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


Autobiographies from the Dead – Jefferson the Founding Father

For the next several weeks, my blogs are going to consist of “autobiographies” written by some very special people.  They have one thing in common.  They are all dead.  Some have a burial place and some were simply discarded like pieces of trash.  Their stories will be told by the deceased themselves.  They cry out from the fields, rivers and graveyards to speak.  I have heard their cries.  They want me to tell their stories to you.  They want you to know what their living and dying was for.  This week, Jefferson will tell you the story of his life and death.

Jefferson the Founding Founder

Thomas_Jefferson_by_Rembrandt_Peale,_1800My name is Thomas Jefferson.  I am one of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America.  I almost single handedly wrote the Declaration of Independence.  I was the third President of the newly united colonies and one of the most influential and famous Americans who ever lived.  Many people equated my skills and abilities with those of Leonardo Da Vinci.  I was considered a Renaissance Man.  My quotes and writings are ubiquitous throughout the world.  My name is synonymous with the concepts of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.

Yet, here I am today looking down at my grave in sadness.  I would never have thought that the day would come when I would be scorned and spit on and called a hypocrite.  Of course, even in my lifetime, I had many critics and people who attacked my position.  But it is different today.  Now, they are not doing it for political gain or to thwart my plans for building a great nation.  Today, I am being criticized because they honestly believe that I was a hypocrite and that I deserve to be denounced for it.

The sad part is that they are right.  I was a hypocrite.  I was also a coward.

I want to explain why I did not free my slaves.  I suppose I could make a few good excuses that would have to do with the economic realities in which I was faced.  I can’t deny that I knew slavery was wrong.  I often talked about how evil the entire enterprise was.  Our “peculiar” thing was, as we called it down South, not simply peculiar, it was fundamentally cruel and malicious.  Nevertheless, I was never a very good business man and I teetered between bankruptcy and solvency on a daily basis.  There was no way I could have freed my slaves and still run an economically viable business.  I was caught between making a living and living my ethics.  I choose to eat and continue my privileged life style.  In the South, I was not condemned for this choice.  I received no accolades either.  This was the way we lived.  We owned slaves and slaves were inferior beings born and bred to work for the White man.   I lived in a strange world.  I could not accept these beliefs but neither could I break free of them.  I do not justify my acquiescence and I do not seek to be exculpated for my failures.   If I were in a dock today, I would plead guilty.  My soul could not rest without such an honest admission.

sally hemingsNow we come to Sally.  I loved her like I never loved any other woman in my life.  I started a clandestine affair with her when she was only 14.  Was I taking advantage of her?  Maybe so, I do not know.  I never forced her or threatened her or coerced her.  Perhaps it started out as an affair of passion when my wife was sick and I was not able to have sex with her.  Soon though, it grew into much more than that.  Sally was witty and smart and fun.   She had none of the pretenses of the typical Virginian lady.  In bed, there were no rules and anything went.  If I could have imagined heaven, it would have been being in bed with Sally.

People started to suspect that something more than slave master and mistress was transpiring between us.  I could not afford to let anyone think it was anything more than that.  In 1790, in Virginia, it was permissible to sleep with a slave.  It was not permissible to love a slave.  My reputation, my entire life would have been destroyed if it had been shown that I was openly consorting with a Black woman.  I had six children with Sally.  Each of these children was kept secret from everyone around us.  I took the secret of these children to my grave.  One hundred and fifty years later, my family are still attempting to deny my lineage to these children.   I am sorry that I had to deny them.  I was worse than Peter with Jesus.  They were my children but they were raised in my house as domestic servants.

I freed Sally and her surviving children when I died.  I could not afford to free all my slaves as this would have left my heirs with a large debt.  My lands, house and slaves merely paid off the mountain of bills that my creditors were clamoring to be paid for.

Did Sally love me?  I don’t know.  I would like to think that it was more than simply serving her master.  But who can tell?  In the warped and perverted system that we called our “peculiar” thing, how could a Black woman have a normal relationship with a White man or vice versa?  Suspicion, fear, prejudice, uncertainty and opportunism were all pervasive in Black-White relationships.  Sally may have seen me simply as a way to have her children freed.  I might have indulged a younger beautiful woman simply to satisfy the narcissism of “old” age.  Who knows?  There is no sense wondering what I would do if I could do things over again.  I am sure I would do the same thing that I did before.  I would indulge in cowardice and hypocrisy because I could do no other.

I am looking at my grave stone now.  It reads:


These were my most important accomplishments.  Please remember me for them.  Forgive me for my failings as a human being.  I never claimed to be a god or to be better than my fellow man.  I ask forgiveness from my children and my descendants.  I hope someday my ancestors will acknowledge the patrimony and lineage between the Hemings and the Jeffersons.  Ironic, that in some ways, this lineage is a more fitting tribute to the principle that “All men are created equal” than anything I have ever done with my life.

I never believed in a God of judgement or a God of human like characteristics.  My belief was in some kind of a higher power that created the galaxies but was not necessarily sentient.   I wander now through these galaxies looking for the god of Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Mohammed.   If I should find him, I will ask him why?  What was it all for?  What did I accomplish?  Would I have left a greater legacy if I had not been a hypocrite?  How could I have done this?   Would he forgive me for my hypocrisy and cowardice?  How do I get rid of the sadness and pain I feel?

Time for Questions:

Do you admire Thomas Jefferson?  What did you find most admirable about his life?  What would you have done if you were in Jefferson’s shoes?  Why?  What do you think he should have done with his slaves?  Why?  Do you think it was wrong for him to have a relationship with Sally Hemings?  Why?

Life is just beginning.

1789 “As far as I can judge from the experiments which have been made to give liberty to, or rather, to abandon persons whose habits have been formed in slavery is like abandoning children. Many quakers in Virginia seated their slaves on their lands as tenants. They were distant from me, and therefore I cannot be particular in the details, because I never had very particular information. I cannot say whether they were to pay a rent in money, or a share of the produce: but I remember that the landlord was obliged to plan their crops for them, to direct all their operations during every season & according to the weather. But what is more afflicting, he was obliged to watch them daily & almost constantly to make them work, & even to whip them. A man’s moral sense must be unusually strong, if slavery does not make him a thief. He who is permitted by law to have no property of his own, can with difficulty conceive that property is founded in anything but force. These slaves chose to steal from their neighbors rather than work; they became public nuisances and in most instances were reduced to slavery again. But I will beg of you to make no use of this imperfect information (unless in common conversation). I shall go to America in the Spring & return in the fall. During my stay in Virginia I shall be in the neighborhood where many of these trials were made. I will inform myself very particularly of them, & communicate the information to you. Besides these there is an instance since I came away of a young man (Mr. Mayo) who died and gave freedom to all his slaves, about 200. This is about 4 years ago. I shall know how they have turned out. Notwithstanding the discouraging result of these experiments, I am decided on my final return to America to try this one. I shall endeavor to import as many Germans as I have grown slaves. I will settle them and my slaves, on farms of 50 acres each, intermingled, and place all on the footing of the Metayers (Medietani) of Europe. Their children shall be brought up, as others are, in habits of property and foresight, & I have no doubt but that they will be good citizens. Some of their fathers will be so: others I suppose will need government.” – Letter to Dr. Edward Bancroft, Paris, January 26, 1789; “The Works of Thomas Jefferson,” Federal Edition, Editor: Paul Leicester Ford, (New York and London, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904-5) Volume 5

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