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I think Godwin's Law is stupid

OT Discussions Godwin's Law

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#1 Bad Wolf

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Posted 21 September 2003 - 02:15 PM

I was talking to GiGi and Organian last night and we were discussing the OT forum.

And I realized that I'm really sick and tired of people who think that bringing up WW2/Nazi Germany/the Holocaust/Hitler in the course of a discussion somehow constitutes a forfeiture of the argument or some kind of faux pax.

"Godwin's Law", or the "rule" against bringing up these subjects is to me a symptom of a desensitization to events that occurred a good deal less than a century ago.  My mother lived through the Japanese occupation of the Philipines.  WW2 is not some distant mythological event to be trivialized and dismissed by some silly netiquette doctrine.

I intend to continue to bring up Hitler/the War/the Holocaust/Nazi Germany wherever it seems appropriate.  It's recent history and I'll be damned if I'm going to let the fact that certain generations of people in this country seem to view it as something to be dismissed or not discussed stop me from doing so.

Whether people want to continue the discussion after that is of course up to them.

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#2 Rov Judicata

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Posted 21 September 2003 - 02:32 PM

I see your point. Sometimes, a valid comparison can be drawn to Hitler or Nazis.

*Usually* it takes the form of something like this:

"Oh, so you want gun control? The nazis took away guns too!"

or

"You support the Patriot Act? Hitler took away civil liberties too!"

or

"Hitler killed millions, and the citizens didn't blink an eye! That's what's happening with abortion!"

While this forum has been pretty good at this, I can think of at least one thread that was urined by Godwinization, and several attempts that were (thankfully) ignored.

The problem is that it's a crutch. We have thousands of years of history, and yet-- somehow-- virtually every issue eventually relates to nazis. I would humbly suggest that if somebody can't make their argument without resorting to Nazism, then the argument is most likely flawed.

EDIT: Rereading, you have it backwards IMO. The rule isn't there because people are detached and desensitized; the rule is there because it's virtually impossible to make a WWII centered argument without the debate becaming emotional rather than logical.

Edited by Javert Rovinski, 21 September 2003 - 02:33 PM.

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#3 HubcapDave

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Posted 21 September 2003 - 02:32 PM

Lil,

I don't think the law's intent is to make less of the events of the Nazi's behavior or actions, or the events of WW2. I think it is used as more of an illustration of a how a discussion thread can have gone on so long as to have gone way off the original subject.

Certainly, there are legitimate topics and legitimate times to bring up Nazis. But let's say you have a topic discussing puppies. If at some point the topic of Nazis comes up, you can pretty much guees that the thread has gone on too long and gone waaayyy off topic!

Also, from what I've read, you can't use it to trump a thread.

#4 Bad Wolf

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Posted 21 September 2003 - 02:37 PM

Quote

I would humbly suggest that if somebody can't make their argument without resorting to Nazism, then the argument is most likely flawed.

And I would humbly suggest that this statement proves my point about dismissiveness.

Sure we have thousands of years of history.

Including this one, relatively recent, and absolutely horrifying illustration of just what evil man is capable of.

There is no reason in the world why it can't or should not be brought up for comparison purposes.  When appropriate or relevant of course but honestly that is so subjective.

I would further humbly suggest that the person who shuts down/refuses to further engage in a discussion on the grounds of "Godwin" is the one really relying on a crutch.

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#5 HubcapDave

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Posted 21 September 2003 - 02:47 PM

Here's more on Godwin's Law, and how it should be used:

http://www.faqs.org/...legends/godwin/

#6 Jid

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Posted 21 September 2003 - 02:49 PM

Okay, kids, time for a lesson about the *reality* of Godwin's law.

Quote

:Godwin's Law: /prov./  [Usenet] "As a Usenet discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one."
-The Jargon File

What does this really mean?  Simply, it states that the longer a thread goes on, the more likely a thread is to contain mention of Nazism/Hitler.

Why people often believe it means that the thread is over, because where this term was originally coined (Usenet), it was a general fact of life that once mentioned, the thread usually degenerated into a flamewar about Nazis or Hitler or (ironically) about Godwin's law.

Basically though, in terms of etiquette, one could argue three main things about Godwin's law:

Quote

  • If someone brings up Nazis in general conversation when it wasn't necessary or germane without it necessarily being an insult, it's probably about time for the thread to end.




