In 2020, I missed being in my classroom as an On Duty Teacher and decided to create a series of lessons for anyone who felt like learning them.
Our series on How To Be a Better Arguer continues…
The False Equivalence: what are we to do when someone suggests that two things, people, or ideas are the same while ignoring their differences?
I hate this one. People use it ALL THE TIME. And those people suck.
Person “A”: “I think it’s morally wrong to unleash a secret police force on peaceful protestors and it’s a classic indicator of Fascism in the making.”
Person “B”: “what? We should allow a bunch of thugs and rioters to lock people in public buildings and set them on fire? Lock ‘em all up. They deserve what they get.”
Insert eye roll here.
The logical fallacy here (and, remember, a logical fallacy is an ERROR. It’s a sign of weak arguments. It’s invalid.) is in the suggestion that the actions of armed military forces deployed by the US government are EQUIVALENT to citizen protestors.
Frankly, there’s an Ad Hominem attack in there, too. Did you catch it in Person B’s statement?
To have a valid argument, Person B, you’ll have to either use two equivalent entities in your message or prove (remember your data and warrant) that the two entities you use in your statement are actually already equivalent.
Now, for two entities to be equivalent, they have to have more characteristics in common than not. And the similarities you suggest have to bear equivalent weight, severity, or importance. For example, people call both Joe Biden and Donald Trump “sexual assaulters.” But, are the allegations, instances, and types of assault truly comparable? For you to make the argument that they’re both terrible choices for President because they’re both rapey, you’ll have to show that they are. (Please note: this article was originally written in the summer of 2020)
So, in our previous example, armed secret military police physically injuring unarmed protestors MUST be equally wrong, frequent, severe, deplorable, harmful, and “bad for America” as are the actions of people exercising First Amendment rights and speaking out (ironically) against police brutality.
Frankly, in the initial example, Person B focuses on one PART of a revolutionary movement: rioting and destruction. In fact, Person B referenced one specific day within one specific part of that revolutionary movement: the fires set at a police headquarters following George Floyd’s death. So, the qualifications for equivalency aren’t met: Person B’s example is not similar in duration, in number, in degree, or in value. So, this doesn’t work.
When an internet troll comes at you with “men get sexually assaulted, too!,” or “Auschwitz’s existence is proof that Confederate statues must remain intact,” you’ve got a False Equivalencer (probably not a word) on your hands.
To combat it, you point out how their argument does not apply an appropriate analogy, or how their statements do not represent equivalent subsets of information.
Good lord. “Subsets?” “Equivalent?” “Degree?” “Data?” My 11th grade Trig teacher was right: math concepts are used in other fields.
At any rate, if you’re interested in learning more about this from people smarter than I am, check this out: https://effectiviology.com/false-equivalence/. They do a super nice job of explaining this in much more academic and think-y words.
Until next time, friends, I’m Off Duty Mom and this is my Masterclass.