Sounds like something Hitler would say!
September 2, 2011 9:14 AM   Subscribe

'Overall, though, I'm content that the law has as much popcult traction as it does. My feeling is that "Never Again" loses its meaning if we don't regularly remind ourselves of the terrible inflection point marked in human culture by the Holocaust… Key to that obligation is remembering, which is what Godwin's Law is all about.' --Mike Godwin, quoted in ArsTechnica, on Godwin's Law.
posted by veedubya (53 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
Sorry Mike, but nowadays we pretty much use Godwin's law to suppress discussion of people actually acting like Nazis.
posted by mobunited at 9:19 AM on September 2, 2011 [17 favorites]


Only a Nazi would say something like that.
posted by Jim Slade at 9:21 AM on September 2, 2011


Countering the Countermeme? Sounds like something Goebbels would suggest.

But in all seriousness, this is a fantastic discussion of the history and critique's of Godwin's Law.
posted by Chipmazing at 9:22 AM on September 2, 2011


I feel like Godwin's Law is a mightily useful thing if it inflicts even the tiniest, barest amount of self-awareness in someone who's about to, oh I don't know, compare George Lucas to Hitler.

But in the sense that it's used as a bludgeon by people who don't recognize that there actually is a rhetorical point to analyzing that period of our history, yeah, that is a problem. But what can you do.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 9:26 AM on September 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


When I think of Godwin's Law, I think of how nerds should play football and learn how to dance, because that would remove the need to have a law in the first place.

* You need to play football (or some other violent, aggressive sport) to learn how to lose. In chess club, you might get to sweep the chess pieces off the table with one sweep of your arm and scream "CHECKMATE, MOTHERFUCKER!" But on the football field, Flash Thompson is just going to punch you in the liver until you piss blood. Then he's going to go bang your sister.

* On the other hand, you need to learn how to dance so you don't approach everything as a sport where there's a winner and a loser. Dancing is like sex. Finishing first doesn't score you any points.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:33 AM on September 2, 2011 [7 favorites]


As someone terrible at both football and dancing who doesn't make comparisons to Nazis, I'm not sure what you're on about specifically, but it doesn't sound like a great path to be on.
posted by odinsdream at 9:35 AM on September 2, 2011 [12 favorites]


I assure you, I know how to lose at sports.
posted by vibrotronica at 9:40 AM on September 2, 2011 [7 favorites]


You know that head-tilt that dogs do when you're talking to them and they're not sure what is going on or what those noises are? That is my reaction to whatever the hell Cool Papa Bell just wrote.
posted by griphus at 9:44 AM on September 2, 2011 [9 favorites]


DU's Law: In any discussion not mentioning Hitler (yet), someone will suggest the participants need to "get outside" or "have sex at least once".
posted by DU at 9:45 AM on September 2, 2011 [10 favorites]


I had come to assume that the use of a last name rather than a full name was only
to be used in reference to a person so gifted, so well -known, of historical importance, that it was sufficient, ie, Michelangelo, Einstein, Plato, god, Lincoln, Madonna etc

GODWIN?
oh, not that one ...
posted by Postroad at 9:46 AM on September 2, 2011


But in the sense that it's used as a bludgeon by people who don't recognize that there actually is a rhetorical point to analyzing that period of our history, yeah, that is a problem.

I can't think of a lot of times when in the context of an online discussion, a Nazi comparison of the type referred to in Godwin's Law is used as a way to do any kind of deep exploration of history. It's almost always used to take some sort of action or trait out of its actual context, and into a completely unrelated context that is universally associated with terrible atrocities. It's a cheap way to create an association that demonizes the subject, and I can think of very few cases where making a Nazi comparison would actually provide some sort of insight into the subject at hand.
posted by burnmp3s at 9:46 AM on September 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


My (admittedly tortured) point is that, whenever I see someone in violation of Godwin's Law, it's usually in a hammer-handed attempt to grab the moral high ground and "win" the discussion.

"I think Politician X makes some good points in the area of ..."
"YEAH? THAT'S WHAT HITLER SAID, TOO."
"You never lost at anything, did you?"
"NO."
"In fact, you don't really know how to lose gracefully, do you?"
"HITLER WAS A LOSER, TOO, YOU KNOW."
"OK, forget I said anything."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:49 AM on September 2, 2011


obligatory mention of "Ultimately Hitler" which predates Godwin's Law (in my corner of the Universe anyway).

