The Fallacy of the DOUBLE STANDARD.

politicallly incorrectWe have a concept called the Double Standard which denotes a situation wherein some behavior is generally thought of as unfair, inequitable or simply wrong.  It is a much used term employed by sexists and racists.  It is generally used as an argument against some actions being taken on behalf of a minority or other exploited group.  Such groups include immigrants, women, children, the poor, Native Americans, Blacks, Latinos and many other underprivileged groups or groups wherein an asymmetrical relationship exists with the dominant power group.  Let me give you an example before I define some terms.

black versus white racism.pngA friend was arguing about the laws impacting the actions that business owners may or may not take in terms of delivering service to customers.  The recent spate of arguments by the so called “Christian” Right against serving gays and other minorities whose religion or beliefs they disagree with was the spur or nucleus of his rant.  He made the following analogy.  “Suppose a Black man went into a White baker to have a birthday cake made and he was refused service?  What do you think would happen he argued?”  The reply given by his audience was, “It would probably be seen as discriminatory or perhaps even illegal.”   He then argued, “Ok, so suppose a KKK member went into a Black baker and asked for a cake made for a KKK celebration and he was refused.  What do you think would happen?”  I replied that this seemed like an argument “reductio ad absurdum” or something taken to the extreme absurd.  His argument was that it was not ridiculous and such situations are typical of the differences between how Blacks and Whites are now treated in our country or that a “Double Standard” exists.

This argument of a Double Standard is a very popular one and one that it seems most people take at face value to assume is characteristic of bad or incorrect behavior.  In fact, a double standard is not wrong in an asymmetrical relationship.  In such a relationship, it is in fact a highly logical and moral standard.  Let me define some terms before I give you some evidence of why, when and how a double standard makes sense.

A Double Standard is defined as:

  • A situation in which two people, groups, etc., are treated very differently from each other in a way that is unfair to one of them
  • A set of principles that applies differently and usually more rigorously to one group of people or circumstances than to another; especially:  a code of morals that applies more severe standards of sexual behavior to women than to men.  — On-line Merriam Webster Dictionary.

In an article on Fallacies the following comment is made:

“There are many situations in which you should judge two things or people by the same standard.  If in one of those situations you use different standards for the two, your reasoning contains the Fallacy of Using a Double Standard.”

You will note that in none of the above descriptions do the definitions say anything about the equality or inequality of the relationships between either the things or the people whom the double standard is allegedly applied to.  None of the authors raise the question of whether or not a Double Standard applies to relationships that are unequal or asymmetrical.   What is an asymmetrical relationship?

Merriam Webster defines the term asymmetrical with the following definition:

  • Having two sides or halves that are not the same : not symmetrical

Applying the concept to relationships between people or groups of people can be misleadingly simple.  A few quick examples are age, weight and height.  Thus, no one would think that giving a small child only a small piece of cake and a large piece to an adult would be unfair or a double standard.  Similarly, no one would think a curfew for a young child was unfair when an older child could stay out later.  Nevertheless, in both these examples, we have a double standard.  However, here is where the concept gets trickier.  What if the differences between the two people or two groups are not so obvious or what if the differences are based on ethnicity, income or social status?

Bush-Obama-Islam-ver3What if you were very poor and you were going out with a very rich person?  Suppose you gave gifts to each other on your birthdays.  You gave a modest low budget gift from Walmart to your loved one.  She/he in turn gave you an all-expense paid two week trip to Paris.  Would you scream and yell that this was an unfair double standard?  Unfair because you could not possible meet such a standard on your much lower income?  You might want to argue that the example I have provided is ridiculous.  However, it is no more ridiculous an example that many of the examples given by opponents of civil rights, affirmative action, equal pay, immigration laws, welfare and other measures to help create a more equitable society.  (PC opponents are often guilty of such ignorance and there are numerous situations wherein they perceive that Political Correctness has created an unfair Double Standard.)

The point missed either through ignorance or convenience by such opponents is the issue of the asymmetry of relationships.  A Double Standard in an asymmetrical relationship is essential to provide equity.  Since the relationships are not equal, there can be no question of a generalized equal treatment in all areas.  To insist on such “equal treatment” is both stupid and in effect discriminatory.   We still have two problems though.

DOUBLE-STANDARDS-29-PHOTOS-8a165b628ff99e559127aa8359a86573First:  on what basis do we decide the symmetry of a relationship?  Should we be looking at power, wealth, status, employment or opportunities as measures of symmetry?  Second, when and how do we decide that relationships have become symmetrical and no longer need a Double Standard?  Both of these questions are very difficult but they are also both critical since unless they are ultimately answered, the perception of unfairness will hover over any relationships where a Double Standard exists.  This of course leads to such accusations as “reverse racism” and even claims that “Today White people are the real people being discriminated against.”  (See 4 ‘Reverse Racism’ Myths That Need To Stop or Why isn’t there a White History Month?!”)

florida double standardsThe answer to the first question concerning metrics for determining symmetry is fairly easy.  We need to look at metrics that will help to create a fair and just society.  If we are attempting to create a level playing field for all groups in our country, then we must consider any measures that will help us to obtain this goal.  There are measures for income, jobs, opportunities, education, incarceration and health that have and should be used to apply Double Standards when they will help to level the playing field.

How will we know when the playing field is level?  This should be pretty obvious. The same metrics should tell us when incomes and equality in this country are equal or at least where the divide is not so great as to create serious problems.  When we have a country wherein the top 20% of US households own more than 84% of the wealth, and the bottom 40% combine for a paltry 0.3%, you have a nation that is going to feel cheated and as a result angry.  (Economic Inequality: It’s Far Worse than You Think)

Time for Questions:

Have you ever been in an asymmetrical relationship?  What does fair or equal mean in such a relationship?  Do you think the term “Double Standard” applies in an asymmetrical relationship?  Why or why not?

Life is just beginning.

Some “Double Standards” to ponder.

“When a man gives his opinion, he’s a man. When a woman gives her opinion, she’s a bitch.”  ― Bette Davis

“For the powerful, crimes are those that others commit.” ― Noam Chomsky

“I spend some of my time brooding about people who seem addicted to double standards – those who take an allegedly principled stand on a Monday, then switch firmly to the opposite principle on Tuesday if it is to their advantage.” — John Leo



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