Friday, January 22, 2016

Today's Logical Fallacy is...Moral Equivalency!

A fallacy common in politics, this occurs when two different and unrelated issues or positions are falsely said to carry the same moral weight. This is often used to sway the audience’s perception of the morality of a questionable position or action. It is used in three primary ways:

1) “Just as bad” – trying to equate a position to something widely accepted as degenerate or evil (example: PETA claiming that eating meat is just as bad as the Holocaust),

2) “Just as good as” – trying to equate a position to something widely accepted as good (example: Ronald Reagan comparing illegally selling weapons to Contras in Nicaragua to the Founding Fathers), and

3) “Not as bad as” – trying to lessen how immoral something is viewed by comparing it to something worse (i.e. “the lesser of two evils” – example: attempting to justify the 9/11 attacks by comparing it to the U.S. policy in the Middle East). When this latter one is used, the person making the argument is admitting that they are doing something immoral and are trying to justify it.

This is a fallacy because it doesn’t actually address the morality of the issue at hand; instead it attempts to excuse it based on the behavior of others, behavior that is, in fact, NOT morally equal. Additionally, any morally questionable behavior of others does not justify morally questionable behavior of your own, and attempts to excuse your own actions by pointing to the immoral behavior of others is tantamount to admitting your own moral failings. 

Those who use this fallacy often lack clear evidence that their position is morally defensible. Otherwise, they would only need to present their evidence, comfortable in the audience's ability to reach the same conclusion. Instead, they use emotional manipulation to deflect listeners to a more desirable target. These individuals are rarely interested in actually solving a problem; their purpose is to win an argument. 


Equating neo-Nazi's with those who oppose fascism (see Donald Trump's statements 8/15/2017). 

Equating the treatment of animals with the treatment of human beings.

Equating acts of war with murder.

Equating gay marriage with legalizing pedophilia.

Equating being a wage slave with actual slavery.

Equating all acts of war with terrorism.

“If John F. Kennedy got away with committing adultery while in office as President, then Bill Clinton and all subsequent presidents should be able to do so too.”

“If governments are going to impose restrictions on smoking for health reasons then they must impose the same restrictions on drinking and eating of fatty foods.”

Comparing the Holocaust to the Israeli policy toward the Palestinians.

Using the term “Axis of Evil” (Iran, Iraq, and North Korea) in comparing them to the original Axis of World War II.

Claiming that Nazism wasn't as bad as communism, by drawing a moral equivalence between the Holocaust, and the mass deaths under Mao's Great Leap Forward, Stalin's purges and gulags, and Pol Pot's killing fields.

Claiming that communism is not so bad compared to Nazism, by insisting that the ends justify the means, and thus drawing a moral equivalence between Nazis who were forthright about their ethnic policies and hypocritical communists.

Claiming neither side in World War II was morally superior because of Allied atrocities, such as the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and the firebombing of Dresden.

Drawing a moral equivalence between 9/11 and U.S. policy in the Middle East, thereby attempting to justify or excuse the 9/11 attacks.

Slavery in the southern United States wasn't so bad because slaves were treated better than workers in northern factories and company towns -- or the counter-use of the same examples, that conditions during the early Industrial Revolution were not that bad because the people were at least free to choose their jobs, unlike slavery.

Adherents of any religion pointing out atrocities committed in the name of other religions, as a way of saying the atrocities committed in the name of their own religion weren't so bad (sometimes used in conjunction with a no true Scotsman argument that the atrocities committed in the name of their own religion weren't committed by "real" Christians, etc.)

U.S. foreign policy during the 1980s which drew a distinction between "authoritarian" dictatorships and "totalitarian" dictatorships, saying one was less bad than the other and the U.S. could morally work with "authoritarian" dictatorships as allies (such as the military dictatorships in Latin America) but had a moral obligation to oppose "totalitarian" dictatorships (such as the Soviet Union).

US President Barack H. Obama mentions former US President George W. Bush's deficit spending in response to and as a way to dismiss criticism of his own deficit spending. (Note: Deficit spending is arguably good during a depressed economy, depending on where it's spent, so Obama may be excused depending on the context.)

"Smoking may be a bad thing but it's not as bad as global warming/car exhausts/body odor etc."

"RationalWiki may have just stepped on your personal toe, but it's not as bad as Conservapedia!"

Proposing that because some people act a certain way, than everyone else has the right to do so, too.

"So-called refugee facilities [for those seeking asylum] are nothing more than concentration camps. Just like concentration camps used by the Nazis, they are designed to break the will of the inmates while plans are made for their disposal."

“Labor unions in America are just as bad as Russia under Stalin!”

“Most people in this room understand that slavery is not over in America or in the Western world or in the world in general. The animals are today's slaves.” Ingrid Newkirk, President of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)

“Keeping a dog as a pet is every bit as evil as human slavery. Pet owners are the Ku Klux Klan of the 21st century.”

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