How wrong can someone be wrong? Not exactly a question we hear every day, but it’s not a new one either. In fact, the late great science-fiction writer Isaac Asimov would ask that question often, believing there was more to simply being right, or on the flip side, simply being wrong.
To Asimov, you could have two different answers to the same question both be right, but one more right than another. It was something the writer explored in a 1988 book of essays, “The Relativity of Wrong.”
“When people thought the Earth was flat, they were wrong,” Asimov wrote. “When people thought the Earth was spherical, they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the Earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the Earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together.”
At the end of the day, Asimov’s debate is one of drawing a false equivalency. Walking over a small, rolling hill is not the same as climbing a mountain.
Sometimes, journalists are pushed into creating false equivalencies in an effort to be fair. For example, the success of vaccines in our society have been proven scientifically a hundred times over.
Positions by anti-vaxxers, as they’re called, have been thoroughly debunked. Yet, when there’s a debate about vaccines, reporters find themselves giving equal time between those who support the scientific backing of vaccines, and those who want to believe whatever baseless theory they read on some internet blog.
If ever there were poster children for false equivalency, you could easily find them among the anti-vaxxers, and especially those who believe the Earth is flat. But you also can find a high level of false equivalency in a much more prominent place. You know, the highest office in the land. The one occupied by President Donald J. Trump.
Last week, as America tried to stay strong heading into its first major holiday since the coronavirus pandemic shut down life as we know it, Trump decided it was time for churches, synagogues and all other houses of worship to reopen. For the president, these were “essential places that provide essential services.”
And yes, for many, faith indeed is important. Having that fellowship is something many — especially in New York — desperately need.
But then Trump offered his expected false equivalency: “Some governors have deemed liquor stores and abortion clinics as essential, but have left out churches and other houses of worship. It’s not right. So I’m correcting this injustice and calling houses of worship essential.”
Trump acts as if governors sat down and decided liquor stores and abortion clinics were more important than a church or synagogue or mosque. Except they didn’t. They took a number of factors into consideration, the biggest — which one will draw a crowd?
Crowds are great for the coronavirus because it can run quickly through hundreds or even thousands of people in a short period of time. We hear about so many infection clusters happening around these congregations that get back together — and not from someone simply visiting a store or a medical facility.
Being wrong doesn’t seem to matter when it comes to politics, because it’s more about feeling than facts. And sometimes being wrong is OK.
But when you’re wronger than wrong? That’s when all of us need to worry.