There’s a meme humorously crafted 30 years ago which is still sucking in less capable thinkers today. It is quite a common appearance in social media disagreements. If you haven’t seen it facilely flung by a frustrated foe, it’s only a matter of time. The meme even has it’s own Wikipedia page.
“Godwin’s Law” claims the longer a discussion on the internet continues, it grows more likely that someone will be compared to Hitler or another Nazi reference.
Mike Godwin, pictured above with the types of people his namesaked “law” describes, deliberately sowed his meme around internet chatboards and discussion groups in 1990 in an attempt to make it viral. Wherever he saw people gratuitously comparing people and ideas they simply don’t like to one of the most reviled figures in history, he would leave the “Godwin’s Law” meme, attempting to trivialise the comparison. To his delight, it worked.
But what I’ve observed across the years of internet debates is the actually low calibre of preceding logical arguments from the person who first invokes Godwin’s Law. It’s fairly consistent that such people are usually losing the argument or are otherwise not doing well at making their case, and are starting to show their frustration.
Regardless of how accurate and valid a comparison their counterpart is drawing to the failure of democracy and humanity in 1940s Germany, they gleefully lob in the Godwin grenade and childishly claim victory over their counterpart. They seem yet oblivious they have not in fact refuted the merits of the ideas they oppose, but simply quoted a monochrome meme as if Holy Scripture from the Book of Proverbs.
Mike Godwin, a lawyer whose Twitter profile advertises his preferred pronouns, himself displayed a failure to grasp the impotency of the meme when he employed it sympathetically with Antifa protesters in 2017.
A large and diverse group of right-of-centre people had gathered to protest the demolition of Confederate Statues, undoubtedly including some ultra-far-right extremists most of the others had little else in common with.
By all means, compare these shitheads to Nazis. Again and again. I'm with you.— Mike Godwin (@sfmnemonic) August 14, 2017
Mike Godwin homogenised the crowd into a uniform group of people with invariable equivalence to Nazis, because he didn’t like their common idea that destroying statues of important historic figures without permission was protestable. Godwin fell into the trap of his own law and failed to make a valid argument.
The obvious danger of reflexively appealing to “Godwin’s Law” whenever ideas are compared to Nazism is the risk of failing to live up to the promise humanity made together at the conclusion of World War II, “Never again!” This vigilance resulted in the revival of the Physician’s Oath and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. “Godwin’s Law” presumes to automatically hand victory to the few rogue socialist States who refused to join the rest of the world’s nations as signatories to such advances in political morality and medical ethics.
“Godwin’s Law” has such frequent exceptions & inherent liability it is clearly no law at all, and has the philosophical depth of the average puddle.
Allow me to posit a new, more reliable “law”:
Pellowe’s Law: “As valid equivalence grows between ideas or behaviour subject to debate and those of Nazis, the probability of the apologist for the reprehensible invoking Godwin’s “Law” approaches one.” There is a tradition in many groups that, once this occurs, that thread is over, and whoever mentioned Godwin has automatically lost whatever argument was in progress. Pellowe’s Law thus practically guarantees the exposure of reprehensible ideas or behaviour as inherently indefensible to right thinking people.
Beware when invoking “Godwin’s Law” – especially if you’re sympathetic with lawless, jackbooted thugs seeking to silence opposing ideas with intimidation, violence and destruction of private property! You may in fact be demonstrating your own incapacity for critical thinking, surrendering the debate and not claiming the simple victory you hoped for.
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Dave Pellowe is a Christian writer & commentator, founder of The Good Sauce, convener of the annual Australian Church And State Summit and host of Good Sauce's weekly The Church And State Show, also syndicated on ADH TV. Since 2016 Dave has undertaken the mission of arming Christians to influence culture through events from Perth to Auckland, videos, podcasts and articles published in multiple journals across Australia and New Zealand. [more]