[NTLK] OT: Godwin's Law

From: L.W. Brown <lwb_at_mac.com>
Date: Sun Jul 30 2006 - 21:59:56 EDT

Since I didn't know, I looked it up (via Devon Agent for Mac - very
nice research tool) - it seems to be a corollary to an "ad hominem"
argument in classical logic/rhetoric:
"As a Usenet discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison
involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one." There is a tradition in
many groups that, once this occurs, that thread is over, and whoever
mentioned the Nazis has automatically lost whatever argument was in
progress. Godwin's Law thus practically guarantees the existence of
an upper bound on thread length in those groups. However there is
also a widely recognised codicil that any intentional triggering of
Godwin's Law in order to invoke its thread-ending effects will be

A long time ago, a gentleman by the name of Godwin noticed something
about Usenet: Given a long enough timeframe, in any heated
discussion, someone will eventually make a comparison between his
opponent and Germany's National Socialist Party of seventy years ago
or its leader. He also noticed something very important about the
first person to make such a comparison.

Godwin's Law, which is popularly understood as "the first person in
an argument to refer to Hitler or the Nazis loses the argument",
isn't a law like "murder is a crime" is a law. It's more like
Newton's Laws--not something that can be "invoked" or "violated", but
an observation of the surrounding world. The Law is actually stated
thusly : As a Usenet discussion grows longer, the probability of a
comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one. Unfortunately, a
lot of people on the 'net try to invoke Godwin's Law in order to, by
default, win an argument. This isn't what Godwin's Law is about.

The problem with this technique is that it works. Most people are
easily swayed by their emotions, because they aren't critical
thinkers. When Godwin first wrote his Law, he was really just
appealing to the pride of the denizens of Usenet--geeks, nerds and
hackers. He was trying to say "you have more coherent thought
processes than most of the world, why not use them?" By stating that
the first person to mention Hitler in a debate loses, he wasn't
trying to impose a win/lose condition for Usenet debates. He was
trying to make those who make a comparison to Hitler realise what
they're doing.

Godwin's Law isn't about "winning" or "losing" a debate. It's about
promoting critical thinking and proving your point. Comparing one's
opponent to Hitler/Pinochet/Pol Pot/Stalin does nothing for the
argument, but rather admits that you don't have anything more to say.
However, it isn't gracious to rub this in someone's face, which is,
really, what's occurring when someone invokes Godwin's Law. Not only
is it ungracious, but it, too, demonstrates that you've also run out
of things to say. Thus, I submit my Corollary: Following a
demonstration of Godwin's Law in action, the first person to refer to
Godwin's Law also loses.

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Received on Sun Jul 30 22:00:04 2006

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