When Fear Replaces Reason

5 10 2016

trumphitlerA commenter on my last blog had this to say: “‘I have reached this conclusion: One must choose one’s battles, and I choose not to waste my energy on this one,’” said the Jews before Hitler took power.

The commenter took my closing statement out of context and used it to shame me. At first I did not consider it worth replying to. Then I added a quick response to illustrate how little I thought of it. But upon reflection, I have decided I need to address it more comprehensively, since it is a small example of how political discussion has sunk to the abysmal depth that it has.

First of all, it is not a logical rebuttal of anything I said. It is an appeal to emotion. It is conjuring a terrible event in history and implying that this horror will be revisited if I do not choose to engage in the present political farce. Allow me to deconstruct this:
a.) I am not a Jew in 1930s Germany.
b.) Neither of the candidates is Hitler.
c.) Although the parallels in the social situation of pre-WWII Germany and present day US have been extensively cited, there are also many, many differences.
Therefore this is a false analogy. It serves only to terrify, not to rationally make a point.
obamahitlerd.) It is also implied that, conversely, my continued engagement in this soul-draining travesty of an election will somehow change the country’s course. Nonsense, for all the reasons I have already addressed in the blog.

Second, Godwin’s Law. Comparisons to Hitler and Nazism are an overused, hyperbolic, discussion-killer. Obama, Trump, Bush, and countless others have been compared to Hitler by one group or another. It accomplishes nothing except to express the extreme loathing that particular individual has for the person being discussed. Granted, both Hitler and Stalin (another popular bugbear) are mentioned in one of the illustrations I posted with the blog, but they are merely being used to represent the end result of the process of lesser-evil voting, that is, two truly terrible candidates. One could just as easily say Ted Bundy and Charles Manson and the same point would be made. The writer merely chose two terrible world leaders since the analogy was more appropriate.
hitlerhilary

Finally, I am thoroughly disgusted with the way the national conversation about this election has fled rational debate and plunged headlong into Fear. Our brains are wired to react strongly to threats. We instinctively scramble to avoid a dangerous situation. Warnings of imminent disaster if we do not take the recommended course of action have been used to sell everything from presidential candidates to laundry detergent. It’s a strategy that works very well, playing on our basic human aversions.

But there is a huge difference between a warning of the danger of cancer on a pack of cigarettes and an exhortation that we must actively support and vote for a particular candidate or the country will collapse into Fascism.

Science and reason are the ways we avoid fooling ourselves. I am not advocating the elimination of emotion in our lives; far from it. Compassion and empathy are critical to judging the best course of action when one has first acquired all the facts available. Anger and fear are not helpful. Evoking those emotions tends to short-circuit our ability to think rationally.

And goodness knows we need to think rationally right now.

[This response addresses the comment only, and is not a personal attack on the individual who posted the comment.  Differing opinions are valid.  I welcome criticism as a challenge to clarify my views.  If mutual agreement cannot be reached, I am happy to agree to disagree, and to respectfully end the conversation without prejudice.]

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One response

5 10 2016
Mary Jolles

Well said. Scientists often get frustrated with metaphors or comparisons that cause people to “discover” analogies between two things that are not analogous. This is because many people are not very experienced at critical thinking or careful analysis. This is also true in politics, as when a person says, “I support a woman’s right to choose whether or not to have an abortion,” and another person responds, “Oh, then you think abortion is a good thing!” Right now, there is not a lot of critical thinking going on in the political arena–only criticism (not the same thing!).

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