So when Mom opened the front door and looked at the puddle in the living room, Kaleb delivered his logic.
“Mom. Remember when Daniel spilled water on the floor? Nothing happened to him. So, yes, I spilled water as well. And to be fair I should get the same punishment.” Kaleb produced those annoying air quotes with his fingers as he slowly said the word “punishment.”
Mom didn’t waste much time with this illogical comparison.
“No more video games for two months and start lining up those snow-shoveling jobs for this winter. You’re going to help pay for all of this.”
• • •
Any reaction, class? Remi?
“These two incidents are simply not the same. Not even close.”
Well Remi, they both spilled water. So in that regard I might suggest they are the same. But Remi, of course, you’re right. And today this kind of thing has a label. It’s called a false equivalency.
Does anyone — after hearing this short story I just read — want to take a shot at defining false equivalency? Hannah?
“Well, it’s almost self-explanatory. One tries to equate two subjects using flawed or false reasoning.”
Very good. So even though both boys spilled water, to assume those incidents are equal would be ludicrous. Now, because this is a political science class, let’s move this discussion in that direction. Any ideas? Danni?
“Professor, you wrote a column before the presidential election asking a local politician — who was a Trump supporter — why we shouldn’t be frightened of Donald Trump. His response was that he was also afraid of Joe Biden. So now I see that as a false equivalency. Correct?”
Correct, Danni. A very good example. People with differing views could be afraid of Republicans or Democrats. But it’s important to assess the degree of fright. It would be illogical to compare your fright level with Trump with your fright level with Biden. Trump is like a guy who might confront you with an AK-47. Biden is like a guy who might confront you with a soup spoon. It’s true that both are confronting you. It’s true that both a spoon and gun technically could kill you. But it’s a false equivalency to suggest those are equal confrontations. In other words, a false equivalency.
Thanks. Does anyone have one more? Evelyn? Go ahead.
“Maybe we could look back at the use of the word ‘fight.’ Trump was impeached, in part, because he told an angry mob — which he had called to D.C. to stop Congress from confirming the results of the election he lost — to ‘fight like hell.’
“But his attorneys — once the Senate began deciding if they should convict him — argued that other politicians have used the word ‘fight’ in political speeches as well.
“It seems to me that’s a false equivalency. When other politicians ask supporters to fight for a victory, they don’t storm government buildings to try to overtake the system. And Trump did exactly that. There’s no comparison. That is — again — a false equivalency.”
Exactly, Evelyn. Great discussion, class. Any last words? Jimmy?
“Well, it sounds like we all need to call out politicians who use false equivalencies. They shouldn’t do stupid stuff. But they always do, so we need to hold them accountable. It’s up to us!”
“Oh, and Professor Brancaccio, I think Kaleb’s mom should give him a break. He’s only 14.”
Well said, Jimmy. At least on the stuff you said about politicians. But let Kaleb’s mom handle that water issue. Now ring the bell. Class dismissed.