So who do you have to talk to around here to get a new kind of fallacy passed? I’s like to propose a particular variety of fallacy that is somewhere between a red herring (an irrelevant distraction) and tu quoque (appeal to hypocrisy). What I have in mind here is when one person seeks to critique or trivialize a proposal by pointing to broader, more serious issues the solution fails to address. This is especially problematic when the person making a particular proposal has little means to undertake or address the larger issue, or when addressing the smaller problem in no way interferes with others who might take action to solve the larger problem.

This is fallacious because it distracts from the merits of a particular proposal or course of action, for instance by skirting the question as to whether the proposal actually stands to effect the desired changes. Another way in which the fallacy is in the red herring family is that merely pointing out another bigger problem is not enough to show that what is being addressed by a proposal is not itself a worthwhile problem to tackle. Showing that a problem is, in fact, trivial, ought to be accomplished on independent grounds. For instance, by providing reasons to believe that the problem has no serious consequences or by showing that it is not particularly widespread. Stating that there are other bigger problems in the world, is not by itself sufficient for demonstrating that issues being addressed by one’s opponent are necessarily trivial.

These look like arguments, they smell like arguments, but they’re not. They also have the mark of tu quoque since this form of argumentation seems to carry an implicit accusation of hypocrisy against a person because they’ve selected a smaller problem to tackle despite the existence of others. That is, there is an underlying sense that someone should practice what they preach by addressing “real” issues rather than those upon which they have chosen to focus.

Here’s one example:

In some countries people abort female fetuses, practice female circumcision and refuse to educate young women, and she wants to start a program to improve Canadian high school girls’ self esteem? Ridiculous!


Councillor Morgan is organizing a group of fellow council members to pick up litter in the park outside City Hall. Unbelievable! The Don Valley river is filthy and Lake Ontario is overflowing with garbage, and he thinks cleaning up a park is worthwhile? Give me a break.

What the hell, while I’m at it, I’d also like to propose the:

Meta-Fallacy Smackdown

The MFS occurs when one aims to shut down an argument by stating, but not demonstrating, that one’s opponent has committed a logical fallacy. This is similar to poisoning the well if it is intended to make one’s opponent feel stupid and therefore submit. In the wild, this fallacy is most often observed among first-year critical thinking students during pub nights.