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Thursday, August 17, 2017

The problem with employing moral equivalency in an argument

The current occupant of the Oval Office (Donald J. Trump) has been roundly criticized by both conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats for his comments in the aftermath of the tragedy in Charlottesville. In an attempt to blunt some of that criticism, the White House apparently issued some "talking points" for their allies to use. According to USA Today, one of the points stated: "The president was entirely correct – both sides of the violence in Charlottesville acted inappropriately, and bear some responsibility." --https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2017/08/16/dismayed-president-trumps-charlottesville-comments-white-house-struggles-move-forward/571677001/

In their article on Moral Equivalence, The Logical Place informs us that "Moral equivalence is a form of equivocation often used in political debates. It seeks to draw comparisons between different, even unrelated things, to make a point that one is just as bad as the other or just as good as the other. Drawing a moral equivalence in this way is an informal fallacy, a special case of False equivalence." They go on to say that "A common manifestation of this fallacy is a claim, often made for ideological motives, that both sides are equally to blame for a war or other international conflict. Historical studies show that this is rarely the case. Wars are usually started by one side militarily attacking the other, or mass murdering non-combatants, with or without provocation from the other side."

Translation:  There is no moral equivalency between those Virginia natives who were protesting hate speech and the out-of-state White supremacists/nationalists, Klansmen and Neo-Nazis who were promulgating it. In this regard, I particularly liked Republican Ohio Governor John Kasich's statement. He said: "There is no moral equivalency to Nazis sympathizers. There can be no room in America - or the Republican Party - for racism, anti-Semitism, hate or white nationalism. Period." --http://www.cincinnati.com/story/news/politics/2017/08/16/john-kasich-republicans-charlottesville-donald-trum/572054001/

And, even if we actually believed that there was bad/wrong on both sides, does anyone honestly believe that "they were just as bad as I was" is going to be an acceptable excuse before Almighty God?

Nevertheless, I guess this was to be expected. After all, Trump has always felt justified in going after his own critics full throttle. His modus operandi is to hit back twice as hard. For him, any criticism warrants swift and massive retaliation. In short, Donald Trump likes retribution. In other words, what he perceives to be the bad behavior of his critics justifies whatever he decides to unleash on them. Do you remember what happened at some of his own campaign rallies? Does anyone else discern a pattern here or is it just me? 


  1. Thanks! I agree wholeheartedly. I wish I could put into writing my thoughts half as much as your are gifted in doing so. Love and Peace, Roy

  2. Moral equivalency occurs to those who have no moral center. One behavior is as good as another…..especially when we are all the products of our genetics and environment and can shirk the responsibility for what we do. Yet, there are some values that are universally recognized as better than others. For example, where is there a culture where cowardice is regarded as a virtue? I think that courage is universally lauded. Courage is a universal value, and shows that some values are absolute, and not relative. We see this even in music: never do we see someone learning to like Mozart and Bach and then moving onto the romance composers and then to pop music. The progression is the other way.

    Moral equivalence is for the morally lazy, and we don’t get away with it, especially when we try it on God and aim to remake him in our own image. “You thought I was altogether one such as yourself.”

    Back to the incident at hand: I don’t see how any sane person in any culture would conclude that driving a vehicle into a group of protestors embraces the same morality as speaking up to let people know what stand you take. The courage required for each is not the same. There is no moral equivalency.

  3. False moral equivalency can often be a function of binary thinking. The problem with such binary thinking is that it assumes 100% on each of the polar opposites. Reality is that the Nazis and KKK are 100% wrong, and 100% bad. God help us if their philosophy is on the upswing! But on the other hand, the counter-demonstrators were philosophically on higher ground, but perhaps 10-15% wrong for sinking to some of the same techniques used by their counterparts. Apparently, in President Trump's mind, that was enough to put them on equal footing. People who seek to counter or prevent an evil are the heroes, and are not considered to be criminal unless they are excessive in their efforts. If the locals had shown up with AK-47's and had mowed down the Nazis, the greater weight of the law and public opinion would be against them.

    I'm hoping that the firing of Steve Bannon will cause a massive correction in the directions that this administration has been taking. Much of the world had learned to cooperate, to seek global solutions, and to form strategic alliances in the aftermath of World War II. This is the main factor which has thus far prevented World War III. For our president to withdraw the United States, the organizer and driver, from those alliances and processes is both unthinkable and dangerous. Unfortunately, we were going to get a mediocre president no matter who had won the election this cycle. Let us pray that our president learns his job before he leads us into any serious existential threats.


    1. BB, I hope so too, but I'm not going to hold my breath. Trump's personality is ill-suited for the Presidency, and it's not very realistic to expect a seventy-one year old man to change his stripes.
      Even when I find myself in basic agreement with some principle he espouses (e.g. not allowing North Korea to keep and continue development of their nuclear weapons), he finds a way to alienate me from supporting him! In foreign affairs, he reverses the old axiom to "speak softly and carry a big stick." Instead, when Kim spouts some of his craziness, Trump answers in kind!
      I do understand why some people supported him over Clinton (I really do). Many of them were tired of the political correctness and the fact that both parties have ignored their interests and concerns, but surely they can see by now that this guy isn't working out.
      We needed a builder of bridges (both figuratively and literally), a peacemaker, a healer and a diplomat. Instead, we have a flame thrower with serious impulse control problems. God help us (and I'm serious).