Saturday Morning Open Thread: Loose Talk

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Blogreading for a slow Saturday, from NYMag‘s Dan Amira:

All the way back in 1990, a lawyer who has been on the Internet longer than you have, Mike Godwin, introduced the now widely familiar Godwin’s Law, which predicted the inevitability of a Hitler or Nazi comparison arising during any online debate. Godwin, who lives in D.C. and works as a senior policy adviser at Internews, spoke to Daily Intelligencer about how Godwin’s Law has changed through the years, whether it will still exist in the year 3000, and whether it will be mentioned in the first or second sentence of his obituary.

When you first proposed Godwin’s Law, it stated, simply, “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.” In other words, such a comparison is, eventually, inevitable. Would you give it the same definition today?

The only thing I would say is that it turns out not to be limited to online discussions. Other than that, it still seems to have some observational value. It’s the worst thing anybody can think of, so if you have some kind of rhetorical escalation with someone you disagree with, it’s sort of easy to go there if you’re not very reflective about what you’re saying….

The thing it seemed to me worth doing was to prevent the Holocaust from turning into a cliché, or into a handy arrow in someone’s rhetorical quiver. I was entering into the online world pretty deeply in the eighties, and I was offended by how glibly these comparisons came up — almost invariably inappropriately. My feeling was that the more people got into this habit, the less likely that people remembered the historical context of all this. And as you know, one of the injunctions of Holocaust historians is that we must never forget, we have to remember. And I just thought, Well, I’m going to do a little experiment and see if I could make people remember.

I don’t know if this would be a corollary to Godwin’s Law, or if the law has transformed completely, but it’s now come to mean that whoever makes a Nazi comparison first has automatically lost the debate.
I think of it instead as a mutation. The way it mutated is that some people inferred that by the time you go to the Hitler comparisons, it was really hard to have a fruitful discussion or exchange of ideas, which I think is mostly true…

And Professor Krugman responds to the notorious Scarborough/Sachs op-ed: I Guess It’s A Form of Flattery.

37 replies
  1. 1
    Linda Featheringill says:

    Kthug is worse than Hitler. He . . . . .

  2. 2
    Linda Featheringill says:

    I enjoyed the piece on Mr. Godwin. It’s probably true that all of us would like to be remembered, hopefully for good and flattering reasons. But we can’t control what we’re remembered for.

    It’s almost like a proponent of international peace being remembered for whirled peas. Geez!

  3. 3
    WereBear says:

    But what if it IS as bad as Hitler?

    Just kidding. We in the West do not have organized genocide lately, despite what fevered wingnuts might fantasize about.

  4. 4
    Ultraviolet Thunder says:

    I like the mutated version as well. To me it says that once you ‘go there’ you concede that you have no argument left that’s more effective than hyperbolic insult.

  5. 5
    NotMax says:


    But what if it IS as bad as Hitler?

    A Schicklgruber by any other name&#8230.

  6. 6
    NotMax says:



    Bad, arthritic fingers, bad! Corrected:

    A Schicklgruber by any other name….

  7. 7
    c u n d gulag says:

    “Godwin’s Law” is worse than Hitler!

    Someone had to say it.

  8. 8
    Roger Moore says:

    You know who else had a law named after him…

  9. 9
    PeakVT says:

    Human cloning has arrived. Sorta.

  10. 10
    Journalmalist says:

    Little known fact about the phrase “never forget”: It comes from Deuteronomy 25:17-19 (and subsequently three of the 613 mizvot), in which the LORD commands the Israelites to go all genocidal on the Amalekites, and that when they’re all dead they must ‘never forget’ what a prick Amalek was to them. The Amalekites then came to represent enemies of the Jews — Armenians, Palestinians, and Nazis.

    Ironic, that the original thing the Chosen Ones are supposed to ‘never forget’ is a holocaust of their own doing.

  11. 11
    MomSense says:


    But, but, but the FEMA coffins!!!!!

  12. 12
  13. 13
    Baud says:

    So what would have been as bad as Hitler before Hitler? The retro hipster in me wants to know.

  14. 14
    Shortstop says:

    Nothing beats early Saturday mornings in bed with a cup of excellent coffee. Sleeping husband and snoring dog are curled up next to me and the rest of the bed is strewn with dog toys that somehow appeared during the night. That is all.

  15. 15
    Joseph Nobles says:

    Here’s a corollary to Godwin’s Law: “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a citation of Godwin’s Law approaches 1.”

  16. 16
    Poopyman says:

    Well, it’s “officially” spring. I stepped outside a while ago and caught the far-away sound of a hooting and calling that I immediately recognized, and eventually spotted. It was a flock of snow geese heading north at about a thousand feet on their way back to the tundra.