Basically, it was a late high school thing, usually involving too many guys and alcohol. People would be discussing whatever but inevitably (ultimately), somebody would say something like, "Oh yeah! Hitler believed that too, you know?"

At which point, everybody else would shout "Ultimately Hitler!" and punch the transgressor on the shoulder. Hard.

And thus we learned to evolve our argumentation techniques. And then a few guys got girlfriends and we all sort of forgot about it. Kind of like what happened to the Third Reich when Eva Braun and Hitler finally made it a official. Shit just fell apart.
posted by philip-random at 9:52 AM on September 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


"You never lost at anything, did you?"

NEIN! NEIN! NEIN! NEIN! NEIN!
posted by Mikey-San at 9:56 AM on September 2, 2011


Just got Godwined the other day, right here!
posted by chronkite at 9:58 AM on September 2, 2011


GODWIN?
oh, not that one ...


See, Postroad, there's lawful Godwin (Mike) and chaotic Godwin (William).

Which reveals another law, which is that all online discussions, if left to go on long enough, ultimately (sadly) end up at either Dungeons & Dragons, Star Wars, or Tolkien.
 
posted by Herodios at 10:04 AM on September 2, 2011 [4 favorites]


Well it's not like Godwin's Law is actually super effective in shutting down conversations or even Nazi comparisons themselves, is it? Where I've been reading, it's more like an acknowledgement and then discussion moves along.

I do appreciate the attempt to keep the significance of mentioning Nazis meaningful. Even without Godwin's law people would roll their eyes at even the most valid comparisons to the Third Reich, because they're used everywhere for everything.

I guess I'm a Nazi reference-Nazi (very sorry).
posted by pishposh at 10:14 AM on September 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


If there's one way to teach people to be less ham-handed, it is definitely football.
posted by DU at 10:19 AM on September 2, 2011 [5 favorites]


Hitler can be used to make old folk tunes more interesting.

Hitler was a good girl, everybody knows
Paid a hundred dollars for Albert's suit of clothes
He's her man, and he's done her wrong

posted by swift at 10:29 AM on September 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


There's definitely an argumentation pattern that that goes like this:

"X is bad!"
"Well, it's not great, but [nuance.]"
"X is terrible! It's like [terrible thing.]"
"Not saying it's good, but [further nuance.]"
"X is like rape!" (Somehow this is just as inevitable as Hitler.)
"Ah, yeah, I don't think you're seeing [nuance.]"
"X is like Hitler!"
"Fine, I give up."

It's an attempt to win the emotional argument ("X makes me feel really bad!") without engaging in whatever intellectual argument is going on. It's definitely possible to talk about Nazi Germany without it being part of this pattern, which I think is a good thing to understand, but it's way, way more common to see it used as this "rhetorical hammer."
posted by restless_nomad at 10:32 AM on September 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


You know who else liked that....


(am I doing this right?)
posted by ShawnString at 10:48 AM on September 2, 2011


I'm not really sure the Holocaust was an inflection point, either. Has the rate of genocide even slowed, let alone stopped?
posted by DU at 10:55 AM on September 2, 2011


since 1945, yes. In fact I posit it has increased and even has a new term: auto genocide.
posted by clavdivs at 10:59 AM on September 2, 2011


At this point, as an online discussion grows longer, the probability of Godwin's Law being brought up approaches 1.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:03 AM on September 2, 2011


But in the sense that it's used as a bludgeon by people who don't recognize that there actually is a rhetorical point to analyzing that period of our history, yeah, that is a problem. But what can you do.

The "what can you do" part here is the most important point for me. That idiots take a useful tool like Godwin's Law and misuse it is the fault of idiots, not the Law. Idiots have always been with us and always will be with us, and to discard useful devices like analogy, metaphor, and whatnot because someone says, "Hey, you're talking about eating babies - that's not modest at all!" is avoiding useful tools because of the lowest common denominator.
posted by Palindromedary at 11:07 AM on September 2, 2011


In what sense is Godwin's Law a useful tool?
posted by DU at 11:10 AM on September 2, 2011


See, Postroad, there's lawful Godwin (Mike) and chaotic Godwin (William).

