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Subject: How to post about Nazis and get away with it - the Godwin's Law FAQ

This article was archived around: Sat, 01 Jul 2017 00:04:03 +0000

All FAQs in Directory: usenet/legends
All FAQs posted in: alt.usenet.kooks, alt.usenet.legends
Source: Usenet Version


Archive-name: usenet/legends/godwin Posting-Frequency: monthly Last-Modified: October 7, 2003 Version: 1.15 URL: http://wiki.killfile.org/projects/usenet/faqs/godwin Maintainer: tskirvin@killfile.org (Tim Skirvin)
Godwin's Law FAQ -or- "How to post about Nazis and get away with it" One of the most famous pieces of Usenet trivia out there is "if you mention Hitler or Nazis in a post, you've automatically ended whatever discussion you were taking part in". Known as Godwin's Law, this rule of Usenet has a long and sordid history on the network - and is absolutely wrong. This FAQ is an attempt to set straight as much of the history and meaning of Godwin's Law as possible, and hopefully encourage users to invoke it a bit more sparingly. Of course, knowing Usenet, it won't do an ounce of good... [Standard Disclaimers: this document assumes you have some basic knowledge of Usenet; if you don't, go check out news.announce.newusers for a while to gain said knowledge. Misuse of the information contained within this FAQ is not the responsibility of the author (though he's pretty confused exactly how you could misuse this information). Copyright 1999-2002, Tim Skirvin, all rights reserved, <FISH><, fnord, furrfu.] I. The Basics 1. What is Godwin's Law? Godwin's Law is a natural law of Usenet named after Mike Godwin (godwin@eff.org) concerning Usenet "discussions". It reads, according to the Jargon File: As a Usenet discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one. 2. What does it mean? It pretty much means exactly what it says - as a Usenet thread goes on, the chances of somebody or something being compared to a Nazi approach one. 3. Yes, but what does it *mean*? Aah, now *there's* the real question. In case your head has been buried in the sand for the last sixty years or so, the Nazis were a German political party led by Adolf Hitler that slaughtered upwards of ten million people that didn't meet their standards of "ethnic purity" and set off to conquer Europe and the world in World War II. They are generally considered the most evil group of people to live in modern times, and to compare something or someone to them is usually considered the gravest insult imaginable. As a Usenet discussion gets longer it tends to get more heated; as more heat enters the discussion, tensions get higher and people start to insult each other over anything they can think of. Godwin's Law merely notes that, eventually, those tensions eventually cause someone to find the worst insults that come to mind - which will almost always include a Nazi comparison. 4. That still doesn't answer my question. What does it *MEAN*? The Law is generally used on Usenet as an indicator of whether a thread has gone on too long, who's playing fair and who's just slinging mud, and who finally gets to "win" the discussion. It has, over time, become the closest thing to an impartial moderator that Usenet can get. So, what this means in practical terms: o If someone brings up Nazis in general conversation when it wasn't necessary or germane without it necessarily being an insult, it's probably about time for the thread to end. o If someone brings up Nazis in general conversation when it was vaguely related but is basically being used as an insult, the speaker can be considered to be flaming and not debating. o If someone brings up Nazis in any conversation that has been going on too long for one of the parties, it can be used as a fair excuse to end the thread and declare victory for the other side. 5. So - *WHAT DOES IT MEAN*? Fine, fine - it means that somebody's eventually going to say something about the Nazis in any thread that lasts very long. When it happens, the thread is going to start either degenerating into a long flamewar over Nazi Germany or about Godwin's Law. Either way, the thread is effectively over, and you can safely killfile the thread and move on. II. What does it mean? 1. Didn't we already spend the last section talking about this? Well, yeah, but people don't seem to get the point... 2. What happens if we're actually talking about Nazis? Then you've already invoked Godwin's Law, and the chances are that your thread isn't going to last all that much longer as a sane discussion. Them's the breaks. That isn't to say, of course, that you can't talk about Nazis and such on Usenet - this *is* Usenet, after all, where virtually every conversation that goes on is fairly ludicrous in the first place. It's just going to take you a lot more effort to find real information out of there and to avoid getting yourself off on side-threads - which you'll eventually do regardless, but you can try to put it off. This also applies if a thread mutates into an actual discussion of Nazis, of course. 