Appeal to Worse Problems

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    "Your point that the world contains multiple problems is a real slam-dunk argument against fixing any of them."

    Appeal To Worse Problems

    Also called

    • The "Children Are Starving In Africa!" Argument.
    • Appeal to Shame
    • Appeal to Guilt

    Arguing that expressing concern about a (relatively) small problem means that the person doesn't care about any larger problems. A type of Strawman, this fallacy takes the opponent's claim and appends to it the following additional claims:

    1. That it is not possible to care about big and small problems simultaneously.
    2. That venting a minor complaint is sufficient proof that the major problem is considered unimportant.
    3. That if the person irritated over the minor problem did help solve or even cared about the big problems, he would then not mind at all that his car broke down or whatever the frustration was...or because there are people with worse problems, that person shouldn't complain about a frustration.

    The intent is to distort the opponent's claim X into "X, which is far more important than anything else."

    Examples of Appeal to Worse Problems include:


    • The "And you are worried about stepping on dog poo" ad in Reader's Digest about landmines.


    • Commonly used when an unrealistic element of fiction is being argued about; for example, if one person questions how Naboo in Star Wars can have an elected monarchy (or what the point of such an institution would actually be), the second states something like "And this is the biggest problem you have in a universe with mystic powers and spaceships as big as moons?"
      • There's an old fiction saying about this: "You can ask an audience to believe the impossible, but not the improbable." If our hero must win a game of poker versus the Galactic Emperor Zurg to save Earth from the Unobtanium Bomb, people will buy it. If he wins the game with a Royal Flush beating a 4-of-a-kind, they cry foul.
      • And an especially unfortunate question, as elected monarchies are hardly unheard of. Ask the people of Norway, who elected Prince Charles of Denmark as king back in 1905. (Or the nobles of Cambodia, who elect that country's king to this day.)
    • Done in A Christmas Story when the little brother doesn't eat the meat loaf because he hates it. The mother then says starving children in China would be happy to have it...before finally getting him to eat by saying, "How do the piggies eat?"


    • In the Dilbert book The Joy of Work, Scott Adams responds to Norman Solomon's book The Trouble with Dilbert by writing a fictional interview between Solomon and Dogbert. When he has Solomon complain that Dilbert attacks Pointy Haired Bosses more than Corrupt Corporate Executives, Dogbert's counter argument is that Solomon clearly supports teen pregnancy because he didn't write a book about that.

    Newspaper Comics

    • Appears very frequently in For Better or For Worse, when a character wants to shut up the complaints of another, typically along the lines of "You're sitting around complaining about a haircut when there are refugees in war torn countries out there!"

    New Media

    • The internet meme "First World Problems" seems to imply this.


    • Constitutes the Misery Poker trope. And the Serious Business trope, if used as an insult. (The implication being that you take it too seriously and other things not seriously enough.)

    Web Comics

    • xkcd supplies the page image.

    Web Original

    • Played for Laughs: Fark has many headlines that fall into this, mostly for local legislatures who, "having solved all other problems", get to work on something mostly innocuous. Also, whenever doctors come up with some silly technological innovation, you can be sure there'll be a Fark headline about it ending with, "Still no cure for cancer."

    Real Life

    • This (specifically the starving African children) has become a fairly popular T-Shirt. It personifies Africa as saying "And you think you have problems..."
    • A similar fallacy is the "if you care so much, why aren't you doing something about it?" argument, which is also related to the Perfect Solution Fallacy in that the only way that the target can be doing something about it to the arguer's satisfaction is to be devoting 24 hours of every day to the issue and therefore not be involved in the debate.
    • Complain about your parents. Watch how many people respond with how their parents were worse and you have no right to complain.
      • For that matter, complain about anything that isn't something like immediately life-endangering and count how many people start giving you snide comments about "First world problems" and the like.
    • Mocked on the internet where someone once said, "If we really had no right to complain about stuff because others have it worse, then by that means, people like Michael Moore and every radio talk show host should be out of a job, and most of the northern hemisphere should be dead silent, because the only people who have a right to complain are those in Somalia, Afghanistan, Sudan, etc."
      • Oh heck, the stablehand of a warlord in Somalia, Afghanistan, Sudan, etc, is better off than that same warlord's Child Soldiers and Sex Slaves.

    Looks like this fallacy but is not

    • When dealing with limited time or resources, and discussion or debate of the lesser problem is impeding the parties from solving or addressing the greater problem ("Re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic")
    • When used as a counter to the hyperbole of "If there's one thing that..."

    Counter-argument cliche: "You know how to eat an elephant? One bite at a time."