Godwin's Law is getting old

Godwin’s Law claims that the longer an online discussion goes on, the greater the chance of a comparison to Hitler or Nazis becomes.*

It was an amusing idea for a while. But mostly, it’s neither funny nor helpful. It’s overused and predictable.

At best, it’s a reminder that hyperbole can be inappropriate. But comparisons and hyperbole, if used honestly, are useful tools in a discussion. The Nazis and Hitler are familiar examples of a lot of practices and ideologies we should be wary of and reject, and it can be perfectly legitimate to compare something to the behaviour of Nazi secret police, authoritarian social policies or expansionism, without requiring that the offender also sent millions of people to death camps or started the biggest war the world has ever seen. Nazism wasn’t terrible just because of the worst things Nazis did; take out the genocide and the war and it would still be awful. After WWII, the Nazis were made examples of. The whole idea was that we should learn from the past and never let anything like it happen again. I don’t think the point of that lesson was that we should wait until we reach the atrocities or scope of 1940s Nazism before considering that history might be repeating itself.

At worst, it’s a cynical attempt to shut down debate. Perhaps it’s often subconscious, but we should ask what point we’re trying to make when we deploy this lazy device. If it must be used, it should come with some elaboration, not just a dismissive “Godwin!”

Most of the time, though, I think it’s just a failed attempt at humour. This is, of course, the biggest sin of them all.

*It’s not even a clever observation. The chance that someone will mention their cat also increases as discussions grow in length. The chance of getting “heads” increases the more I toss a coin. I call this Bozuit’s Law of Obviousness.

While this is true, the habit of people to compare their bêtes noir to Nazis is more overused and predictable. Read some of the Israeli/Palestinian threads over in Great Debates.

Labelling a significant rhetorical fallacy, and posting it when it occurs, isn’t (exactly) a rhetorical fallacy. We see excessive pedantry all the time, too: nothing wrong with saying, “Whoa, bubala, that was excessive pedantry.”

Y’know those people who say they want abortion to be safe, legal, and rare? I’d love for cites of Godwin’s Law to be rare, in kind of the same way: because people aren’t getting themselves in trouble (by having unprotected sex…or by calling other people Nazis all the damn time.)

You know who else is getting old?

This is petty, but back in the active Harry Potter fandom days, I knew quite a few people who were – for lack of a better term – Pureblood fangirls. Like, they crushed hard on Malfoy and Voldemort’s little gang and everything. Anyway, I got into an argument about this with one of the the fangirls, and I compared the Death Eaters to Nazis, mentioning obvious specific parallels. The girl I was talking to got upset; she accused me of breaking Godwin’s law, and said I’d lost the argument. But it’s a legitimate comparison? The Death Eaters basically are Nazis.

So yeah, I feel like Godwin’s law is really overused. There are times when a comparison to Hitler/Nazis really is warranted, and useful for discussion, as you said. The only problem is that 1) some people use the accusation of ‘being Nazis’ as a way to shut down their opposition without further discussion, 2) most things really don’t warrant being compared to Hitler/Nazis.

Your wife?

I think it’s important to draw a distinction between calling people Nazis and comparing their ideologies.

When a comparison is obviously not legitimate, it’s reasonable that someone point it out. As far as Israel/Palestine threads go, I think comparing some elements of government policies to Nazi policies and ideas is perfectly legitimate. Often the point is just that something is somewhat fascist, and comparisons to, say, Mussolini’s Italy would be less well-understood. I don’t want to imply that I think an end to references to Godwin’s Law will do anything so grand as save us from totalitarianism, but you have to be able to point out that an idea looks like it belongs on a 1932 Nazi manifesto, because it (apparently) only takes 6 years to go from being the most popular party in a republic to running a totalitarian regime and invading your neighbours, another year to start a world war, and a couple more on top of that till you’ve got mass exterminations.

Apart from all that, at least comparing something to Nazism is an attempt to make a point, rather than simply score some.

I liked it when, a few days ago in a thread about WWII, a poster said of another poster who mentioned der Nazis “Thank you Mr. Godwin.”
Someone then pointed out to [del]her[/del] the poster that the thread was about WWII.

Ah, good times. They don’t make 'em like that anymore.

Also, what is the OP wanting, a pledge to be signed? Online agreement across the internet? A set of adhered-to rules for Godwinizing? Something several orders of magnitude less insane?

No. The rule is right. Whether or not X is good, bad, or neutral has nothing to do with whether the Nazis did it. Saying that “Well, hehe, you sound like Hitler when saying that!” is really meaningless.

Even if you are talking about exterminating people in the gas chamber, why does it matter that the Nazis also did it except in an illogical attack on the position?

Besides, as time goes by, the prospect of people worrying about/making comparisons with/fearing/hating/loving/admiring/obsessing with Hitler and the Nazis diminishes. The idea that bogeys last forever, and that our descendents of 2214, let alone those of 2514 — supposing our civilization lasts that long — who will have a lot more recent to them history, will care about ancient history is laughable.
That was of my grandparents’ generation: half a dozen descents and people in schools will ask: ‘Ever heard of some guy named Hitler ?’.

