Hyperbole leads to anger and anger leads to hate.
Hyperbole in Politics: Forget What You Know and Prepare to Get Emotional
by Guise BuleIf you have been feeling a little angrier than usual lately, let me tell you why this may be, and don’t worry its not your fault. Civil society let you down.
The only thing you need to really know about the history of civil society is that before it was a thing, we all wandered around the bush gathering berries, getting mauled by wild animals on a regular basis or getting killed by a rival clan for some reason, like when you picked berries on ‘their’ land.
Then a bunch of people decided that this wasn’t such a nice life and so they started to build huts out of mud, ones surrounded by fortifications to protect the group of huts and before you knew it, civil society emerged.
Civil Society Is the Light in the Dark
There are groups who have already done a fantastic job of explaining what civil society is, so let me explain what civil society means to me.
Civil society is what protects us from the dark, its what protects us from the violence and its what protects us from the demons that live within us.
Civil society is the art of living together, next to each other and on top of each other, it is a set of unspoken rules that we all mostly adhere to, ones which keep us from using violence against each other on a regular basis.
These unspoken rules were worked out so long ago that they are deeply ingrained in most of us, they exist within those of us who feel a strong sense of civic duty and they call out to us when we see them being broken.
To me, the beauty of civil society is that my family and I can safely live next to you and your family, despite our political beliefs, because we understand that the good of our society is more important than our personal opinions.
I Protect Your Right to Disagree With Me
This means that I respect what you have to say and your right to say it, providing that you do the same in return, it also means that neither of us have the right to persecute the other for speaking our opinions.
If we can maintain this balancing act by not being hateful to each other in public, then we can mostly get along without hating each other and to me this is the very essence of civil society, being civil to one other.
For a very long time the ancient enemy of civil society, the demon known as hyperbole was confined to extremists and writers, because civil society understood it for what it was in discourse and instinctively knew its evils.
Welcome to the Hyperbole
Hyperbole can be beautiful, it can be emotional and it can paint a picture.
My favorite piece of American hyperbole has to be Paul Bunyan describing winter:
One winter it was so cold that all the geese flew backward, all the fish moved south and even the snow turned blue. Late at night, it got so frigid that all spoken words froze solid afore they could be heard. People had to wait until sunup to find out what folks were talking about the night before.
My favorite British piece is Monty Python describing being poor:
You were lucky. We lived for three months in a brown paper bag in a septic tank. We used to have to get up at six o’clock in the morning, clean the bag, eat a crust of stale bread, go to work down mill for 14 hours a day and when we got home, our Dad would thrash us to sleep with his belt!
Gabirel Marquez let us see his mastery of hyperbole when he wrote:
At that time Bogota was a remote, lugubrious city where an insomniac rain had been falling since the beginning of the 16th century.” as did Joseph Conrad when he wrote “I had to wait in the station for ten days — an eternity.
These are examples of hyperboles better nature, but do not let them fool you into thinking that hyperbole exists to entertain you, it does not.
Political Hyperbole Can Be Dangerous
Hyperbole has also been used as a linguistic device in politics and political debate throughout history, first by the Greeks and later by the Romans.
The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle thought that the user of hyperbole was juvenile (meirakiōdeis) and inappropriate for older men and we presume this is because Aristotle thought that hyperbolai, when said in a political context, were mostly said by angry politicians.
What Charybdis is so greedy? The Ocean could hardly have swallowed up so many things, so widely scattered, in such distant places, and so quickly!
Charybdis is a legendary and terrifying sea monster who eats ships whole, but he becomes insignificant when compared to Antony’s greed by Cicero.
Interestingly, Cicero was probably educated enough to be aware of Aristotles political teachings and his opinion of hyperbole, it is probably what made him such an effective practitioner of the hyperbolic political statement.
Back when politicians took rhetorical devices in debate seriously, the Roman rhetorician Quintilian described hyperbole as an ‘appropriate’ exaggeration of the truth, but he also thought that a sense of proportion was necessary:
Though every hyperbole surpasses belief, it must not be beyond all reason; there is no surer route to cacozelia. I feel it distasteful to report the many faults arising from this trope, especially as they are by no means unfamiliar or obscure. It is enough to remind the reader that hyperbole is a liar.
