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Bronze-level articleGodwin's Law

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Automatons led by a lunatic who looked like Charlie Chaplin


Notable figures
The Third Reich

Godwin’s Law (earlier referred to as reductio ad Hitlerum[1]) was formulated by the attorney Mike Godwin (former general counsel for the Wikimedia Foundation) in the 1990s and states:

As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.


[edit] How it works

It's like Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, except there's just one degree, and Kevin Bacon is Hitler!
—Lewis Black

Godwin’s Law does not dispute the validity or otherwise of references or comparison to Hitler or the Nazis. As such a comparison or reference may sometimes be appropriate in a discussion, Godwin has argued that overuse of the Nazi comparison should be avoided as it waters down the impact of any valid usage. In its purest sense, the rule has more to do with completely losing one's sense of proportion rather than just mentioning Nazis specifically.[2][3] The law was initiated as a counter-meme to flippant comparisons to the Nazis, rather than to invoke a complete ban on comparisons. As Mike Godwin wrote himself in 2008:[4]

When I saw the photographs from Abu Ghraib, for example, I understood instantly the connection between the humiliations inflicted there and the ones the Nazis imposed upon death camp inmates—but I am the one person in the world least able to draw attention to that valid comparison.

With the increase in the number of media for online discussion, Godwin's Law is now applied to any online discussion — be they mailing lists, message boards, forums, chat rooms, blog comment threads, or wiki talk pages.

Traditionally in many Internet discussion forums, it is the rule that once such a comparison is made, the discussion is effectively finished and whoever mentioned Hitler or the Nazis has automatically lost the debate, though it is considered sort-of acceptable if one immediately says "Pardon me for invoking Godwin's Law." The blogosphere has only heightened the prevalence of Godwin's Law with Nazi references being dropped across the political spectrum such as the liberal Daily Kos or right-wing religious strongholds such as Bill Donohue's Catholic League and intelligent design advocates like the Discovery Institute.

Compared to other known blog-based laws, namely Poe's Law, Godwin's Law is quite well known in more mainstream areas.[5] Just to prove it, the law even has its own Wikipedia article.[6] In 2012 it was added to the Oxford Dictionary,[7] which means that in 500 years' time it will be reviewed by completely mystified college arts majors.

[edit] Stormfront and other corollaries

This is exactly how Nazi Germany was started! A bunch of layabouts with nothing better to do than to cause trouble!
—Basil Fawlty[8]

A number of corollaries have been proposed since the introduction of Godwin's Law.

In a hilarious instance of cosmic symmetry, a similar law applies to neo-Nazi boards such as Stormfront: as the discussion grows longer, the probability of someone calling their opponent a Jew approaches one. (For another version, replace Stormfront with Conservapedia and Jew with liberal.)

Another example of a corollary, and an early example, is called "Sircar's Corollary," which is: “If the Usenet discussion touches on homosexuality or Heinlein, Nazis or Hitler are mentioned within three days.”'[3]

Another corollary was proposed by "Buddy Larson" in the comments to a post by the libertarian Volokh Conspiracy blog (alleging that gun control caused the Kristallnacht) in November 2010:

As an online discussion of an original post concerning Nazis or Hitler grows, the probability of observing a laboured and unwarranted retreat or appeal to Godwin's Law (of laboured, unwarranted retreat to Nazi or Hitler references) approaches one.[9]

A corollary for feminists is:

As an online discussion about sexism continues, the probability of a woman who speaks out being called a feminazi approaches 1.[10]

[edit] Other versions

A number of different Internet laws have been proposed which basically mirror Godwin. Arken's Law states:

A discussion is over when present society is compared to George Orwell's Oceania in the book 1984.[11]

The exact history of the law is debatable,[12] but it is claimed that Arken's Law has its roots in the days of HTML 1.0 and earlier (such as Usenet). Any accusations of Big Brotherism, utilizing newspeak, practicing doublethink, thought policing, sending updates down the memory hole or belonging to the Anti-Sex League would all be invocations of Arken's Law.

Researchers from the University College London attempted to formulate reductio ad Hitlerum into a Bayesian framework, presenting evidence that this is pretty much exactly how people processed the argument:[13]


[edit] See also

[edit] External links

[edit] Footnotes

  1. The earliest usage of the term was by neoconservative progenitor Leo Strauss, who lamented that "a view is not refuted by the fact that it happens to have been shared by Hitler."
  2. As argued by Finnish Usenet personality Jukka Korpela.
  3. 3.0 3.1 No Nazi comparisons? Sounds like something Hitler would say!, Ars Technica
  4. "I Seem To Be A Verb: 18 Years of Godwin’s Law"
  5. Is it ever OK to call someone a Nazi?, BBC News
  6. Wikipedia on Godwin's Law
  7. Including a reference to Grammar Nazis.
  8. Fawlty Towers: 20 of Basil's best rants, The Telegraph
  9. Caveat lector.
  10. Godwin's Feminist Corollary
  11. Arken's Law on UrbanDictionary
  12. Sophie Wilder did some research in and found no references to a user named "Arken" on talk.atheism which turned up no results, and the only source to be UD (existing as early as 2004).
  13. Adam J. L. Harris, Anne S. Hsu & Jens K. Madsen (2012): Because Hitler did it! Quantitative tests of Bayesian argumentation using ad hominem, Thinking & Reasoning, 18:3, 311-343
  14. Shame on you Ben Stein, for this masterpiece of journalism
  15. And this masterpiece of film-making
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