Reductio ad Hitlerum

“The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” — Spock

Reductio ad Hitlerum is a bit of dog Latin for “argument to Hitler.” It’s when you compare the arguments or the person arguing to Hitler or the Nazis, specifically with the intent of calling them evil. I’m sure most people reading this have done it at some point. I’d like to take a few minutes to discuss why you shouldn’t.

Being a living human being, Hitler did a lot of stuff in common with everyone. He ate. He drank. He breathed. He went to the bathroom. I have no reason to suspect he didn’t have sex. He spoke publicly. He went to school. He went to church. He sang in his church’s choir. He volunteered to serve in the military. He grew facial hair. Using the data point of “Hitler did it!” doesn’t, on its own, make it evil. Unless you’re comparing levels of racism and the magnitude of atrocities (for reference, your preferred political party losing power was not an atrocity, the Rwandan Genocide was), your comparison to the Nazis and Hitler is probably (and most likely deliberately) wildly hyperbolic and not contributing to rational conversation.

“Thomas, why are you bringing all this up? Surely you haven’t recently observed such rhetoric.” Oh, hypothetical reader, if only I hadn’t. I wish I had the creativity to make long, elaborate points about truly meaningful topics, rather than just reactions to the bad behavior I observe in social media. Unfortunately for both of us, I do not. Observe, exhibit A:

The needs of the many

Ignoring the political target here, it seems that the creators are somehow conflating altruism with Nazism, which is probably the most absurd thing I’ve ever heard honestly posited. I have no idea what the message of “We should take care of people” has to do with murdering a minority ethnic group, nor why I should denounce someone proclaiming Utilitarian views. What it leads me to do is classify the behavior of the person who shared it in at least one of several ways: 1) They don’t know how to identify bad arguments 2) They are susceptible to bad arguments 3) They don’t care what argument is being made, so long as it reinforces their viewpoints, and we all know how I feel about that.

What I’m really trying to say, through all of this, is that you shouldn’t do it and you should absolutely call people out when they do this. Guilt by association is a logical fallacy. Calling it out makes people think harder about their arguments, and that’s a good goal.

Thanks for reading.

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