Wednesday, June 27, 2012

No, it's nothing like rape.

One of the most horrendous and insidious False Analogies is to compare something to rape. Rape is, perhaps, the most heinous of crimes as it involves a complete subjugation of the autonomy of one person to another. In this sense it is very similar to torture (and one could probably make a good case that rape is a form of torture).  Given how abhorrent rape is, many people nevertheless feel the need to describe any personal insult or idea they dislike as a form of rape. As just one recent example, Michael Reagan, eldest son of former president Ronald Reagan and syndicated radio show host, argues that President Obama's recent Department of Homeland Security directive preventing the deportation of DREAM-Act eligible individuals is comparable to the rape of young boys. As he writes:
Emperor Obama obviously could not care less about helping the Latino population. When Democrats had control of both houses of Congress he did absolutely nothing for them.
Now he’s doing to Latinos what Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky allegedly did to the children of Pennsylvania — using and abusing them. With his short-sighted politicking, Emperor Obama has hurt the Latino cause in the long run. [emphasis added]
Now whatever one thinks of Obama's actions or motives here comparing them to rape is clearly ludicrous. Obama did not sexually violate anyone under his supervision in a locker room shower, and to compare his action to that is, quite simply, wrong and shameful. (It is also somewhat disturbing how Reagan seeks to subtly minimize the severity of Sandusky's crimes. This is another object lesson in the use of euphemism)

Another common version of this particular false analogy is the claim made by a fan that some revamp or sequel to a beloved work from their youth "raped my childhood." This is a charge most commonly leveled against George Lucas and his Star Wars film series, and is nicely summarized in this NSFW clip from Brian Posehn's stand-up routine:

Now this is a rather funny bit, and there is a certain expectation that a comedian (unlike say a radio broadcaster) will be over the top and hyperbolic (see also this NSFW episode of South Park). However, unless George Lucas acquires a time machine and travels back in time to sexually assault you as a child, he didn't rape your childhood.

This general trend of comparing things one doesn't like to rape is extremely disturbing. In addition to being an obvious False Analogy it has a tendency to trivialize rape. The line of argument these false analogies suggest is as follows:
  1. Seeing a lousy film isn't very pleasant, but it is no big deal. 
  2. Seeing a lousy film is equivalent to rape. 
  3. Therefore, rape must not be that big of a deal either.
And this of course is exactly wrong. I think people who use this False Analogy think that because rape is so awful, a comparison will show how awful the thing they dislike is. Unfortunately, they fail to realize that analogies go both ways. You may be trying to argue that A is similar to B in some respect, but you are just as likely to end up making the case that B is similar to A in some other respect. Thus, when one employs analogies, one must do so with great care and sensitivity to the terms of the comparison being made.

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