There's also neutral Godwin. In fact, when I see "Godwin's Law" mentioned in online disucssions, I often find myself wondering how "Sometimes you have to space the girl to save the colonists" is relevant.
posted by The Tensor at 11:11 AM on September 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


In what sense is Godwin's Law a useful tool?

I think it's kind of obvious what it was designed for and thus how it's useful, especially in the light of this article explaining its genesis, so why don't you just tell me why you think it isn't and we'll cut to the chase?
posted by Palindromedary at 11:18 AM on September 2, 2011



In what sense is Godwin's Law a useful tool?
posted by DU at 11:10 AM on September 2 [+] [!]


I've wondered that myself. It's not of any real rhetorical value, and does more to disrupt dialogue than to encourage it. It's about as well intentioned as typing "tldr" or shouting "I know you are but what am I" when you don't like what you're hearing.
posted by Stagger Lee at 11:25 AM on September 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Upon reflection, it does have a rather fundmanetal flaw in that the sort of people you'd properly use Godwin's Law against won't get Godwin's Law. It's like trying to explain the deeper meaning of Poe's Law to a Conservapedia op.

I'm still fond of it, however.
posted by Palindromedary at 11:31 AM on September 2, 2011 [1 favorite]




Upon reflection, it does have a rather fundmanetal flaw in that the sort of people you'd properly use Godwin's Law against won't get Godwin's Law. It's like trying to explain the deeper meaning of Poe's Law to a Conservapedia op.


Yeah. I understand the desire to shut down "glib comparisons," but by using the exact same tactics to respond to it, you really do just perpetuate the same kind of rhetoric. If you're interested in improving dialogue, you need to write thoughtful responses, that address the failings of the analogy and force the speaker to consider what they're actually trying to say.

But then, I take everything too seriously.
posted by Stagger Lee at 11:36 AM on September 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Let me rephrase: In what sense is Godwin's Law a tool at all? It's an observation about discussions.
posted by DU at 11:42 AM on September 2, 2011


From the article:

He believed that most of these comparisons simply trivialized the Holocaust and the true horror of the Nazi regime and so consciously decided to build a “countermeme designed to make discussion participants see how they were (and are) acting as vectors to a particularly silly and offensive meme.”
posted by Stagger Lee at 11:48 AM on September 2, 2011


force the speaker to consider what they're actually trying to say.

Trolls want to troll, they don't want to say anything in particular.

They don't address any points you bring up, they just keep using new and increasingly obtuse vectors of attack. By the time they get to Hitler they've exhausted pretty much all their other angles, and will most likely scurry off and begin the cycle anew in some other thread.

So in that sense Godwin's Law is a useful alarm bell for me, since I assume people pretty much mean what they say, and get trolled easily because of it.
posted by chronkite at 11:49 AM on September 2, 2011


So few people actually know what Godwin's Law is, though. People just see the word Hitler or Nazis and scream GODWIN!!! Godwin's Law doesn't say never to mention those things, nor that they can't be meaningfully included in a discussion, nor that the discussion is over. All the Law says is that as the length of a discussion on Usenet increases the probability of such a reference approaches one.

In any case I'm much more of a fan of Aahz's Law, which I think is more relevant to Metafilter.
posted by Justinian at 11:51 AM on September 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


> when Eva Braun and Hitler finally made it a official. Shit just fell apart.

So. Comparing the Beatles to the Nazis.

Tricky...

posted by mmrtnt at 12:28 PM on September 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


In any discussion not mentioning Hitler (yet), someone will suggest the participants need to "get outside" or "have sex at least once".

You know who else went outside and had sex at least once?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:31 PM on September 2, 2011


Not the Daleks, that's for sure.
posted by warbaby at 12:36 PM on September 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


Ah, remember the times when the converstaion finally devolved into jesus.
I blame the A-bomb.
posted by clavdivs at 12:38 PM on September 2, 2011


To be honest, "Never Again" lost its meaning when I went to college and realized that genocides are going on RIGHT NOW. And that right now hasn't really changed since 1996.

"Never Again" to me just kinda means "Not me again".
posted by hal_c_on at 2:07 PM on September 2, 2011


DU: Let me rephrase: In what sense is Godwin's Law a tool at all? It's an observation about discussions.

