Thursday, June 24, 2004


Q and O has a great series of posts about hyperbole and the Left, but I think this one is the best. And it brought to mind an incident from my childhood. (I hope you all will pardon my constantly bringing up anecdotes from my own life. Being young and somewhat ignorant, and not being very articulate about anything else, it's really the only thing I have to compare to. And besides, I have this funny feeling that the world is self-similar, that people's lives correspond on some level to such weighty topics as politics and foreign affairs.)

My parents had bought us these audio tapes of the history of our church, dramatized. One phrase I'd heard used was "You're worse than a Missouri mob!" (Mobs in Missouri had harassed and killed Mormons, and with the complicity of the government had eventually driven them out.) I thought that was a neat analogy, and I tried it on my mom the next time she punished me for something. And boy, did I reap the whirlwind. My parents were even madder at me for using that phrase than they were about the original infraction. They took me aside and explained to me exactly how the horrors that the Missouri mobs inflicted on the Mormons were incomparably greater than my mom sending me to my room.

I can't remember whether or not I got a spanking Manual Attitude Adjustment over it, but I will never forget the lesson my parents taught me that day: that not all analogies are appropriate to make, lest they diminish a terrible thing in an attempt to magnify a minor thing.

But what strikes me as the most telling point of similarity between this incident and the hyperbolic rhetoric that McQ posts about, is the reason I used the phrase. I used it because I had heard it used and did not fully understand what it meant. I was not aware of what it would be like to be a Mormon persecuted by a Missouri mob. All I knew of it was what I'd heard on those church history tapes.

In my case, I was too young to understand. I was being brought up in an environment free of persecution, free of fear. I had never come anywhere near having my entire family shot and dumped into a well while I watched through a bullet hole in the barn where they had died. The greatest thing I had to fear was that this kid at school would taunt me. I did not have the requisite experience to fully understand the analogy I was making. These things were just words to me, words that I did not realize would evoke actual, horrible images in people's minds.

I can't help but wonder, then, if the reason the Left gets away with using rhetoric like this is that they just don't understand what my parents taught me that day: that words mean things, and that free speech is free but not cheap.

Another incident that came to mind was much more recent. I got into a debate with a woman who kept insisting that using the word "sissy" as an insult to boys was violence to women. I told her I was willing to concede that an analogy could be made between the use of "sissy" and violence to women (a rather tenuous analogy in fact, but I kept that part to myself), but that was not the same thing as really hurting actual women or even encouraging people to really hurt actual women. She disagreed with me, and we explored the fundamental differences in our philosophies. In the end, it boiled down to one thing: I believe that the world is what it is and our attempts to describe and analogize it do not affect its nature, and she believed that how we think about the world affects the way the world actually is. I am in agreement that how we think about the world affects how others think about the world, but even billions of us thinking the same thought has never been able to affect reality. If we could, we could change the geometry of the planet merely by convincing enough people to believe that it is flat.

And that, I think, is the fundamental flaw in a lot of Leftist philosophy. Believing that we can change people's natures simply by providing them with health care/foreign aid/rhetoric/etc. Thinking that if we all have good intentions, that everything we do will be all right.

I would write more, but I'm losing health points by sitting in this hard chair in front of the computer.