Friday, January 4, 2008


The word "equilivation" and its parallel formations (equivalating, equivalated) seems to have a fairly long standing (albeit rare) usage in education, art, and law. If degrees from two universities are formally accepted as equivalent, the formal process for deciding this seems to be called "equilivation." Other traces of the word from art, academia, and the law all seem to come to the idea of "to assess as equivalent."

A couple of years ago, the word was applied to a more specialized arena: politics. Intriguingly, the first example I can find of it is from confederateyankee, a right wing blog:

Will all the liberals out there equivalating how Americans treat captured terrorists with how terrorists treat those unlucky souls they capture, please take the time to remind me when that last time was American soldiers did anything like this:

(from June 20, 2006)

The fellow then gives some horrible example of mutilation and murder by Iraqi insurgents. Then there follows a rosy picture of Guantanamo etc., where prisoners are judged to all gain weight in the tropical paradise while being subjected to the equivalent of fraternity pranks.

As I've said before, I'm pretty sure I could get someone like confederateyankee to change his tune if I could waterboard him. And we know it would be the truth, because waterboarding produces the truth, right? Just ask those who are in favor of it.

Nevertheless, some dastardly leftist types soon stole the word (because they have no respect for other people's intellectual property, I daresay), and gave it a twist.

From cubezoo:

Equilivation: To consider competing or opposite positions on an issue to be equivalent, despite a lack of evidence to support one of the sides.

Cubezoo links to Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy:

Let's define it thusly:

1. The knee-jerk assumption that competing sides, especially political parties, are equally extreme, equally guilty, etc.

This approach minimizes public outrage when one side has blatantly or repeatedly misbehaved. It is beneficial not only to wrongdoers and their supporters, but also to media outlets that thrive on continued argument, rather than on problem resolution.

2. Treating a dubious position as arguably equivalent to a legitimate one.

Dignifying questionable claims and disreputable agendas provides sensational fodder for an increasingly entertainment-focused news media. It also brings those claims and agendas within striking distance of acceptability.

There is much more, of course, particularly on such matters as evolution/creationism, global warming/it's-all-a-hoax (by communists, I've been told), and so forth. Equivalation is very much part of the toolkit in the ongoing war on Science.

"Opinions differ on shape of globe. Round or Flat? You decide."

It has, of course, gotten easier and easier to be accused of being left wing over the past few years. There is no question, for example, that Barry Goldwater would be on the Republican Party's extreme left; he thought that gays should serve in the military and that it was okay to regulate the sale of so-called "assault weapons."

"I've been a member of the NRA, I collect, make and shoot guns. I've never used an automatic or semiautomatic for hunting. There's no need to. They have no place in anybody's arsenal. If any s.o.b. can't hit a deer with one shot, then he ought to quit shooting." –Barry Goldwater

Hell, I'm accused of being left wing on a regular basis these days, which, given my support for Barry Goldwater in 1964 (when I was 14), there may be some merit in the charge. Same with my voting for Gerald Ford, G. H. W. Bush, and Pete Wilson (first time; his second campaign was a race-baiting travesty). These were all very left wing Republicans, at least by the current tilt of the landscape.

The best comment I've seen on the subject of Republican/Democrat Equilivation is from Bruce Wilder in a comment on Mark Thoma's Economist's View:

The Republicans advocate torture, perpetual war, overthrow of the Constitution, national bankruptcy, oppose science, and promote political and business corruption. The Democrats are at least divided on those issues.

I'm just hoping that there will be some pieces worth picking up after the Republican Party implosion that is proceeding in slo-mo as we watch. Also, I'm not sure if the "worth picking up" refers to pieces of the Party, or pieces of the Country. But I'm sure I'll be more cheerful when the days get longer.

Equivalation is an easy trap to fall into, the most notorious example being the reducio ad hitlerem, whereby someone is claimed to be as bad as Hitler, by noting all the similarities, except, of course, the part about rounding up millions of people and feeding them gas chambers.

It's also worth noting that the news media does have a liberal bias, in the sense that newspapers and TV news does not equilivate owning a house to owning slaves, that few pundits yearn for the days when a woman required a husband's signature to obtain a drivers license (that one's still in living memory). I see few calls for a return to lynching as a means of maintaining the social order, nor have I seen anyone in the media voice the opinion that chinamen have no souls. The idea that only owners of real estate should be allowed to vote doesn't seem to be currently on the table, nor is the idea of an hereditary monarch really big right now.

See, definite liberal bias. I'm sure that we're just a step or two away from nationalizing the oil companies. Really. Any. Day. Now.

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