If I could outlaw one rhetorical and stylistic device I think it would be comparing your idealogical opponent to Hitler, Nazis, and fascists*. It cheapens the true horrors of WWII and the Holocaust, and instantly destroys any chance for a civilized debate. The political left and right both employ this “scorched earth” tactic of demonizing the other side, and some religious leaders aren’t much better. So I felt a certain amount of disappointment when I read an article about an intermittent California Bay Area ban on wood burning sent to me by a reader of this blog.
“…most Bay Area residents have been surprisingly receptive to a new rule banning wood fires on pollution-laden Spare the Air days during the winter, say officials at the Bay Area Air Quality Management District … But don’t try telling that to the neo-pagan pantheist who fired off an e-mail to district employees and members of its board of directors. ‘I will NOT be deprived of my constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of religion by bureaucrats looking for more ways to control even more aspects of our lives,’ wrote the pantheist. ‘I’m claiming an exemption because this ban violates my right to practice my religion, a right that is guaranteed by the Constitution … When the government controls everything we do, say and think, that’s fascism … Anyone who would turn in their neighbor for burning wood would be right at home in Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia. Think about it, people, what have we become.'”
Who knew that the new jack-booted thugs would come in the guise of a program banning wood burning on Winter days when air pollution reaches unsafe levels.
“In the wintertime, fine particulate matter (PM2.5) becomes the pollutant with the greatest impact on air quality … When our morning forecast predicts that concentrations of PM2.5 will exceed the national health-based standard, the Air District will issue a Winter Spare the Air Alert. Winter Spare the Air Alerts will be posted on our Spare the Air home page and on the Air District’s www.baaqmd.gov home page.”
Now perhaps our anonymous Pagan pantheist had a point in asking for a religious exemption, but by comparing an initiative to improve air quality with Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia he has labeled himself an un-serious crank who will be ignored by those in power. In addition, Pagan groups who do seek to get an exemption should a holy day fall on a day when a Winter Spare the Air Alert is issued will have to combat the impressions made by this Pagan who cried “fascist”. So if you are planning to write a letter of complaint about a local ordinance, try not to compare your elected officials with regimes that have murdered millions of people, you might be surprised how much further you get in resolving your issue!
* Of course, should your idealogical opponent actually aspire to emulate Hitler, Nazis, or the principles of fascism, feel free to let those analogies, metaphors, and rhetorical flourishes fly!