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Monday, June 13, 2016

Godwin's law and America's Orange One Revolution

The longer a discussion proceeds, the probability that somebody will call their opponent a racist approaches one.

A s everybody knows, Godwin's Law is an Internet meme that says as a discussion grows longer the probability of a comparison with Nazism approaches one. A corollary is that the first one to make such a comparison, called a reductio ad hitlerum, automatically loses the argument.

Some of our friends on the left, like Glen Greenwald, feel the law is odious because it deprives them of their most powerful argument. Kevin Jones of Mother Jones said he hoped for its ‘repeal.’ Mike Godwin himself regretted not being able to make such a comparison after seeing photographs of Abu Ghraib, which he thought were similar to Nazi death camps. (The confusion is understandable: taking pictures of naked POWs in compromising positions is almost exactly like massacring six million civilians with poison gas.) Indeed, for them Godwin's law is itself a terrible instrument of fascist oppression.

So they get around it by accusing each other of violating it, or they invoke Hitler obliquely, as when they call global warming skeptics ‘deniers.’ But the problem with such comparisons is not just that they are substitutes for logic and reason. They trivialize Nazism, making it seem less unacceptable, even transgressive. By inoculating people against something, you may end up encouraging it.

An example is the fad of calling everyone with whom you disagree a racist. This, of course, was also started by left-wingers, or liberals, progressives, or whatever the heck they call themselves these days, but it has morphed into an all-purpose way of denigrating—blackening, if you will—the reputation of anyone who says anything about anyone who is not of European descent.

As one commenter at Volokh put it, arguing by analogy is a rhetorical mistake that leads to madness. But Godwin's law was intended to remind us to use reason instead of emotion and avoid association fallacies—ad hominems intended to frighten one's opponent into surrendering. It reminds us not to use verbal terrorism.

So naturally, members of the Stupid Party, which includes luminaries like David French, Mitt Romney, and Paul Ryan, have now started using it against the Orange One, Donald Trump. Meg Whitman, the CEO of HP, compared him to Adolf Hitler. The Orange One, of course, got to where he is because his followers are sick to death of being subjected to just these sorts of glib, intellectually lazy comparisons. So calling them racists only solidifies their determination to crawl over broken glass, dragging their ammo belts behind them in the mud if need be, to vote for him and participate in America's Orange One Revolution.

Establishment conservatives turned their wrath on the voters: the white working-class communities where his supporters live, said one, are vicious and deserve to die. Such anger. If only they could unleash it against their political opponents.

But, shockingly, the voters ignored the criticism. And then Breitbart's Milo Yiannopoulos revealed to the sentient universe the existence of something called the alt-right. It was manna from heaven.

The alt-right seems not to have settled on a definite ideology yet, but their motivation is clear: to apply the tribalism which the left has used to divide America to their own tribe, consisting mainly of European-Americans. Their main theme is that Western culture and civilization are superior to all others and deserve to be vigorously defended. In this they are clearly reacting to the left-wingers who openly express a desire to see European culture, and even its people, eradicated.

The movement is also a reaction to the challenge some establishment types have with enemy identification, and indeed several articles from conservatives have come out viciously attacking the alt-righters. But what's illuminating is how they use almost exactly the same language against the alt-right that the left uses against them.

Maybe their criticisms are valid. But they'd be more convincing if they hadn't said the same thing umpteen godzillion times about Donald Trump. Maybe that's why Godwin created his Internet meme: if you call somebody vile, racist, or a Nazi too often, some people start to take it as a compliment. Thus, emotional arguments can create the thing you hate. And it's also why calling for the repeal of Godwin's law is like barking at the moon: it's not a man-made rule. It's more like a law of nature.

The mainstream right's inability to find an effective response to the hate, the name-calling, and the bullying in American culture is what created the Orange One, and it also created the alt-right. To take the wind out of their sails, all they would have to do is to find one.

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