2368: Bigger Problem

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
Revision as of 23:04, 29 January 2024 by (talk) (Undo revision 333776 by (talk) There are so many potentially specific examples. I don't think it helps to try to make this about any single one of them.)
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Bigger Problem
Your point that the world contains multiple problems is a real slam-dunk argument against fixing any of them.
Title text: Your point that the world contains multiple problems is a real slam-dunk argument against fixing any of them.


Cueball is asking White Hat to help fix an unspecified problem with the world. Presumably, he is working for some form of charity and perhaps asking for donations or signatures. White Hat responds by saying that Cueball doesn't care (about, presumably, the world) and that he would be working to fix an unspecified larger issue if he really cared. Cueball then asks if White Hat would rather be working to solve that problem. However, White Hat says that he doesn't want to, but that he also hasn't come up with an excuse not to yet. White Hat seems as if he couldn't be bothered, and wants to go on with his life.

The claim that someone is not working towards an important issue, while not always completely invalid, is commonly used as a cheap tactic to ignore a solution to a problem, even when the person using it does want to help out with either cause and is also a logical fallacy known as the "Not as bad as" fallacy, Fallacy of Relative Privation, or Appeal to Worse Problems. In the last panel of this comic, White Hat reveals that he isn't sufficiently devoted to either cause to act on them, so that his bringing up the larger issue appears less like interest in the larger issue than an excuse to not support Cueball's cause.

The title text furthers this point. While the argument used by White Hat is supposed to imply that the person giving the argument cares about an issue that matters more (to the exclusion of the other issue), it's often used, as seen in this comic, as an excuse to not work to fix any problem, making it "a real slam-dunk argument against fixing any of them."

Both causes in the comic are referred to ambiguously and surrounded with angle brackets to imply that they can be filled it with any two problems, as the comic is supposed to depict a common situation that happens during discussions of many different causes.

This comic is quite similar to 871: Charity because both have a character that responds to people trying to help "by figuring out a reason that they're not really as good as they seem". Additionally, it seems to relate to 1447: Meta-Analysis on being very meta. 1232: Realistic Criteria has an extremely similar conversation between Cueball and White Hat.

People sometimes use similar fallacious reasoning against themselves, thinking that they shouldn't tackle "simple" "unimportant" problems when there are "important" problems outstanding, even if the former are within their ability to handle but the latter aren't. This can be a form of self-sabotaging behavior.

In essence, this may be an example of the principle "The perfect is the enemy of the good." That is, it is better to make a small advance which does some good. If you insist on doing nothing until you cure everything to perfection, nothing will be done.


[Cueball, holding a clipboard next to his body in his left hand, holds his right hand palm up towards White Hat.]
Cueball: I'm trying to fix <problem with the world>. Can you help?
[Cueball stands with both arms down while white Hat lift one hand up toward Cueball.]
White Hat: It's obvious you don't actually care. If you did, you'd be trying to fix <bigger problem> instead.
[Same setting as the first picture, wit Cueball's hand a bit further out towards White Hat.]
Cueball: Okay, want to help fix <bigger problem>?
White Hat: No, for another reason I'll think of later.

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I have a saying that's kinda related: Someone else's broken arm does not make my broken wrist less painful. 17:46, 5 October 2020 (UTC)

I feel like this could have been blackhat instead of whitehat 18:27, 5 October 2020 (UTC)

Nah, Whitehat's been used before as the guy who keeps introducing stupid or strawman arguments - like 1314:Photos
No, it being White Hat is important. White Hat at least deludes himself that he's doing what's right. Black Hat knows full well he's a troll and doesn't pretend otherwise. The point of this comic is that this diminishment of problems is a means to make yourself feel more comfortable with your own inaction. 19:57, 5 October 2020 (UTC)
would it have mattered? Donthaveusername (talk) 21:52, 5 October 2020 (UTC)
("would it have mattered?", or "it've" if you wish. Please consider this a problem I feel is worth trying to solve, though I know I never will succeed.) White Hat has prior form in what could easily be the exact same discussion. See 1232. Assuming that NASA started to employ chuggers to get their funding, that is. 22:55, 5 October 2020 (UTC)
I corrected my grammar, thanks Donthaveusername (talk) 17:56, 6 October 2020 (UTC)

