Given that Godwin’s Law is mentioned so often in online discussions, it would seem appropriate for my first post to be all about it, in order to get off on the right foot in case anyone tries playing the Godwin card on me in the future, I can kindly refer them back to this post. (It’s also because I just so happened to write this rant the other day and a tweet from someone I follow gave me that final push to actually get on and start my own blog).
What is Godwin’s Law? Wikipedia describes Godwin’s Law as: “An Internet adage asserting that ‘as an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches — that is, if an online discussion (regardless of topic or scope) goes on long enough, sooner or later someone will compare someone or something to Hitler or Nazism.
Promulgated by American attorney and author Mike Godwin in 1990, Godwin’s Law originally referred, specifically, to Usenet newsgroup discussions. It is now applied to any threaded online discussion, such as Internet forums, chat rooms and blog comment threads, as well as to speeches, articles and other rhetoric.”
Like many things, such as signing up to Facebook and U2, it would appear that Godwin’s Law started out as a fairly benign idea, but like many things, it got out of hand, and like many laws, it got abused (a bit like how Hitler abused the law in order to seize power – Aaah! Godwin’s Law!).
Yes, Godwin’s idea was that people will bring Hitler and the Nazis into any debate, willy-nilly, regardless of what the topic is, and that often the person Hitler will use the logic that something is bad simply because Hitler did it, such as introducing a smoking ban. Godwin came up with this idea in the hope that people would actually think before trivialising the Holocaust by comparing anything to it, not to ban the the referencing of Hitler when relevant in debates about social and political issues. However, just for a bit of fun, let’s imagine that was Godwin’s intention….
So what about Godwin and his law? Would that negate something someone has said, just because Godwin says so? Would that mean their argument is invalid? Who the hell is this “Godwin” character, anyway? Probably some schmuck who had some fucked up ideas and wanted to shut up his opponents by inventing a law which meant they were not allowed to use the most obvious example in recent history which anyone, regardless of how engaged they are in world affairs, will understand (or maybe that’s just the person you are debating). Funny, I could imagine Hitler inventing that sort of a law if he were into debating strangers on the Facebook (Aaah! Godwin’s Law again!). Of course people are going to refer to Hitler instead of Pol Pot or Idi Amin, because not everyone will be too clued up on those guys. Hitler is the most obvious and easiest to understand. He is the gold standard of dictators.
So if we were to compare Britain First to the Nazis would we suddenly “lose” the debate? Would it invalidate our argument? I know, let’s not use recent historical examples to help us learn from our mistakes of the past and ensure they never happen again, because of some smug schmuck named “Godwin”. What if someone is doing pretty much the exact same thing as Hitler (such as the far-right), are we going to avoid comparing them to Hitler because “some guy” says so, and is bringing his idea of *intellectualism into the debate?
What’s more, whenever someone says “Godwin’s Law”, it always comes across in a very smug way, usually by someone in a privileged position, as if they are trying to “win” a debate instead of learning something. They realise they cannot win on reason, so look for some sort of a get-out-of-jail-free card. Godwin’s Law is the debating equivalent to winning pool because your opponent pots the black. I guess it’s actually worse because we’re meant to be educating each other, not scoring points.
So bollocks to “Godwin” and the incorrect referencing of his “law”.
* Bringing intellectualism into a debate is a classic derailment technique, generally used by the privileged, either claiming the person they are debating is being “too intellectual”, “not intellectual enough” or even alternating between the two in the very same discussion)