The tic of the excluded middle

A little while back I had a very frustrating conversation. It went something like this:

    ME: So, either this thing or that thing.

    The OTHER: No, that's not right.

    ME: But wouldn't you agree that in the case where this thing isn't so, that thing is?

    The OTHER: Yes, of course.

    ME: And wouldn't you also agree that in the case where that thing isn't so, this thing is?

    The OTHER: Certainly.

    ME: So, either this thing or that thing.

    The OTHER: You can't say that!

    ME: Why not?

    The OTHER: Because you don't know if it's true.

By this point in the conversation my left eye was displaying a noticeable tic. My interlocutor's point was that we didn't know, owing to a number of epistemic vagaries, whether this thing or that thing was the case. And my point...

Well, I didn't really have a point. I agreed about our epistemic vulnerabilities and, moreover, with my interlocutor's practical recommendations as to how we should proceed given those vulnerabilities. There would have been no disagreement at all were in not for the fact of my intimate and committed relationship to the law of the excluded middle.

With difficulty I let the matter drop. Though not with the degree of grace that I strive for.

Which brings me to this display of idiocy from Mark Glassman in Sunday's New York Times. The key grafs:
Of course, diplomacy depends upon stylized language, and other administrations have been equally adept at recycling it. But "no better friend" seems to imply an intimacy at odds with too frequent use.

Thomas E. Patterson, a political scientist at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, notes that the term is semantically clever. "You could at least argue that there could be more than one in a 'no-better-friend' category," he said.
|The Best (Almost) of Friends|

Zwichenzug, a blogger with no discernable credentials, notes that you would win that argument. Not that anyone would notice.

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