Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Godwin's Law and Trump's Fascist Cosplay

Probably everyone who has ever used the internet (at least in the English-speaking world) is familiar with Godwin's Law, if not by name than at least by experience. Godwin's Law, in full, is that the longer a conversation occurs on the internet, the likelihood that someone invokes Hitler or the Nazi party will approach 1 (on the classic statistical scale of 0-1). It's important to note that Godwin's law is descriptive and not proscriptive; that is, it doesn't say anything about whether it's a good idea or not, or whether it's relevant or not, or anything else about the invocation of Hitler or the Nazi party, other than that the longer the conversation goes on, the more likely it is to happen.

However, the rule has become greatly distorted (much to the dismay of Godwin himself) to now hold that anyone who ever invokes Hitler or the Nazi party is engaging in hyperbole and is automatically wrong.

This is not good! For many, many reasons. One of the biggest, of course, is that Hitler and the Nazi party were not magical monsters, but instead regular ol' human beings. So by keeping them to rarified air that no one else can ever approach for any other reason, we do ourselves quite a disservice, as plenty of other humans have proven themselves just as capable of enacting Nazi policies and actions. For instance, there have been multiple genocides since the Holocaust.

Another major reason is that plenty of people are happy to call themselves Nazis (or maybe not use the exact term due to its baggage, but otherwise hold all of the beliefs). In large part this blog post was inspired by me reading an article this morning in which Richard Spencer (he of the Nazi getting punched in the face memes) was referred to as a Nazi. One of the first comments on the article was someone chastising the author for using the term Nazi so cavalierly, arguing that it devalues it to apply it to just anyone you don't like.

But the problem is: Spencer's a Goddamned Nazi. He regularly quotes Nazi propaganda, denounces pretty much anything ever done by a Jewish person, and has refused to denounce Hitler or the holocaust any time he's been asked. He's done everything short of walking around carrying a comically-large sign reading "I AM A NAZI."

So if you can't call an active Nazi a Nazi, then whom can you call a Nazi? No one, I guess. And that's the very problem with how people abuse Godwin's law. Nazi is a very useful term to describe Nazis, and we shouldn't throw it out because people online occasionally engage in hyperbole.

For instance, today Trump unveiled his promised list of crimes committed by undocumented peoples, a list which will apparently be a weekly phenomenon.

You know who else published a regular list of supposed crimes committed by a group of people he didn't like and was actively trying to make others scared of? Hint: he had a funny little mustache.

This is important, because this isn't one of those "Hitler once said he didn't like bowties, so if you don't like bowties you're just like Hitler!!1!1!!1!" kind of ridiculousness that the people ruining Godwin's law think they're fighting against.

Rather, the regular publication of lists of "crimes" committed by Jewish people was an integral part of the necessary dehumanizing of Jewish people so that regular human beings could be goaded into killing them en masse. As plenty of people have pointed out, the Nazis didn't start with the Holocaust. Or any mention of the Final Solution. Or really, any sort of public pronouncement as to what was actually coming.

No, instead what they did was spend years spreading misinformation, falsehoods, and straight-up lies about Jewish people to dehumanize them. To get regular, otherwise good-natured people to see Jewish people as some kind of unique threat. You know, the kind of threat that means you need to build a giant wall to keep out of your nation.

And this is why we can't throw out the Nazi baby with the hyperbolic Nazi-accusations bath water. Because we've seen this exact thing before and we've seen exactly where it leads.

Is Trump Hitler? No. But is he quite literally enacting a centerpiece of Hitler's methods for dehumanizing a group of people? Yes, he is doing exactly that.

So we compare him to Hitler. Not because we don't like him, but because he is literally doing what Hitler did.

And remember how we had this whole big thing after the Nazis were defeated where we collectively as a world declared we wouldn't let this happen again? Well, it's happening again. Let's not let it.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Very good points, very good article.
--Tim P