Monday, February 21, 2005


At Red Oasis in a Blue State, Red writes about the recent (and inevitable, as I've noted many times) decision to throw out the charges against the neo-Mennonite (check out beardo in the back) Philly 5:

Perhaps this was not her intention, but on the surface it appears that, to Dembe, Christian groups are equivalent to the KKK and the Nazis. Christians are now the same as a murdering band of thugs hell-bent on turning back the clock of racial equality? They are now no different than a regime that systematically slaughtered 6 million people in less than a decade?

So, the question is: how are the Philly 5 like Nazis? It's all speech that lots of other people don't like and find highly offensive, but whose rights should be protected nonetheless.

As an empirical statement, that should be uncontroversial. Plenty of people find the beliefs of the Philly 5 and their ilk highly offensive. If we construe it subjunctively, it's also uncontroversial: "even if you think antigay speech is offensive, we protect the speech of those that are most offensive (nazis and KKK)." This is the counter-example strategy, and we see it all the time. Reciting the free speech rights of various awful groups has become a rhetorical trope: "yeah, I don't like what you're saying, but we protect the rights of even the worst groups [followed by the rights of KKK and nazis]" (examples: here, here, and here) This is standard issue, and it's also an intuitively sensical way to construct a counterexample. If X is worse than Y, yet we protect the rights of X, then it's logical that we protect the rights of Y.

A third possibility is that she was using an analogy. In itself, though, that's really not a big deal. As I've pointed out before, an analogy compares one aspect of two different things. An analogy doesn't conflate two things; far from it, the efficacy of a metaphor relies on the difference between them.

An example: say I'm talking with a friend about something, I think she's relying on puffery to make her point, and I then assert that she's acting like Goebbels. Am I actually asserting that she's "the same as a murdering band of thugs hell-bent on turning back the clock of racial equality?" No, of course not. I'm picking out a trait common to both (namely, their propagandizing). In the Philly 5, it's a pretty reasonable guess that the views of the 5 were unpopular (in fact, many of their defenders have said just that). Inasmuch as the views of the KKK and anti-gays are politically unpopular, then, they are similar. Further, given the aforementioned legal trope about the KKK, it's a far-from-shocking metaphor.