DragonCon, the Pedophile, and the False Dilemma
Last week, we hosted a spirited discussion on the boycott of DragonCon proposed by Nancy A. Collins. To recap: Ed Kramer is an accused child molester who founded DragonCon; he no longer is involved with the organization except in that he holds a significant portion of stock that nets him upwards of $150,000/year. To recap the discussion along with the answers that appear to have emerged: would a boycott force DragonCon to drop Ed Kramer? (Not likely.) Would DragonCon even be able to drop him, legally? (Not likely.) Does participation in DragonCon directly benefit a horrible person? (Likely.)
Today, Maria sent in this post from a con attendee (I don’t think she’s part of DragonCon management) that gives a decent pro-DragonCon (and anti-Kramer) perspective. I’m writing about it here, though, because I want to address a particular fallacy I’ve seen several times in the midst of this discussion. This is how the blogger ends her appeal:
If you still plan to make a holier-than-thou call to boycott the con, I hope you’re investigating the stockholders of every corporation you buy things from, and boycotting them too when it turns out some stockholder that may have no say in running the corporation turns out to be bad person too.
Commenter Wrenn Simms made a similar statement on the previous post:
Are you saying you’d boycot Apple if you found out that he Kramer held Apple stock that gave him dividends?
This appears to be a version of a false dilemma, by incorrectly implying that you have two choices:
1. Research the shareholders of every company you give money to and boycott the companies that pay dividends to anyone you find detestable or
2. Ignore the fact that you are knowingly supporting an accused child molester.
When stated plainly, it should be obvious that these are not the only two options available. A similar argument I’ve heard is that If you stop buying clothes from a company that you discovered uses sweatshops, you’ll have to research the manufacturing of every company and possibly just give up and start sewing your own clothes. The alternate and more reasonable option is to adjust your behaviors depending upon the information you have or that you can get using an amount of effort that matches how much you care about the issue.
That’s what people do every day: they weigh how important something is to them against how difficult it is to attain. For instance, I want to maintain my physical health enough that I’ll exercise every day, but not so much that I won’t eat that chocolate cupcake. I’m not a hypocrite for doing the former along with the latter.
(But for the record, yes, if I learned that Kramer owned 30% of Apple’s stock I would stop buying their products.)
I think the DragonCon argument could also be considered a slippery slope fallacy if stated like so:
“If you start caring about who benefits from your money, you’ll be forced to spend every waking moment researching and you’ll have to give up things you don’t want to give up.”
Again, this is plainly ridiculous when spelled out. You have every right to use the facts at your disposal to determine who you’d like to give money to, despite the fact that you can’t possibly know or control where every cent you hand over goes. Here are two more analogies to make it clearer:
- If you stop hanging out with a friend because you discover she was convicted of drunk driving, you’ll have to perform background checks on all your friends to make sure they’re acceptable.
- If you give change to that homeless person, you’ll have to give change to every homeless person on the block.
So to sum up, I think it’s great that people with more knowledge of the DragonCon situation are bringing up valid points about how much control DragonCon has over its ability to pay Kramer and what they’ve done to be rid of him. But, it doesn’t help anyone’s argument to tack on an ugly fallacy that dismisses the entire idea of socially responsible spending.