3. What about arguing with Neo-Nazis? Arguing with Neo-Nazis is probably the quickest path to getting Nazi invocations, because, well, they're actually accurate. Still, trying to invoke Godwin's Law near a Neo-Nazi isn't really a good idea because it's not terribly original and they'll probably get off on it anyway. Just ignore them and occasionally publish a FAQ detailing what actually happened during the Holocaust and such; arguing probably isn't going to help you. 4. How can I use Godwin's Law to my advantage? In the proper kind of flamewar, Godwin's Law can be used as a gambit - how can you force your opponent to invoke the Law? Actually teaching these skills is tough, of course, and is best done through experience. Experience with chess and alt.flame are recommended. 5. What should I do if somebody else invokes Godwin's Law? The obvious response is to call them on it, say "thread's over", and declare victory. This is also one of the stupidest possible responses, because it involves believing far too much in the power of a few rules that don't say exactly what you wish they said anyway. The proper response to an invocation is probably to simply followup with a message saying "Oh. I'm a Nazi? Sure. Bye" and leave, and in most cases even that much of a post is unnecessary. 6. "Hitler!" Ha! The thread is over! Nope, doesn't work that way. Not only is it wrong to say that a thread is over when Godwin's Law is invoked anyway (Usenet threads virtually always outlive their usefulness), but long ago a corollary to the Law was proposed and accepted by Taki "Quirk" Kogama (quirk@swcp.com): Quirk's Exception: Intentional invocation of this so-called "Nazi Clause" is ineffectual. Sorry, folks. Nice try, though. 7. Does Godwin's Law apply in the real world? Actually, yeah, but usually discussions in Real Life end by somebody wandering off in disgust before it can be invoked. 8. Are there any topics that lead directly to Godwin Invocations? Well, yeah. Of course. Case's Corollary to the Law states "if the subject is Heinlein or homosexuality, the probability of a Hitler/Nazi comparison being made becomes equal to one" - but that's just an old list. Abortion and gun control debates always lead to Nazi comparisons; talk with a Libertarian for more than a few hours and he'll almost certainly bring up Nazis; book-burning is pretty much considered a sub-topic of Nazism at this point. Hell, talk about anything politically related and you'll eventually get there. If you're really bored, a fun game to play is Six Degrees of Godwin. Take a topic - any topic - and see how quickly you can relate it to Nazis using legitimate topic drift methods. For example: a discussion about computers will eventually lead to discussions of keyboards and which are best, followed by a lot of complaining about the Windows key on 104-key keyboards, leading to complaints about Microsoft, forcing the standard MS-vs-government flamewar that I'm sure you're all aware of, leading to attacks on Microsoft's "fascist" tactics by one side or another, which will force the other side to start talking about the differences between fascism, capitalism, and, of course, Nazism! The fun never stops! Appendix A: The Many Forms of Godwin's Law "You can tell when a USENET discussion is getting old when one of the participants drags out Hitler and the Nazis." - Richard Sexton (http://www.vrx.net/richard/) stating what would later be known as Godwin's Law, Message-ID <21000@gryphon.COM>, 16 Oct 1989 http://groups.google.com/groups?selm=21000%40gryphon.COM&output=gplain "Godwin's Rule of Nazi Analogies: As a Usenet discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one." - Mike Godwin, first article about the topic in the Google archives, Message-ID <1991Aug18.215029.19421@eff.org>, 18 Aug 1991 http://groups.google.com/groups?selm=1991Aug18.215029.19421%40eff.org :Godwin's Law: /prov./ [Usenet] "As a Usenet discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one." There is a tradition in many groups that, once this occurs, that thread is over, and whoever mentioned the Nazis has automatically lost whatever argument was in progress. Godwin's Law thus practically guarantees the existence of an upper bound on thread length in those groups. - The Jargon File (http://www.ccil.org/jargon/) Hitler, Nazis, nazis, and net.cops: Warning: now that this FAQ has mentioned Hitler and Nazis, UseNet Rule #4 (also known as Godwin's Rule, after Mike Godwin of the EFF, sci.crypt, and comp.org.eff.talk, a sometime foe of David Sternlight (q.v.) [even though it was apparently in use, by Richard Sexton {q.v.} among others, before Mike's 1988 (?) net.advent; the "Godwin's" part seems to stem from "Rich Rosen's Rules of Net.Debate, which I don't have a copy of]) says it will be coming to an irrelevant and off-topic end soon. Just as there will always be newbies ("It's *always* September, *somewhere* on the net" - response to a 1993 wave of delphi.com postings on a.f.u), there will always be people who see the net and are repulsed because there's stuff there they don't want to see - so they set out to make sure noone else can, either. They invariably fail, because there are no net.cops to enforce any such rules on UseNet; in the course of the heated flamewar that usually follows, things escalate until either Hitler or Nazis (or both) put in an appearance, at which point the thread has officially lost all relevance. People scream at each other a bit more, then give up and go home. Bleah. "Keep your brains up top; don't be a net.cop." This has mutated, in true UseNet fashion, to encompass *any* continuing thread; if you mention Hitler or Nazis out of the blue, the thread