Natalie Solent

Politics, news, libertarianism, Science Fiction, religion, sewing. You got a problem, bud? I like sewing.

E-mail: nataliesolent-at-aol-dot-com (I assume it's OK to quote senders by name.)

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Wednesday, May 12, 2004
A Godwinocorollasceptic speaks. I don't believe in the corollary to Godwin's Law. Godwin's Law itself ("As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches unity") is obviously right up there with general relativity and quantum chromodynamics as part of the basic functioning of time and space. However its usual corollary, "the party invoking the Nazis as a debating tactic in any argument where there is not some direct relevance automatically loses the argument", I will not accept. Partly this is because for many of us the history of WWII is the history we know best, so if we wish to learn from the past at all, that is the bit of the past we are most likely to learn from. It was vast enough to permit many lessons, some of them contradictory.

The other reason is that the position of the Nazis at one extreme of human collective behaviour means that they are the best test case for many propositions even if they are not "directly relevant" in the sense of previous discussion in that thread having been about Nazis or totalitarianism. It's like only way to really be sure a bridge is strong enough is to send the greatest possible weight it will ever have to bear across it. If you believe in free speech even for Nazis, for instance, then you really believe in free speech. If you believe in free speech even for Liberal Democrats the proposition is not so clear.

That said, I'm happy to accept the Godwin corollary in a Sturgeonesqe statistical version: "90% of people citing the Nazis are crap-artists and are deemed to have lost." Here is an example of one such, observed by Iain Murray in an article for TCS called Adolf Lomborg. He quotes Rajendra Pachauri, the chairman of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as saying, "What is the difference between Lomborg's view of humanity and Hitler's?"