The Fallacy of Relative Privation

Hello My Imaginary Friends,

When you’re arguing, there are certain types of arguments that are called Fallacies.

A fallacy is an incorrect argument in logic and rhetoric which undermines an argument’s logical validity or more generally an argument’s logical soundness. (Wikipedia)

Like most things, once you know about them you’ll have a hard time not seeing them everywhere.


The Fallacy that’s been really pissing me off lately is “The Fallacy of Relative Privation.” It’s the one parents on TV use to make their kids eat liver, “Eat. There are starving kids in Africa.”

The reason this particular fallacy angers me is its dismissive nature. It effectively says that instead of being upset about your problems, you should be thankful they aren’t worse. In other words, stop your whining it’s not that bad.

It’s a toxic attitude for three reasons: it devalues personal experiences, encourages harmful behaviour, and it’s easily internalized.

Devaluing Personal Experiences

Let me make something clear: No one has the right to tell you what you’re feeling isn’t valid. Cutting my finger doesn’t hurt any less because someone else cut theirs completely off.

Not everyone experiences life the same way and it’s both wrong and egotistical to assume they do. A veteran from a war where there was heavy bombing my have his PTSD triggered by fireworks. To tell that veteran that they’re overreacting or should be happy they still have their legs is cruel.

People will often use this fallacy with victims of emotional or sexual abuse. “At least they didn’t…” is a terrible thing to say to someone who’s recovering from a trauma.

Both examples here are why trigger warnings are important. And if you read the previous statement and thought, “Not all trigger warnings are real” or “but trigger warnings have been taken too far,” then you’re devaluing someone else’s personal experience.

Encouraging Harmful Behaviour

Not everyone has the same experiences, not everyone experiences things the same way, and what’s good for one person isn’t always good for everyone.

Let’s get back to the argument that you should eat everything on your plate because someone else has no food. Sounds logical right?

Let’s convert that to something else; hats. Now there are places in the world where you are not allowed to wear hats and there are people who can’t afford hats. Does this mean you should always wear a hat? Since others can’t, should you wear multiple hats?

No, the answer is no and encouraging people to eat beyond what they’re hungry for sets a terrible precedence for health.

It goes beyond just eating though, we live in a culture that says you should look or feel a certain way, and if a celebrity can do it why can’t you? (The answer is that it’s their job and they have the time and money to make it work. Even then, they can’t always, and that’s why they use photoshop.)

Mental health is extremely different from person to person. What would hurt one person might not be noticed by another. Just because one person has life worse doesn’t mean your depression isn’t bad.

Internalized (AKA the fallacy we use on ourselves)

The scariest part of this fallacy is how easily we can internalize it. How easily we can start believing that we are over exaggerating and should be thankful it’s not worse.

I shouldn’t be upset, because X lost his job, and Y was in a car accident.

This is the point where I need to repeat:

No one has the right to tell you what you’re feeling isn’t valid. Especially you!

In Conclusion

We may be going through the same thing, but experiencing it completely differently. Let yourself hurt without being made to feel guilty. What you’re feeling is valid to you.

Do not let people use this fallacy to make you complacent. Your problems might be less than others, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have the right to fix them.


Later Days,


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4 thoughts on “The Fallacy of Relative Privation”

  1. I hate this fallacy so much.

    So we should accept awful conditions because someone else is worse off? Absolutely not. Here’s something to suck on:

    How about we fix our own back yards before we complain about the neighbours.


  2. I’ve heard that the line about ‘starving kids in Africa’ may possibly be one factor in obesity later in life. Some people were bullied so much into believing that not finishing all their food was bad that they’ve become very reluctant to decline offers of food and can often end up overeating, not to mention that potentially being forced to eat more than they want can potentially increase their appetite to an unhealthy level


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