As a rule I avoid political discussions on Facebook. Nobody’s mind will be changed, and there isn’t space for covering all angles of an argument with reasoned thinking. Also, things get nasty pretty quickly. Lately, however, I have been responding on FB to a trope I see with increasing regularity. This is the comparison of political candidates to Nazis or Hitler. This occurs on all sides of the aisle. I usually comment, “Please refrain from the Nazi references. I have relatives who lived through that.” A friend of mine usually chimes in, “I have relatives who died through that.”
The phenomenon of calling people with whom you disagree a Nazi is nothing new. In 1990 attorney and author Mike Godwin brought to the world of online argument “Godwin’s Law.” Also known as Godwin’s Rule of Nazi Analogies, the law asserts that “If an online discussion (regardless of topic or scope) goes on long enough, sooner or later someone will compare someone or something to Hitler or Nazism.” Goodwin’s Law has broadened its scope to include speeches and articles as well as online discussions, Internet forums, chat rooms and comment threads. The law has also been referred to as reductio ad Hitlerum, referring to the term reductio ad absurdum, Latin for “reduction to absurdity.”
In 2012, Godwin’s Law was elevated in the world of discourse by way of its entry into the third edition of the Oxford English Dictionary. There is now a tradition in newsgroups and other Internet discussion forums that once such a comparison is made, the thread is finished and whoever uses the word Nazis has automatically lost.
Godwin’s Law is more relevant than ever given the recent overheated election and the devolution of much commentary and discussion to absurd conclusions, with no room for disagreement. There are no longer varying opinions. If you disagree with me you’re, first, an idiot (or something not printable in a family blog), second, you’re a Nazi. Maybe I’m more aware of it these days, but as I say, it’s nothing new. One can easily picture almost any candidate in any post-WW II election with a familiar mustache added to his or her photo. The ease of posting something online from the safety of your home, office or parent’s basement prevents some individuals from thinking twice about what they are actually saying.
“I wanted folks who glibly compared someone else to Hitler or to Nazis to think a bit harder about the Holocaust,” Godwin wrote in 2015. More than mere hyperbole, Godwin’s Law is proof, if anyone still needs it, that history has gone down Orwell’s Memory Hole. For those unfamiliar with George Orwell, that is the slot for an incinerator used in the book 1984 to destroy inconvenient or no-longer-PC information. The fact that there was a barbaric movement against which the U.S. and its allies sacrificed much blood and treasure is in danger of devolving into a handy insult.
Political analogies are reduced to, “Nazis were some kind of bad guys, maybe the worse bad guys ever. Therefore, based on your opinions, which differ from mine, you seem to be a bad guy. Ipso facto, you’re a Nazi.” It’s interesting that those who take issue with the concept of global warming/climate change are not referred to as people with a different take on the issue; they are called “climate deniers.” It is no accident that this is reminiscent of the term “Holocaust denier.”
As Maimonides wrote in his Guide for the Perplexed, “Truth does not become more true by virtue of the fact that the entire world agrees with it, nor less so even if the whole world disagrees with it.” The freedom to agree and disagree without fear of repercussion should be fairly fundamental in this country. Even on the Internet.
“Few people are capable of expressing with equanimity opinions which differ from the prejudices of their social environment,” wrote Albert Einstein. Maybe that’s because they’re afraid they’ll be laughed at, ostracized or called a Nazi.
In the end, the resort to the Nazi label trivializes the Holocaust. Perhaps as Jews we have some responsibility in detrivializing the mass murder of our people.
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