Monday, July 14, 2014

Applied Memetics, Godwin's Law, Leo Strauss and Reduction ad Hitlerum

According to Wikipedia, Godwin's law (or Godwin's Rule of Nazi Analogies) is an Internet adage asserting that "As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1".

[Mike] Godwin has stated that he introduced the law in 1990 as an experiment in memetics.

... it is framed as a memetic tool to reduce the incidence of inappropriate hyperbolic comparisons. "Although deliberately framed as if it were a law of nature or of mathematics, its purpose has always been rhetorical and pedagogical: I wanted folks who glibly compared someone else to Hitler or to Nazis to think a bit harder about the Holocaust", Godwin has written.

Godwin's law is familiar enough to the general public to have gotten into the Oxford English Dictionary.

Has the "experiment in memetics" worked?  Maybe among the participants of email listserve debates from circa 1990.  The Wikipedia article says
"there is a tradition in many newsgroups and other Internet discussion forums that once such a comparison is made, the thread is finished and whoever mentioned the Nazis has automatically lost whatever debate was in progress"
Unfortunately, that sounds, today like a quaint and innocent time.
E.g., in, I get 71,800 matches for "Hitlery", a nickname often used by right wing bloggers for Hillary Clinton.  Then click on the "Images" tab and see what you get.

Then there is the book you see above, a blurb for which read
“Fascists,” “Brownshirts,” “jackbooted stormtroopers”—such are the insults typically hurled at conservatives by their liberal opponents. Calling someone a fascist is the fastest way to shut them up, defining their views as beyond the political pale. But who are the real fascists in our midst?
Mostly, when I see someone called "fascist" in any article comment section, it is directed at liberals, not coming from them.  As a baby boomer, I remember when college students talked that way about conservatives, but it looks like, in many ways, movement conservatives are the ones who want to relive those times.

Some of them, like David Horowitz, may have been themselves part of the "New Left" back them, and just continue to use the same hyperbolic insulting tactics they did back then.

In some places you may seen Godwin's Law "otherwise known as Reduction ad Hitlerum", but that phrase was invented by Leo Strauss around 1960, long predating Godwin.  Strauss was a mentor to conservatives such as Allan Bloom (academic) Paul Wolfowitz, a leading neoconservative and proponent of the Iraq War inside the Bush Administration.

See also The Integration of Theory and Practice.

No comments:

Post a Comment