  • If someone brings up Nazis in general conversation when it was vaguely related but is basically being used as an insult, the speaker can be considered to be flaming and not debating.




  • If someone brings up Nazis in any conversation that has been going on too long for one of the parties, it can be used as a fair excuse to end the thread and declare victory for the other side.
(Source: http://www.faqs.org/...legends/godwin/ )

The last is by far the most debatable of the three implications.

Basically, it was just a simple way of helping keep the peace on usenet.

While Nazism is part of recent history, I often find it to be an over used (nearly to the point of cliche) response when someone finds something to be morally reprehensible.

I like Godwin's law for this reason.  

You know what?  I agree with you, discrimination based on sexuality, or by race, or religion, or anything sucks.  So does some of the policies some governments make.  So do a hell of a lot of things.

But I really can't respect comparison to a regime responsible for the mass murder of 6 million Jews, and millions more that were homosexual, gypsy, or other "unwanted peoples".  Or for that matter, to the murderous regimes that once ruled Serbia, or Cambodia.
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#7 Rov Judicata

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Posted 21 September 2003 - 02:57 PM

Una Salus Lillius, on Sep 21 2003, 12:37 PM, said:

There is no reason in the world why it can't or should not be brought up for comparison purposes.  When appropriate or relevant of course but honestly that is so subjective.
That's the key point: Usually it's *not* relevant. Usually, the debater is just elephant-hurling to bolster his own political agenda.

I won't complain when somebody draws a thoughtful comparison that happens to violate Godwin's Law; I'm not a Godwin Nazi.

Again, it's usually not relevant. There are exceptions, but I find them to be pretty rare.

Further, the example is usually extremely triviliazing of the Holocaust. Comparisons to any modern regime to Hitler are extremely flawed (which is why I loathe the Germany/Iraq analogies. Grrrrrrrrrr.).

I do see your points, Lil. I'm inclined to disagree, but your argument certainly makes sense. :).

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Me: "I have a job and five credit cards and am looking into signing a two year lease.  THAT MAKES ME OLD."
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~~ Josh, winning the argument.

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#8 Bad Wolf

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Posted 21 September 2003 - 02:58 PM

Quote

But I really can't respect comparison to a regime responsible for the mass murder of 6 million Jews, and millions more that were homosexual, gypsy, or other "unwanted peoples". Or for that matter, to the murderous regimes that once ruled Serbia, or Cambodia.

I think it depends on how the comparison is drawn and exactly what comparison is being made.

For example, let's say we're talking about anti semitism or racial cleansing.  I think that a discussion of Nazi Germany is entirely appropriate in that circumstance.

Similarly, if we're talking about mob mentalities or bigotry in terms of a frame of mind, a discussion of Nazi Germany may be germane.  IMO not in terms of saying "oh well you sound like a nazi" but more in terms of discussing attitudes.  But it depends.  To me it's a case by case thing.

Nazi Germany, like anything else, should by no means be an automatic fall back because to me that is in its own way just as dismissive of the importance of this episode in World History as deciding that it should never be brought up or that any time it's brought up it's a violations of "Godwin's law".

Finally, one thing is to say that you personally don't respect or agree with a given comparison.  Hey there's a lot of analogies that I see on mbs that I think are faulty.

But it's very different imo to say something like "I think your analogy is faulty" as opposed to "oops, Godwin law violation, I'm out."

To me that just stifles discussion and again, is as much of a crutch as the automatic falling back on the Nazi comparison.

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#9 QuiGon John

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Posted 21 September 2003 - 03:32 PM

Here's the problem as I see it... Sometimes, in the course of a discussion, we just want a way to illustrate that we think a particular course of action or policy could lead to Really Bad Things.  But it's not always easy to get a group of people to agree on what's good and what's bad, or even who's good and bad.

Want to use dropping the atomic bomb for your example?  Well, there's a debate about that.  The Spanish Inquisition?  Well, that gets into religion, so it's automatically tricky.  The Confederacy?  The issues involved were sufficiently complex that despite the presence of a central issue we can agree was Really Bad (slavery), there are still some Southern sympathizers.  Radical groups in the Middle East?  Let's not even go there.

Nazis?  Evil.

