The Somebody Might Get Hurt Fallacy — Excerpt from Everything You Believe Is Wrong

The Somebody Might Get Hurt Fallacy — Excerpt from Everything You Believe Is Wrong

Today, an excerpt of Chapter 9 from Everything You Believe Is Wrong. A refutation of the precautionary principle. See if you notice any similarities with what is happening our your window.

You may also download a PDF of the entire first chapter (with Table of Contents).

Get the book at Amazon (paper, kindle; it seems to be at all country-Amazons, too), Barnes & Noble (paper and nook), Alibris (link), Super Book Deals (best price so far), ABE Books (at a slight premium).

More about the book here.

Chapter 9: Somebody Might Hurt!

Precaution Caution

True Love

Word is, our beneficent government, which loves us and would not see us fall into harm, is working on a design for a system of chains to anchor both citizens and our non-citizen visitors firmly to the earth. Why? Because gravity might reverse itself.

That, dear reader, despite its rank absurdity, is a true statement. Gravity might reverse itself. And if it does, we’d be in some pretty deep kimchi. So the government would be well justified in shackling us to the ground.

What we have is an actual possibility, a non-zero probability, of a unimaginable calamity. The ill effects of the calamity would be so awful that nobody could calculate them. Why, they’d be costlier than the entire Federal debt times two. It would be so horrific that the hosts of NPR would raise their voices.

Yet the whole thing is obviously preposterous.

Look Out!

This is the Somebody Might Get Hurt! Fallacy, a.k.a. the
What About The Children! Fallacy, a.k.a. the We’re All Going To Die Fallacy, a.k.a. the Better Safe Than Sure! Fallacy. It is the only fallacy comes with an exclamation point: technically it should also be written in italics to emphasize its dire nature.

The only time this fallacy is written about soberly is when when it appears in scientific literature, where it is called the Precautionary Principle.

The old joke used to be that a sweater was defined as an article of clothing that a child put on when its mother got cold. The joke is the same, but without the laughs, when “mother” has been swapped for “government.”


Now for the structure of the fallacy. The problem lies in the nature of contingency. All physical events, such as gravity reversing itself, the climate spinning out of control and forcing the atmosphere to resemble a giant pizza oven, plastic bags tainting the water supply turning us all into three-armed mutants, dust in air causing hearts to seize up solid, and on and on, are all contingent possibilities.

Contingent physical events are not logically necessary. It is a rock-solid undefeatable fact of the universe that what happened could have happened differently, and thus that what might happen could be virtually anything. Mountains might grow legs and dance, goats might swell to terrible size and begin goring the populace, social justice warriors might become tolerant of dissent. Anything that can be imagined to happen that is not impossible to happen might happen.

This includes the worst that could happen: the world might be destroyed. Yet just as the entire planet may be in peril, it may also be saved if only we exert enough effort to guard against the danger. The costs incurred from an apocalypse would by definition be astronomical, incalculably large, almost infinite. Therefore, no expense would be too large, no measure would be too draconian, no action would be too desperate to “Save the planet!” Anything the government wants to do would be justified, as long as it is done in the name of “Saving” the planet.

It Can Always Get Worse

The kicker is that because any peril that can be named might happen, those the rule over us always have an excuse for any action. As long as the peril is made convincing enough, and if the action can be justified in the name of removing the peril.

In spite of these indisputable truths, the Somebody Might Get Hurt! Fallacy is an informal and not a formal fallacy, much in the way that the No True Scotsman and Slippery Slope are informal fallacies. This means that calling out an argument by labeling it one of these fallacies is not a rigorous proof your enemy’s argument is false. This is why it never does any logical good to tell the government that its latest action is silly or absurd. They can always retort truthfully that unimaginable evils await unless they have their way.

Still, the Somebody Might Get Hurt! Fallacy is an informal fallacy, which means it can be answered…

Click here to read more…

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  1. Wm Arthurs

    Am enjoying reading the new book at the moment. It looks very “scientific”, even down to the occasional long word extending into the right hand margin. One chapter has a long title, and in the running head at the top of the page, the chapter title runs into the page numbering. Was it typeset using TEX?

