Anne Hathaway’s Oscars Dress and Janet Jackson’s Wardrobe Malfunction were both Fashion Mistakes
On average, you are probably good at critical thinking.
That may be a bad thing.
Nearly all of us want for good and true ideas to survive and for bad and false ideas to fail. I think most would endorse this goal even if told it might require the sacrifice of closely held beliefs.
Accepting the “good ideas” bargain is not simple though. You can’t check the label on the back of the box. Rather, you need to use critical thinking to evaluate ideas.
The problem is that you are a selectively good critical thinker. You think critically when sufficiently motivated and not at all otherwise. It’s no accident that Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton was hyper-critical in interpreting evidence that Barak Obama was not muslim—saying that she took him at his word that he wasn’t, so he probably wasn’t as far as she knew, but found the story that a pregnant woman and her child were left to die because they were unable to come up with a $100 fee totally believable.
Inconvenient information must be vetted with careful boundaries drawn so that no ground is needlessly ceded. Convenient information must be retweeted immediately. (Notice that convenient information isn’t necessarily pleasant. Rather, it’s information that supports your narrative.)
Your critical thinking should be applied consistently and wielded as one would a fencing sword. Often, we instead bring flamethrowers. Let’s pick on Kazzy in a perhaps misguided hope he’ll be forgiving. Here is Kazzy’s recent flamethrower:
One of my objections to allowing the sort of religious opt-out discussed is practical: business owners are given unique benefits and privileges under which to conduct their business. […Businesses] have no qualms entangling themselves with the government and, in doing so, the public at large. But when that same public comes knocking with that same government’s legal support, suddenly “FREEDOM!” becomes the rallying cry.
This is a fully general argument that can be used to dismiss the concerns of anyone who receives any sort of benefit from the presence of government.
Even though Kazzy’s words were about businesses, his argument has nothing in it that requires that restriction. Everyone gets benefits and privileges from government right down to my dog who was caught by a dog-catcher before being rescued by a shelter. So, according to this logic, anyone who doesn’t do what the government asks of it is guilty of hypocrisy since they accepted benefits and balked at the open-ended, after-the-fact demands.
Kazzy, not being insane, did not intend this, so he clarified:
…I would not invite the government to make every decision for anyone who benefits from its existence.*
This is nice, but it is merely Kazzy promising wield his flamethrower responsibly. If in 2072, public opinion changes again and the government says businesses are banned from serving gays, they can point to Kazzy’s argument and use it verbatim. Bad Kazzy.
Yes, I know: If Kazzy didn’t bring the flamethrower, someone else would have anyway. The real problem with flamethrowers is that we can burn ourselves. Bad logic, even if it helps you win the debate, leads to bad conclusions.
If you give up using flamethrowers, you will be a less-successful debater and never become president, but you will at least have some hope of discovering the actual right answers. The truth is more important than your side winning.
When do we identify which false equivalences? Spoiler: when it benefits us.
Observation: Among the things Barak Obama and Adolf Hitler have in common is that they both ordered the deaths of their own citizens without judicial oversight.
This observation’s a false equivalence! Indeed Obama did order the killing of Anwar Al Awlaki and Hitler did order the killing of…everyone, but these things things are not morally equal, so now we can dismiss the observation.
Except we can’t. Or at least we shouldn’t.
Here are two problems with haphazardly dismissing false equivalences.
- The “false” part of the equivalence is usually just an implicit moral equivalence, which is in fact imagined by the reader rather than declared by the author. (The above observation doesn’t explicitly address morality at all. That’s an extra-textual inference you made.)
- A false (moral) equivalence might still be a true fact with real implications and consequences that don’t disappear just because someone used the word “Hitler”.
Additionally, the way in which you dismiss false equivalences and the patterns you exhibit in identifying them can damn your soul.
In a recent post, I referred to several scandals. Among them were (1) Nixon’s Watergate, (2) Chris Christie’s bridge-closing scandal, and (3) Obama’s IRS scandal. Commenters promptly pointed out that Obama’s culpability in the IRS scandal isn’t close to that of Christie in the bridge scandal.
I don’t think it’s an accident that the false-equivalence defense was used to establish distance between #2 and #3 and not between #1 and #2. We aren’t shills, but this is a Democrat-friendly blog; there are no Christie-friendly blogs. You were perfectly happy to let me draw a false equivalence between a temporary disruption in traffic and the biggest scandal in the history of the United States because this was never about correcting logical fallacies. (Or did you defend Bush from every Hitler comparison when Bush was president with equal alacrity?)
Sometimes the end result of our selective embrace of logic is comical. Tod Kelly referenced a NY Times article which laments spending by Republican billionaires. Democratic billionaires have been spending as well, a fact acknowledged by the article that begs for a false equivalence to be identified so that we can safely dismiss it and not have to change our minds about anything.
I am guessing (without evidence) that readers of the article failed to notice that there is more than one false equivalence that could be identified. The one readily identified by everyone was that Republicans billionaires are spending tons of money in nefarious ways to buy elections while Democratic billionaires use fewer tons in less nefarious ways. (I don’t actually know if this is true, but let’s pretend it is.)
The other false equivalence that could have been drawn (but wasn’t) was that Republican spending was benign because the Republican candidates lost. The Democratic politicians who were elected in their stead, in contrast, owe their success at least in part to the Democratic billionaires who funded them. If your concern is truly with billionaires having undue influence over sitting politicians, then this false equivalence would have occurred to you. Did it? Want to check out the New York Times comments and see how often the observation was made?
The point isn’t that false equivalences don’t exist or that people identified the wrong one and this is the right one (or that it is right at all since I know our readers are more than capable of finding its shortcomings). Instead, it’s that the false equivalences that get identified are predicated almost entirely upon the beliefs of the people who seek to dismiss the evidence. It’s critical thinking as self-defense.
* Kazzy later adds other qualifications to make his argument less of a flamethrower, but that doesn’t support my narrative, so I’m omitting them.
Edits: Image changed.
Update: You can’t plan this timing; Hillary Clinton is comparing Putin to Hitler.
Photo credits: Wikimedia commons, Openclipart.org