False Equivalence and the Akin Rape Remarks

Chez and I got into a heated debate on Facebook over a post he wrote in which he claimed there are "Neanderthals" on both sides who parse the definition of "rape" -- just like Todd Akin. My Thursday column is a response to his post, the debate and his follow-up column yesterday:

One of the prerequisites for being a political writer/junkie is a natural and sometimes frustrating inability to keep my yapper shut. Admittedly, I have a big mouth.

Nevertheless, being an outspoken critic of current events and politics is especially dangerous when I observe a friend, family member or colleague making a flawed or downright wrong argument -- especially when the flaw is something that, in my view, is not only a self-defeating flaw of liberalism, but also an insufferable hobby horse of the timid press corp.

Specifically, I'm talking about the logical fallacy known as the false equivalence, or what I sometimes refer to as the "both sides meme." Simply put, false equivalence is a deliberate correlation of two disparate things in order to suggest they're the same.

Most recently, I read a blog post by my friend and podcast partner, Chez Pazienza, in which this fallacy happened to have been the lead. So I couldn't help myself. I had to challenge Chez on Facebook regarding his use of the both sides meme. Continue reading here.

  • http://twitter.com/ExtremeLiberal ExtremeLiberal (Jim)

    I’m a dissenter. I think Bob projected a whole lot of shit onto his friend Chez for no good reason. I hate false equivalences with a passion and have written about it before too, but I think Bob was way off on interpreting what Chez was saying as false equivalence. Under Bob’s definition, I guess there is never a time when you can criticize someone on your own side of the political fence, because it supposedly feeds into the false equivalence meme.

    I’ve also heard Bob talk about intellectual honesty before too, I don’t get why that doesn’t apply to Michael Moore’s knee jerk reaction to the women accusing Assange of assault. I’m not a fan of Michael Moore, I think he makes us liberals look bad most of the time. And what Moore said in his BBC interview, on Kieth Olbermann and in several of his writings was very much a brush off of the women who are accusing Assange of forcing them to have sex without a condom. One was pinned down while he assaulted her and the other woke up to him having sex with her without a condom. But I guess Michael Moore should be able to get away with defending and funding Assange’s defense without the left pointing out the problem with that.

    I think what Moore and Stone have done is almost worse than what Akin said, because they were dealing with very specific accusations by two women who when they met and started talking, realized that there was a pattern to how Assange operated. He apparently doesn’t like wearing condoms and doesn’t give a shit if the women wants him to. To the extent that he will pin them down and force himself on them.

    But yeah, Chez said that ” the Neanderthals on the right are by no means the only ones willing to claim that there are varying degrees of rape — that some rape is really rape while other rape is, I don’t know, like a warm bath on a cool autumn evening.”

    So let that be a lesson to us all, even if someone on your side of the aisle says or does something disgusting, we should just ignore it…because, you know, someone might use it to say “see, the Democrats are just as bad.”

    As someone who was sexual molested when I was 10 years old, pinned down much like the one women claimed, I don’t give a shit IF someone might say, “see, the Dems are just as bad” because goddamn it, rape should be stopped every time. And people who are apologists for them need to get reamed much worse than Chez did to Moore and Stone.

    Thanks Chez.

    • http://www.politicalruminations.com/ nicole

      From Chez’s post:
      You know, in the interest of fairness I wanted to take a minute and remind everyone that the Neanderthals on the right are by no means the only ones willing to claim that there are varying degrees of rape — that some rape is really rape while other rape is, I don’t know, like a warm bath on a cool autumn evening.

      There are those on the left just as comfortable engaging in inexcusable and repulsive semantics when it comes time to defend someone they happen to think is serving the greater good.

      Republicans such as Akin are attempting to define/parse/classify rape for the women of an entire large, populous country.

      What Stone and Moore did was very wrong, and I agree with everything Chez said, except for his effort to make it seem equivalent to what people like Akin are doing.

      It isn’t like that, Jim. It is a false equivalence, and while I dislike Moore, and I agree with you and him and the Gawker on Assange, it is not the equivalent of what the right wing does re the topic of rape..

      (I care about you, Jim, and I feel your pain—I also have my own pain in this area–but Chez was wrong to relate what those two idiots did to the ongoing and enormous Republican effort to diminish women.)

      • http://twitter.com/ExtremeLiberal ExtremeLiberal (Jim)

        I care about you too Nicole. I suppose if Chez had not mentioned the neanderthals and just went right to the fact that Moore and Stone are conflating Assange’s rape charges with his paranoia of the big bad U.S. coming to get him, you all would have been fine with it. But it is pretty chilling to think that one can’t even mention that, you know, some ppl on the left are assholes too (just like Republicans) without getting jumped on by your friends.

        I can certainly see why some might take what Chez said as similar to a false equivalence…by mentioning the neanderthals…but I also think that the issue of rape needs to be called out every time. And when people like Moore dismiss claims by victims…and maybe you all haven’t read or seen some of the shit Moore said and wrote…it is just one more example of not taking women (mostly) seriously when they are assaulted.

