A while ago, I wrote about the “heckler’s veto,” where people are prevented from speaking by being shouted down or threatened. It’s a despicable tactic.
And it’s a tactic that seems to have evolved. Its practitioners have learned that shouting someone down requires meeting them face-to-face, and that doesn’t always work — especially in silent forums such as online and print discussions.
So they went looking for a way to adapt the heckler’s veto to work, and they seem to have found one. If you can’t increase the volume of your argument, increase the intensity. Ratchet up the rhetoric. Push everything into the extreme, and hope that the sound and fury of your words will overshadow the lack of substance.
With that tactic, everything becomes easier. Bush isn’t a bad president, he isn’t woefully wrong, he isn’t misguided, he isn’t leading us into disaster. He’s Hitler, he’s Satan, he’s evil incarnate. Karl Rove is no longer a cunning political operative, a brilliant strategist, a visionary with a plan that you disagree with. He’s Machiavelli, he’s the evil genius, he’s the puppet master, he’s the shadowy power behind the throne. The war in Iraq isn’t an error, it isn’t a failure, it isn’t wrong, it’s American genocide and a ravenous lust for oil. And less-than-delicate treatement of prisoners, captured bearing arms against Americans on the battlefield while not in uniform (in violation of the Geneva convention) isn’t mistreatment, it isn’t questionable, it isn’t a cause for concern, it’s torture and slaughter and death camps and Gulags and the Killing Fields all over again.
I’m not the only one to have noticed this phenomenon. Jeff Harrell takes a different approach, exploring in depth just how and why this tactic works so well. It’s a damned fine read, and Jeff definitely is on to something.
I’ve mentioned before “Godwin’s Law,” and I’d like to see it extended a bit. I’d like to see anyone who makes a comparison to some great atrocity in the past be immediately challenged to explain exactly what that great atrocity entailed, and then go into detail showing precisely how the current event compares with the historical one.
I’d like to blame this entirely on the Left, but it’s done by those on the Right as well. I’ve heard numerous people toss around “communist” and “socialist” as insults, believing that they are dropping rhetorical bunker-busters that ought to end the discussion immediately. Unfortunately, they usually just come across as frothing, John Birch No-Nothings and ended up marginalizing themselves.
John Kerry had the right idea when he compared the actions of American soldiers in Viet Nam to Genghis Khan. (I’m sorry, “Jenjhis Khan.” Mustn’t lose that Brahmin pronounciation.) The victims of those Mongol hordes passed into dust centuries ago. Unfortunately for Senator Durbin, we still have people who lived through the Nazi death camps, the Soviet Gulag, and the Cambodian killing fields. And some of them were deeply insulted by Senator Durbin, feeling that he was trivializing and denigrating what they had been through — and what so many millions hadn’t been as fortunate to survive.
I’d like to see the rhetoric turned back down, and to see a resurgence of civilized dialogue. But, sadly, I don’t see that happening. It’s so much easier to simply reach out and whack someone with the heavy guns of “Nazi!” and the like than it is to actually think, and reason, and discuss matters in an intelligent fashion.
Because that actually might involve such ghastly notions as Thinking and Reading and Research, and who, really, has time for that? Being responsible is such a burden.