  2. Hagfish Bagpipe

    ”The kicker is that because any peril that can be named might happen, those the rule over us always have an excuse for any action. As long as the peril is made convincing enough, and if the action can be justified in the name of removing the peril.”

    That sounds like quite a devious trick, Briggs. You don’t think they’d actually try to pull that off, do you?

    “Mountains might grow legs and dance…”

    OMG! — I hadn’t thought of that! We need to do something or Everest is going to do the funky chicken! Quarantine! Empower the Overlords! Ban dancing! Arghhhhhh—I’m hysterical! [Briggs dumps bucket ice water over Bagpipe] Oh, oh — I’m wet! I’m hysterical and I’m wet!

  3. Interesting to contemplate applications of this logical fallacy in manipulating citizens today.

    Somebody Might Get Hurt is infinitely flexible. It can be either applied, or ignored, depending on the ownership of the ox being gored.

    The potential agents of “harm” are also infinitely malleable. Certain agents can be ignored, while others are inflated.

    You schmucks out in the heartland driving pick-ups? Threats to Gaia, must be obliterated. Walk, schmuck!

    The 87 vehicle convoy of V8-powered SUVs delivering PC-Prog delegates to the latest convocation of Gaia-lovers in an exotic foreign location? Not a threat–“Shut up!” they explained.

  4. Jerry

    It’s gold, Briggs….GOLD!

  5. BDavi52

    “Even one death is one death too many!”
    This the back-beat behind the WuhanV chorus. It justified, as noted, anything and everything, rational and irrational, reasonable and completely idiotic that ‘those that know best, what’s best for us’ could conceive. Whether it worked, didn’t work, was entirely counter-productive — the quality & effectiveness of the outcomes didn’t matter.

    They can’t matter.

    Because the corollary to “even one death” is the equally beloved, “Better to do something than nothing”. Think your house might have termites, let’s burn it down ’cause …”it’s better to do something than nothing”.

    The fact that the least little bit of logical thought would lead one to the entirely reasonable conclusion that THERE IS NO SUCH THING as “a death too many”, never registers. The fact that Man, as a species, decided long ago that there are any number of risk-intensive ventures whose value exceeds the value of any given human life (or collection of lives) — talk to the hand.

    Trapped by the insane inside the asylum, what can you do?

    If even one death was one death too many, we’d all still be living (and dying) in caves. Nothing would ever change because to change is to incur risk, and death is — per Safetyism Gospel — the biggest and scariest risk of all. Stay home, mask-up, get shots, socially distance, don’t work, don’t talk, don’t visit, no friends, lost family. Did I tell you the Liquor Store delivers (as does your neighborhood junkie)?

    And you know what?
    Don’t say this too loudly.
    Even doing all that, wearing the masks, maintaining social distance vows, getting the jab, quarantining the sick AND the well, cutting off all human contact and living your life via Netflix and Zoom — even following every required safety protocol (cause even one is one too many)…’re still gonna die. We’re all gonna die. “No one here”, as Mr. Morrison told us, “gets out alive”.

    So what, really, is the point?

    Is the purpose of life to prolong it, no matter what? Are we here to see how long we can cling to the edge which crumbles anyway? Do we exist simply to exist? Is there a cosmic award given to those who last the longest…to those who have been willing to sacrifice every bit of their humanity, and all that they love simply to draw one more masked breath (N95!) in a sterile and empty room?

    As C.S. Lewis said, “Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.” This is our test….what now must we do?

  6. PaulH

    This article reminds me of Ernest Hemingway’s definition of cowardice, and how cowardice has infected the vast majority of our Experts and politicos:

    “Cowardice, as distinguished from panic, is almost always simply a lack of ability to suspend the functioning of the imagination.”

    Many of our decision makers are ruled by their imagined demons. “What if the virus gets worse?!” “What if someone dies?!” So they impose mask laws, lock-downs, mandatory injections of a leaky vex, etc. Cowards, one and all.

