Consider the following:
– People have the right to identify themselves as they see fit.
– Mislabeling groups of people is an effort to dehumanize them.
– Dehumanization is the first step toward legitimizing pogroms.
– Mass vilification is the second step.
– Ya know who mislabeled people in order to vilify and eliminate them? Nazis.
– Therefore, anyone who misapplies the label “Fascist” to their political enemies is a literal Nazi.
That last step is of course a logical fallacy; it’s employed here deliberately in order to illustrate that calling people fascists merely because one dislikes them is in point of fact the identical fallacy. Even if one applies it to only those with an authoritarian bent is dangerously inaccurate; Stalin and Mao were both absolute rulers, and each was about as far away from fascist as it’s possible to be and still lead a cult of personality.
The same can be said of David Bowie, who, despite being dead, still RULES. Dare to disagree at your peril.
The point I’m trying to make here is that hyperbole, while a valuable tool in oratory and persuasive writing, contains within itself dangers too potent to be casually ignored. The best way to rob a word of meaning is to use it as a compliment or insult, and get people used to that practice.
Once upon a time, a “gentleman” was a member of the owning, not working, class; it was a descriptive term, one that could be swapped out with “parasite” if one wished to be abusive. Over time, however, it was used as another way to say “He has good manners.” Today even Congressmen are called by it, and don’t have the manners to blush even when the modifier “Honorable” is applied.
“You should write a book”, to take another example, often gives people ideas, even though they should probably, in reality, never consider writing a book. It’s thankless, eats up far too many of one’s leisure hours, and is something people are rarely good at unless they do it full-time — which is probably a waste of what otherwise might be a useful and happy life.
Yet another danger is that when everything is “The GREATEST!” then nothing is the greatest. It’s merely mediocre and expected. This devalues future exceptionalism, which in truth is rarer than hen’s teeth (note the hyperbole!) and should never ever be overlooked for any reason.
Overusing hyperbole to vilify… well. Trump was NOT literally Hitler; he was in fact startlingly dissimilar. Having to point that out, and insist on categorizing evil and odious people, makes one sound like they’re making excuses. Trump isn’t literally Hitler; he’s his own brand of odious, and comparing him to an effective leader is counterproductive.
(Yes, I did just compare Hitler positively to Trump. Hitler was still an evil man. See above.)
One thing many of us do regularly is to say of this or that happening or idea, “That’s crazy!” The trouble is, people who are, in fact, crazy are in need of help. Ideas we find difficult to process, however, are the opposite; instead, it is we who are in need of assistance — to understand that which is plain to someone else.
One thing that isn’t hyperbole is the statement: “The world is crazy.”
It’s literal truth.
Imagine a society that prevents people from enjoying the fruits of their labor, that penalizes achievement, ridicules intelligence, vilifies the extraordinary. Picture workers discouraged from vacationing, forced to work endlessly until they drop. Project the outcome.
Now realize that we live in that society.
Or at least we will until we decide to retire, buy a beach condo, and like as not get defrauded of our life savings in so doing. We then eke out a miserable existence in poverty until we die of a heart attack… two weeks later. Yay Florida.
This is why I write. It’s better to light a candle than curse the darkness, after all.
Or, as Mr. Powers so cogently suggests, “Why not do both?”
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