Sunday, November 13, 2016

Sick of Godwin's Law

I do not know if I am alone in this, but I am sick to death of hearing about "Godwin's Law". First of all, because it is nothing of the kind, not being a law by any measure. Second, because it is so often misused. (The supposed "law" states that the longer an internet debate continues, the more likely one side will be compared to Hitler, nothing more.) And third, because it is so often used to cut off valid points by those who think they are being clever.

I will grant, Hitler has often been over used as a rhetorical device. Atheists and Christians both claim he represents their opposite numbers. Politicians on the left love to claim he is the exemplar par excellence of conservatism run amok. And Conservatives love to point to him as a proponent of gun control. And so on. Yes, Hitler and Nazis have been over used. But that does not mean there is never a time when a comparison is valid.

And yet, that is how invocations of "Godwin's Law" are inevitably used. The snarky law itself is bad enough, but in common parlance, whenever it is mentioned, it is almost inevitably implied that the one who mentioned Hitler or Nazis has somehow lost the argument simply by making the comparison, or, at the very least, that, by being the product of "an inevitable law" the comparison is somehow invalid or out of bounds.

All of which is nonsense.

For example, recently I have been on a number of discussion boards where Trump's promise to "immediately" deport 2 to 3 million illegal aliens were discussed. In pointing out the fact that he is underestimating the logical difficulties, I frequently pointed out that, despite having no concern for rights, or even safety, of those being moved, it took the Nazis several years to identify and move only 6 to 7 million. Now, so far, I have avoided hearing mentioning of Godwin's law, but I still felt the lash of  few who seem to assume any Nazi comparison is somehow invalid.

And yet, in this case, it seems perfectly apropos. Excluding Pol Pot, as his circumstances were quite different*, the Nazis are the only other group who had experience in recent times of moving comparable numbers of unwilling people mixed into, and difficult to identify and separate from, the general populace, and thus the comparison, even if it carries unfortunate emotional connotations, seems perfectly valid. If a brutal dictatorship, unconcerned with human rights and safety, took years, how can we expect to move half as many people in days? Yes, it is unfortunate the mention of Nazis brings unwanted emotional connotations to the argument**, but it is the best comparison I have.

And that is my principle objection to Godwin's law. Well, that and the fact that is far too much a relic of the age of the snarky internet know-it-all (cf "The Era of the Cocky Know It All"). But other than embodying an age where "one upping" others is seen as the highest goal, it simply does not help debate. Instead, by placing certain topics in a suspect category it actually makes some debates more difficult. And thus, I would suggest, though probably intended as a remedy to rhetorical excesses, it actually makes debates less honest, rather than more. And thus, I am sick and tired of it.

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* Pol Pot effectively moved the entire urban population. This is a much easier task, as there is no requirement to identify and separate the target group. Also, he did not gather the population but dispersed it, which is also a different and easier task. Finally, he was operating under much different conditions than one would find in the US, and thus I think provides a poor analogy. So, though another example of mass movement of populace, it is not comparable.

** I am sure there are others who argue those connotations are unavoidable if you are going to forcibly remove huge numbers of people, and I am sure such comparisons will inevitably be made, but my only purpose was to highlight the logistical nightmare it represents.

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