  7. Uncle Mike

    Excellent book. Got my paper copy and 2/3rds through. Very enjoyable, witty, smart, timely, satisfying.

    It’s about logic as applied to the current (or modern) discourse. Logic is so necessary for fishing the truth out of the sea of babble, for critical thinking on any subject, and for cleansing your own mind of error and delusion.

    I confess regretfully to commission of many of the logical fallacies discussed in Everything You Believe Is Wrong. My mistakes were unintentional but that doesn’t excuse them. Other more vocal “thinkers” abuse logic like a whipped puppy, a thousand times worse than me, and without regret or awareness. They are not excused in the slightest.

    You need this book to navigate the shoals of confusion, or you’ll be dashed and drowned. Buy it today while there’s still a chance for salvation.

  8. Rudolph Harrier

    Another problem is that in many cases when there is a binary choice between A and B, both options could lead to someone dying. For the most obvious example, a required mass COVID vaccination would likely save some lives, since the vexxines have shown results in keeping people out of the hospital in the very early months after the jab. So mass required vaccination would save at least one person from dying in the hospital. But at the same time, any vaccine can have severe side effects (and certainly these do.) Therefore requiring mass vaccination of the COVID vexxes would result in someone dying from a side effect.

    Thus in order to save at least one life from COVID we must require the jab, but in order to save at least one life from side effects we must keep people from the jab. No conclusion here can be reached from the “if it only saves one life” standard.

    This is a good rhetorical response to those who say that everyone needs the jab so that we can save some lives. If you argue in terms of numbers or effectiveness you might be logically correct but on a rhetorical level you will be viewed as cold and heartless. If you respond by saying “isn’t it worth it to not vaccinate our kids, if it saves even one of them from a lethal side effect” you can’t be portrayed as heartless. There are only two real responses, both not ideal for the vexxine supporter.

    The first is to start weighing relative risks. I.e. saying “well some people might die from the jabs, but far more people will die if we DON’T give everyone the jab, so those deaths from side effects are a necessary sacrifice.” This is a problem for them because it abandons the moral high ground and turns it into a battle of facts. It’s easy to defend the position that a vaccine, even a “leaky” one, might save at least one person, but not so easy to calculate the actual number of people it would save and compare it to the side effects.

    The other approach is to deny that there will be any side effects whatsoever to the vaccines. But this is a statement so absurd that it will be implausible to all but the most brainwashed and thus presents many avenues for counterattack through ridicule.

  9. To prove your point about everything you know being wrong.. the gravity-could–reverse claim was based on a mis-understanding and reasoning-by-analogy exaggeration of p(single electron quantum tunneling).

    My own rule is that half of everything I know is wrong (probably including any assumption make about which half something belongs in).

  10. Hagfish Bagpipe

    Received my copy of the book. Disappointed. Was expecting a hand-written copy, from the Briggs Scriptorium, in lovely handwriting on velum, or parchment, the ink purple, or crimson, perfumed of roses or lavender, the edges gold-leafed and deckeled, the covers goat-skin, the spine embossed and gilt, the whole hand-bound. What I received was a print-on-demand piece of shit from Amazon. The content is impeccable. But the form, man, the form!

  11. Briggs


    I’m going to have to fire those damned scribes. That’s what you get for outsourcing your monkery to India.

  12. Hagfish Bagpipe


    Bloody devils.

  13. Uncle Mike

    Some new fallacies for the next book, gleaned from the comments above:

    The You Have Typos Fallacy (or My Enemies Are Everywhere Fallacy)

    The We’re All Going To Die Anyway Fallacy (a reverse variant of the Do Something Fallacy, p. 103)

    The Flip A Coin Fallacy (or the Marxist Dialectic Binary Choice Fallacy)

    The My Underlings Did It Fallacy (or the You Can’t Get Good Help These Days Fallacy)

    This is fun. I bet you could extract 3 or 4 new fallacies every day just from the comments. Don’t worry, your secret is safe with me.

  14. Zundfolge

    My copy of EYBIW just arrived today … I know what I’m doing this weekend 😀

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