False equivalence

My friend Hugh Curtler and others correctly talk about democracy requiring an informed electorate. Our founders saw a key role in the media to keep us more informed and search for the truth. One of challenges today is most of our electorate chooses not to be informed and would rather be entertained. I have written before about the United States of Entertainment.

Of those who do try to be informed, we need to spend time looking for valid sources. And, we need to ask questions when we learn of information from less legitimate sources, such as a Facebook post, Tweet or email. Where did you hear that? That cannot be true, so what is your source?

Even, so-called news outlets often are conflicted or biased, so information has to be taken with a grain of salt, or some cases looked at with a high degree of skepticism. As my boss used to say, “My Daddy told me to believe half of what you read and nothing of what you hear.”

One area that frustrates me is false equivalence. This is when biased news sources try to portray both sides of an issue as 50/50 when the issue is not even weighted in consensus or truth. An easy example is Fox News with its treatment of the issue of climate change has perpetuated a hoax issue for a long time, because of the heavy influence of the fossil fuel industry. It should be noted that Exxon-Mobil is under investigation by three attorney generals for misrepresenting the impact of climate change on its business to its shareholders, which is a crime if true.

The other way false equivalence is used is to say because one politician has made some mistakes, that it negates the mistakes of an opponent who has spent a lifetime of self-interest, not caring much about others. This sentence probably defines our Presidential election as clearly as it can be defined. We have one candidate who has spent a lifetime of service helping people, getting high marks for the jobs she did, but who has made mistakes and is too zealous in protecting her image.

We have another candidate whose lifetime has been one of exploiting others for money and not treating people well along the way, whether it stiffing them, suing them, lying to them, fooling them or just leaving them holding the bag. Getting his share takes precedence over anything and whether others get theirs is less relevant. And, it still does.

The key is to look at people’s real history. What did they do, how did they do it and how did they treat people along the way? That is the best way to judge how they will act in the future.

56 thoughts on “False equivalence

  1. You are so right that the electorate do not wish to be informed, but rather entertained. I spend, on average, 6-10 hours a day researching, checking and double checking sources, then writing my posts. I still sometimes get it wrong, but not for lack of trying. Yet just last night, a ‘friend’ on Facebook said that I ‘don’t even research’ and don’t know any real facts. The source of her anger was that she posted a meme about Hillary in prison garb, and I made the mistake of commenting that Hillary had done nothing to go to prison for. I was ganged up on by 4-5 of her friends and called ‘stupid’, ‘lazy’, and more. I’m not super thin-skinned, but I was offended … none of them even wanted to hear facts, or informed opinion. Sigh.

    • Jill, I am sorry you were ganged up on. People think if they shout someone down or gang up that means they win the argument. I have a colleague who would ask “help me understand” when he felt the other person’s argument was not well grounded. Sometimes, you have to pick your battles. It is hard to reason when fear and loathing are used to sell an opposing point. Keith

      • The only thing that would happen is to create cognitive dissonance, which they will cure by talking to another supporter who says Trump told us not to listen to to them. The New York AG who told the Trump Foundation to cease receiving donations was discounted by Trump as politically motivated, eg.

      • Yes, I generally pick my battles more wisely, but sometimes something just strikes me wrong, at the wrong time, or in the wrong mood, and I type out a response before taking the time to ask myself if this is really worth even commenting on. I’m usually smarter than that, but this time I was not looking where I was going 🙂

      • Jill, I understand letting something slip in a weak moment. I have also deleted comments after review or sitting on them. I very rarely regret deleting something in these instances. Thanks, Keith

    • Very sad. Gingrich is telling his listeners to ignore “Fact Check” as it is all made up!! Trump’s mindless minions are convinced the only facts come from his mouth. It’s a case of group dementia!

    • Dear Jill, I once made the mistake of telling a friend that I voted for Barack Obama v Senator John McCain. She hung up on me and wouldn’t speak to me for weeks. All our mutual friends heard from her. Now when someone asks me how I voted, I just say that my vote is private.

      Ciao, Gronda

    • What you describe is consensus by mob and it is the favored tactic of bullies.

      Bullies ALWAYS know that they are wrong and they are usually cowards that run in packs.

      They had to attack you because they can’t argue the facts.

      Trump supporters who still argue that Hillary Clinton is too corrupt to be President given what we know for fact about Trump has entered a bottomless well of hypocrisy.

      The meme is a distraction and a lie and they know it.

      You didn’t make a mistake by challenging that meme; in fact you were acting in a long democratic tradition of free and open debate.

      They wanted to silence you by making you afraid to question them.

      They have no interest in the facts.

      • And, as Newt Gingrich said facts are overrated. I think it is incumbent on each of us to use legitimate facts and sources and avoid name calling, even when called such names. Good comment.

      • Of course, Pence’s tactic is to say his running mate never said things. With audio, video and word records, they are little factoids that he did say something, true or not.

      • Yes, that is all so true! Thanks for your supportive comment … I was feeling like I had let myself sink into the muck along with them 🙂

      • That’s what bullies and narcissists do. They dump their negativity onto other people, and project their faults and failings onto us. They silence opposition with rage and walk away feeling great about themselves. Whether it is Trump working to silence the media with frivolous law suits or roving gangs of racists on the Internet spreading lies the game is always the same: they are flawless. You will never hear them apologize.

