Not as bad as ...

Not As Bad As ...

One of the arguments I do not particularly like is the so-called "not as bad as" argument. I am sure you have it seen all over the internet.
It can take many forms in many situations, for example:

• Religion is very influential, but not as influential as in Saudi Arabia
• Trump is a dictator, but nothing compared to Stalin
• Women are paid less than men, but children are starving in Africa
• Women do not have equality in Europe, but women in Saudi Arabia have it even worse

Is this a good argument? Certainly, at the first glance, it could see that way, especially if applied to issues that are connected, for example, the status of women in the western world when compared to the status of women in Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan or somewhere else. It kind of does seem to have some argumentative power. But, does it really?

Essentially it is said that you cannot complain about something as long as there is something worse, for example – Smoking is bad, but is not as bad as global warming. Ok, I magnified this example to illustrate a point. The point is that it's not really true that you should not complain about an injustice as long as there is a greater injustice in the world.

To dig deeper into the previous example of smoking and global warming – is there any reason to believe that we cannot both reduce the number of smokers – and the early deaths from smoking and do something about the global warming. One cannot possibly exclude another, so it is clear that argument makes no sense. We are discussing smoking, not anything else. The issue is the issue. Can the fact that Global Warming is real, have any impact on the issue that smoking kills?

But this argument is also used in a different way - when people compare same issues, but int two different spheres of life, or in two different countries, for example. Take for example the argument – Yes, women might suffer from sexism, but they suffer more in the middle east.

Well, let's see about this. First of all, just because we care about women's problems in the western world, does not mean that we do not care about women's problems in the Middle East. Isn't it perfectly possible to care about BOTH? So, it's a false dilemma to say that we can care only about women's problems in the western world or only about women's problems in the Middle East. Clearly, this is not the case. Not only that, but it should be clear that feminists in the west can do a lot more for women in the west. It is not reasonable to demand from someone in the west to fix problems in the Middle East.

We can care about both issues and we can reasonably want that both issues be addressed. When you hear comments like – so, there is an organization that wants to protect animals, but what about protecting people? – you can see that it's actually a stupid argument. Leave aside for the moment the fact that such organizations do exist - What reason is there to think that we cannot protect both animals and people? Just because there is a situation which is bad, that does not mean that we should not do anything about the situation presented.

“To be good, it is not enough to be better than the worst.”
—Lucius Annaeus Seneca

Of course, some will argue that we can do both indeed, but that it's a matter of priority – well, this would then basically mean that we have to end all wars, everywhere in the world, fix all the world hunger problems, fix climate change, etc, before even starting to think about animals. Is this a logical position? Theoretically, it can even seem that way. So, are there any problems with this „a matter of priority“ argument?
Well, there is simply no single organization that cares about ALL issues in the world. So the priority thing cannot be reasonably applied. There is not even a single world level organization that cares about the rights of all women in the world, for example. At least, none that has an impact in all the countries in the world equally.

Next, not everyone can work on a single problem at once, so there is no possible way we can organise the problems of the entire world on a sort of importance scale and solve them only one by one. There are people who have expertise in fixing world hunger. There are people who have expertise in solving sexism. Simply put, it's not like everyone can focus on one problem at the time. It is simply not feasible. Similarly, it doesn't seem feasible to first fix all the animals' rights issues in Chine, then when this is fixed, all the issues in India, etc, etc.

However, it is important to note that there are instances, where a variation of this might be applicable. If there is a realistic expectation that resources can be allocated to prioritize fixing the bigger evils before fixing the smaller ones. If we only want to redistribute limited resources fairly between causes and not dismiss the argument entirely, then a variation of this principle might go like: a doctor has only enough medicine to either help the patient with a broken arm or to help the patient on the deathbed. This is arguing for a simple priority of scarce resources in a particular situation and not for the dismissal of the patient with the broken arm from the hospital. The doctor will still help them when she can, but they are not a priority.

If used in this way, the argument does have significance because it simply prioritizes an individual's action, but this is not the usual way you see this argument used. The point is, when we talk about an issue, we should try really hard to focus on the issue itself and what we can do about it and avoid falling into the trap of thinking that the issue is irrelevant because there are bigger issues. We can do this.

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