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Article > On Godwin's Law
Description :: Did you say Nazi?
Attached, you'll find a link to a Wikipedia article about Godwin's law; over time, it has come to be interpreted as follows: comparing anything to Hitler or the Nazis in a debate automatically ends the discussion, giving victory to he who did not bring them up.

This is not a rare event: comparing governments, ideals, methods, or language to that of the Nazis has a powerful emotional impact. Even for those of us not (un)lucky enough to be alive during the Second World War (and the times leading up to it, as well as the Cold War that followed it,) the Nazis, and indeed fascists in general, represent the most useful example of "ultimate evil." Many people most likely fear Hitler more than any devil! The palpable sense of hatred, the tortured logic of death, the immense lies too bold to be false -- they are an icon (albeit a rather negative one) of today's culture.

It's no surprise that someone would, in their haste, compare an idea or decision to one that would be made by a Nazi. It's quick. It's easy. It's even free -- you don't particularly have to back up your claims to make a splash.

This is no reason to discard such analogies, however. Godwin's law represents a dangerous bend in the road for us: one where some topics and some ideas are simply no longer allowed in a civilized debate. How will we fight new, dangerous ideas in a public forum, when possibly the only comparison of any use is outlawed?

We can likely agree that none of us honestly believe our government (American or not) to be an exact duplicate of Nazi Germany and its destructive policies. None of us see in Bush, or most any other president, a reincarnation of Hitler. But we do see similarities, which leads us to look at patterns of similarities: do we see a common philosophical trend between the two? Do we see a pattern that we would not otherwise have detected? Can this help us stop misguided policies early?

Hitler was no idiot. His aides were no morons. And the German people were not, and certainly are still not, a band of angry, hateful brutes. All was not hidden, all was not veiled, all was not renamed. It is possible even for the most intelligent of us to be misled by good marketing -- and we should not be blind to it!

To scoff at the idea that any policy, person, institution, or thought could be reminiscent of this evil Third Reich is like pretending that the last monster has been killed, the last dragon slain, and the last emperor dethroned. Have our movies, games, books, and even childrens' stories not taught us that evil always seems to rise again, quietly, under the veil of purity?

Now is not the time to lay to rest the language that best describes our worst fears: we must never forget those horrors, and stay ever vigilant against the return of their successors.

Update: During a discussion with Ensis about some recent ads targetting Bush by comparing him to Hitler, it was decided we should point out the following: although we believe we should make sure that Hitler and the Nazis remain a useful tool of argumentation not to be ignored, we should not use them trivially. To make use of these prime examples of human folly in a discussion of some 'minor evil' is demeaning to both sides, and poor argumentation. Be careful how you use these examples, and any others, in your discussions. It is particularly because we have been too eager to use Hitler/Nazis for their shock/fear factor that they are now often considered off-limits to argumentation. It's a sort of 'boy who cried wolf' syndrome. Use only as necessary and apply as many modifiers as required, but don't fear the use of these examples and don't dismiss them out of hand. This is a serious matter, to be taken seriously by all sides.

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Owned by Unordained - Created on 10/03/2003 - Last edited on 01/16/2004

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