Thursday, August 18, 2011

Help Me Out Here....

On several CD posts over the last six months, I've described overzealous, intrusive, heavy-handed, oppressive government bureaucrats as the "licensing gestapo."  In response to those posts, I've received private emails objecting to the use of the term "gestapo." 

In an attempt to be provocative, have I crossed over the line into using "inflammatory" or "objectionable" language with the term "gestapo"?  To me, I have been using the term "licensing gestapo" in the same spirit as the commonly-used term "grammar nazi" (or "soup nazi" as one commenter mentions below).  Those terms to me seem more provocative and descriptive than offensive or inflammatory, but help me out here.....

Is "licensing gestapo" offensive? Is "grammar nazi" or "soup nazi" offensive?  Would the term "licensing KGB" be less offensive than "licensing gestapo?"

Comments solicited!     

66 Comments:

At 8/18/2011 6:54 PM, Blogger Craig said...

In a word, no.

We must learn from history. We only learn by making analogies to current events. Now, making comparisons to Nazis can be abused -- and often are -- but it is up to us to make the distinction between sensible and ridiculous.

 
At 8/18/2011 6:55 PM, Blogger Dennis B said...

It is no worse than "soup nazi" was on TV. In the USA this can have a humorous undertone. I understand the sensitivity of those that lived under the nazi and gestapo regimes. I think you should continue to use the term, but it’s best to be clear and always use quotes around the names to indicate it is a humorous pejorative.

 
At 8/18/2011 7:15 PM, Blogger Methinks said...

Mr. Perry,

Some people will get their knickers in a twist over anything and everything.

Personally, I can't think of a more appropriate term than "licensing Gestapo". As a Soviet immigrant, I am offended by anyone who thinks that "licensing KGB" is somehow less inflammatory as that would mean that the torture and murder at the hands of the KGB was somehow not as serious (so there).

They are in every way the Gestapo and it's time that people woke up and faced reality. It's time we stopped sugar coating the hot mess before us.

You can't please everyone, so speak your mind

 
At 8/18/2011 7:17 PM, Blogger Geoffrey Riklin said...

It's not inflammatory and the word "insensitive" is a cliché. The problem is that the past century has witnessed certain events that go far beyond the normal scale of atrocities that are the bane of humanity. When Amnesty International compared Gitmo to the Gulag, it offered a totally false analogy that did a disservice to the victims of the real Gulag. We have to do what little we can to preserve the memory of the victims of these catastrophes, and to try to understand what circumstances and choices led to the disasters. When people casually use certain terms - usually those associated with the Nazis - in relation to every day events, the horror of the original event is diminished, however slightly, and as a result the importance of study and contemplation seems less vital.
Saying something like the "lemonade police" or "once upon a time Elliot Ness went after Al Capone, now his successors in law enforcement bust little kids selling ten cent cups of lemonade" is sufficient. Admittedly it has less punch than "lemonade Gestapo"...

 
At 8/18/2011 7:21 PM, Blogger G Unit said...

Not offensive at all.... an apt description. I know EXACTLY what you're talking about when you use it!

 
At 8/18/2011 7:32 PM, Blogger Sean said...

I am in the 'un-offended' camp.

Keep on rolling, nothing to see here.

 
At 8/18/2011 7:33 PM, Blogger yamahaeleven said...

Just like Nazi Germany's Gestapo had the backing of the populace, our "Gestapo" does as well. The only way to wake people up to what they are endorsing is to call it as you see it. People should be uncomfortable to see their public servants called Gestapo, it is a precursor to thinking, and thinking may just lead to the realization of what they are supporting.

 
At 8/18/2011 7:33 PM, Blogger Buce said...

Licensing gestapo: hard to tell without more context. Might be somebody who is just too ignorant to recognize the distinction between “licensing” and “gestaapo.” Might be somebody who knows the difference but is willing to trivialize the term “gestapo” so as to make it less useful with real gestapos, cf. “high-tech lynching.” And compare: patent trolling, ripping off the hijab, ordaining women priests, vaccination, etc., as “the equivalent of rape” (Google 'em). More likely it is someone who just doesn't give a damn about equivalence; who knows he is preaching to the choir and neither cares nor expects to be taken seriously by any detached observer.

Never heard “grammar Nazi" before. A possible distinction is that it is such a stretch as to fall over into the absurd, into comedy, enough to make its target the object of derision or mockery, like the brownshirt who shouts “I've always loved you” as he goes off the bridge in Blues Brothers. Or like "soup Nazi."