It's a tool because it lets the author and participants in a conversation plan ahead. Much like Moore's Law guides engineers working on year-distant projects, Godwin's Law should guide us all. You Nazi.
posted by introp at 2:17 PM on September 2, 2011


Godwin became meaningless when some people got the stupid idea that just telling someone "you Godwined" meant they won the argument. This is applied so broadly that it would mean nobody can ever discuss the Holocaust ever again, it is "self-Godwinning." So let's get this straight, let's separate these two applications of Godwin:

Right: Rush Limbaugh says feminists are Nazis, labels them feminazis. Godwined.

Wrong: Discussion that some people hate tattoos because it reminds them of the involuntary tattooing of Holocaust concentration camp victims that were their relatives. Not Godwined.

There ought to be a new law, "Godwin's Corollary" that says if you invoke Godwin incorrectly to claim victory in an argument, you are acknowledging that you have lost and have no legitimate point to make.
posted by charlie don't surf at 2:22 PM on September 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


And when your opinion on something is based in how long your ex-girlfriend cried to you about it let's call that charliedon'tsurfed.
posted by chronkite at 3:38 PM on September 2, 2011


Also, if your real point is "I hate this thing because Hitler did it", say so right out of the gate.

If there's a thread about making people into lampshades my first fucking comment is going to be THAT'S WHAT HITLER DID.

If it's just something you don't like, like bratwurst, saying THAT'S WHAT HITLER ATE makes you look like a dipshit.
posted by chronkite at 3:46 PM on September 2, 2011


HITLER made you look like a dipshit!
posted by DoctorFedora at 4:05 PM on September 2, 2011


chronkite, there is a significant difference between eating bratwurst and the Nazis tattooing Jews because they knew it would outrage them as a violation of Talmudic Law. It is probably only tangentially relevant that the Nazis collected tattooed skin and turned it into lampshades, even if I heard these stories firsthand from a family friend, who was a member of the first patrol of 4 US soldiers to encounter Buchenwald and discover this.
posted by charlie don't surf at 4:11 PM on September 2, 2011


So whenever tattoos come up from now on, please say HITLER LOVED TATTOOS TOO in your first comment, and it won't look so much like Godwin's Law. It'll be an important part of the discussion, and so will you!

It took you hours to get to Hitler in that thread! Let's just cut to the chase.

And then you can perhaps dig deeper, exposing the insidious connections between holocaust tattooing and the meth-heads of today's modern tattoo industry. Educate us on how they are one and the same.

Don't just imply that tattooers are nazis, come on out and say that shit!

And do it before you call us criminal loser meth addict whores, all these other epithets dilute the purity of your point.
posted by chronkite at 4:40 PM on September 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


The problem with Godwin's law and what Chronkite is saing is that it wasn't like Hitler just got out of bed one morning and decided that rather than be a painter or architect or whatever, he'd make people into lampshades.

He spent a lot of quality time giving talks at beer halls where he encouraged suspicion and open hostility against minorities and immigrants, demand referendums on major laws, the abolition of property taxes, national identity stuff and so on. (I'm just picking and choosing from their 25 point plan, not making any of this up.)

The problem is, when is the right time to stop being uncomfortably silent? How much vote buying of the blatantly xenophobic is OK and when is it time to wave the yellow "stop cribbing Hitler's speeches you fucking nazi!" flag? Because after a certain point they'll just shove you off the stage when you even try.

Or what mobunited said.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 4:44 PM on September 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'll Shatner the thread:
Rape Hitler.
posted by Smedleyman at 7:49 PM on September 2, 2011


fuck it, let's just invade Russia and be done with it.
posted by philip-random at 8:20 PM on September 2, 2011


The real question is, if you could go back in time and slap Mike Godwin hard enough to make him unable to post that irritating little remark of his that gave a million idiots a free pass for fascist ideas, would you?
posted by aeschenkarnos at 8:51 PM on September 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Kid Charlemagne, you might be interested in a free online book written by David Niewert, "Rush, Newspeak, & Facism" (link to PDF). Niewert is an expert on modern neonazis and right wing extremist militia groups in the US. He wrote this originally in 2003 as a series of blog posts but rewrote it and it became rather influential back then. He deals somewhat with the marginalization of anti-Nazi and anti-Facist sentiments in national media discussion, effects we're still experiencing today. Niewert convincingly argues that the same silencing of opposition that allowed Hitler to rise to power is occurring today.
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:49 PM on September 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Godwin's Law: "As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1 (100%)."
posted by theora55 at 9:16 AM on September 4, 2011


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