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Tim Myers: Resolve to swear off false equivalence

Posted: January 5, 2013 1:28 p.m.
Updated: January 5, 2013 1:28 p.m.

“False equivalence is a logical fallacy which describes a situation where there is a logical and apparent equivalence, but when in fact there is none.” — Wikipedia

The “false equivalences” come fast and furious when extremists and absolutists of all stripes attempt to make their arguments. Most recently, Second Amendment advocates draw the false equivalence of broad school armed security plumped by the NRA against the security at Sidwell Friends, the Washington, D.C., Quaker school where the Obama children attend.

How can the president stand against the NRA’s idea of armed security at every school, the activists state every three seconds on the interwebs, when the Sidwell Friends school boasts multiple armed security guards and the Obama children themselves command a private Secret Service security detail?

Now the situation seems apparently equivalent. Both involve a school and school children. However, when diving deeper, Sidwell Friends also educates the children of diplomats and other elected officials whose children could become very specific targets of terrorists or kidnappers, not even beginning to discuss the obvious threats against a president and members of their family.

Before this generates 500 comments, the left also freely engages in the use of the false equivalence. Take the issue of CEO pay. Folks to the left of center like to compare the level of CEO pay to the level of pay for the ordinary worker of the company they lead.

This constitutes a false equivalence since the CEO performs a much different job than the rank-and-file worker and requires a whole different level of training, experience and education.

And before the other side generates 500 comments believing that I defend CEO compensation, comparisons to shareholder value and the pay of those immediately under the CEO would better indicate the gross overpayment of many of these individuals, without resorting to the logical fallacy of the false equivalence.

But the Santa Clarita Valley itself, which I and my Nebraska bride prepare to depart after 17 years of residence, also engages freely in the use of the false equivalence and seems to, in fact, hold these false equivalences most dear. Take my personal favorite; the analysis of SCV school performance.

Annually the local school districts will gleefully issue their press releases concerning local student’s performance on standardized tests, college matriculation, graduation rates and other sundry numerical metrics.

Local media will print word-for-word the celebration when the numbers favorably compare against state averages and the average of Los Angeles County.

I wish I got a dollar every time the Hart, Newhall, Saugus Union, Castaic and Sulphur Springs school districts utilized this false equivalence. The results of urban school districts with various struggles, including the over weaning Los Angeles Unified School District, drive the overall results lower, resulting in a false comparison.

Instead, the districts should compare themselves to the more demographically similar districts of Orange and Ventura counties, which they measure well against, but not the overwhelming dominance when compared to the weaker schools that drive so much of state and county averages.

Also consider the false equivalence of SCV retail amenities. I shop at the Valencia Town Center, and I find myself quite happy that we actually possess a local Apple store to purchase and receive advice about our family’s various and numerous beloved Apple gizmos, but I do not for one second confuse the local mall with the more tony shopping districts of The Grove in Los Angeles, the Glendale Galleria, or Fashion Island in Newport Beach.

But many of my SCV brethren do not share this humble view. Consider the recent kerfuffle when local bloggers revealed that Westfield, the owner and manager of the mall, would lease space to Walmart for the opening of an alleged grocery-store-only format near the patios.

Many local notables, including known tea party sympathizers, took to social media and the Internets “demanding” that local government intervene to put a stop to the defilement by this distinctly low-brow endeavor.

But hope springs eternal that humility will rule the day in the SCV. In the most recent city survey concerning the most-wished-for retail amenities currently lacking, a plurality of respondents abandoned the prior desire for the distinctly upmarket Nordstrom and Cheesecake Factory, opting instead for the distinctly middle-brow Applebee’s.

One can only hope.

Tim Myers is a Valencia resident.


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