False equivalencies and inaccurate models

October 21, 2014

I was thinking about how some groups get tired of misrepresentations propounded in the name of giving both sides of the story.  The criticism is that in trying to redress a problem of bias, a new problem is interjected, namely a problem of misleading readers of a piece of journalism, for example, into thinking both sides have an equally fair point.  Sometimes, of course, the points are not equally fair, valid, or accurate.

I think if we got away from thinking about it in terms of “false equivalencies,” we could also get away from what seems to be a preferred response to “false equivalencies,” namely to side with one point of view or the other on the terms used by the participants themselves.  Sometimes, I think, the situation is far more complicated;  both sides may have a contribution to make, but they may not be expressing their contribution well, for example.

So I would prefer thinking about how accurate or not a model of presenting a conflict is.  Most conflicts have multiple contributing factors.  Even if voter ID laws really are an effort to suppress minority voting and not a legitimate response to real voter fraud, the legislative campaign arises out of something that needs to be addressed, even if it’s more about unhelpful habits of thought by people engaged in maladaptive self-protective coping devices.  So we could

[this is not finished, but I have no idea when I’ll have a chance to get back to it, so I decided I’d put it up now]

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5 Responses to “False equivalencies and inaccurate models”

  1. Matthew Brooks Says:

    Republicans do themselves no favors with these kinds of things. Corruption is off-putting, whether electorally or in the private/corporate sphere. What makes matters worse is the disingenuous (passive/aggressive) way they go about it.

    It especially backfires when the courts throw the laws out (a policy and publicity defeat at once). It also probably motivates minorities to vote even more. Black voter turnout in 2012 was higher than that of whites.

    That all said, the issue of bias overall is a hard one. Who will guard the guards?

    • Diana Moses Says:

      What I was getting around to, and might get back to, was something about how the “false equivalency” model is as simplistic as the manner of presentation of issues it criticizes.

      Not just who will guard the guards but who will observe the participants if all turn into participants and none is available to observe …

      • Matthew Brooks Says:

        That’s true and the fact is we are all participants. The idea of a disinterested, impartial third party only exists in theory, methinks. Even if one did exist, how would he/she be verified as such? And is such an approach even appropriate, given the nature/necessity of conviction?

        In any case these things resolve themselves thru the honest (or not?) competition of ideas and natural selection for certain tendencies, which themselves select for certain ideological paradigms. For example, periods of prolonged prosperity and peace select for a more liberal approach; conversely, periods of tumult, insecurity, hostility, etc., select for a more conservative mindset. To that end, I’m reminded of the fact that military officers are reportedly as conservative as journalists are liberal;

        http://freakonomics.com/2011/08/08/tim-groseclose-author-of-left-turn-answers-your-questions/

      • Diana Moses Says:

        I actually think it’s important to learn to toggle back and forth between being a participant and an observer, but what I am noticing is that those who cover events seem to identify more and more as being part of them.

      • Matthew Brooks Says:

        I think that’s always been the case (reporters internalise aspects of culture just like everybody else).

        Some detachment/perspective is helpful, especially for somebody in my position. One must learn some degree of acceptance, especially in opposition. For one, it’s simple honesty – the thing was selected for, even if only for now. Second, opposition is still engagement, and engagement is legitimising; at some point one must move out of the way and let it fall (on the other hand, until that point, one must oppose, lest the thing have free reign). Opposition is also reactionary – implicitly recognising the primacy of the other, having defined the nature of the engagement. And also, negativity can’t exist on its own; even if it were to be successful, it would disappear (thus, one of the problems of counter-culturalism having become mainstream – self-defeating). To go forward into the future one must be essentially positive, and if/when in opposition then, that requires transcending the current dynamic.


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