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Slippery Slopes, Boiled Frogs

Posted on the 05 February 2014 by Charlescrawford @charlescrawford

Here is my latest piece for PunditWire on the subject of Slippery Slopes. With added Quagmires and Boiled Frogs:

Shock! The German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has floated the idea that the rise of so-called ‘Eurosceptic’ political parties in Europe could lead to WAR. He argued this week that the centenary of the First World War should serve as a reminder of the dangers of a lack of European co-operation: “these dangers have to be forever banned”.

Welcome to Slippery Slopes, Quagmires, Thinly-ended Wedges and Boiling Frogs.

We all use metaphors to make a point. Speechwriters adore a good metaphor: get the right one and the speaker sounds wise, folksy, sassy and astute all in one go.

The trouble with such metaphors is that they capture your imagination but deaden your brain. Take the idea of the ‘slippery slope’. It conveys the idea that once you have gone beyond a certain point and started to slide downwards, there’s no way to stop until you crash at the bottom. There’s no safe and maybe better perch along the slide, or any way to control your slide. You lose control.

This metaphor gives a phony sense of immediate inexorable dangerous momentum which in fact may not be there. Pick another popular metaphor. If you enter a swamp (or the more fashionable ‘quagmire’) and start to get stuck, you are not doomed to stagger on into the middle and sink without trace. You may well make it back to the side safely, albeit malodorously and unhappily.

Likewise the ‘thin end of the wedge’ metaphor. Does it mean that by accepting A you logically have to accept B and C and so on? Or rather that if you accept A it is very likely (or quite likely, or more likely than not) that in practice you’ll end up getting B and C and so on, even if these results in logic and in policy terms can be distinguished?

... Herr Steinmeier too was playing on these ideas when he warned against Eurosceptics. What exactly was his argument here?

That any step back from further European cooperation makes a new war more likely or even certain? That reducing European cooperation may involve a small risk of a terrible thing, and that is a risk not worth taking? That Germany has deep in its soul a horrendous warlike impulse and that only the European Union as it is can tie Germany down safely (“unleash us at your peril!)?

Who knows? I suspect that he did not care. He was just throwing out a remote but horrible possibility (war in Europe once again) and slyly suggesting (a) that people like him who believe in the European Union as it is are the only credible defence against that happening, and (b) that anyone who disagrees with him must be ipso facto ‘dangerous’...

Read the whole thing.

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