Thursday, 4 November 2010

Privileged Analogies, and a suggested replacement

One thing I've been seeing happen a lot recently is the use of various mental health conditions being used as analogies in the discussion of political ideas or proposals or strategies.

Or rather, the author's privileged misperception of what a mental health condition is actually like being used as an analogy.

Now obviously there are serious problems with appropriating someone's experience to use as an - invariably negative - analogy for your feelings about a political debate. They're well-documented; a few in summary:

  • It adds to the negative general opinions surrounding mental health conditions.
  • It alienates people who might have supported your view if you'd used an analogy that wasn't an insult to them.
  • It creates an environment generally hostile to people with mental health conditions.

There are also obviously serious problems, purely from a literary standpoint, of using analogies where the thing used for the analogy does not in fact have most of the properties the analogy requires for its effectiveness. Given the widespread misperceptions about mental health, it's not even likely that the default members of the audience have the same misperceptions as the author of the analogy does anyway, so the "I didn't mean X in the mental health way" defence (which was already ridiculous anyway) becomes even more tenuous.

But, of course, neither of these problems actually matter to the people using these analogies. I've seen many an author, confronted with people pointing out both the social and literary problems with their analogising, nevertheless defend the analogy as the right thing to do.

So, if you can't convince them otherwise, why not join them? Not with mental health-based analogies, of course. Use non-harmful analogies instead. Making the uselessness of the analogy even more obvious might even help convince them: if their utterly inaccurate analogy is justifiable, why aren't these less harmful cases? As examples:

The Conservatives are like strawberries.

It works as an analogy because strawberries are red with a green top, and the Conservatives aren't. There are also many other ways, by the reverse logic of mental health analogies, in which this analogy works (strawberries are best in season, while Conservatives are there all year round; etc.)

The government's policy is like a plug hole.

Water doesn't actually swirl in opposite directions in opposite hemispheres, but enough people think that it does for the analogy to work. If commonplace misperceptions are a vital part of analogy making, then they can be used without ableism.