situation with people who have no cars, does his Chevy Nova look like a Rolls Royce.  It is fallacious to make a reasonable judgment based on these extreme cases.

Example #2:

Son: I am so excited!  I got an “A” on my physics exam!

Dad:  Why not an “A+”?  This means that you answered something incorrectly.  That is not acceptable!

Explanation: The poor kid is viewing his success from a very reasonable perspective based on norms.  However, the father is using a best case scenario as a comparison, or a very unreasonable perspective.  The conclusion “it is not acceptable,” is unreasonable and, therefore, fallacious.

Exception: When used intentionally to manipulate emotions (especially with good intentions), not to make an argument on reason, then this might be acceptable.

I know that you just lost your job, but at least you still have a great education and plenty of experience, which will help you get another job.

References:

This a logical fallacy frequently used on the Internet. No academic sources could be found.



Registered User Comments

Jacob
Wednesday, June 05, 2019 - 07:10:08 PM
I often encounter an argument which goes like this:

Friend: "Men need to be held accountable for sexual misconduct."
Me: "Don't women also need to be held accountable for sexual misconduct?"
Friend: "Men sexually abusing women happens far more than women sexually abusing men, therefore women abusing men is a non issue."

It is true that there are more cases of men abusing women than women abusing men, but women do abuse men sometimes, and women on men abuse is not not wrong just because it is rare compared to men on women abuse. The fallacy of relative privation seems to focus on relative goodness or badness, but does relative rareness count as the same kind of fallacy?

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Bo Bennett, PhD
Wednesday, June 05, 2019 - 08:21:59 PM
The real answer is anyone guilty of sexual misconduct needs to be held accountable, but you already know that :) Yes, this would be an example of relative privation. There is a difference between a non-issue and less pressing issue. Of course, you can be accused of "whataboutery." Not a fallacy, but a diversion tactic. To avoid this, simply make one small change to your response:

Friend: "Men need to be held accountable for sexual misconduct."
Me: "Yes, they certainly do. However, don't women also need to be held accountable for sexual misconduct?"

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Jake Heffner
Tuesday, July 09, 2019 - 03:04:41 PM
@Bo Bennett, PhD: Isn't "whataboutery" apart of the relative privation fallacy? I know other sites also include "A is bad but B is worse, therefore A should be ignored," as apart of the relative privation fallacy (such as RationalWiki).

So for example, when people say "What about black on black crime?" to members of BLM, is that not an example of the relative privation fallacy?

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Bo Bennett, PhD
Tuesday, July 09, 2019 - 03:21:14 PM
@Jake Heffner: Simply asking "what about..." not necessarily fallacious nor whataboutery; it needs context. If the person is asking the question to try to make a scenario appear better or worse by comparing it to the best or worst case scenario, then it is fallacious. If they are asking to avoid the issue, they could be a accused of whataboutery.

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Jake Heffner
Tuesday, July 09, 2019 - 03:31:24 PM
@Bo Bennett, PhD: Thanks for the response! So in my example, downplaying police brutality as unimportant by presenting black on black crime as a more pressing issue would be the relative privation fallacy? And if so, what is the difference between that and "whataboutery"?

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Bo Bennett, PhD
Tuesday, July 09, 2019 - 03:36:53 PM
@Jake Heffner: Yes, downplaying would be relative privation. "whataboutery" is just a recent buzzword that seems to be attached to any time someone asks "what about...," which is problematic. To me, it seems like a legitimate gripe when someone uses "what about..." as a diversion from a legitimate argument or point being made.

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