 
At 8/18/2011 7:34 PM, Blogger W.C. Varones said...

You've been attacked by the Rhetoric Nazis!

 
At 8/18/2011 7:39 PM, Blogger Charles Platt said...

It's not inflammatory to me, but it is inaccurate, and therefore, personally, I wouldn't use the term. The gestapo rounded up people, took them away, and sometimes they were never seen again. Government agencies in the US don't do this (yet).

In addition, I associate alarmist labels with leftwing advocates whom I don't generally agree with. That's another reason to avoid it. (Recall that the term "deniers" was used to denigrate people who had questions about anthropogenic global warming.)

 
At 8/18/2011 7:42 PM, Blogger Plans to Prosper said...

It's not offensive to me, but I sympathize with those for whom it is offensive. Also, there is an element to these stories that makes "licensing gestapo" more offensize (and more descriptive) than "grammar nazi" or "soup nazi". A grammar nazi may be annoying, but ultimately they have no power over your life other than the power to be annoying. The soup nazi can deny you soup, but he cannot raid your home in the middle of the night and cart you off to jail. The terms are acceptable because the hyperbole is obvious.

However, the "licensing gestapo" really can raid your home, send you to jail, confiscate your property and shut down your business. The hyperbole is one of degree, not kind. It is more offensive precisely because it is more descriptive.

 
At 8/18/2011 7:43 PM, Blogger Plans to Prosper said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 8/18/2011 7:57 PM, Blogger polskababe said...

Absolutely not, Mr. Perry!!

You speak the truth and some people don't want to hear the truth. Keep talking.

 
At 8/18/2011 7:58 PM, Blogger Methinks said...

It is more offensive precisely because it is more descriptive.

You seem to be saying that it's more offensive because it is more true. Rather, it is not really hyperbole.

I can't identify with people who cannot handle reality.

 
At 8/18/2011 8:01 PM, Blogger Mr Brimm said...

Not offended.

 
At 8/18/2011 8:02 PM, Blogger Hans said...

Professor, I am sure that those who are critical are either Leftwing Germans or the PC crowd...

The PC Police has arrived at Carpe Diem, with social workers in hand..

 
At 8/18/2011 8:17 PM, Blogger piefarmer said...

I'm not offended, but I would expect any provocative comment to solicit some negative response.

Frankly, some percentage of your critics are likely to be complaining about your choice of words because they lack a suitable objection to your ideas.

Nazi's were terrible, but that shouldn't mean we cannot use the word casually, or symbolically, or as hyperbole. It's not the word that is bad or the use of it. It is the action of being a Nazi, or being in a gestapo that is objectionable.

 
At 8/18/2011 8:26 PM, Blogger Innovation rules said...

In a perfect world, I would probably smoke mary jane. Because the market is underground, and ends up supporting violent thugs, I choose not to use it.

In a coarsening culture, I choose not to use certain words because I do not wish to add to the mess. 'Gestapo' and 'Nazi,' outside their strict meanings, are included.

I submit that the argument is not whether the words are inappropriate, but as adults whether we wish to add to the slippery slope. In the end, words matter. And it costs very little to not add one's voice to the scrabbling chorus.

 
At 8/18/2011 8:36 PM, Blogger cbt696 said...

The bureaucratics who passed and enforced these yard sale laws have chosen to damage a woman's freedom to provide for herself even in the face of her terminal illness.

Whether or not they are nazis, they are shameful people who would enforce an injustice rather than resist it.

 
At 8/18/2011 8:36 PM, Blogger Don said...

It is offensive. However, the offense is not yours, it's theirs (the Gestapo in question).

I would greatly appreciate it if THEY stopped offending US.

Until then, call 'em like you see 'em!

 
At 8/18/2011 8:54 PM, Blogger Cooper said...

I have no problem with any of them.
I think next time the grammar KGB show up, I'll identify them as such and see if they notice.

 
At 8/18/2011 9:01 PM, Blogger Jester said...

No, it really is not a big deal. People over the last few decades have gotten increasingly sensitive over perceived words that "offended" them. Really it is getting closer to infringing on speech than anything else. There is a common sense difference between descriptive words and using an ethnic slur, for example. What in years passed if you did not like what someone had to say, you ignored them has morphed in to if you say something someone does not like, you are no longer allowed to stay it. Generally what we are seeing is a pile of petty bureaucrats that are justifying their power or their job. And that is in all levels of government. And while we are not dragging people off to dissapear things in the Nazi, and Gestapo regimes started out with very sensible things! Just little steps or offenses against someone else except me! You have an apt description of what these people are reminiscent of and it strikes a nerve to have pet bureaucracy's described for what they are. Don't let up. Not now, not ever.

