Wednesday, January 12, 2011

False Equivalency Equals Faulty Equation


Equivalency means two things being almost equal if not exact. Therefore, if I say an apple is fruit and a banana is fruit, I am making a correct equivalency. However, if I say a Red Delicious apple is the same as a banana some could argue a false equivalency because a Red Delicious apple is red, whereas a banana is yellow. Someone else may say, yes, but they are still fruit. Then someone else could say some apples are yellow and bananas are yellow and they are both fruit so they are the same. Then someone else could say, yes but bananas are only yellow when they aren’t green or brown.

See, when it comes to fruit, you can’t have a discussion without someone having an alternate version that isn’t false but which is different from the opponent’s position.

If I say that trees are green someone can say, not all are green and not all green trees are green all the time.

If I say boys are more active than girls someone will provide examples of hyper-active girls and sedate boys.

If I say clouds are all the same someone will point out the various types.

So when I say that some people on the left have used vitriolic language, I should not be accused of making a false equivalency because it’s a far more nuanced issue than fruit. Hell, even that statement could be argued as a false equivalency.

Now, if I point out 3 instances of when the left has used questionable hyperbole while I also point out 30 cases where the right has done it, I should not be accused of making a false equivalency. I have not said 3 = 30. I have said they each share a digit, they are each numbers. There are many similarities between 3 and 30 but they are not equal and pointing out the similarities is not a statement that they are equal.

I have been a part of and have witnessed two conversations since the tragedy in Tucson. I am going to paraphrase both conversations and show why I think the “false equivalency” argument is a waste of real opportunity to get everyone, regardless of their party’s eagerness or opposition to use vitriol in the debate, to stop using it – period.

Conversation A:

Republican: “Sarah Palin did not incite hate. If you think she did, what do you have to say about the time Obama said, ‘Don’t take a knife to a gunfight’, huh?”

Democrat: “Looking back, I’d have to say I wish he hadn’t used that line. Even though it’s an old cliché, I wish we weren’t using any language that implies aggression or violence. I pledge not to use that language and to reject it if anyone in my party uses it. Now, do YOU reject that language used in your party?”

Republican: “Yes, I reject that language in my party.”

Conversation B:

Republican: “Sarah Palin did not incite hate. If you think she did, what do you have to say about the time Obama said, ‘Don’t take a knife to a gunfight’, huh?”

Democrat: “There is no comparison between the left and the right here. The right has had far more vitriol and has created this atmosphere since a black man became President. So, no, there is nothing vitriolic about his statement. No one in MY party has called for shootings or ‘second amendment remedies’ or for people to ‘reload’ or be ‘armed and dangerous’. So no, MY party isn’t part of the problem.”

Republican: “Oh, I see. MY party is racist and violent because we’re white and want to protect our rights and hate the way the government is destroying our country. Your party can say whatever it wants and use whatever words and images it wants because you when you use it it doesn’t mean anything. But when MY party uses it, we’re telling crazy people to kill people. Only crazy people are on the right, is that what you’re saying?”

Democrat: “No, there are crazy people on the left but our crazies don’t take guns to speeches and don’t kill people.”

Republican: “Well this guy was a liberal. Look at the books he read.”

Democrat: “What he read doesn’t mean he was a liberal. He shot a Democrat who Sarah Palin put a target on in campaign rhetoric.”

Republican: “Two of the victims who died were Republicans.”

Democrat: “The shooter couldn’t have known that.”

Republican: “And Sarah Palin couldn’t have known some crazy would misconstrue what she meant.”

Democrat: “We warned of this. She could have known because we raised this point over and over.”

Republican: “See, you wanted this to happen just so you could say, ‘I told you so’.”

In Conversation A, the Democrat acknowledged the FRACTION of poor choices by the Democratic party and the conversation moved forward.

In Conversation B, the Democrat decided that acknowledging a fraction was conceding a false equivalency. That conversation is still spiraling into an abyss of nothing.

EDIT: Here is the transcript from Obama's Tucson Memorial speech. All he said is what I meant to say.

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