Slavery, Sharia Law, Hitler: Let’s Drop the Hyperbole

Folks, I can’t emphasize this enough. If you’re going to make analogies from one thing to another thing, make them good analogies. Avoid hyperbole (or litotes for that matter). Try not to equivocate one part of a spectrum of concepts to another extreme end of that spectrum (e.g., a paper cut is not the same as a sword wound), and alternatively, try not to paint another person’s argument with such equivocation unless you have ample evidence to support that viewpoint.

Here are some examples that pretty much run the gamut of polemical, hyperbolic language in order to discredit someone or some idea.

Slavery had a disastrous impact on African-American families, yet sadly a child born into slavery in 1860 was more likely to be raised by his mother and father in a two-parent household than was an African-American baby born after the election of the USA’s first African-American President

— From the original Family Leader pledge (a conservative test for prospective Republican presidential candidates):

The language has since been removed. As it’s pointed out in the article, the language is couched to make it sound like slavery in pre-Civil War America was somehow better for black families (while completely dismissing the nature of the institution that broke up families as a matter of course).

Dear Muslima

Stop whining, will you. Yes, yes, I know you had your genitals mutilated with a razor blade, and … yawn … don’t tell me yet again, I know you aren’t allowed to drive a car, and you can’t leave the house without a male relative, and your husband is allowed to beat you, and you’ll be stoned to death if you commit adultery. But stop whining, will you. Think of the suffering your poor American sisters have to put up with.

Only this week I heard of one, she calls herself Skep”chick”, and do you know what happened to her? A man in a hotel elevator invited her back to his room for coffee. I am not exaggerating. He really did. He invited her back to his room for coffee. Of course she said no, and of course he didn’t lay a finger on her, but even so …

And you, Muslima, think you have misogyny to complain about! For goodness sake grow up, or at least grow a thicker skin.


— Originally posted in the comments on by Richard Dawkins

I’m not wading into the whole ‘Elevatorgate’ discussion here as it’s being hashed over with ample rigor in multiple other venues. A difference of opinion on whether or not a woman was being too sensitive about a perceived uncomfortable situation is acceptable (though I disagree with Richard Dawkins on his interpretation). What seems to be the problem with Professor Dawkins criticism of a “privileged” woman of the West is that he was attributing an untenable position for any complaint, himself included, as a privileged class of humans in the West. It’s too broad an analogy for practical use where a complaining or criticizing any “lesser” issue can be overshadowed by someone else’s truly awful situation. Something for Dawkins to think about the next time he criticizes (rightfully so) about teaching creationism in British and U.S. classrooms when so many children only get to read the Qu’ran under regimes dictated strictly by Sharia law.

This president has exposed himself as a guy, over and over and over again, who has a deep-seated hatred for white people, or the white culture, I don’t know what it is.

— Glenn Beck

Reverse racism card. Since Beck rarely backs up his assertions in any case, it’s pretty much easily dismissed. The opposite is the racism card such as expressed by Kanye West during that Katrina fundraiser.

God, I really wish I could go loose on this one. He’s like Napoleon and he wants to create this insane, infamous mad-man reputation. He wants to be like Hitler on his sets, and he is.

— Megan Fox on director Michael Bay in an interview:

Just…it’s just not the brightest career move. I’d call it Megan’s Law instead of Godwin’s Law, but that would likely be a greater faux pas.

It’s like when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939.

— Blackstone Group CEO Steve Schwarzman on Barack Obama’s proposed private equity tax increases:

A tax increase for a sector of financial products is not like the start of World War II.  It just isn’t. No horses versus tanks. No aerial bombardments and civilians dying. Just stop it.

Stop and think if the comparison or contrast that you want to make in favor of some kind of argument isn’t attempting to emotionally cloud the issue with bogus analogies or Preview over-the-top metaphors. The Holocaust, slavery, etc. are all powerfully monstrous narratives in human history, the resonating traumas of which don’t need to be diluted because you want to win an Internet argument. I don’t excuse myself from this as I’m sure I’ve done it myself, but we should all endeavor to try harder to avoid bad arguments.

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