Ken White: Analogies are useful tools but they can be misused

Comparing mask mandates and vaccine rules to the oppression of the Holocaust is pure propaganda.

By Ken W. White / Herald Forum

Years ago, I applied to a college of education and took the Miller Analogies Test. The MAT measures things like cultural literacy and reasoning ability. Reasoning by analogy draws logical conclusions from the similarities and contrasts between two things. In short, it’s about knowing the difference between an apple and an orange.

Metaphorical language — analogies and similes — is a powerful tool in teaching, social change and political communication. It uses everyday objects or experiences to explain more complex ideas such as “a business is like a family.”

Unfortunately, if misused, analogies oversimplify, lead to misunderstanding and hide important facts. Businesses have similarities to families but you can’t fire a family member.

Analogies can also be tools of propaganda.

For example, Republicans aim to associate Democratic policies intended to save lives with anti-democratic acts intended to control people. U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., who earlier claimed that Jewish space lasers sparked disastrous forest fires, recently compared mask mandates to the Holocaust, an event she probably doesn’t even believe is true. More recently state Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen, made a similar comparison by wearing a yellow Star of David — which Nazis forced Jews to wear during the Holocaust — to protest covid vaccination rules. Walsh later apologized.

Greene cynically likens mask requirements to the Nazis’ use of the Star of David and shows no understanding of the difference between controlling a disease to save lives and controlling people to gas them. To Greene, the two ideas were politically analogous and morally equivalent.

Greene cannot reason by analogy — to know an apple from an orange — but her muddled thinking is open to irony. Although she doesn’t comprehend the full meaning of her public comparison, people see the backhandedness. They know that right-wing extremists — American Nazis, white supremacists, Jan. 6 rioters, Greene’s allies — oppose masks mandates as threats to their personal freedom while they openly attack Jewish personal identity, safety and liberty. The use of the Star of David for public identification and humiliation is their dream, and it was clearly displayed at the U.S. Capitol insurrection.

On the other hand, while Greene is not good at reasoning by analogy, she is exceptional at projecting. She follows the Trump playbook of accusing others of doing what they are doing — anti-Semitism, sex trafficking, election fraud and fascist bullying — in order to cloak their real intent.

To find the intent of Greene and Republicans like her, we need to “watch what they do, not what they say.”

Ken W. White lives in Marysville.

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