Friday, November 13, 2015

Notes on False Equivalence

False equivalence contaminates many arguments but several subjects now in the news seem to be spinning out of control as two presumed "sides" wrestle for hegemony. 
  • Firearms safety (Second Amendment)
  • Free speech (First Amendment)
  • Religious objections (First Amendment)
Thanks mostly to broadcast journalism some subjects are treated to false equivalence, the presumption that most discussions have but two "sides" and each should receive "equal time", presumably in the interest of balance. Print journalism -- books, pamphlets, magazines, newspapers -- doesn't have that challenge. It's more democratic. Most take one stand or another, and many encourage comments so anyone to take part. Air time, even for call-in programs, must be rationed, in the interest of "equal time." Consequently the nuttiest arguments find a place among others that are far more compelling.

Thanks to decades of NRA advocacy the firearms subject has become so one-sided in favor of an absolutist Second Amendment position that any variance from the party line is tantamount to treason. Another case of false equivalence involves the First Amendment -- free speech and exercise of religion especially.

Regarding the Second Amendment, the old Negro militias somehow morphed into the worshipful form of the National Guard (and by association a tribe of citizen militias to be prepared in the unlikely event the world's biggest armed forces runs low on either manpower or ammo).

Free speech has been preserved and protected to the degree that even the Pentagon Papers were eventually celebrated. Daniel Ellsberg came to be regarded as a respected whistleblower. To that end Ellsberg himself regards Snowden as a hero, so his censure in high places has become one of the fibers of the free speech conversation. Of course thousands of individuals have access to content tagged "secret" but those legions are sworn to secrecy lest too many *other* thousands find out what has already been seen and read so easily by the first legions. I'm speaking, of course, about Manning.

In all these cases there are nuanced variations being swept aside in favor of the absolutist interpretation of language. As a result we have seen the Confederate battle flag waved as a free speech symbol, and non-religious enterprises claim religious exemptions from the law arguing matters of conscience or religious belief.

These are a couple of examples of false equivalence that have bothered me lately. In both cases there are nuances lost by both "sides" and it is in that grey area that some kind of resolution to the argument must be found.

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