The Fallacies of Godwin’s Law

Godwin’s law is a humorous (and accurate) observation by Mike Godwin that, when it comes to discussions on the internet, no matter what the topic is, the likelihood that one commentator or another will make an analogy to Hitler or Nazis increases with the duration of the discussion.  Or as Godwin himself put it in satirically mathematical terms:

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

Godwin claims that his motivation for coining this internet meme was to make online commentators more aware about their carelessness with Holocaust analogies when engaging in internet arguments.  A statement that few who have spent more than a day on an online forum could disagree with.

Although I wholeheartedly agree with and accept the accuracy of Godwin’s law, I have also noticed several careless misuses by its more fervent proponents.  Rather than simply being an observation about the nature of internet discourse, it has mistakenly been turned into a logical fallacy against anyone who so much as dares bring up similarities between a poster’s antics/comments with that of Hitler or Nazism, no matter how apt the comparison might be.  What is ignored is that Godwin’s law does not make any judgement about the appropriateness of a Hitler/Nazi analogy, just that its occurrence increases as a conversation prolongs.  Whereas, the meme once served to cause deeper reflection on behalf of comment posters, it is now used to evade unfavorable comparisons one’s words may merit; to claim victory without caring to offer up a defense to an accurate observation, and instead scream “FALLACY, FALLACY” on the top of one’s lungs, while pounding the figurative podium in declaration of one’s triumphant logical superiority.

Yes, most resorts to Hitler/Nazi analogies made online are by definition the result of careless hyperbole, and fallacious reasoning.  However, this does not warrant the notion that all Hitler/Nazi analogies made against a proponent are instantaneously fallacious, just by virtue of being Hitler/Nazi analogies; the context in which the analogy is used is still an important consideration.  To claim otherwise  is, ironically, a fallacy in and of itself.  Perhaps, we need an internet meme to describe how as an online conversation grows longer, the probability that someone will misuse/misunderstand Godwin’s law approaches 1.  Of course, once we did that, we would also have to coin a law to describe the misuse of that law–circularity is man’s natural state of mind, after all.

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