ED vs. LOGICAL FALLACIES, PART 17: FALSE ANALOGY

Individuals who spend any appreciable amount of time around me understand that I love reasoning via analogy. It has many advantages as a rhetorical tactic: it is powerful when done well, easily communicated, and full of potential for sarcastic humor. I'm sold.

Making a valid analogy, however, involves more than simply comparing two things that share a common characteristic. Comparing me to Michael Jordan works on some level. We're both male. We're both residents of the Chicago area. We both play basketball on occasion. We're both over 6'3". Nonetheless, subbing His Airness in place of Ed in an analogy isn't even remotely appropriate – unless the point being made specifically deals with one of the (few) things we share in common. And even then it's probably going to be a hell of a stretch.

To far too many of our Very Serious Professional Commentators, finding one superficial similarity is enough to mash the gas pedal on the Analogymobile. Take, for example, Michael Medved on Obama's pastor. Yes, Howie Kurtz at CNN apparently thought Michael "Slavery Wasn't So Bad" Medved was the best person to offer thought-provoking commentary on this racially-charged subject.

(The) truth is that people responded indignantly to Reverend Wright not because he’s black. It’s not about race, it’s not because of the racial outlook of the church, which very specifically defines itself as an afrocentric church and emphasizes blackness, blackness, blackness.

They didn’t respond to it that way. If a white pastor had made the comments that Jeremiah Wright had made, people would have been equally indignant (emphasis added).

Let's ignore for the moment how laden with non sequiturs this is. He's reading minds (claiming to know why "people" responded as "they" did), making unsupported conclusions ("It's not about race"), double-bagging hypotheticals (talking about how the public would hypothetically react to a hypothetical white pastor) and mischaracterizing his subject (I bet the church thinks of itself as being about, oh, maybe "Jesus" more than blackness). Let's let him slide on that. The underlying analogy is more ridiculous.

Black Pastor making these comments = White Pastor making same comments. The issue here, Medved insists, is the content of the speech. So who made the comments is irrelevant. Race is simply not an issue.

Unfortunately, black and white people are not interchangeable parts in the United States. When a black pastor makes comments specifically about race in a public forum it is beyond silly to claim that race simply isn't in the equation – especially when, as Medved just claimed, he preaches at the First Blacknited Blackptist Black Church of Blackness. So Medved's assertions that race is irrelevant are, on their face, ludicrous. Furthermore, the reaction to this speech is taking place in the context of a partisan political process. This is an event in the course of a competitive election. Medved is happy to wheedle on about why race is not a factor but he ignores partisanship. In the midst of a heated election, how is partisanship not a determinant of how "people" are reacting? Maybe his mind-reading powers ran out before he could divine the answer.

A good analogy would preserve the two crucial components of the equation: the speaker and his comments. Rather than shitting on the public's intelligence with this Red Herring discussion about whether or not this is "about race," a half-decent commentator might make a half-decent analogy that contributes to understanding the public and media response to the comments. Consider these two questions:

Would the reaction be the same if the pastor was white?

Would the reaction be the same if the pastor was supporting McCain?

Which one of those adds to a discussion of the dynamics of partisan competition and this election? Which one is a weak effort by a one-note commentator to grind his sole ax?

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5 Responses to “ED vs. LOGICAL FALLACIES, PART 17: FALSE ANALOGY”

  1. JDryden Says:

    What's interesting is that a *white* preacher who made the *exact same* speech would probably be, dare I say, lauded by many in the lily-white community for his 'firey honesty,' as he would be irate over a social injustice that does not directly affect him. A white preacher decrying a racist government–and that, if you listen to Wright's speech, is what he was referring to when he said "God damn America"–the American *government*, which the talking heads can't seem to damn enough themselves when they disagree with it–would be viewed as not nearly as 'scary,' because of couse an angry white man is never, ever as dangerous as an angry black man. (I mean, to make a *perfectly* sound analogy, compare Hitler with Malcolm X. Malcolm's *much* more frightening, and therefore worse, right? Right?)

  2. Christina Says:

    Okay. If the offense is about Rev. Wright's comments being anti-American then what about Hagee? Falwell? Robertson?

    Seriously, there are plenty of white pastors who have said nasty things about 'Merika and how chickens are coming home to roost and on and on–pastors who support McCain, btw–and no one is calling them out. No one is asking McCain to denounce and reject and he's actively pandering for their endorsements.

    Please. This is pure unadulterated hypocrisy.

  3. pmayo Says:

    Here's the rub: a white preacher already has said many of things Rev. Wright has said; his name: John Hagee. He and his jowly counterpart, the late Jerry Falwell, had one hell of time dancing on the graves of September 11th and Katrina victims, getting all in a palaver about how these were signs of God's judgment on America for it's tolerance of homosexuality and abortion.

    Just so we're clear: Jeremiah Wright says God will damn America for it's instituionalized racism and continued bigotry and exploitation of minorities, therefore Jeremiah Wright hates America and Sen. Obama should not be president because of his associatio with Jeremiah Wright. John Hagee says God will damn America for tolerating homosexuality and abortion, and he gets the president's home phone number, and John McCain now must, by virtue of divine imperative, be elected president because of his association with John Hagee.

    Bewteen this and reading Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee this week, I am really fucking incensed.

  4. pmayo Says:

    Sorry, Christina, didn't meant to rip you off. I was too pissed to read through two whole comments. Dammit.

  5. vghoul Says:

    Reading that Michael Medved article was pretty sickening. Oh, clearly every negro in the United States of America made a positive pro-US statement by remaining here, having read about Liberia on the Black Internet, the 19th-century precursor to our modern day Intertubes founded by the Society for the Colonization of Free People of Color of America. I mean, nothing breeds self-determination, trust, hope, or knowing how to read, like being born and raised as a piece of property with no rights of your own.

    Additionally, it's puzzling that he simultaneously believes that
    (a) slavery is really bad and all, so our nation deserves a pat on the back for not having it for all THAT long
    (b) on the other hand, it's probably for the best in the long run, because the descendents of those slaves are better off anyway.

    So, if one were to propose we begin a pogrom of systematically executing Baby Boomers to save the modern economy, by using what would have been their Social Security/Medicare payments to help soak the cost of the Iraq War, this guy would be simultaneously decrying it and really happy about the benefits that we, his descendents, would one day enjoy as a result of the aforementioned institutionalized murder that REALLY WOULDN'T LAST ALL THAT LONG SO I GUESS WE'D DESERVE A FUCKING PAT ON THE BUTT.