This doesn't just apply to big problems in the world. As a software developer, we often have to fix a small problem, and then someone will inevitably try to expand this into solving big problem, of which this is just one symptom. Barmar (talk) 22:08, 5 October 2020 (UTC)

I think a paragraph should be added warning against this fallacy in real life - a call to action of sorts to encourage people not to worry about whether there's a bigger problem, but to tackle some sort of problem in their lives they feel is manageable. Would this be out of place? 22:26, 5 October 2020 (UTC)

I agree, and have added such a note. BunsenH (talk) 22:49, 5 October 2020 (UTC)s

This reminds me of the famous Matt Bors comic after which his new book is named. 05:39, 6 October 2020 (UTC)

Is this kind of like as a social conservative, I care about euthanasia, war, abortion, and the death penalty and want them all reduced, but I also care about doing what I can about climate change even if I am skeptical that human beings can do anything to reverse climate change at this point, and so I drive a 2006 prius with all sorts of pro-life bumper stickers and am planning on, when I change out the battery at 300,000 miles, to add a 3rd party plug in charger reducing my once-every-three-months gas tank fill up to once a year?Seebert (talk) 15:31, 6 October 2020 (UTC)

Perhaps see if you can get your old batteries (maybe paired up with someone else's, to deal with the capacity bleed that forced you to replace them) and put them in a Home Storage Unit that you can feed with excess renewable energy (your own, or off the grid at anti-peak times) and this balance of energy then becomes as much as possible of the home-charging power given to your PIH car. This solves some of the problems caused by the attempt to use certain Green Revolution solutions (the need to recycle/(re)manufacture batteries, the energy load now not taken by tanks of hydrocarbons now needing to come off the domestic electricity supplies, etc). There's plenty of knock-on effects to consider. 19:45, 6 October 2020 (UTC)
That is extremely possible. There's a guy in San Francisco harvesting and testing old prius cells; he apparently acquires them cheaply enough (stolen from junkyards perhaps) to offer them on Facebook Marketplace for $25 a cell. There are 28 cells in the standard prius 10kwh pack, each pack contains enough energy to push a prius 20 miles at 20 miles per hour (aka the infamous "out of gas" mode that you hit if you try to drive a prius >550 miles on a single tank of gas).

This comic depends on what RationalWiki calls the "Not as bad as" fallacy, which apparently has the fancier name "Fallacy of Relative Privation." 18:35, 6 October 2020 (UTC)

I went ahead and added it in with a link to TVTropes and RationalWiki.The 𝗦𝗾𝗿𝘁-𝟭 talk stalk 03:48, 7 October 2020 (UTC)

At least cueball ends up focused on the bigger problem. Too often I find people get caught up in an insignificant piece of a larger problem, a larger problem that they're ignoring. Then they fix the tiny symptom in a way that's unfair or makes it much harder to fix the real problem, often both. --Dprovan (talk) 16:29, 7 October 2020 (UTC)

Two points: First, if your goal is to help the world by trying to fix some problem with it, the proper way to decide which problem to focus on is not the biggest problem, but you have to multiply together the severity of the problem, how likely you would be able to successfully help with fixing the problem, and, if successful in helping with the problem, how much help that would most likely be and the portion of the problem you would be able to personally fix. You should also factor in how much time or expenses you would incur in the attempt. Secondly, the proper response that should have been given by the guy at the end, instead of that lame deflection, should be "I was saying earlier that focusing on the wrong problem showed that you didn't really care. However, to begin with I never once actually claimed that I cared myself."-- 05:12, 8 October 2020 (UTC)


WHY ARE NONE OF THE XKCD CHARACTERS WEARING MASKS? Donthaveusername (talk) 19:46, 9 October 2020 (UTC)

Dunno! I guess it's not really that important to the comics. Wear masks, people! (talk) 21:40, 11 October 2020 (please sign your comments with ~~~~)