 
At 8/18/2011 9:21 PM, Blogger Max said...

I don't find it offensive, and would make fun of people who do. Then again, I make fun of a lot of people.

However, I am sympathetic to the argument that repurposing words reduces their impact ( http://wmbriggs.com/blog/?p=4051 , especially the "Rage" entry). I would recommend using "licensing regime" simply for this reason.

 
At 8/18/2011 9:35 PM, Blogger arbitrage789 said...

If 1% of the people are a little offended, who the h*ll cares?

Just call it "poetic license".

 
At 8/18/2011 9:43 PM, Blogger Aaron McKenzie said...

Not offended by the term ('licensing gestapo'). My only warning is that if we rev up the rhetorical RPMs too high, we've got nowhere left to go when matters become even more serious.

I've always been fond of Kurt Loder's term, 'the Bureau of Petty Harrassment,' which I suppose is a bit broader than 'licensing gestapo' but which covers some of the same territory without risky WWII references.

 
At 8/18/2011 9:52 PM, Blogger Larry G said...

I think Mr. Perry is "calibrating" here...

:-)

interesting that we don't say licensing FBI or licensing CIA, eh?

When the FBI and CIA start showing up to shut down little girls lemonade stands... will we still call then licensing Nazis?

inquiring minds and all that rot.

 
At 8/18/2011 9:57 PM, Blogger T J Sawyer said...

I'm not offended at all. But as you have learned, this kind of term can become sort of a "tar baby."

 
At 8/18/2011 10:08 PM, Blogger Thomas said...

"Licensing gestapo" is no more offensive than "liberal fascism," and both are metaphors well-suited to the state of governance in the U.S.

 
At 8/18/2011 10:35 PM, Blogger MaggotAtBroad&Wall said...

I am 100% opposed to letting someone guilt me into censoring my speech. Screw political correctness. I'm sick of bending over backwards to accommodate a tiny minority of hyper-sensitive cream puffs in every aspect of our culture.

Use your own moral code and good judgment as a guide. If you believe a reasonable person will not be offended, then write it. The cream puffs who get their feelings hurt do not need to read the blog.

Your objective should be to produce a high quality product that adds value. Then the consumer gets to decide if he wants to consume it.

Isn't that how markets work?

 
At 8/18/2011 10:35 PM, Blogger MikeG said...

Personal attacks are offensive. Violations of someone's rights are offensive. I have little regard however for people who are offended by words and ideas.

A paraphrase of the memorable movie line from THE SIXTH SENSE comes to mind: "I see thought police. Walking around like regular people. They don't see each other. They only see what they want to see. They don't even know they're thought police."

Please keep up the good work.

 
At 8/18/2011 10:45 PM, Blogger Michael Meyers said...

Mark,

The word "Gestapo" has a horrific historical meaning, and using this word to describe a government worker/function is just plain wrong.

Love your blog!

Regards,
Michael

PS- this use of "soup Nazi" is just plain wrong too!

 
At 8/18/2011 10:54 PM, Blogger Ron H. said...

In my opinion, the word "gestapo" is the single most useful word available to describe the actions of those who would shut down a child's lemonade stand. Please keep using such words.

I'm not sure any amount of descriptive prose could convey the same amount of information this one word does.

 
At 8/18/2011 10:57 PM, Blogger Cabodog said...

Mark, the day the local health inspector showed up and demanded a $400 permit for my son's lemonade stand, the term "mob" came to mind.

It wasn't a safety issue, it was a pure shake-down for money. It was a bureaucracy gone wild, with no common sense left to it. A bureaucracy collecting money from merchants for no purpose other than to pay... for... more bureaucracy!

 
At 8/18/2011 11:14 PM, Blogger K.W. Day said...

Perhaps you can just take it as a plea for more original metaphor. Every goon and moron, with 90% of his knowledge of history coming from The History Channel, reaches into the convenient Nazi bag for comparisons. Challenge yourself to higher standards.

 
At 8/18/2011 11:14 PM, OpenID mickeythobart said...

