Monday, June 4, 2007

The Words We Use

I've been reading "Crazies To The Left Of Me, Wimps To The Right." Although I don't always agree with his politics, Bernard Goldberg does make a really good point in his chapter "Alec Baldwin is not Sadaam Hussein - At Least I Don't Think So."

He was commenting about how people often make really exaggerated, dumb comparisons to make a point. Like Kim Basenger saying of Alec Baldwin, "He's Sadaam Hussein". Okay, he did make some stupid comments to his daughter on a cell phone... but if he truly was a mass-murderer, I would think that somebody would have caught on to that by now. If Kim has the evidence of him being a mass murderer, maybe she should turn that over to the police?

Maybe he is like Sadaam Hussein in some ways. Perhaps they both have the same endearing speech... maybe Alec Baldwin and Sadaam both curse like a sailor and hurl insults the same way. If that's the case, maybe that would be a better comparison. But to flat out compare some (I'm assuming) non-murdering actor to a mass murderer is a little silly. Children on the playground have about as much sense.

When we use gross exaggerations to make a point, like Alec Baldwin/Saddaam Hussein or George W. Bush/Adolph Hitler, our words lose meaning. It makes us look stupid. And even worse, some ignorant onlooker who only knows half the story might take you literally. Say I was someone from Timbuktu who knew nothing about actors in Hollywood, but I had heard something about Sadaam Hussein. If I wake up from my Timbuktu coma and read "Alec Baldwin is Saddaam Hussein" I'm going to assume that Alec Baldwin is a cruel mass murderer. Or perhaps I'm someone that went into a coma in the 1970s and just woke up (I think I read about that happening recently). I'm catching up on the news, and I read someone commenting in the newspaper that George W. Bush is like Hitler. That'd be pretty scary, wouldn't ya think?

There aren't too many that are that completely out of touch, but words affect our subconscious as well. Like advertising. I may read that Alec Baldwin is like Sadaam Hussein once, and dismiss it as stupid. But part of it gets filed away in my subconscious that "Alec Baldwin must be a bad guy." Then I hear about him leaving a nasty message to his daughter, and the bad guy message becomes more ingrained.

Rosie O'Donnel compared "radical Christians" to "radical Islamists". I know what the radical Islamists have done... they have been known to fly into buildings, commit suicide bombings, create terrorist plots... I don't really know of many Christians that act like that. There are those Phelps kooks, I guess... but even they haven't been known to kill anybody... they're just annoying. I suppose a few Christians have blown up abortion clinics, which is not good. As far as I know, they're a much smaller segment of the Christian population than suicide bombers are in the Islamic population. And from what I understand, more Christians condemn abortion bombers than Moslems that condemn suicide bombers... 26% of US Moslems age 18-29 believe that suicide bombing in defense of Islam can sometimes be justified. Pew research report, see page 60 I haven't seen a poll of Christians and abortion bombers, but I know a lot of Christians and I doubt that the approval rating is 26%.

It's tempting to exaggerate in order to make a point, and I'm sure that I'm guilty of this as well. But by exaggerating, our words lose their power and mislead.

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