    I only get to hear that sound a few minutes every year,and stood and listened until it faded away.

  17. 17
    MomSense says:


    That is one of the best sounds in the world. Once, about 10 years ago a flock landed in the pond next to our house. It was a one hit wonder and such a glorious thing to see. We all were outside and the look on the boys’ faces when those geese started coming in–pure heaven.

    I haven’t heard any geese yet this year but there are all sorts of happy sounds coming from the trees so I think we must have new little birdies in their nests.

  18. 18
    Culture of Truth says:

    He has great Sachs appeal.

  19. 19
    the Conster says:

    Just finished shoveling the walk to the trash barn and dug out the heated water bowl for the ferals. I’ll have one more hour of daylight tomorrow to look at the foot and a half of snow. No spring for me.

  20. 20
    Culture of Truth says:

    So what would have been as bad as Hitler before Hitler? The retro hipster in me wants to know.

    Hyperinflation? Signing Versailles treaty?

  21. 21
    PurpleGirl says:

    @Poopyman: In NYC the first of sign of spring is the tickling notes of the Mister Softie truck.

  22. 22
    Mike Toreno says:

    I don’t understand why comparing somebody to Hitler is supposed to be a bad thing. I have just watched him talking about SimCity, and he seems to be making a lot of valid complaints. I haven’t played the game myself, but he says there’s no offline mode and the servers are always busy. If you can’t join a server you can’t play, and you can’t join a server because the servers are busy. Is that true?

    For years, whenever I have thought about buying any tech product, I have first wanted to see what Hitler had to say about it. It’s as if he embodies the collective wisdom of the ages – especially with regard to technology and online entertainment.

  23. 23
    Baud says:

    @Culture of Truth:

    Doesn’t quite have the same oomph, does it?

  24. 24
    JoyfulA says:

    Why anyone forgets (and/or forgives) Sachs’s horrible advice to Russia (among other countries) is beyond me. I would never trust anything he says.

  25. 25
    shortstop says:

    @Poopyman: Wonderful!

    @PurpleGirl: Equally wonderful! And I can relate!

  26. 26
    Culture of Truth says:

    @Baud: That’s why they needed Hitler

  27. 27
    Baud says:

    ref=”#comment-4272659″>Culture of Truth:

    I guess Hitler filled a market need.

  28. 28
    Baud says:


    WordPress is worse than Hitler.

  29. 29
    PeakVT says:

    @Culture of Truth: In some parts of this country it was “Lincoln”.

  30. 30
    Poopyman says:

    @Baud: Godwin would probably agree.

  31. 31
    Bill Murray says:

    @Mike Toreno: nobody goes there anymore; it’s too crowded?

  32. 32
    John PM says:

    @Culture of Truth: The Kaiser, although that is mostly propoganda mixed in with some fact.

  33. 33

    My problem with Godwin’s Law is that there are parallels with Nazis throughout the world today. Economically, fiscally, militarily. And the wrong people are making the comparisons.

  34. 34
    g says:

    For some people, Godwin’s law is the opener.

    I work for a smallish city government and was assigned a job editing a weekly arts e-mail newsletter, promoting arts events in town each week. The mailbox for the newsletter is primarily for submissions from event promoters, and there is an auto-reply set up.

    Recently I opened an email from a citizen angry about a local redevelopment that had been granted a building permit. She must have spammed every general email in the city government. She wrote:

    How can this city sit back and allow the destruction of the M_______ – I am ashamed of the city council and everyone else – I feel like I am in germany watching the rise of Hitler

    She then wrote back another angry message arguing with the auto-reply, because she felt it was not taking her issue seriously.

  35. 35
    LongHairedWeirdo says:

    Hm. I’d always assumed Godwin’s Law was based not just upon the likelihood of someone raising the Nazi/Hitler flag after a long enough discussion, but the likelihood of someone staking out a position so strongly as to invite a valid comparison.

    E.g., post 9/11/2001, I could easily imagine someone staking out the need to be suspicious of furriners and people who look different, or who follow one of those “strange” religions until it would be perfectly valid to point out “that’s how the Nazis started”.

  36. 36
    Ronzoni Rigatoni says:

    @Baud: “So what would have been as bad as Hitler before Hitler? The retro hipster in me wants to know.”

    Pat Boone’s grandparents, mebbee?

    (Damnation. 2 Martoonis and I’m done for the day)

  37. 37
    Mnemosyne says:

    I’m supposed to be continuing construction on my new home office desk, but I have a completely valid excuse for my laziness when G gets home — Charlotte finally deigned to sit in my lap for the first time today. Given that we’ve had her since she was a 6-week-old kitten and she’s now three years old, this is great condescension on her part.

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