Forget What You Know, Prepare to Be Emotional
I think its important that we understand how ‘influencers’ mean to use hyperbole, they use it to manipulate their audience emotionally.
They use hyperbole to make typical human feelings or events seem emotionally remarkable, they use it to make the ‘normal’ so remarkable and emotionally intense, that the normal no longer looks ordinary to anyone.
A good influencer uses hyperbole to make you forget what you know and become emotional about a subject, but the greatest leverage hyperbole instinctively and intuitively, putting you emotionally in the picture.
They do this to manipulate you emotionally to the point where you are no longer thinking rationally about a subject, making you angry about it.
A Demon Waiting to Devour You
Political propaganda is creative content (audio/video/text/images) used to promote a political point of view and hyperbole is its best friend for life.
Put these two together and you have a demon waiting to devour you.
Using technology and social media, propagandists have perfected the art of presenting the right piece of hyperbolic propaganda to the right audience and automated it to the point that civil society is being barraged by it.
Whatever your politics, we can mostly agree that those who set out to use hyperbolic propaganda to push extreme views onto others are negative influences who need to be countered if our civil society is endure.
You know who I speak of, those influencers who set out to make a normal event seem emotionally remarkable, those who emotionally charge everyday occurrences to the point where their audience becomes hysterical.
The crime these people are committing against society is that they are often pushing extremely divisive perspectives, ones that make it really hard for friends, families and communities to have a conversation about them.
Foolishly, we either share the hyperbole on social media or angrily comment on it, but worst of all we are continuously engaging with the hyperbole and its beginning to undermine our civil society in a thousand little ways.
Death by a Thousand Cuts
Whatever your politics happen to be, we are all surrounded by hyperbole coming from everywhere and its starting to take its toll, we are becoming hardened to its continous drone and we are starting to normalize it.
This is a perfectly human response to seemingly harmless negative stimuli, but we still do not know how deal with it effectively, because civil society has never had to deal with hyperbolic assault of this scale and magnitude.
It is eroding our democratic system, the trust we used to have in our institutions and each other, its pitting sexes and races against each other and its a threat to civil society because we can no longer talk about anything.
Whilst elements in our society are cheering it on, those of us with a sense of civic duty can see civil society slowly dying a death by a thousand cuts.
Whatever your politics, civic duty demands that we silence the hyperbole.
During the Great War and World War Two spreading enemy propaganda was a serious criminal offense, it did just as much damage then as it does now, but we decriminalized the practice and today elements of our society gleefully use hyperbole to burn civil society and make money.
The danger is that we lose our civility and the violence returns, before this happens we need to eliminate the hyperbole so we can return to a place where civil society can have a rational conversation about reality.
Unless we silence the extremists, we cannot have that conversation.
The Boy Who Cried Wolf
The problem with pointing at reality and using hyperbolic propaganda to describe it, is that slowly distorts our collective perception of reality.
One of our oldest cultural memories comes from Aesop’s Fables and The Boy Who Cried Wolf and it teaches us that the problem with crying wolf is that in making false claims, you discredit any truth that tries to follow it.
The more false claims that we see, the less likely we are to believe the truthful claims that try to counter them and that is how we get to the point where we no longer believe anything, even if its backed by good science.
This is why we are experiencing a relentless barrage of fake news on social media, it discredits any truth that tries to follow it efectively.
When Offensive Words Lose Their Power
One of the quickest ways for an extremist to discredit anyone who disagrees with them is to call them a sexist, a fascist a racist, a nazi or any other ‘ist’ word, primarily because they are deeply damaging and ‘sticky’ labels.
Its done in an attempt to discredit parts of society as people whose views are ‘not worth listening to’, so that their views do not have to be properly discussed in a civil way, the only real way to resolve any real problems.
Extremists using hyperbole to repeatedly label an element of civil society as sexists/racists/fascists is a way of controlling how other people see them.
They do this to discredit a perspective that is in opposition to their own and its causing deep fractures in civil society and our democratic institutions.
The divisivness being spread is fracturing families, friendships and communities that were healthy before and the intolerance of the extremists pushing it means that their political opponents have no voice.
Their end goal is to stifle the political conversation and silenmce the political opposition, which history teaches us always leads to violence.
We all have a right to free speech, some extremists seem to forget in their efforts to demonize their political opponents and now that repression of basic rights is hurting civil society at the most basic levels.