Overturning Godwin’s Law
“Godwin’s Law states that as an online argument grows longer and more heated, it becomes increasingly likely that somebody will bring up Adolf Hitler or the Nazis. When such an event occurs, the person guilty of invoking Godwin’s Law has effectively forfeited the argument.”
Godwin’s Law was once held up as an example of how to lose an argument by resorting to extreme tactics. I remember a bygone age when argumentum ad hitlerum was a legitimate logical fallacy that could be relied upon to call someone out for comparing something or someone they didn’t like to Hitler and the Nazis.
But times have changed. Whereas most Western politicians and laws were a million miles apart from Hitler and Nazi Germany, Fascism seems to have come back into popularity. The right-wing has edged ever further to the right, and we are genuinely in some seriously dodgy territory, politically speaking. We’ve got a UK civil servant who advocates eugenics, welfare policies that the UN has condemned as a human catastrophe, and a (former) party leader who invoked images from a 1930s Nazi propaganda movie in their promotional material. And if you go on Twitter, you might be surprised that it’s not a coffee lounge for the Hitler Youth. And speaking of Twitter, there’s this guy:
Donald Trump was elected on a wave of hyper-nationalism and cis white male pride. And he knows who his supporters are. Not to mention his allies, including Steve Bannon, Sebastian Gorka, Richard Spencer, and the “very fine people” at the Charlottesville rally. And he loves Twitter. Oh boy does he love Twitter.
Most world leaders rely on government speeches and official press briefings to make public announcements, but Donald Trump has brought his business-like style to the Presidency and he is selling a product to his followers. Who knows what he really believes, but what he says and does is designed to appeal to the very worst of humanity. Because those are the people that go out and vote; they are the ones who think they can “Make America Great Again”. No matter how badly he appears to be doing in the polls, his core supporters love him and they want more.
His policies are the type of dystopian logical extremes that you would get by following his social media ramblings to their inevitable conclusion. Like the reality star he is, he gives the viewers what they want, enacting controversial policies in exchange for “likes” and votes. And this doesn’t just generate traffic from his supporters — those directly harmed, and anyone opposed to, his policies will also take to social media to say their piece. As you can imagine (Hell, you don’t need to imagine), it gets rather lively. And that’s what he wants. That is what everyone on the extreme right wants.
In Britain and America, these discussions have become normal. The Brexit referendum and the election of Donald Trump legitimised views that had previously been taboo to utter in public. Now overt racism, fascism, and praise for policies that deliberately harm marginalised groups are dinner-table topics of conversation. Ten years ago, we were filled with such hope and enthusiasm; thinking of ways to make the world better for everyone, or at least, to not make it worse. Now we are debating literal Nazis, rehashing ideas that our grandparents’ generation risked their lives to overturn.
Now, when we mention Hitler or Nazis in debate, the chances are we are making a reasonable comparison. Godwin’s Law seems to have become redundant in these days of the Alt-Right and Neo-Nazism. He even said himself that his law does not apply if the point you’re making is with complete understanding of the horrors of the Nazis and the Holocaust, and that the comparison is appropriate.
Given how frequently we speak of comparisons of modern-day government policies with fascist strategies, the term has really lost its power. I’ve not even heard it used in maybe two years or so. The only saving grace from this awful situation is that significant numbers of people are speaking up about it, and opposing these dangerous and hateful acts of government. We’ve seen this shit before, and we ain’t letting it happen again.
We’ve already seen the UK and US governments bring in policies that tick all the boxes above. This is real, and we need to call it what it is. The downside is that conversations about Nazis are the new normal, but we don’t have to debate fascists for the sake of hearing “both sides” (and we really shouldn’t — it just plays into their hands). We can call them what they are, and demand that we do better. Perhaps we will soon see a new golden age when Godwin’s Law can reclaim its rightful place as the internet meme of those lacking refined debating skills.