I don't know how many Native Americans were killed by the U.S. government and/or citizens, but let's just make up a fictitious number for this question: two million.

Next, let's assume the Soviet Union killed five million of its own citizens. It's hard to characterize the slaughter as genocide, because a wide variety of peoples were targeted. Many believe the killings were motivated largely by a desire to wipe out resistance to the new government. There may have also been many revenge killings.

So, if we make a comparison based on numbers only, the Soviet experiment is the greater evil (based on my fictitious numbers; the actual numbers, of course, are far different). However, John Doe argues that the U.S. is the greater criminal because it committed genocide. He adds, "We can't blame socialism, because it's just an idea. Good people might make socialism work, while bad people will manipulate socialism (or any other form of government) to achieve more sinister goals."

To me, this sounds like a false comparison - comparing apples and oranges. The U.S. killings were driven largely by racism (which is obviously bad). The Soviet killings were driven by something else (which was also obviously bad).

If we want to dismiss the Soviet slaughter because it was done in the name of some inherently neutral political idea (socialism), then we should also dismiss the U.S. killings, because they were done in the name of another inherently neutral political idea (capitalism, democracy, etc.).

Vice versa, if we want to condemn the U.S. slaughter because it qualifies as genocide, then we should also condemn the Soviet slaughter, because it qualifies as state terrorism (or whatever). Or we could change our example to a country that slaughters five million women, or children. So now we're comparing racism and sexism, which is arguably just as bad.

Is there a name for this fallacy? To me it looks really similar to comparing apples and oranges. It might possibly be described as a bait-and-switch technique.

(For the purpose of this question, I'm not suggesting that either the U.S. or USSR is worse than the other. Rather, I'm focusing on the logic used to establish their "relative evil.")

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    Interrestingly if we follow wikipedia, socialism killed 50 to 150millions people (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…). And european invasion of Americas made the local population shrink by 130 millions in 200 years (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…). So unfortunately the real number are quite higher. But the real thing is that in the end, as long as you are the victor that write history or just if it happened a long time enough or in a country far enough, nobody care... – Nicolas Bousquet Nov 17 at 12:22
  • If I were to answer only the title of your question, I would say the "double standard" is the fallacy you are looking for. – Hugh Allen Nov 17 at 13:55
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    Double standard. It is usually framed as a bias rather than a fallacy because it involves choice of criteria rather than invalid reasoning based on them. – Conifold Nov 17 at 22:59
  • It's hard to choose a correct answer; faulty/weak analogy, false equivalence and double standard all sound like good fits. – David Blomstrom Nov 18 at 1:37

When one is comparing two different things and the comparison is weak, it might be viewed as a "faulty analogy" or a "weak analogy". These may be viewed as fallacies.

Analogical reasoning is, according to Wikipedia, "one of the most common methods by which human beings attempt to understand the world and make decisions".

However, some analogies are not strong based on relevance, degree and amount of similarities. At this point the analogy may be labelled a fallacy.

Logically Fallacious lists the following names for this fallacy: "bad analogy, false analogy, faulty analogy, questionable analogy, argument from spurious similarity, false metaphor" and describes a weak analogy as

When an analogy is used to prove or disprove an argument, but the analogy is too dissimilar to be effective, that is, it is unlike the argument more than it is like the argument.


Reference

"Argument from analogy", Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argument_from_analogy

"Weak Analogy", Logically Fallacious https://www.logicallyfallacious.com/tools/lp/Bo/LogicalFallacies/181/Weak-Analogy

  • That sounds like a good fit. I'll wait for more responses before I mark it as the correct answer, though. – David Blomstrom Nov 17 at 3:04

Two other possibly fallacy names spring to mind, but it's also important to keep in mind that fallacies fall into two types (formal and informal) and this type is the less useful for arguments (informal).

False equivalence -- calling two things the same that aren't (here, this is going to be an informal version of a fallacy that has both formal and informal variants)

In a sense false equivocation is a species of poor analogy since the parallels that make arguments by analogy work would be out of whack in these cases.

or

whataboutism - this is a type of red herring where rather than resolving the alleged problem, a similar problem is mentioned as equally applying to others.

arguably, this is a form of tu quoque but the precise definition of tu quoque is not clear (sure you can claim it means "you as well"), but given that definition I've seen it applied to ad hom responses to ad hom and the sort of "your view has this problem too".

Largely, it's irrelevant what it's properly called however because "identify the fallacy" is largely a waste of time.


Returning to my earlier point about formal vs informal fallacies, a big problem with "identifying" informal fallacies is that the person you are arguing with may disagree about whether the usage is fallacious. They may think the two are in fact parallel cases or some how material to the argument at hand. In other words, raising a "ha, fallacy!" point does little to end this sort of debate.

Thinking about it in terms of argument by analogy, arguments by analogy don't have the same proof methods as deductive arguments. There can always be disagreement about the suitability of an argument by analogy or disagreement about quite what it proves or what is analogous between cases.

  • Interesting - False equivocation sounds very similar to "weak analogy." I wonder if they could be used as different names for the same thing, though there is an obvious difference between "weak" and "false." – David Blomstrom Nov 17 at 3:07
  • Quite probably so. "informal fallacies" is a mess of an area -- and something we get tons of questions about. – virmaior Nov 17 at 3:08
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    "Whataboutism" is just a trendy new name for tu quoque, which is very often a legitimate criticism in the scenarios where the term "whataboutism" is thrown around. – chrylis Nov 17 at 6:03
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    "And then there is the wholly unrecommendable phrase false equivocation. Since equivocation is about deception at worst and avoidance at best, false equivocation doesn't make sense. The established phrase is false equivalence." Merriam-Webster – user22a6db72d7249 Nov 17 at 13:36
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    @user22a6db72d7249 took me a while to figure out that was all a quote. corrected. (that's what I get for writing answers without reading them). – virmaior Nov 17 at 14:38

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