Thursday, August 22, 2013

False Equivalency Poser

 Mathematical symbol for in-equation
A term I notice more and more as I scan through online articles and comment threads: "false equivalency". I understand the literal meaning of those words well enough, but at times am at a loss to relate them to what I'm reading. Having dipped into a variety of explanations of the term I see that it's one of, or maybe a generic term for (?) a family of figures of speech known as logical fallacies. See Skeptical Detective for a list of these.

As a Sun Aquarian logic ought to be stock-in-trade for me, but when logic is muffled in devious political argument it's sometimes hard to extract.

A definition of false equivalence in one sentence I quite liked is:
We may define false equivalence as when when someone falsely equates an act or idea of one as being equally egregious to that of another without also considering the underlying differences which may make the comparison invalid or unfair.

False equivalences often take the form of analogies that we are expected to take a little too seriously...............
See the rest HERE
Some examples given in attempted explanations around the net leave me still confused; one of the clearest, used in several different places, is this comparison:
The burka is worn by women and covers the hair.
The nun's habit is worn by women and covers the hair.
Thus the burka and nun's habit are equal.
That's patently untrue, and quite easy to dismantle. The problem for me comes when the false equivalency is wrapped up in a thick layer of party politics.

Anyone have any clear - or unclear - thoughts on this tangled topic?

There's quite likely to be a bit of false equivalency going on in astrology, come to think of it. Far be it from me to unscrew the lid on that wee can o' beans!


mike said...

I think Wiki has a decent explanation:
"A common way for this fallacy to be perpetuated is one shared trait between two subjects is assumed to show equivalence, especially in order of magnitude, when equivalence is not necessarily the logical result. The pattern of the fallacy is often as such: If A is the set of c and d, and B is the set of d and e, then since they both contain d, A and B are equal. It should be noted though that d existing in both sets is not required, only a passing similarity is required to cause this fallacy to be able to be used."

We are living in a time of polarizing concepts. Just about anything that is controversial can be considered to have false equivalence associated with the arguments. However, false equivalence has always been used throughout history...most glaringly in terms of (the denial of) human rights.

One could say that our legal system was designed to determine equivalency or false equivalency. The primary duty of SCOTUS is for that very purpose and typically entails the evaluation of complex and polarizing issues. Many of the decisions a lower court issues will be deemed a false equivalent by a higher court. Many equivalence issues are in flux with the evolving society. An issue that is falsely equivalent in one era can evolve with society to be equivalent in a later era.

Fear mongering depends on false equivalency. Taking away or not providing constitutionally guaranteed rights depends of false equivalency.

Twilight said...

mike ~ Thanks for this. We're on our way out just now, so will think on it further and try to respond in an intelligent way when we get back later today. So far, I'm still not getting real clarity - but that's due to my fuzzy brain rather than your explanation. :-)

LB said...

Hi Twilight - It's a mind-bending subject, isn't it? It takes effort to arrive at the TRUTH.

One example of a false *moral* equivalency (though controversial, as I assume most examples would be) was when President Obama, during a small, exclusive 2011 fundraiser, compared himself and his political agenda to that of Martin Luther King, Jr.:

Somewhat related to this, here's a link to a website and article you might enjoy on the connection between Critical Thinking and "Ethical Reasoning in Education":

I also liked the article on "Critical Thinking and Emotional Intelligence". Logic doesn't have to preclude warmth, empathy or compassion.

mike (again) said...

One of the best examples of false equivalency is the invasion of Iraq!

Please read the first section, "Background", of the following Wiki will find example after example of false equivalency:

LB said...

Another false equivalency is when people (on the political left *and* right) consider the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) to be a form of/step towards Universal Health Care, which it's not. For one thing, it's a false equivalency to compare *healthcare* to private health *insurance* or to assume that someone who has health insurance will necessarily have reasonable, affordable access to healthcare.

I support a form of Single-Payer Universal Health Care (H.R. 676). In truth, The Affordable Care Act is an *insurance* mandate (one previously supported by Republicans) that will compel Americans to purchase health insurance from private insurers while still leaving 30 million Americans without health insurance or affordable access to healthcare.

Ironically, the President made a similar point:

Twilight said...

mike and LB ~~~ Many thanks for all your information, suggestion and links, all of which I shall study - I've looked through them quickly already.

Iraq invasion....yes although I've always seen that as a simple set of lies.
Actually the word "lie" can be substituted in most cases for "false equivalence" far as I can tell. I'm beginning to suspect that FE has become a journalistic buzz word - a staple part of journalese, and rather more polite-sounding than "lie".

Obamacare is nothing but a gift to the health insurance corporations. I know what universal health care is from living most of my time in the UK with their National Health Service, and Obamacare ain't it! NHS, though it had faults was so much better for everyone than anything I've seen here. So yes, I get how false that equivalency is.

And Obama relating his programs to MLK - what cheek! We wish!

One I thought of while out today is the 2nd amendment - likening a "well regulated militia" to any Tom, Dick or Harry and his dog able to own a gun or a veritable armoury of guns. (Am I right?)

Thanks again to both. From now on I shall look out for more, as they arise. :-)

mike (again) said...

A false equivalence is false, because it lacks veracity. Your 2nd Amendment, "well regulated militia" example is not correct as defined by SCOTUS, therefore, your statement lacks veracity, so you are not right. I feel the same as you regarding the "well regulated militia"...and so does Justice Stevens (and Souter, Ginsberg, and Breyer).

