Godwin’s law was originally put forward in the 1990s as an explanation of how discussions ran in Usenet newsgroups. Put simply, it states:
The longer an online discussion continues, the probability of a comparison to Nazis or Hitler approaches.
Having been on the Internet since the mid-90s, I’ve seen Godwin’s law in action quite a few times of the years. I’ve seen discussions about which actors should play characters in fantasy books deteriorate into mud-slinging, name-calling and eventually a declaration the other side were behaving like Nazis. I’ve seen anti-vaxxers accuse those legitimately concerned with the child abuse they promote of having Hitler-like tendencies. I’ve seen both sides of the classic left/right political divide accuse the other of proto-Nazism.
There’s a rule we should always try to live by on the Internet – Hanlon’s Razor, being simply:
Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.
Yet governing it all we have to think back to Occam’s razor, which can be paraphrased as:
When evaluating two different hypothesis, and in lieu of evidence to the contrary, the simpler hypothesis is likely to be the correct one.
I always believe Hanlon’s Razor and Occam’s Razor go hand-in-hand. Until you have evidence to the contrary, you assume someone is acting out of stupidity rather than malice. But if eventually the evidence becomes overwhelming, you have to eventually accept it’s malice, not stupidity driving behaviour.
Totalitarian fascism combined with fervent racism was the trademark of Nazism and Hitler, but they weren’t exclusive to Nazism. Europe in the 30s and 40s saw a wave of fascism inspired by right-wing politics that was fiercely them vs us and fiercely uncaring.
We look back on fascism and largely content ourselves that in a modern democratic world, its return is impossible. The media holds governments to account. The internet creates transparency. Governments wouldn’t dare do the things that were previously done.
But what happens when you have a media controlled by so few, and an overwhelming voice in that media has no time for the leftist political views? What happens when you have a political system that has become so dominated by 30 second sound-grabs and 3 word slogans that anything complex, anything empathic or anything forward thinking is drowned out by nasty little ideas that can be expressed in just a few words? What happens when those same media interests are intent on seeing the Internet hampered because it interferes with their fiscal bottom line? What happens when you have a predominantly two-party preferred system where one party is archly conservative and the other has leaned increasingly to the right because it’s too difficult to get progressive ideas across?
Well, when all that happens you seem to get:
- A government blithely talking about stripping citizenship and promoting modern-forms of “banishment”
- A government declaring the courts can’t be trusted to deal with national security
- A government making it illegal to report child abuse in detention centres
- A government that that is intent on stopping asylum seekers “by hook or by crook”
- A government that enacts data retention laws under the guise of protecting us from terrorism when conventional laws have adequately stopped all potential terror attacks
- A government that practically begs us all to be terrified so that we might sacrifice freedoms for apparent protection
- …an opposition party that goes along with it all
Well, what do you get? Australia.
To paraphrase an old TV show: Australia, we’re standing in it, and it is rapidly rising. If we’re not careful, we may drown. Is this really what we want to become? We call ourselves the lucky country, but that’s rapidly becoming a lie as we increasingly become the paranoid country. Paranoia isn’t healthy, individually or for a nation.