Not only were they evil, they were so evil that they're just about the only thing in the whole world that everybody can agree was evil.  We don't even have to think twice.  Hitler?  Yeah, evil dude, that one.

I don't mean this to sound flippant, I just mean... there's value in having a standard of comparison that obvious, at least until it gets used inappropriately.  I see the point of having Godwin's Law-type etiquette, but it has to be flexible.  I do agree that, except in extreme cases, it should never end a discussion...

#10 Bad Wolf

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Posted 21 September 2003 - 03:37 PM

Awesome post Mr. Burke!!!!!!!!

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#11 Banapis

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Posted 21 September 2003 - 03:53 PM

I agree, Godwin's Law is stupid.

If not in theory, at least in practical application, it creates the presumption that because a person makes a particular comparison their entire argument is discredited.

If the person's comparison is so irrational as to make no sense at all, just ignore them.  I think the "Cousins of Godwin" thread illustrates the dangers of the logic behind the "law."  It can spread to the use of any comparison that involves a controversial topic, regardless of the merits of the comparison.

Banapis

#12 Bad Wolf

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Posted 21 September 2003 - 04:02 PM

Thank you Banapis.  I especially agree with the following:

Quote

it creates the presumption that because a person makes a particular comparison their entire argument is discredited.

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#13 Delvo

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Posted 21 September 2003 - 04:25 PM

Mr. Burke reminds me of the comment I've made before that Hitler is this generation's Devil. The Devil once symbolized the absolute evil of all evils, the essence of evil itself. Anything else's evil was only evil in terms of how much it could be said to have to do with the Devil, or be close to or similar to what the Devil would want.

But people don't take the Devil very seriously anymore. So now we use Hitler in his place.

Anyway, the rule that when Godwin's observed pattern is repeated once again, the person who did it loses, is good. Why? Because, although Nazi comparisons might theoretically be a good way to make a point, that's not how it works out. It's just flun out without thought 99% of the time, and the rule is good for exposing those who do that and making it clear exactly what they've just done and how simplistic their thought processes are. Meanwhile, those who would make a VALID point that way are NOT AT ALL restricted by it, because there's not a single valid thing to say involving Hitler that couldn't also be done using other examples instead, and/or by digging into the elements that make such a comparison valid in the first place and just exposing THEM. Avoiding the Godwin Maneuver might even compel some people who were about to do yet another Nazi comparison to look more closely at what they're saying than they would have otherwise.

And it's just patently absurd and unreal to say that the corollary that the person who does that loses the debate has anything to do with trivializing the actual attrocities of WWII. That's so bizarrely and precisely the opposite of reality that I can't even imagine how a human brain concocted such silliness. Bringing up the Nazis when it's not appropriate, far more often than appropriate, and over far, far lesser things than appropriate, as tends to happen often enough to lead Godwin to make the observation in the first place... now THAT's trivialization! And the corollary we're talking about is all about PREVENTING that trivialization! Jeez, next thing you'll think of is that people trying to prevent cruelty to animals must really loathe those animals and have a serious shortage of empathy...

#14 Bad Wolf

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Posted 21 September 2003 - 04:27 PM

Ahhhhhhhh Delvo.

You're like clockwork you know that?

It's reassuring in a strange sort of way...;)

Lil
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#15 CJ AEGIS

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Posted 21 September 2003 - 04:35 PM

John Burke, on Sep 21 2003, 08:32 PM, said:

Nazis?  Evil.

Not only were they evil, they were so evil that they're just about the only thing in the whole world that everybody can agree was evil.  We don't even have to think twice.  Hitler?  Yeah, evil dude, that one.
How about Stalin?  Pol Pot?  How about Mao?  Somehow I doubt with the exception of Mao perhaps that you’ll find many people who love these guys either.  How about Genghis Khan while we are at?  You can’t forget the   Seljuks if we are getting into the bad guys of old.  How about Japan for that matter?  I’ve known many people from China who are very annoyed by the fact that the Nazis get the attention for their atrocities.  I rarely see people citing the Rape of Nanking when it comes to using historical comparisons.    
Why not?  

