The Name Game

One thing members of Congress struggle to get for themselves is the right to name the bill. If you got the name, you’ve won the game. It’s how something as insidious as “The Patriot Act” comes off sounding vaguely virtuous. Naming something as if the name settles the discussion or solves the problem is a tactic frequently used as a distraction from the issue itself. This is known as the Nominal Fallacy. In the case of the above-mentioned legislation, the name of it sounds red-blooded and proud, while the act itself allows government agencies access to all of our electronic communication. The following Buddhist folktale offers a similar example of the nominal fallacy:

The King’s Decree

A King had citizens living in a village ten miles from his palace. This village had fantastic spring water, and the King ordered the villagers to bring him some every day.

The villagers, however, were greatly annoyed and inconvenienced by the lengthy trip. One day, a village leader said, “I’m going to go to the King and ask him to issue a decree stating that from now on, the distance from our village to the palace will only be one mile. This will make our task much easier.”

After hearing the man’s request, the King gladly complied and issued the decree—much to the delight of the villagers. One of them, however, remarked, “What difference will that make? The distance will remain the same—only the name will change!”

Nevertheless, the villagers still believed in the King’s decree.

People who cling too much to names and words often act like those villagers.


Author: Craig Butcher

Craig Butcher is an award-winning educator who has taught critical thinking skills for more than two decades. In addition, he has worked on Capitol Hill as a congressional staffer and has been a top-rated broadcaster.