From Wiki:

Meaning of "keep and bear arms"

In Heller the majority rejected the view that the term "to bear arms" implies only the military use of arms:

Before addressing the verbs “keep” and “bear,” we interpret their object: “Arms.” The term was applied, then as now, to weapons that were not specifically designed for military use and were not employed in a military capacity. Thus, the most natural reading of “keep Arms” in the Second Amendment is to “have weapons.” At the time of the founding, as now, to “bear” meant to “carry.” In numerous instances, “bear arms” was unambiguously used to refer to the carrying of weapons outside of an organized militia. Nine state constitutional provisions written in the 18th century or the first two decades of the 19th, which enshrined a right of citizens “bear arms in defense of themselves and the state” again, in the most analogous linguistic context—that “bear arms” was not limited to the carrying of arms in a militia. The phrase “bear Arms” also had at the time of the founding an idiomatic meaning that was significantly different from its natural meaning: “to serve as a soldier, do military service, fight” or “to wage war.” But it unequivocally bore that idiomatic meaning only when followed by the preposition “against,”. Every example given by petitioners’ amici for the idiomatic meaning of “bear arms” from the founding period either includes the preposition “against” or is not clearly idiomatic. In any event, the meaning of “bear arms” that petitioners and Justice Stevens propose is not even the (sometimes) idiomatic meaning. Rather, they manufacture a hybrid definition, whereby “bear arms” connotes the actual carrying of arms (and therefore is not really an idiom) but only in the service of an organized militia. No dictionary has ever adopted that definition, and we have been apprised of no source that indicates that it carried that meaning at the time of the founding. Worse still, the phrase “keep and bear Arms” would be incoherent. The word “Arms” would have two different meanings at once: “weapons” (as the object of “keep”) and (as the object of “bear”) one-half of an idiom. It would be rather like saying “He filled and kicked the bucket” to mean “He filled the bucket and died.”[162]

In a dissent, joined by Justices Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer, Justice Stevens said:

The Amendment's text does justify a different limitation: the "right to keep and bear arms" protects only a right to possess and use firearms in connection with service in a state-organized militia. Had the Framers wished to expand the meaning of the phrase "bear arms" to encompass civilian possession and use, they could have done so by the addition of phrases such as "for the defense of themselves".[163]

LB said...

My own understanding is that a false equivalency *compares* particular people, situations, issues, ideas or actions in a way that focuses on superficial similarities without taking context, motive, or other significant differences into account - resulting in a false conclusion being drawn about their 'equivalency' (equal merit, value, worth or truth).

A political false equivalency would involve an unfair or invalid comparison being made for political reasons, often intentionally to manipulate people into thinking/feeling a particular way about a cause or issue. It's not hard to push people's hot buttons, especially when the buttons being pushed help to justify strongly held positions or beliefs.

It's hard work to think and act with integrity and to dig beneath the surface.

Chomp (quite ex-Chomp) said...

Really interesting, false equivalence in politics is quite the norm and not a quiet norm ...

Twilight said...

mike ~ Hmmmm - that was my sloppy wording. Sorry. When I typed "Am I right?" what I really meant is "have I identified the kind of thing often presented as a false equivalency and debated as such?"

SCOTUS judges, or around half of 'em are in thrall to the NRA and goodness know who else - so they would argue that way wouldn't they?

If there were 9 men of integrity on that bench the view in the USA might be entirely different, not only re 2nd Amendment but also re Citizens United and corporations being classed as persons. GRRRRR!!

Can you tell I woke up in a crabby mood today? ;-)

Twilight said...

LB ~ Yes, that's more or less how I see FE; on a simple level it's not hard to spot. The political use of the term is the real poser. You've defined it there clearly, though LB. Thing is, almost everything that goes on in political debate involves some use of FE these days - or so it would seem. :-(

Twilight said...

Chomp ~ Hi there (ex-Chomp?) How come ex-?

Exactly - as I've just written to LB, it does seem to be the norm when one begins to search for examples of it.

Jen said...

Actually the burka and the nun's habit are 'the same' because they have the same historical origin.

The practise of women covering their hair and faces is a graeco roman european practise not a middle eastern one.

It was spread throughout the roman christian world, transmitted along with the new roman religion of christianity, and the uniform of nuns in the middle ages, was simply the plain dress of that era.
Check out some medieval paintings or tapestry, and you'll see that all the women have the same wimple style headcovering that is now only associated with nuns.

So what happened in the middle east, well the Ottomans happened. Muslim turks from central asia gradually conquered constantinople, the eastern capital of the roman empire from the 13th Century onwards, adopted the local graeco roman european practise of veiling their women, and when they subsequently conquered the middle east forcefully introduced the practise there.
Apparently the goal at the time in enforcing the veil, was to tame the notoriously wild and ferocious local arab women, who were known for going into battle alongside their men!

Twilight said...

Jen ~ Thank you for those facts. :-)

So there is equivalency, but only in their origin. Depending on the context of any debate on the matter then, the two: burka and nun's habit, may or may not qualify for false equivalency. A nun becomes a nun from choice, so elects to wear the habit of her chosen order. Middle-eastern females whose sect demands the burka have no choice in the matter. That's just one of the other facts which would qualify the two items for a false equivalency label, or so I suppose.