Sunday, November 8, 2009

Enough with the Hitler Shit Already

The jury is still out on whether we, as a society or as individuals, are stupid by nature or merely stupid in select situations, but ample evidence suggests that stupidity is a
, very common human trait.

To me, though, there’s a big difference between the kind of self-inflicted stupidity that’s generally harmless to society as a whole—see, for example, almost any YouTube video involving a skateboard, dirt bike, or motorcycle—and the kind of stupidity that is deliberate, is destructive, and—simply by existing—is all too common.

For example: a small but disproportionately loud (and seemingly growing) segment of our society’s willingness to compare anyone you don’t like or disagree with to Adolf Hitler.

This ignorant and ineffective rhetorical tool—which has been described, semi-humorously, reductio ad Hitlerum—has been around for hundreds if not thousands of years,1 but from where I sit, it appears to have gained plenty of traction in the last decade or so, with folks who’ve used it in “criticism” of Presidents George W. Bush or Barack Obama.2 Rarely both of them at the same time.

The pictures in the links provided above (I’ve decided not to post more than the one at the top of the page; I’d rather not run any more risk of becoming part of the problem), on their own, prove only two things:

1. Assholes now have access to Photoshop.

2. For some folks, being simultaneously utterly uninformed and obnoxiously opinionated is creeping ever closer to becoming the rule, rather than the exception.

If it ended there, it’d probably be fine, because even with the power of the internet behind them, random assholes don’t generally get a lot of support.3 But increasingly, more-mainstream and noticeable sources are jumping on the “You’re just like Hitler” bandwagon. The very lowly regarded anti-evolution film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, rather than arguing a defensible point, more or less stated that an acceptance of the theory of evolution lead to the Holocaust.4 And perhaps worse yet, the very highly regarded late Kurt Vonnegut, famous for the kind of incisive, darkly humorous, sometimes silly, often stinging satire that suggests a fertile, active, and insightful mind, actually stated—willingly, for all I know—that “The only difference between Bush and Hitler is that Hitler was elected.”5

Folks, George W. Bush wasn’t (and still isn’t) like Hitler. Barack Obama isn’t like Hitler. There are people out there who can conceivably be compared to Hitler—Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao Zedong, Cecil B. deMille—but if the best argument you can muster, at any time, anywhere, is “[insert name here] is like Hitler” or “The Nazis also were in favor of [some particular activity],” then either this actually is the best argument you can make because your position is garbage from the start, or this is the best you can do because you’re way too ignorant of the facts at hand to actually voice an opinion in the first place.

It doesn’t take much qualification to make this statement. Mine are:

(1) several hundred games of Axis and Allies, a World War II board game in which I suddenly (and quite coincidentally) lost interest right around the time I found out that our favorite whipping boy was suddenly much, much better at it than I was,

(2) a rudimentary understanding of the second World War, beefed up by couple of high-school history classes and some reading on my own time,

and most importantly,
(3) a willingness to think rationally, at least once in a while, and an unwillingness to barf out the most offensive, hyperbolic, and obviously mistaken bullcrap I can think of simply to get attention.

Clearly, if I can cobble together enough knowledge to make a reasonable and understandable argument, any trained seal can do it.6 To fall back on such a stupid argument shows not the harmless, occasionally amusing kind of stupid, but a willful and dangerous ignorance.

Vegetarians, failed painters, folks with one testicle, and people with stupid mustaches all have something in common with Adolf Hitler, but that commonality is irrelevant.7 It’s meaningless. If you’ve Photoshopped a little toothbrush mustache onto a picture of anybody,8 or made this argument and thought it was actually relevant or thoughtful instead of embarrassing to yourself and to logical thought and rational discourse, grow up, read a history book, and realize how stupid you’ve been making yourself look.

1. This is an obvious lie. Few if any comparisons to Hitler were made before, say, 1933, and certainly none at all before 1889, excluding, of course, possible remarks from psychics or time travelers.
2. I use quotation marks around the word criticism not because I’m one of those “people” who mistakenly “use” quotation marks for “emphasis.” I’m using them—the quotation marks, that is—for what they actually do in this context, which is to change the meaning of the word. For more of my disjointed thoughts on sarcasm, please see here. Cross-references are neat.
3. Too bad for me.
4. I haven’t seen the movie myself, and don’t expect to, but commentary supporting this statement can be found here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. Some of these sources may well be perfectly reputable instead of sneaky propaganda shills for Big Science.
5. A secondhand source for this quote can be found here. In a 2003 interview with the Utne Reader, Vonnegut quipped that he’s “mad about being old and I'm mad about being American. Apart from that, [I’m] OK.” As of November 8, 2009, he’s no longer old, American, or okay. So it goes.
6. With apologies to those of legions of Bowling in the Dark readers who are, in fact, trained seals.
7. I can’t prove the testicle thing. But, then, why would I want to?
8. You’re an asshole.


  1. Yeah, what he said!

    Seriously, you could write a few books on how people today use hyperbole in political arguments. The scary part, as you pointed out, is that I don't think they're using hyperbole on purpose - they actually BELIEVE that crap!

  2. Why think when you can be stupid and get away with it??

    "You know the Nazis had pieces of flair they made the Jews wear."

  3. Not to belittle the point of the article, but at least you can finally admit that I'm better at A&A than you are :-)

    I think society is becoming more based in hyperbole because more and more we lack the ability to listen to others. People feel they have to "shock" others into hearing them...