      • Agreed. When he is accused of a certain behavior or trait, he turns it on his opponent. Clinton’s sanity or temperament were never questioned until Trump’s were. Clinton’s ability to do the job was less an issue until Trump was criticized as unfit.

      • This narcissists has powerful enablers in the media and in the House.

        People who are responsible for keeping this kind of pathology out of our political process are actively working to place it President.

        We know that once a Narcissist has power he will use it to silence opposition.

        Power will also makes them paranoid which means he will silence potential opposition where it doesn’t exist .

      • Rob, great examples are in the Philippines and Russia. I am hoping the latest lewd video on Trump will be his Waterloo. This shows predatory behavior, not just lewd, locker room talk.

        And, this is just one more example of his lack of character. Keith

      • Yet, the evangelical leaders are sticking by him for his Supreme Court support. They fail to see the every day lesson of his bigotry, xenophobia, misogyny, lying, and bombast will be far more harmful to American youth than the tolerated discrimination they seek from the Supreme Court that protects so very little and does the opposite of what they intend.

      • Interestingly, it is. My thesis is when Congress fails to follow process, they are making it political. The President did his job and Congress failed to do theirs. He even made it easy for them by picking a more centrist jurist.

      • Excellent point. Our legislators need to realize they represent all their constituents not just their party’s voters.

      • I just had this conversation with my partner. He was upset about the Wikileak and I was but I’ve had time to think about it and realize that I, like most Americans, lose sight of the fact that all of the citizens of the United States have a right to representation, this includes ‘elites’.

        How does one person do this?

      • My main concern with Wikileaks is it is unfair since it is not even handed. HRC is far from perfect, but I truly would love to see comparative sets of emails, just like taxes. Someone who read HRC’s emails came away impressed at how organized in her schedule she was, building a series of meetings on every trip. Could you imagine the composition of DT’s emails?

    • Thanks Ron. I often see this used when one bad example of someone is used to negate twenty bad examples of another. The Clinton Foundation is well regarded and does a huge amount of good work around the globe, so if course like minded leaders will be of interest to a Sec of State. The a Trump Foundation has examples of self dealing, operating without license to do so, illegal donations, tax fraud and a namesake who has not contributed recently. There is a pattern here.

  2. False equivalence is something I’ve thought about at work. It is generally expected that public libraries buy nonfiction materials on various sides of an issue. It is rare that one book will summarize multiple viewpoints, so we need to purchase several books to cover an issue. Some books attempt to be unbiased while others avidly promote their singular point of view. I do get frustrated sometimes when someone finds a “neutral” book and asks us to buy additional books on the same topic that have extreme biases – or even several books promoting the same agenda! Money is always tight and it’s hard to justify the expense so we muddle along, buying well-reviewed items, the most popular items, those in the news media, etc. while trying not to let the shelves be taken over by one perspective.

    Speaking of books, I have a book-related question for you. Can you send me an email at anexactinglife at g mail (usual address format)?

    • I feel your lament. There are some editorial writers who are overly biased and not very fact based. The frustrating part is they are well read. I will send you an email tomorrow. Thanks for reaching out.

  3. Dear Keith, Thanks for your discussion on this issue. It is one of my pet peeves, especially during this election season.

    Your description of HRC fits her, “. We have one candidate who has spent a lifetime of service helping people, getting high marks for the jobs she did, but who has made mistakes and is too zealous in protecting her image.”

    Ciao, Gronda

  4. Note to Readers: The false equivalence argument hits home when the issue of infidelity comes up in the Presidential race. One major candidate has had multiple affairs and been married three times. The video out today reveals a predatory, powerful man who speaks openly and derogatorily about using his power to sexually harass and intimidate women, even married ones.

    He says he will bring up Bill Clinton’s infidelities, but last time I checked, Bill is not running for President. The issue he is trying to make is Hillary stood by her husband and even protected him. Was she zealous of protecting Bill, probably. Did she give him hell in privately – that would be my guess. Did she stand by her man, yes.

    To be honest, if Trump brings this up, he would be doing so at his peril.

  5. I have as a teacher and writer struggled with the use of false equivalencies in arguments. Usually the equivalency is used against me, but I find myself guilty of the same tactic every now and again. It is rampant among my Republican friends and relatives, especially here in Texas. They put weights on the scale differently than I do. For instance, I have a son and four cousins who are or were in the Navy and Marines. They are taught in the armed services to love and depend on their weapons (do not dare call them “guns”), and so a 2nd Amendment point in any political argument carries a tonnage that I can’t even conceive of in weighing matters. Even the ones I don’t usually think of as conservatives are prejudiced by their training and background in this way. Because Trump says the right key words borrowed from the NRA, what he says in favor of the 2nd Amendment makes them choose him over Hillary, even though she has repeatedly pointed out that she is no enemy to sensible gun rights. Prejudice puts unfair gravity on one side of the scale or the other and makes false equivalency easy even for people who are not at heart more interested in entertainment than the issues.

    • Thanks for your well thought out comment. We clearly need better governance which is precisely HRC’s position. Yet, the NRA and her opponent have spun a story that says she is coming for your guns. I would love your comments on my current post, which is an attempt to define differences for millennials.

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