Comparative Invalidation – A Tale of Apples and Oranges

Comparative invalidation. We see it repetitively in our society, more so on social media than anywhere else. In that arena, it usually involves an existing systemic societal, national-level problem, such as racism, misogyny, or some other area of discrimination and bigotry.

A comparative invalidation, or what I often refer to as an “argument from irrelevance,” results when a false equivalence (a logical fallacy in which an equivalence is drawn between two subjects based on flawed or false reasoning) is presented.

The process starts when an issue or problem is presented. Let’s use police brutality as an example for reasons I will discuss later. Valid points are presented regarding the prevalence, scope, and extent of the problem. Then a multitude of examples, proofs from a variety of trusted sources, and citations with supporting information and documentation are included. Comparative invalidation occurs when counterpoints are offered which are unequal, irrelevant, flawed, or false for the express purpose of invalidating the original problem.

Many of us understand this when put into to the context of “apples and oranges.” It is not only an insult to solution-based conversation, but often reveals a certain level of narrow-mindedness. It’s not just a form of logical fallacy, but it’s also a bully tactic and an indication of an underlying mental illness. That, however, is another story altogether.

The irony is that the moment someone responds with a comparative invalidation; it immediately invalidates their own argument. It’s odd to me that this is not obvious to those who practice it, but when an individual’s cognitive bias is so entrenched, it simply doesn’t occur to them that not only is their argument invalid, it usually violates social acceptability because the comparative is often racist, sexist, or discriminatory in one way or another.

An Example

Systemic institutional racism provides a good example for this and is perfect way to illustrate how comparative invalidation is put into play. Systemic institutional racism is a national issue for obvious reasons, and when there is an incident that points to this, it is brought to the public eye in the media. A primary example would be in law enforcement when there have been ongoing and wide spread incidents involving police brutality where a white police officer has used unnecessary force or restraint against a minority that results in a loss of life.

Because systemic institutional racism in law enforcement has been acknowledged on the national level, so when it rears its head in a particularly brutal way, it sparks national outrage. In some cases, it spawns protests that turn violent out of the frustration that little or nothing is being done to combat the problem in spite of the fact that law enforcement agencies, high-level politicians, and advocacy organizations have stated there needs to be police reform.

The comparative invalidation comes into play in this situation when an irrelevant counterpoint is provided for the purpose of invalidating the existence of national systemic institutional racism in law enforcement.

Shot in the head point blank by his neighbor. Where is the media coverage?

There is a story about five-year-old Cannon Hinnant, a white child, who was killed by being shot at point blank range by a neighbor. Yes, it is absolutely horrific. There is no denying that. But this is a local crime story that is being circulated on social media as a comparative invalidation to the murder in general of black people by law enforcement, and to further attempt to misrepresent and invalidate the Black Lives Matter movement.

Not only is the fact that the kid being white and the murderer black irrelevant to the problem of national systemic institutional racism in law enforcement, using this as an example to invalidate national systemic institutional racism in law enforcement is patently racist, itself.

Some of the posts on social media that seek to invalidate racism often involve a local story involving a black person or minority against a white person, or a minority on minority crime, or an account of how a white person was fired from their job by a black boss, or any one of an endless supply of stories or testimonies that are meant to invalidate the truth of what black people experience on a daily basis.

And if not those stories and testimonies, they will offer intentionally skewed statistics showing how black on black crime is more prevalent than white on black crime or outdated and incomplete charts on the number of black people killed by police, or something similar.

Either way, the intention is the same, to invalidate the reality of the black experience, and anytime this is attempted, racism is at the core.

It’s not only race

Comparative invalidation isn’t limited to racial discrimination. It is everywhere. I used systemic national institutional racism in law enforcement because right now it is the most prevalent on social media. But these types of counterpoints are used with alarming frequency.

Misogyny is another prime example. The unequal pay gap between men and women in the workforce has been a national problem for decades, but you still read where people use all manner of foolish arguments to either deny it exists, provide nonsensical charts and graphs that when examined by experts they don’t hold up to scrutiny, or they cite examples of female executives earning millions or their Aunt Mary who was promoted to floor manager at Home Depot.

Don’t even get me started on what happens to the LGBTQ community and what they have to deal with when comparative invalidation arguments are presented for the purpose of actually invalidating their right to even exist. That’s a whole other conversation.

When you add in conspiracy theories to the mix, it gets even more bizarre. Throw in science denial, and you have circumstances that amount to a perfect storm of foolishness.

What is sad is that the use of comparative invalidation, or the argument from irrelevance, shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, it is gaining momentum. Perhaps it is because the political climate in the United States have given racists, bigots, and misogynists a sense of validation, and through this sense of validation they feel more comfortable saying the quiet things out loud?

Either way, with the growing use of comparative invalidating arguments come the increase of those who’s minds and points of view are swayed toward the dark side, towards the belief that racism doesn’t exist on a national systemic level, that women are either not worth equal pay or already receive it, that the violence towards LGBTQ community is their own fault, that people dropping dead or being financially ruined because they cannot afford healthcare only happens to a minuscule number of people, that the conclusions of experts in almost all areas of science from infectious diseases to climatologists are all collectively wrong, and a plethora of other real-world, serious, and emergency level problems that are being increasingly swept under the rug because people are adhering to comparative invalidating arguments from irrelevance at an alarmingly increasing rate.

As the old song from Sesame Street goes, “One of these things is not like the other.” It’s sad that your average five-year-old is smarted than many grown adults.

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