It is simply because we know what the Nazis were and so you can slap a much more powerful emotional button there.  You don’t have to argue in-depth why the situation is similar but you just have to yell look they are doing the same thing as the Nazis.  It is like the Iraq-Vietnam comparisons. People don’t say exactly why they think they are similar or not.  They just spit out “Iraq is exactly like Vietnam”.    Historical comparisons even to the Nazis are fair game in my opinion; however someone had better back it up with detailed arguments as to why.  It should be an argument rather than a blanket statement that just attempts to appeal to emotional content that is devoid of fact.  Meanwhile someone who wants to address the central debate has to waste effort and time debunking a quagmire that is devoid of real facts.      

Quote

Mr. Burke: Want to use dropping the atomic bomb for your example?  Well, there's a debate about that.

Someone tell me heel.... ;) :p

Edited by CJ AEGIS, 21 September 2003 - 04:36 PM.

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#16 Bad Wolf

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Posted 21 September 2003 - 04:46 PM

CJ AEGIS, on Sep 21 2003, 02:35 PM, said:

You don’t have to argue in-depth why the situation is similar but you just have to yell look they are doing the same thing as the Nazis.  It is like the Iraq-Vietnam comparisons. People don’t say exactly why they think they are similar or not.  They just spit out “Iraq is exactly like Vietnam”.    Historical comparisons even to the Nazis are fair game in my opinion; however someone had better back it up with detailed arguments as to why.
I don't disagree.

I think that blind analogies without explanation are not examples of strong arguments.

However, screaming "godwin law violation" at any mention of Nazi Germany or Hitler is no better.  How about if people just say "hey back it up" or "why do you think that" or "I disagree because" instead of announcing that the mere mention of the subject automatically spells the end of the discussion?

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#17 Guest-2112st-Guest

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Posted 21 September 2003 - 04:50 PM

Una Salus Lillius, on Sep 21 2003, 07:37 PM, said:

Quote

I would humbly suggest that if somebody can't make their argument without resorting to Nazism, then the argument is most likely flawed.

And I would humbly suggest that this statement proves my point about dismissiveness.

Sure we have thousands of years of history.

Including this one, relatively recent, and absolutely horrifying illustration of just what evil man is capable of.

There is no reason in the world why it can't or should not be brought up for comparison purposes.  When appropriate or relevant of course but honestly that is so subjective.

I would further humbly suggest that the person who shuts down/refuses to further engage in a discussion on the grounds of "Godwin" is the one really relying on a crutch.

Lil
I agree with Lil,

And suppose we took the logic of Godwin's Law and applied it to 9/11?

I don't think too many people would be happy.

Saul

Edited by Vapor Trails, 21 September 2003 - 04:51 PM.


#18 eryn

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Posted 21 September 2003 - 04:52 PM

CJ AEGIS, on Sep 21 2003, 03:35 PM, said:

Someone tell me heel.... ;) :p
Heel. ;)

Anyways, from what I've seen, the inclusion of Hitler, the Holocaust, nazism or what have you, into a debate usually just trivializes it. For example, I was watching the news and it was a report on chicken farming, the chicken activist lady compared the condition of the chicken farms to Nazi war camps. From then on in, I completely disregarded her argument simply because she had the audacity to compare chickens to humans in war camps. (I kept on thinking "I bet that chicken there would taste good in a salad..." :p)

You can have an argument about comparing something to Hitler but you have to have something to back up the claim with relevant factual info. From what I have seen it is rare that that ever happens.

IMHO of course.

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#19 Bad Wolf

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Posted 21 September 2003 - 05:02 PM

mystic, on Sep 21 2003, 02:52 PM, said:

For example, I was watching the news and it was a report on chicken farming, the chicken activist lady compared the condition of the chicken farms to Nazi war camps. From then on in, I completely disregarded her argument simply because she had the audacity to compare chickens to humans in war camps. (I kept on thinking "I bet that chicken there would taste good in a salad..." :p)
Sounds to me like your objection was the comparison of humans to chickens period (i.e., she could have compared the conditions to any human prison/camp/etc. and you would have had the same objection) and had nothing to do with it being a WW2 reference specifically.

Lil
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#20 Bad Wolf

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Posted 21 September 2003 - 05:04 PM

Vapor Trails, on Sep 21 2003, 02:50 PM, said:

I agree with Lil,

And suppose we took the logic of Godwin's Law and applied it to 9/11?

I don't think too many people would be happy.

Saul
I agree.  And imo, a claim that comparisons to that day of horror are inappropriate would be highly dismissive of those events.

Lil
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