Something that used to irk me back in the Bad Old Days of the Soviet Union: There were people back then who argued — or often just assumed — the United States was every bit as bad as the Soviet Union. That there was no real difference between the two.
Not quite so long ago, you heard the same sort of thing said of Al Gore and George W. Bush: That there was no real difference between the two.
I think people were wrong when they said that about the United States and the Soviet Union, and I think they were wrong when they said that about Gore and Bush. To be sure, the differences between the pairs was not as great as many people represented those differences to be. But that does not mean the differences that did exist were not at times significant.
Of course, there are many instances of folks claiming two things are exactly the same, when those things are not exactly the same. Recently, I made acquaintance with a certain person who again and again makes that kind of claim. If you talk about Republicans and Democrats, he instantly claims they are no different at all. If you talk about economists, he lumps together the ones who make accurate predictions with the ones who make inaccurate predictions and claims they are all the same. If you talk about cops and crooks, he’s bound to remind you of how similar they are. I imagine even if you were to talk about dogs and dog catchers, he would tell you they are the same beneath a mere veneer of differences. Listening to him over the past few months, I have discovered that he repeats himself over and over again on this issue of differences.
I’ve been wondering this evening why anyone would have a hard time recognizing the significant differences between similar things. Is it because the pairs also have significant similarities? Does that somehow blind us?
I’m at a loss to understand how such an error could be so common.