August 23, 2006
Nothing like it
I am wary of analogy. When someone begins a comment with “X is like Y,” I automatically think, “No, it’s not.” Nothing is quite like anything else.
In recent days I’ve heard a particularly troubling analogy twice. I won’t name the speakers because analogy is a common rhetorical device. I’m sure if I looked back on all the dumb analogies I’ve made over the decades, I’d wince plenty.
The analogies that troubled me were to terrorism. In separate conversations I’ve heard people in the political realm compare both the nation’s health-care and environmental challenges to terrorism. The point was the same: Dealing with those issues is just as critical as dealing with terrorism.
Here’s what the speakers said: The single mother with a sick child and no health insurance? Terror. The environmental havoc that global warming will wreak? Terror.
These are bad arguments. Yes, some people without health insurance feel a desperation bordering on terror. And if the power of Hurricane Katrina was indeed an early sign of global warming (a big if, I think), the results in New Orleans and elsewhere on the Gulf Coast were truly terrible.
But to compare these or any other political issues to terrorism is unhelpful and misleading.
Terrorism is the deliberate slaughter of innocent human beings for a fanatical purpose. There is nothing like it. Certainly there is no political issue like it. To use it as a point of comparison will always diminish it.
Health care and the environment are important issues. But issues should be discussed, and positions defended, in their own right. I hope the effort to use the tragedies caused by terrorists to raise public interest in other issues is not the trend I fear it is.
Posted by Mike Pride at August 23, 2006 06:18 PM
As an editor in Maine, I refused to run an op-ed because of a bad anology. The writer, a longtime Maine resident born out of state, objected to a bill that would create "Native Mainer" license plates. She said it stigmatized people like her (the non-natives) in much the same way the Nazis stigmatized Jews with yellow stars. The analogy was logically flawed and totally absurd, even offensive.
But does that mean that the Holocaust should never be compared to anything? You seem to be suggesting something similar about terrorism: that it is outside the realm of analogy. I don't agree.
Terrorism, like health care and the environment, is an important issue. How we arrange our priorities in a world of jihadists is open to debate. And such a debate must involve comparisons. How else can we make intellectual sense out of the issues?
Posted by: Brendan Wolfe at August 27, 2006 01:37 PM