The Fallacy of False Equivalence

This is revised version of an earlier post, which some people found offensive.  I try not to worry about offending people (I hate this increasingly popular notion that to offend someone is to do them harm), but in this case the rhetorical device seemed to overshadow the point itself.

Noted anti-gay crusader Linda Harvey (founder of Mission America) has a new strategy in the battle to evade responsibility for anti-gay bullying and suicide:  She’s comparing herself to Michelle Obama.

Traditional morality is not responsible for harassing speech. Are healthy nutrition programs or the First Lady’s anti-obesity initiative responsible for slurs and insults to overweight students? Of course not.

No, of course not.  But could the First Lady’s tactics differ a bit from Linda Harvey’s, who has said:

  • Feeling repulsed by gays isn’t merely acceptable, rather “repulsion is a natural defense against something that is absolutely wrong for you.”
  • Homosexuality is a deviance that violates human dignity and worth.

I’m confident that if Michelle Obama said anything comparable in her anti-obesity campaign, we’d hold her accountable for adding more stigma and toxic shame to the world.

Of course, she hasn’t said these things..  That makes Harvey’s argument a false equivalence.  That’s a fallacy, a handy fallacy, but a fallacy nonetheless.

It’s good to have a name for this sort of thinking; having a label for it in your head makes it easier to spot.  You’ll probably be hearing a lot of false equivalence from the religious right as the nation talks more and more about anti-gay bullying and suicide.  Be ready to call them on it when it occurs.

Huge thanks to goodasyou for the Linda Harvey info.

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10 comments to The Fallacy of False Equivalence

  • 1
    Scot Colford says:

    Whoa. Wait a minute! On Facebook, I pointed people to your previous post and it was well received! The two comments I got were:

    Sickening. Seriously.

    Ho ho HO! Excellent post, Scot! I was totally fooled. As I read the beginning of the article, my mind began building one of my trademark retorts that would have been of such violent acerbity that you would most likely unfriended me as a result. But by midway through the article your genius has been made manifest. Oh, and Dear Linda Harvey: Fuck you, bully.

    And a third person “liked” the post. Not too bad for a nobody librarian in Boston who “reposted” in the first few hours, I think! Why did you revise the post? I thought it provocative in all the right ways. My reaction to the second commenter says it all:

    Yeah, Rob has an excellent way of grabbing your attention, doesn’t he? He also has an *excellent* grasp of logic and fallacy that does well for him in conservative flame wars. I’d never go the places he does and retain my cool like that. I would say something like, “Linda Harvey can KISS MY RUSTY BUTT.” Or something.

  • 2
    Graham Clarke says:

    I think Scot Colford is absolutely right, and if he could grow a beard he would rule the UNIVERSE. Rob, you need to go ahead and put up the original article you wrote because it was go ahead and genius and it made me a little go ahead and feel awesome. “Oh that’s right…” Genius.

  • 3
    Kevin S. says:

    Co-sign on the above comments. Not only did I find nothing wrong with the previous post, I felt the tone was necessary to hammer home the point of just how far off base Linda Harvey was.

  • 4
    Piper says:

    I don’t really remember the previous post, so I’d like to see it, please post the original!

  • 5
    Kitty says:

    The problem with the original article, for those of you who don’t see it, is because the point he was trying to make with the fat = gay comparison is that there is NO satirical cognitive dissonance. The majority of our culture DOES see fat people as repulsive (and being on the receiving end of all that revulsion will make the fatties thin, don’tcha know. For their HEALTH!). Our culture DOES see being fat as an affront to man and God (because body diversity is UNNATURAL and probably due to all that FAST FOOD!). Our culture DOES see fat people as deviant and unworthy of dignity or worth. And Michelle Obama’s campaign to end “the childhood obesity crisis,” which is a media straw-man unsupported by scientific data, HAS driven up the rate of bullying of fat children and the rate of eating disorders among children, eating disorders being the most deadly of mental health problems. There are elementary students who are developing disordered eating habits now. There are mothers who have killed their babies from malnutrition in an effort to keep them skinny and not fat. Just because nobody’s thought to go after a fat person with a baseball bat doesn’t mean nobody’s been killed over it.

    It’s not funny when one systemically oppressed group of people tries to use another systemically oppressed group of people as a target of satire, OK?

  • 6

    […] revised post is here.  I’ve reprinted the original after the […]

  • 7

    […] if she has blood on her hands.  Jimmy Swaggart.  Peter Sprigg.  Tony Perkins.  Bryan Fischer.  Linda Harvey.  Whether you’re calling us an abomination, or phrasing it more gently (like Maggie) and […]

  • 8

    […] to know if she has blood on her hands. Jimmy Swaggart. Peter Sprigg. Tony Perkins. Bryan Fischer. Linda Harvey. Whether you’re calling us an abomination, or phrasing it more gently (like Maggie) and […]

  • 9
    Meerkat says:

    Are healthy nutrition programs or the First Lady’s anti-obesity initiative responsible for slurs and insults to overweight students? Of course not.

    No, of course not.

    Oh, wait! Yes. Because they consistently make eliminating people like me the goal, not healthy nutrition or other healthy things for their own sake.

    Although I think we get a lot less “you are an affront to God” for being fat than for being gay (although not none; Gluttony is a sin after all).

  • 10

    […] explaining why folks like Jimmy Swaggart,  Peter Sprigg,  Tony Perkins,  Bryan Fischer, and Linda Harvey bear more responsibility for gay teen suicide than the teens […]

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