I don't think it is offensive, but that is because I see the modern American and Nazi Germany state as essentially the same in kind, although admittedly not in degree.

The American state has become radically larger and more invasive and arbitrary. There is nothing wrong with using heated rhetoric against it.

 
At 8/18/2011 11:20 PM, Blogger W.E. Heasley said...

Bureaucrat: noun, 1. an official of a bureaucracy. 2. an official who works by fixed routine without exercising intelligent judgment.

To solve the semi-controversy one merely depends on the widely accepted definition. Hence one merely replaces “ licensing Gestapo” with “licensing robo-signers”.

Which then begs a question: are officials who work by fixed routine without exercising intelligent judgment regarding licensing in fact robo-signers on the same par as mortgage foreclosure robo-signers?

 
At 8/19/2011 12:12 AM, Blogger KauaiMark said...

The P.C. crowd will always have their panties in a wad.

"Licensing Gestapo" is literally accurate.

 
At 8/19/2011 12:59 AM, Blogger OBloodyHell said...

Worry not, the PC crowd is filled with Nazi wannabes.

 
At 8/19/2011 2:39 AM, Blogger PeakTrader said...

It depends on the context. Dr Perry has used the term "licensing Gestapo" appropriately, to reflect the subordinates of tyrants, who impose their will on the people regardless of what the people want.

 
At 8/19/2011 5:12 AM, Blogger JimmyT said...

Ask the little girl that had her little lemmonaide stand impounded and threatened with Fine and imprisonment if she did not get a license, health certificate, gloves for food handeling and of course the appropiate IRS documentation. I am sure an OSHA Inspector was waiting nearby to condem her cardboard table or make her wear steel-toed shoes.

Call them what they are, mindless drones with a little bit of power who should be working for Us, We the People however now use that power as a club. Nazi or Gestapo are not quite nasty enough for me.

BT: Jimmy T sends.

 
At 8/19/2011 5:38 AM, Blogger FactsAreFriendly said...

There always will be someone out there, usually liberals and other control freaks, who think they know what is right for others.

Their proper remedy is simply to stop reading your blog, just as I no longer read Paul Krugman, that master of moderation!

It is fine for them to criticize you, but not when taken in the context of all your writing, which is very polite and measured.

Be relaxed and colorful when you feel like it. Trust your own instincts because they are solid.

 
At 8/19/2011 6:06 AM, Blogger Dave Horne said...

You tell me; I live in a small Massachusetts town called Mattapoisett. A few years ago, the town started billing boat owners $50 for a sticker that they MUST put on their boat. I never received the first bill and they then billed me $100 (a 100% late fee). I refused to pay more than the initial $50 and they told me they would seize my boat and sell it to get the $50 fine -- you tell me if this is how a government of the people and for the people should behave (I paid the $100)...

 
At 8/19/2011 6:59 AM, Blogger MKelly said...

No, Please keep using the term gestapo. Don't cave to the PC crowd. Their ultimate goal is to silence speech.

 
At 8/19/2011 7:23 AM, Blogger Michael Ward said...

I usually agree with your POV, but once anyone makes a comparison to Nazi's, it is difficult to have a rational dialog. I would avoid it.

BTW, "grammar nazi" is meant to disparage the one correcting your grammar and "soup nazi" was funny specifically because it was so over the top.

 
At 8/19/2011 8:41 AM, Blogger Jim Weed said...

I find "licensing Gestapo" to be descriptive. Far be it for any Politically Correct zelot to exagerate a bit to make a point. While they have not sent the Lemonade stand scofflaws to the Geheto in the PC world they have humiliated the poor dears!!

 
At 8/19/2011 8:59 AM, Blogger Dr. Tax in Sacramento said...

Would you be hesitant to call the bird you eat for Thanksgiving a turkey. In this case the tactics of many of the regulators is "gestapo-like" so why not call it what it is.

 
At 8/19/2011 9:54 AM, Blogger wilbrrr said...

I think you should use what you want because it is true :]

 
At 8/19/2011 9:56 AM, Blogger dmacp said...

I'd say it is not offensive, and somewhat accurate, since the word Gestapo means secret state police. When dealing with bureaucrats, these are in fact agents of the state policing an activity. They aren't exactly secret, but more often than not they aren't real public about their activities either.

Personally I prefer to call them thugs. To say police makes it seem as though they are acting in the interest of keeping us all safe.

 
At 8/19/2011 9:58 AM, Blogger Dan Ferris said...