"Why did you allow Phocas to rule the empire ?
GOD: “Because I could find no-one worse…”

The principle is still useful. If you’re going to make that comparison what you’re comparing had better be suitably awful or it constitutes a hijack on its own. But like you said, the guy who calls out “Godwin!” is in almost all cases being a pinhead, because the argument should stand or fail on its own merits instead of having someone call it out with a trite comment well-known to hijack the discussion.

Sometimes, maybe, but in a hell of a lot of cases, nuh uh. In a flat majority of cases, the comparison is wrong, stupid, offensive, and grotesquely disproportionate.

Pol Pot, okay, if you want. Barack Obama? Geddaddahere!

It’s only annoying I find when it descends to Hitler ate sugar levels. Hitler liked something, therefore it’s bad, or vice-versa. While the Nazis were evil it seems for some people they weren’t evil enough, since they were human like the rest of us and therefore cannot automatically be used as a handy morality guide that requires minimal brain effort.

Well, Mr. Obama is doing some questionable things, which arouses the fear of any true patriot. In my favourite story of the year so far:
Is Obama Preparing A Railway Gulag With Boxcars Lined With Shackles ?
That President Barack Obama ordered the manufacture in China and delivery to the United States of tens of thousands of boxcars equipped on the inside with shackles to chain people as prisoners. Also included in every one of these railroad cars, according to Janek, is a guillotine, for the execution of prisoners through decapitation on the spot.
Why decapitation by guillotine, when gunshot is a much easier method of execution? Janek doesn’t say. She does warn us that there are several witnesses who claim to have seen these giant boxcar prisons themselves. Janek writes, “Metal worker Lee Harrington also described 20,000 CHINESE prisoner boxcars with shackles and modern guillotines, in the form of 40 foot railroad containers, coming into America via the west coast. They were ordered by the American government through a Senator who visited China and ordered these items. Workers unloading them became suspicious and began to investigate and discovered these horrors from China. Such 40 foot cargo containers from China are now piled up along the West Coast, especially around Long Beach Naval Shipyard, turned over the Chinese.”

Janek continues, “Recently, a former high level satanist from the mountains of North Carolina, now a Christian and receiving discipleship, admitted that boxcars with shackles were indeed in the mountains of NC and waiting for the hour of martial law. (Asheville, NC) He warned that many Patriots and Christians arrested and secured into these prisoner boxcars under martial law will never even make it to the death camps… that many will be tortured and sacrificed once restrained in these prisoner boxcars.”

The United States already has a substantial prison infrastructure in place, including systems for transporting prisoners. Anna Janek alleges that Barack Obama will take 400,000 people prisoners through the alleged stockpiles of rail cars lined with shackles, but the prison population of the United States of America is already much higher than that. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the number of people held in state and federal prisons in the United States at the end of 2011 was 1,598,780 – almost four times the theoretical number of prisoners that Anna Janek is alarmed about. Few, if any, of these prisoners were transported by train. Buses and vans specially designed for the task were used.
You see, there are train cars with chains pre-installed in them. The chains aren’t to keep humans prisoner, however. They’re for holding automobiles in place, so that they don’t roll around and get scratched and scuffed as they’re shipped across the country to be sold after importation on the West Coast from Korea and Japan.

Okely-dokely. But the idea of FEMA thugs barreling patriots into trains and chaining them to the walls whilst guillotining them, as a deranged Obama a la Casey Jones drives the engine to Hell, laughing maniacally, is oddly enticing.

Why is gunshot “a much easier method of execution”? Guillotine seems far simpler to me. Fewer moving parts, for one, so less chance of mechanical error. Guaranteed kill, for another. People can live even through gunshot to the head. There are no recorded cases of surviving decapitation.

While I trust useful Hitler comparisons exist, most of them are lazy and occasionally ludicrous. There are all manner of homicidal monsters that can referenced: I don’t see why Pol Pot shouldn’t get the same airplay. I support the usage of Godwin’s Law though of course that can be used idiotically as well.

As for the Death Eater reference, I’d have to see the specific argument that invoked Hitler.

Potter’s Law: Every discussion must eventually refer to Harry Potter.

Do you have a link to that thread? I’d like to read this.

Why not just stab 'em in the heart? No moving parts. You don’t have to haul around the wooden frame, the blade, the ropes, the pulleys, the restraints, and the cute little wicker basket.

Just… “Next…” Stab. “Next…” Stab.

A drowning bucket is good. Or, if you’re into neatness, a butcher’s maul. “Have a nice day…” THUD. “Have a nice day…” THUD. Your laundryman will thank you.

Burying 'em alive is good. You accomplish two steps in one: execution and burial. Also, you get the good old-fashioned grins and laughs of making 'em dig their own graves. Very traditional.

“Ah, such anxiety
over a mere fatality.”
T.K. Ryan

The stabbing idea works until you get someone with dextrocardia. Burial alive certainly seems the most efficient use of state resources.

Sure. It was in the Pit thread “Ticked off with people bashing the USA’s WWII contributions.”

Here is the Godwinization post and here is the riposte.

Huh. There’s an anagram of “Nazi” in Godwinization.