        I was glad Chez linked to the piece and I retweeted it with a H/T to him. After all, it wasn’t a long piece by Chez where he built some massive false equivalence…it was more of a throw away line like, Republicans aren’t the only assholes when it comes to rape. I’d probably be right with you guys if he HAD tried to make that sort of equivalence and laid out a case for it. Maybe I read the wrong piece. :)

        Funny how people read more into things than they should.

        This topic is old….let’s beat them motherfucking Republicans and take over the House and increase numbers in the Senate.


        • bphoon

          But it is pretty chilling to think that one can’t even mention that, you know, some ppl on the left are assholes too (just like Republicans) without getting jumped on by your friends

          Without getting embroiled in the central themes here, I’d like to set the record straight in regard to the issue touched on above. Bob routinely takes the far left to task for their fecklessness and the navel gazing and carping from the sidelines they seem to so enjoy doing.

          • http://twitter.com/ExtremeLiberal ExtremeLiberal (Jim)

            don’t get me wrong, I’m one of Bob’s biggest fans and have been for years. I just think he was off on this one. And like I said above, I hate false equivalence and agree with Bob on most of his examples, just not this one.

  • Victor_the_Crab

    Should make for a very interesting podcast this week.

  • http://JCohenMusic.com Justin Cohen

    Bob, you are right. False equivalency is the product of intellectual laziness and can cause real harm, as you’ve pointed out.

    I used to look forward to your podcast every week but after listening to about 5 or 6 episodes with Chez, I stopped listening.

    Thanks for all you do and keep up the good work!

  • http://www.politicalruminations.com/ nicole

    Completely with you on this, Bob.

    Adding…….brilliantly argued, by the way.

    Adding also…….I like Chez, and this in no way diminishes my positive opinion of him. I just think he needs to rethink his capitulation to the false equiv. meme.

  • villemar

    I didn’t read it as a propagation of the “both sides” meme at all, unless by both sides you mean teabaggers and firebaggers, in which case, yes, actually both sides engage in creating their own reality when the truth does not comport with their ideology. Since Moore is a part-time firebagger (when it suits him), propagating lies by full time firebaggers; and since firebaggers are of the ostensible “left,” then yeah, I don’t see the problem here. The implicit condonement of some kinds of rape by Akin is as good a jumping off point as any talk about the implicit condonement of some kinds of rape (i.e. if it was perpetrated by Baby Jesus Assange).

  • eljefejeff

    Thanks for writing this Bob, I read Chez’ article yesterday and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Of course he’s going to defend himself but I think he just made a mistake.

  • http://www.dlancystreet.com reginahny

    Great post Bob. (I didn’t reply at Banter because I don’t use any of the “share” options they provide.) If intellectual honesty had any effect on who was elected I’d be all in favor of holding each and every candidate to such a high ideal. This is the real world, where lies and dishonesty — not to mention rabid anti-science and blatant racism — currently hold equal sway with many politicians, a disturbingly large portion of the electorate and almost all of the media.

    Here’s some intellectual honesty for Chez: when questioned if they support a voucher system for Medicare, seniors overwhelmingly voted NO! When questioned if they support “the Ryan Plan (e.g.: a voucher system for Medicare)” a majority of seniors voted YES. Now, how are we honestly and intellectually going to reach them?

    I’m not going to carry water for those who want to take away my, and many others’ rights. We can fine-tune, parse and debate all we want right after we don’t allow the truly Neanderthal to win this election. If that makes me a Democratbot (I’m not just supporting President Obama) then I’ll proudly wear that label.

  • rob black

    I hate to point this out, but in reality, centrism is the enemy of truth these days, and false equivalency is the stick they use to beat liberals with all the time. (See David Brooks, David Gregory, etc…)
    Driftglass has a joke about Dick Cheney eating babies on the white house lawn….and the next day Cokie Roberts sez: …but the democrats!!! (highly paraphrased)
    I am with you on this. False equivalency allows the right to move the narrative further to the right……and we have sure had enough of that.

    • http://twitter.com/axomamma Axomamma

      On the topic of abortion this whole Akin thing has moved the conversation to the right. Everyone is talking about banning abortion as long as you preserve exceptions for rape and life of the mother. Democrats and those on the left are no longer arguing that abortion is a protected, necessary choice, full stop.

  • mrbrink

    It’s a bit of a rape culture, though. I thought Chez had a broader point in there somewhere. It’s an uncomfortable truth that we do sort of have to tolerate and cope with varying degrees of rape. Prison rapes are a real thing. The Catholic church covering up years, still, of raping little boys. There’s a statistic for active duty women in our armed services that are raped and sexually assaulted.

    Unreported rapes, pregnancies resulting from rape. Thousands and thousands every year.

    The Penn State scandal had plenty of defenders all around, and especially for Joe Paterno, and even football legend Franco Harris seemed to block out Sandusky’s crimes as he was practically weeping at the foot of Paterno’s statue the night before they tore it down.

