Friday, November 2, 2007

65; Godwin's Law

Godwin's law states the following:

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

The law was posited in 1990, when 'online' was in it's infancy. But I think the law applies more broadly than Godwin realized, serving for all forms of discussion.

And this is not new. As early as 1950 Leo Strauss came up witht he mock Latin 'Reductio ad Hitlerum'. You've heard this argument. It translates to: 'Hitler (more broadly Nazis) supported X, there fore X is bad/evil.'

I'm currently in a class talking about Nazism, more specifically the Holocaust. The question is how do we make sense of it, understand it, perhaps even experience it? And once we figure that out how do we memorialize and remember it? Or pass it on? Within 15-20 years all holocaust survivors will have died. Their children, the second generation, will still be alive, but not for too much longer, and besides they weren't there. They don't understand it like thier parents did. And so we must ask ourselves, how do we convey it to our children? How are we going to pass on the lessons of the Holocaust to our children if we can't make sense of it ourselves?

These are important questions. And there is a fear that we will forget. That the Holocaust will just be something we don't care about, since we have no way to relate to it. We cannot understand the Holocaust, as Elie Wiesel has tried to say many times. So are we deluding ourselves by watching movies and reading books about it? Can we talk about it, or do we have a right to in an academic space? Or must our understanding be personal? Is there anything worthwhile in trying to feel the horror for ourselves? May we just forget under these circumstances? It seems like the most societally normal course of action.

But, there is a greater fear than forgetting. That would be a concern that we won't care about the Holocaust. We will remember it, like slaverey, but it will cease to be something important to our discourse any more. Yes it was an attrocity, yes, we're glad it ended. If you have any concerns bring them up with the Natives.

This is why I find Godwin's Law so interesting. It reaffirms, to some extent, the notion that we're not going to forget the Holocaust. That fear seems unusual to me, since I can't seem to go three days without Nazis being brought up in conversation. But it is also the manner in which Nazis and Hitler come up that is troublesome, for it is unfailingly as a comparison, as Godwin noted, and generally in the Reductio ad Hitlerum fashion Strauss came up with. Surely this is an example of it's losing meaning. We bring it up tagentially. When Nazis are referenced to make your point, you invalidate the legitimacy of the discussion. Reductio ad Hitlerum serves only as an emphatic tool, rather than good reasoning to prove a point. I doubt the attrocities of the Holocaust, as an element of the larger Nazi attrocity, will be forgotten. But I am worried that it will become a rhetorical stand-by used to shut-down arguments.

Speaking of which, I find no enjoyment in ice cream cones. The first half of the cone should be good, right? Licking happily away tasting the delicious flavors you got on your cone. Then you realize that you got a cone. If you want to prolong the enjoyment of the cone you now need to start a campaign of pushing the remaining ice cream down into the cone with your tongue. You no longer taste the ice cream, you're busy trying to smush deeper into the cone what you have left. It dawns on you now that you shouldn't have eaten so much off the bat, and retroactively the earlier enjoyment of the ice cream is lost. Sometimes you can see me just fixed to a point woefully contemplating the melting treat in my hand as I endeavor to decide whether to eat it or not, knowing full well the dread I shall have to face upon it's consumption.

In the end I always try it, and the dread springs upon me with Jack-in-the-Box ferocity, causing wailings and groans as I frantically try to enjoy my ice cream.

Of course this sort of existential conundrum was typical in the lives of Nazis. So I guess what I'm saying is that since Hitler once ate gelatto with Mussolini ice cream is evil and so am I.

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