Two Wrongs Are Inequal To A RightIn my experience, one of the most common fallacies that people fall into, themselves, or hear and accept from others without noticing it, is two wrongs make a right. This is in spite of the fact that most of us were taught by our mothers that two wrongs do not, in fact, make a right; however, this simple teaching that most or all of us received in childhood, can’t seem to contravene the overpowering emotional effect of seeing someone else do something wrong, thus triggering a sense of an entitlement for oneself to do the same. The frequency with which grown adults — who by definition should all know better — plumb the depths of this fallacy hit home over just the past couple of days, in two ways.

First, CBS News reports on how extreme Religious Rightist and radio host “Dr Laura” Schlessinger used the “N word” on the air, in a barrage aimed at an African-American caller (WebCite cached article):

Talk radio host Dr. Laura Schlessinger has issued an apology for saying the N-word several times in an on-air conversation with a caller that she said was “hypersensitive” to racism. …

During the exchange on Tuesday’s show, Schlessinger said the woman who called herself Jade was too sensitive for complaining that her husband’s friends made racist comments about her in their home.

Dr Laura’s reasoning for why this woman was being “too sensitive”? It was the old “two wrongs make a right”:

When the woman asked if the N-word was offensive, Dr. Laura said “black guys say it all the time,” then went on to repeat it several times.

Schlessinger did not direct the epithet at the woman, but said she used it to suggest how often she hears it, and that it should not automatically be cause for offense.

When the caller objected, Schlessinger replied: “Oh, then I guess you don’t watch HBO or listen to any black comedians.”

For Dr Laura, then, the “N word” becomes acceptable to use, because some African-American comedians use it, and because it can be heard on HBO … therefore there’s nothing wrong with the word, and her caller should not be insulted by it.

A second use of this fallacy was one I encountered while reading about the childish Religious Right caterwauling about the Cordoba Center proposal in lower Manhattan (about which I’ve blogged already). Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich — who apparently is trying to reintegrate himself into Rightist politics after having shamed himself out of office years ago — has come up with this rationale for opposing it, which you can see him spew in this Youtube video:

Here’s a transcription of his key remarks, courtesy of Reason.Com:

I find it very offensive to get lectured about religious liberty at a time when there are no churches and no synagogues in Saudi Arabia and when no Christian and no Jew can walk into Mecca…. I’d love to have these folks say, “Let’s build a church and a synagogue in Mecca, or rather Saudi Arabia, and that would balance off our having an interfaith mosque [in lower Manhattan].” They’re not saying that. It is entirely one-sided. It is entirely, I think, a kind of triumphalism that we should not tolerate.

For Newt, Saudi Arabia’s religious intolerance means it’s OK for us to prevent American Muslims from building cultural centers where they want. In other words, he thinks it’s a good idea to get into a pissing contest with Saudi Arabia to find out which country can be more religiously intolerant. What he fails to understand is that Americans should do what Americans should do, and not emulate others, just because they feel entitled to do so.

These are but two examples of how “two wrongs make a right” thinking sneaks into common rhetoric. It happens much more often than this. Be on guard against it, and don’t be swindled into thinking or doing the wrong thing just because someone can point to someone else who thinks or does it.

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