The 2 words are equivalent, and neither is wrong. I'm just noticing that there are 2 words and interested in picking one and being consistent. It's not a word I've used much in the 12-year history of this blog. It appears almost only in quotes and almost always when someone is saying "false equivalenc[e/y]" (or "moral equivalenc[e/y]").
It occurs to me that "false equivalence" is a bad expression. What's "false" about thinking 2 things are alike? You might falsely claim that 2 things are identical, but if you are just putting 2 things side by side and saying they are similar when there are also differences, you don't deserve to be accused of falsehood. Maybe "equivalence" is the wrong word. If you haven't said the 2 things are exactly equal, you don't deserve to be said to have asserted that there is "equivalence." To concentrate on the word "false" in the phrase "false equivalence" is to get distracted, perhaps by taking offense at the pejorative.
I'm drawn into this language issue by an off-line discussion of the alleged sexual misdeeds of Donald Trump and Bill Clinton. In case you are wondering.
Anyway, looking at my own archive, I don't think I've ever accused anyone of relying on "false equivalence," but I have discussed the usage. For example, in June 2014, David Brock was trying to convince rich liberals to spend big money on politics even as he was lambasting the Koch Brothers (nonliberals) for spending big money on politics:
“You’re not in this room today trying to figure out how to rig the game so you can be free to make money poisoning little kids, and neither am I... Subscribing to a false moral equivalence is giving the Kochs exactly what they want: keeping us quiet about what they’re doing to destroy the very fabric of our nation."And I said:
His idea is: Since the Democrats are in politics to do what is good and the Kochs want what is bad, there's a "false equivalence." Seeing the false equivalence — I observe — requires that you look at the end and not the means.The phrase "false equivalence" is very common rhetoric these days. Watch out for it. I think it's being used to inhibit comparisons. But there is nothing wrong — nothing false — about comparisons. You just need to be perceptive and honest about how much alike things are. Those who say "false equivalence" are really saying they'd prefer to call attention to the differences or for you to just not bother them with a comparison that makes them uncomfortable.
One last thing. There are different reasons to resist someone's saying 2 things are alike. There's the familiar political argument. X criticizes Y's candidate, Y says X's candidate did the same kind of thing, X wants to get back to the problem with Y's candidate, and the phrase "false equivalence" seems like the tool for the job.
But quite apart from politics, there are different psychological orientations. I'm thinking of lumpers and splitters:
A "lumper" is an individual who takes a gestalt view of a definition, and assigns examples broadly, assuming that differences are not as important as signature similarities. A "splitter" is an individual who takes precise definitions, and creates new categories to classify samples that differ in key ways.Some people see similarities much more than differences, and for other people differences predominate. I tend to see the ways we're all alike, but there are other people who look for ways to segment us off into little groups. I think I'm more of a lumper but to say that is to be something of a splitter, no? Those other people are splitters. It makes no sense. Or, yes, I see how it does, I need to see how it does. I don't think there are lumpers and splitters. That's too splitter-y for me. I think we're much more alike than different, but if you think we are more different, that's okay too, as long as you don't accuse me of falsehood for saying that we are more alike.