is sure to die irrelevantly soon (and, incidentally, you've lost the argument, whatever it was)... and every continuing thread on UseNet *must* contain such a reference sooner or later. Invoking Rule #4 deliberately in hopes of ending a thread, however, is doomed to failure (Quirk's Exception)... UseNet Rules #n: No firm info at the present time is available on just what the other UseNet Rules #n are. However, at a guess, they include: -- Rule #nonumber: There are no hard-and-fast Rules on UseNet, only Guidelines, which are more or less strictly enforced (and differ) from group to group; this is why it's generally wise to read any group for a bit before ever posting to it. Rule #0: *There* *is* *no* *C*b*l*. There *is*, however, a net-wide conspiracy designed solely to lead Dave Hayes (q.v.) to believe that there is a C*b*l. Corollary: *There* *are* *no* *pods*. Rule #9: It's *always* September, *somewhere* on the Net. Dave Fischer's Extension: 1993 was The Year September Never Ended [so far, there doesn't seem to be much evidence he's wrong...] Rule #17: Go not to UseNet for counsel, for they will say both `No' and `Yes' and `Try another newsgroup'. Rule #2 (John Gilmore): "The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it." Rule #108 (from the soc.motss FAQ): "What will happen to me if I read soc.motss?" "In general, nothing. (You may be informed or infuriated, of course; but that's a standard Usenet hazard.)" Rule #666: Old alt groups never die. They don't fade away nicely, either. Rule #7-B: There is no topic so thoroughly covered that noone will ever bring it up again. Rule #90120: Applying your standards to someone else's post *will* result in a flamewar. Rule #1: Spellling and grammer counts. So do grace, wit, and a sense of humor (the latter two are different), as well as a willingness to meet odd people, but these are lesser considerations. Rule #x^2: FAQs are asked frequently. Get used to them. Rule #29: no rational discourse can happen in a thread cross-posted to more than two newsgroups. rule #6 (Eddie Saxe): don't post to misc.test unless you understand the consequences. Rule #547 (Arne Adolfsen): When people know they're wrong they resort to ad hominems. Rule #37 (Faisal Nameer Jawdat): Read the thread from the beginning, or else. Rule #5 (Reimer's Reason): Nobody ever ignores what they should ignore on Usenet. Rule $19.99 (Brad `Squid' Shapcott): The Internet *isn't* *free*. It just has an economy that makes no sense to capitalism. Rule #3 ("Why 3?" "Because we felt like it"): For every opinion there is at least one equally loud and opposing opinion; sometimes stated as: Rule #27 (Gary Lewandowski): "In cyberspace, *everyone* can hear you scream." And for completeness' sake: Rule #4: (Godwin's Rule) Any off-topic mention of Hitler or Nazis will cause the thread it is mentioned in to an irrelevant and off-topic end very soon; every thread on UseNet has a constantly-increasing probability to contain such a mention. Quirk's Exception: Intentional invocation of this so-called "Nazi Clause" is ineffectual. Case's Corollary: If the subject is Heinlein or homosexuality, the probability of a Hitler/Nazi comparison being made becomes equal to one. - net.legends FAQ (http://wiki.killfile.org/mirror/net.legends) Appendix B: Addendums, Commentary, and Miscellaneous 1. Bentsen's Defense For some, there is another way around Godwin's Law: "Not this time. I know Mike Godwin. Mike Godwin is a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Mike Godwin." This, of course, only applies to friends of Mike Godwin. The originator of this rule, Earl Cooley III (shiva@io.com), is one of those people. If you have to ask, you don't apply. I don't apply, so don't feel bad. Note that this was named after Senator Lloyd Bentsen's "You're no Jack Kennedy" line from the 1988 vice-presidential debates. And the original usage can be found in <3b09d2e6.79411309@news.supernews.com>: http://groups.google.com/groups?as_umsgid=3b09d2e6.79411309@news.supernews.com 2. Godwin's Commentary Godwin actually wrote a short article for Wired Magazine on the Law back in 1994: http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/2.10/godwin.if_pr.html The article is actually more about the power and danger of memes (thought-viruses) than about Godwin's Law itself, but it's worthwhile reading for anybody who actually got this far into the FAQ. 3. Author's Note on the Holocaust Over the years, I have received several emails regarding this FAQ regarding the Holocaust itself, either disputing the holocaust or the numbers listed in this FAQ. I'd just like to make it clear that I don't have any particular desire to debate these points; this FAQ is meant to point out and explain a quirk of human nature, not to codify the history of World War II. 4. Additional Corollaries There have been many additional corollaries and otherwise related rules created since the net.legends FAQ codified them, and/or missed in that FAQ. Those that have been brought to the author's attention: Stead's Law (named for Lew Stead of alt.pagan fame): Any discussion between more than 2 Pagans will eventually come around to Christianity. - Reported by Donal Brewich <donal@brewich.com> - More information regarding its history would be appreciated -- Copyright 1999-2003, Tim Skirvin http://wiki.killfile.org/projects/usenet/faqs/godwin