An easy-to-use guide to being a bit less stupid.

No.3 - "The first person to mention Hitler in a debate automatically loses!"

Oh dear. Firstly, anyone you catch using this expression and claiming it to be an invocation of "Godwin's Law" is already a buffoon. Godwin's so-called Law actually only states that "As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1." At no point does the "Law" even suggest that the comparison would be in some way invalid (the link above contains much useful elaboration on this point), far less that it automatically implies the intellectual loss of the argument by the side making the comparison. Add in the fact that the "Law" is in any event accompanied by a corollary ("Quirk's exception") stating that anyone who specifically invokes it to that end negates their own purpose, and such use of it in debate becomes even more idiotic.

But there's a much more important issue at stake here than geek semantics. Because those who would (incorrectly) invoke "Godwin's Law" are actively seeking to obliterate from memory not only some of the core building-blocks of civilisation and language, but also some of humanity's most important, and most painfully-learned, lessons.

1. The power of analogy is one of the central tools of human communication.

Analogy is a way of explaining complex and sometimes difficult issues by means of reference to things that are much more universally understood. It's an invaluable explanatory device, and when used correctly is one of the most basic foundations of shared human knowledge. That an analogy involves the Nazis (obviously) in no way alters the fact of whether the analogy itself is accurate and valid or not, and rejecting an accurate and valid analogy just because you don't like the implications/connotations of it is highly counter-logical behaviour.

2. Those who forget history are condemned to repeat it.

There's a reason we have a "Remembrance Day" every year on November 11. The idea is that by taking time to purposely recall the events of the 20th Century's calamitous wars, we ensure that they remain in collective memory even as the last of the people who experienced them first-hand die out. By remembering how Hitler came to power and how he constructed his evil regime, runs the reasoning, we'll be alert to any signs of such a catastrophe happening again (because, of course, the Nazis didn't get elected on a promise to invade sovereign nations, conduct genocide and other forms of mass murder, and provoke a global war that would ultimately see Germany reduced to rubble and kill ten times as many people as WW1 - all that followed on from seemingly minor beginnings), and be able to prevent it before it's too late.

In practice, of course - even despite Remembrance Day - we've already forgotten many of the harsh lessons of the Nazi era. Prejudice and racial hatred are still with us. Genocide has been attempted again, sometimes in the very same places where the Nazis practiced it. Social oppression, the removal of civil liberties and basic human rights, and even the unprovoked invasion of sovereign nations by overwhelmingly-superior aggressive military force - the core components of Hitler's power -can still be accepted, or even welcomed, by the general public under the guise of "security".

As these words are being written, in the summer of 2005, these lessons have never been more applicable, yet there are people who would wilfully and knowingly dismiss them because the lessons - by obvious necessity - refer to the terrible events which caused them to be learned in the first place. To attempt to render an analogy invalid specifically because its accuracy is powerful, shocking and compelling, is bizarre to say the least.

Viewed in this light, the most widespread invocation of "Godwin's Law" resembles nothing so much as a deliberate attempt by those doing the invoking to pretend that these terrible events never happened, to lobotomise and regress not only themselves, but the whole of humanity, to some kind of primitive animal state. Specifically, the state of fucking idiocy.


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