Saturday, March 20, 2010

Reminder: Godwin's Law is in effect

I've written about this before, as have a number of other bloggers. And while I don't really have a lot of commentary on the current healthcare debate, I do want to remind both sides that comparing your opponent's positions to that of Hitler or the Nazis automatically invalidates your argument, do not pass Go, do not collect $200.

But some people just don't understand why people get so uppity about using the Holocaust as a frame of reference for current geopolitics, despite the fact that it's completely inappropriate and inaccurate. Because while Barack Obama may have very good speaking skills (so did Mary Kay Ash, Martin Luther King Jr, and President Bill Clinton), he does not have plans to wipe off the planet all but those who possess a very specific group of genetic characteristics. No one in America is being arrested for political dissidence or forced to wear clothing that indicates their ethnicity, religion, or sexual identification (people may do this on their own, but as far as I know there's no law mandating it).

Still, there persists this horrific meme on the right (which just as surely existed on the left during the Bush administration, and if I wasn't clear enough that it wasn't okay then either, that is my fault), that Barack Obama = Hitler, Democrats = Nazis, and healthcare reform = ha shoa (the Holocaust). This simply isn't so. It's insulting to the memory of those who suffered and died during the Nazi regime, minimizing their pain to tug on the emotions of people who don't know any better. Continued violations of Godwin's Law make a person look like an uneducated jackass (I'm talking to you, Glenn Beck). And when someone calls you out on it, don't act all surprised that you're having your ass handed to you over the issue (especially if you're trying to make the Obama = Hitler argument in a discussion with a Jew), making it a personal argument rather than a political discussion.

We can have political discussions in this country. We should. But there are rules. You can't just throw the Obama = Hitler argument into the mix and see what happens. That's why Godwin's Law exists, so that arguments don't get side-tracked by something that has nothing to do with the current conversation and does nothing but raise the hackles of all involved. The entire point of Godwin's Law transcends political ideology because, at its heart, it's about protecting the intellectual debate and not allowing emotions to distract people from the issues.

Meanwhile, violations of Godwin's Law are intentionally distracting. It is disgraceful to think that anyone would attempt to score cheap points by comparing a political adversary to the person responsible for enslaving, raping, starving, torturing, and eventually murdering and desecrating the remains of 6 million Jews, and another 6 million people he decided weren't racially or politically "pure". It isn't about charismatic leaders or disagreements about the direction of the country. Violations of Godwin's Law accomplish only the further desecrating the memories of those victims and their survivors, and that's why people (especially Jews) get touchy about the whole thing. It was irresponsible for people like Mike Malloy to call George W. Bush "Hitler", and it's irresponsible for Glenn Beck to do the same to Barack Obama. The only person whose evil was ever comparable to Hitler's was Hitler. End of story, and ignorance of history is no excuse.

So, if someone calls you on the carpet for making this comparison, take a moment and think about their perspective. How would you feel if half of your family was wiped off the face of the planet by a man whose evil only surpassed itself, and not even 100 years later the president is compared to the man responsible for the death of your family? You'd be pretty angry. Then think about how you would react when someone tried to minimize your experience of that anger by accusing you of trying to shut them up on the issues.

A person should not engage in debate if they don't know what their doing. Confusing opinion with fact, fact with emotion, and valid arguments with specious analogies demonstrate just that. So, when in doubt, remember the old saying "better to remain silent and have others think you a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt".

Edited to add an example of the above-mentioned meme:


Max Kuenkel said...

"Still, there persists this horrific meme on the right (which just as surely existed on the left during the Bush administration, and if I wasn't clear enough that it wasn't okay then either, that is my fault), that Barack Obama = Hitler, Democrats = Nazis, and healthcare reform = ha shoa (the Holocaust)."

What? I've listened to hundreds of hours of right-wing talk radio over the years since 9/11, and I've never once heard any right-wing radio host suggest Obama = Hitler or Democrats = Nazis. What I do hear daily from right-wing radio is Obama + democrats = socialists, communists, marxists, statists. That's more like a meme.

Rachel S. said...

But for radio, you're right. The mainstream guys on the radio are too smart to directly violate Godwin's Law -- and you know, there are a lot of reasons for me to criticize Rush Limbaugh, but he's not stupid -- and he is a good broadcaster. (Same with O'Reilly on the tv.)

But you've got Hannity and Beck and morons like them making the recent argument that because Barack Obama is a "charismatic leader" he is like Hitler somehow -- I have had this argument made to me, in fact that's the reason I wrote this post in the first place -- and comparing the democrats to the national socialist party (because, of course, socialist = national socialist because they both have the word "socialist" in them). Finally, I hear "the Nazis had universal health care", and I explode.

Max Kuenkel said...

Links please: what did Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity say exactly?

Rachel S. said...

I will have to get back to you with those. In the meantime feel free to browse and you should be able to find something.