    Whether it’s date rape and the not-so-black-market for date rape drugs– something called the international sex slave trade– the pedophiles who are lining up to answer rape-bait ads on Dateline, or the twenty-somethings school teachers getting it on with their underage students, or molester uncles managing day care centers, we’re well passed the velvet rope and through the double doors of our great big Wonka factory rape room and rape-massage parlors.

    Collectively, we’re constantly coping with rape. Some more than others.

    But that’s not to say that Michael Moore and Oliver Stone questioning the truth of the rape charges against Julian Assange is anywhere near as dangerous, or rape-friendly, as a guy like Akin, or Vice presidential candidate for the United States of America of the free world– Paul Ryan– who are trying to mainline rape into our legislative veins while we watch just like they tried to do with torture. Torture, rape, war crimes. Hell of a party.

    But really, after reading Chez’ argument, I walked away wondering if Michael Moore and Oliver Stone would rape each other if it meant they would both learn the true perpetrators of 9/11 and the Kennedy assassination.

    • agrazingmoose

      Just because rape exists doesn’t mean that we tolerate it. Well, folks on the right often do. But, most of us are horrified by rape in any form and do what we can to try and stop it.

      Yesterday, my son asked my why I really can’t stand Scott Brown and would never vote for him. (Maybe he asked, maybe I was just ranting). A big part is his support for a candidate for the House from Cape Cod that stood by while a subordinate in the police department strip searched a teenaged girl. The guy lost, thank goodness. But, Brown actually made speeches on his behalf.

      The second is that Brown claims to have been sexually molested by a camp counselor when he was a child. When he was asked by child safety advocates to file charges against the molester, Brown said no. It was pointed out that the guy could still be harming children. Brown said no. It was pointed out that children are being asked to report rape but he, an adult Senator will not, and he said no.

      These people that do tolerate sexual assault in any form need to be removed, one by one, from positions of power in our society.

      • Treading_Water

        But as a society, we do tolerate and even condone some forms of rape. Read any story about someone accused of a crime and the comments page will fill with jokes about prison rape. There will be post after post expressing the wish that the accused will be violated in some way. Typically, there will be many voices in support or “like” of the calls for prison rape. Sometimes someone raises his voice in opposition, but it is very rare. We should just accept this and have a state elected position of official prison rapist, so that the accused will be properly raped and not slip through the cracks.

        • zirgar

          Because slipping through the cracks is the job of the official prison rapist!

  • ranger11

    Fight! Fight! I like fight.

  • bphoon

    …even though half of everyone is fighting to keep abortion safe and legal; half of everyone is fighting for affordable contraception; half of everyone is fighting for equal rights for women. Michael Moore is part of that half, regardless of what he said.

    Great article and that statement serves beautifully within that context as a refutation of the equivalency meme.

    I pop off every time I hear someone spout the equivalency meme in a debate. Drives me up the wall. Progressives–from the way they couch their arguments to the way they promote their agenda to the agenda itself–are in no way equivalent to what serves as conservatives these days with their scorched-earth-the-end-justifies-any-means-disagree-with-us-and-we’ll-destroy-you-cuz-we’re-doing-God’s-work style of political discourse and I’ll say so every time I have to.

    As for those on the far left who like to promote this equivalency meme for their own purposes, I keep asking: If the Democrats are so bad, who is your alternative, Mitt Fucking Romney? No answers so far…

  • Username1016

    Hillary Rosen NEVER said Ann Romney shouldn’t have stayed home to raise her children. What she SAID was, Ann Romney never worked a day in her life. No “should” about it, hello! She was pointing out an experience gap that actually does exist, though she worded it clumsily. Don’t be twisting things to sound like she’s telling other women what to do! We have the Republican party for THAT shit.

    • http://www.twitter.com/bobcesca_go Bob Cesca

      Don’t blame me for that. It’s what the press was reporting as it created a false equivalence. Sheesh.

      • Username1016

        That wasn’t clear from your statement. You said, “A similar false equivalence was created by the press and conservatives earlier this year when Democratic operative Hillary Rosen said Mitt Romney’s wife shouldn’t have stayed home to raise her kids.” I think you needed to say, “…was created by the press and conservatives earlier this year when THEY CLAIMED Democratic operative Hillary Rosen said…”. Right?

      • http://JCohenMusic.com Justin Cohen

        Bob, Username1016 makes a good point. Not only did you mischaracterize the content of Rosen’s remarks without sourcing the mischaracterization to the media, you personally described her remarks as, “…one woman popped off with something stupid.”

        When I saw Rosen’s comments in context, I actually thought they were reasonable. It was the media and Right wing that blew it up in the same way they took the President’s, “you didn’t build that” comment out of context.

        Without taking anything away from the thrust of your argument, don’t you think Username1016 makes a fair point?

        • http://www.twitter.com/bobcesca_go Bob Cesca

          You’re both right about that. I should’ve been more clear with italics or something. If you read the link to the Benen post, I was paraphrasing the blockquote he used from the Washington Post.