Monday, September 26, 2011

Fraying Decency And False Equivalency

I read Anand Giridharas' piece about the fraying national decency of the United States with rising excitement. Finally, here's someone preaching the Echidne gospel, the hidden one, which is only delivered to my high priestesses and priests! How the real problem with us humans is that inability to keep remembering that, yes, the "other" is also a human being, first and foremost, before being counted as a member of any deplorable sub-group.

He links to an important article which lifts the curtain and shows us what might be behind the convenience of getting our Amazon purchases delivered overnight. And then he writes:
The prevailing American story line right now is seething anger at politicians: that they’re corrupt, or heartless, or socialist, or dumb. But the Amazon story, and many other recent developments, suggest that the problem is significantly deeper.
Far beyond official Washington, we would seem to be witnessing a fraying of the bonds of empathy, decency, common purpose. It is becoming a country in which people more than disagree. They fail to see each other. They think in types about others, and assume the worst of types not their own.

It takes some effort these days to remember that the United States is still one nation.
Yesss, I hiss, and give myself high-fives. And then I read on and collapse.

Because Giridharas goes on to construct false equivalencies of the type so very common in the media these days: Well, perhaps he is a serial killer, but you slapped your neighbor once over a border dispute. You both have lost your decency!

Check it out yourself:
It doesn’t feel like one nation when a company like Amazon, with such resources to its name, treats vulnerable people so badly just because it can. Or when members of a presidential debate audience cheer for a hypothetical 30-year-old man to die because he lacks health insurance. Or when schoolteachers in Chicago cling to their union perks and resist an effort to lengthen the hours of instruction for children that the system is failing. Or when an activist publicly labels the U.S. military, recently made safe for open homosexuals, a “San Francisco military.” Or when most of the television pundits go on with prefabricated scripts to eviscerate their rivals, instead of doing us the honor of actually thinking.
The more I travel, the more I observe that Americans are becoming foreigners to each other. People in Texas speak of people in New York the way certain Sunnis speak of Shiites, and vice versa in New York. Many liberals I know take for granted that anyone conservative is either racist or under-informed. People who run companies like Amazon operate as though it never occurred to them that it could have been them crawling through the aisles. And the people who run labor unions possess little empathy for how difficult and risky and remarkable it is to build something like Amazon.
Can you spot the false equivalencies? I have bolded the presumed losses of decency by those left of the political aisle. The rest of the paragraph describes right-wing losses of decency or something shared by all.

Any attempt to pair them shows the stupidity of trying to find equivalency:

Amazon seems to have been treating some of its warehouse workers like easily replaceable machines, to be used harder and harder until they break and are then tossed on the rubbish heap.

What shall we pair this with? School teachers refusing to have smaller pay, smaller pensions and longer days in order to stop children from suffering? Note that those school teachers are not the owners of the school system, reaping some profit from it but simply workers and not high-earning workers, either.

Or should this be paired with the failure of unions to marvel over the risks and efforts it must take to create a firm like Amazon? Should trade union officers perhaps condone what Amazon is doing with its warehouse workers? Especially when the Amazon workers are not unionized?

Any pairing I attempt results in such false equivalencies.

The only bolded bit that stays has to do with the assertion that many liberals take it for granted that conservatives are either racists or uninformed. It is not paired with anything similar. Perhaps it is intended to balance the Republican audiences applauding when death of others was mentioned? Or the anti-gay remark about the military?

But those are not the proper missing part. That would be something like "Many conservatives I know take it for granted that anyone liberal is either a baby-killer or a parasite sucking on the teats of the government." To omit this suggests to me that Giridharas was trying, hard, to balance the scales of indecency in this country.

But that turns the piece into another he-said-she-said story, and we have plenty of those already.