Let me give you a quick scenario: you’re watching two little kids, let’s call them Donnie and Billy, Donnie and Billy are playing in the living room, you step outside to bring in the mail and when you come back you see that a picture was knocked off the fireplace mantle and broken on the floor. You ask the kids what happened and Donnie says “Aliens knocked it off the mantle” whereas Billy says “The dog knocked it off” Now you know that the dog didn’t do it because he joined you when you went to get the mail, so both are lying. But which lie is worse? Would you punish both? Would you punish both the same?

How about this example? Donnie writes in permanent marker on the wall “I hate broccoli” while in crayon Billy draws a happy picture on the wall of the family dog. Again, both have broken a rule, (Don’t write on the walls) but which one is worse?

One more example for you, this one a little different, sit in the room while they are having their mid-day snack of orange juice, carrots and raisins. You watch as Donnie intentionally dumps his OJ all over your brand new laptop computer, destroying it. Billy also dumps his Orange Juice all over the table soiling his Mom’s copy of Entertainment weekly, again which one is worse?

In each of these examples, both little kids have broken some form of a rule, but one’s action is worse than the other. To pretend that simply because both parties did something bad, both parties should receive equal punishment is incorrect. Nor should the decision on punishment be a subjective one. Which one did, or stands to do the most objective harm? That should be the deciding factor of the punishment.

This is the same reason that both a corporate embezzler and a serial murder face different punishments. It’s not hard to say that they are both criminals, and both deserve to be punished. Both committed felonies, both betrayed the public trust, but one is substantially worse than the other.

The same goes for positive actions. In this example a police offer saves a person’s life by pulling them from a burning wrecked car one week, and then the next stops and helps a motorist change a tire. Both are positive actions, both are examples of a police officer doing his job, both made an impact in someone’s life, but they are not equal, the impact of the action is not equal. In scenario 1 someone burns to death if action is not taken, in the other the result without action is, someone is stranded and tardy to their destination.

Advertisement

Often times, in places where a presenter will try to avoid showing a bias they do this by equivocating things that on their merits are not equal. This is in itself a bias masqueraded as logic. Don’t fall for it.

The problem is, that each one of these things requires each of us to make a value judgement, some are really easy, the others not so much. This is why false equivalency is such a powerful tool, it clouds your brain into thinking that because two things are similar, they are deserving of the same value judgement, which in many cases is not true.