Absolutely not the least bit offensive. The real question is why aren't more people outraged at this? Why aren't people burning their local politicians in effigy at the shutting down of lemonade stands? At the licensing of hair shampooers? Want to know why this country is in the shape it's in? Don't blame the big banks or the federal government. Blame yourself for putting up with the local oppression of commerce, which is pandemic in the U.S.

 
At 8/19/2011 10:23 AM, Blogger Michael Hoff said...

The Gestapo were government thugs. So your use of the term is spot on.

 
At 8/19/2011 10:37 AM, Blogger Stone Glasgow said...

Should you stop using the term "warlord" because someone's family was raped and killed by one?

Should murder be removed from the language?

The only terms that are off limits to rational people are racial slurs, which serve no purpose but to irrationally offend minorities.

Reminding those of us who did not suffer at the hands of the Nazi regime just how similar and offensive our regulations and enforcers have become is a great idea. Please don't stop.

 
At 8/19/2011 11:57 AM, Blogger juandos said...

Don't let the libtards set the parameters of your speech...

 
At 8/19/2011 1:49 PM, Blogger juju said...

Not offensive at all.
And I am a ju.

 
At 8/19/2011 2:21 PM, Blogger Dan said...

I challenge the board to see if we can top it with some more offensive terms. If we can't than I would have to say it is offensive. Unfortunately the ones I would post would only be removed.

 
At 8/19/2011 3:33 PM, Blogger PeakTrader said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 8/19/2011 3:38 PM, Blogger PeakTrader said...

Using the term "Gestapo:" If the boot fits, wear it.

 
At 8/19/2011 8:45 PM, Blogger Matt said...

Mark Perry - the Common Sense Gestapo ;)

 
At 8/19/2011 10:26 PM, Blogger Bill Conerly said...

I'm not offended, and have used such language, but ...

I think we should reserve our worst language for the worst offenses.

How will you describe the secret police of North Korea or Iran if Nazi and Gestapo have been trivialized by describing bureaucrats?

 
At 8/20/2011 8:25 AM, Blogger RollCast said...

How about "Licensing Commisariat"?

 
At 8/20/2011 10:58 PM, Blogger JimJinNJ said...

Goldberg's Liberal Fascism comes to mind. Frankly I find what passes for government these days to be quite nazi/fascist. So go right ahead and call a spade a spade. Many in government are mean, small minded creeps who couldn't;t cut it in a real job. sounds like a president I know of.

 
At 8/20/2011 10:58 PM, Blogger JimJinNJ said...

Goldberg's Liberal Fascism comes to mind. Frankly I find what passes for government these days to be quite nazi/fascist. So go right ahead and call a spade a spade. Many in government are mean, small minded creeps who couldn't;t cut it in a real job. sounds like a president I know of.

 
At 8/21/2011 6:02 AM, Blogger Larry G said...

name the top 5 most "free" and most "free market" countries in the world.

If we still think the US is tops and we call it "nazi" does that imply all the others are even worse or are there some others - that are better?

so how about a list of the countries that don't have "nazi" govt?

 
At 8/21/2011 12:38 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Gestapo is an acronym for Geheimstaatspolizei meaning State Secret Police.

The use of the term is only offensive to the hypersensitive. But as you can tell from the meaning, it's not exactly an apt use of the word to describe this situation.

 
At 8/21/2011 12:47 PM, Blogger Larry G said...

it's a bomb-throwing word though - intended to stop any debate on the merits....

It's a simple-minded concept that presupposes than any/all regulations are "nazi" when that's simply not the case unless you want to include most of the industrialized world in that label.

at which point - we're in LA LA land... where ALL replaces SOME.

 
At 8/21/2011 7:04 PM, Blogger Rick said...

Of course it's inflammatory. Isn't that why you were using it? The gestapo has a reputation of blackmail, extortion, and torture. Was that the analogy you meant?

The term Soup Nazi was used for humor. You don't seem to be saying gestapo for laughs.

You could try just using the proper word; bureaucracy or police. You have a very valid point, but why muddy it by using emotionally charged words. Save you hot words for hot topics. Civic licensing of businesses is not the same as the combination of secret police and organized crime.

 
At 8/22/2011 5:22 PM, Blogger misterjosh said...

In my mind, the terms "bureaucrat" and "statist" already have highly negative connotation & they are more accurate than gestapo.

I haven't been offended in years, but it seems lazy to go straight to "gestapo."

 

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