Monday, October 11, 2010

Godwin's Law

While doing a little research for yesterday's entry on bullying I reflected on the concept of flaming, which was rampant in the earlier days of the Internet. Being part of a few Usenet groups, it was inevitable that sooner or later a heated discussion would arise. If you choose to take a side, you risk being the recipient of a whole lotta hostile comments. This was flaming.

So while looking up flaming, which could be a long discussion in and of itself addressing the ease with which people can say things under anonymity that they might never say face-to-face, I stumbled upon Godwin's Law.

Here's a brief synopsis on Godwin's Law from Wikipedia:

Godwin's law (also known as Godwin's Rule of Nazi Analogies or Godwin's Law of Nazi Analogies) is a humorous observation made by Mike Godwin in 1989 which has become an Internet adage. It states: "As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1."In other words, Godwin put forth the sarcastic observation that, given enough time, all discussions—regardless of topic or scope—inevitably end up being about Hitler and the Nazis.

Godwin's law is often cited in online discussions as a deterrent against the use of arguments in the widespread reductio ad Hitlerum form. The rule does not make any statement about whether any particular reference or comparison to Adolf Hitler or the Nazis might be appropriate, but only asserts that the likelihood of such a reference or comparison arising increases as the discussion progresses. It is precisely because such a comparison or reference may sometimes be appropriate, Godwin has argued that
overuse of Nazi and Hitler comparisons should be avoided, because it robs the valid comparisons of their impact. (emphasis added)

This last statement is one that I've reflected upon many times.

Trivia question: Who was the last president not to be compared to Hitler?

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