Invoking Godwin's Law
Tuesday, April 11, 2006
Devoted bloggers and news group chatters are familiar with Godwin's Law, otherwise known as "Godwin's Rule of Nazi Analogies." The axiom holds that as an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.
University of Chicago ethicist Leo Strauss referred to the obverse phenomenon as "Reductio ad Hitlerum," meaning the argument (and arguer) has departed from rational debate.
When a letter writer or an Internet chatter compares a leader or a policy with Hitler and the Nazis, we can dismiss it as bloated hyperbole and emotional blather.
Log off, tune out or move on to the next letter or post.
When a public official compares another public official or agency to the Nazis, however, it's usually little more than shameless demagoguery.
Enter state Sen. Mike Goschka, who during a budget debate in Lansing last week questioned the integrity of Department of Environmental Quality Director Steve Chester.
Goschka said the agency was acting in a "Gestapo-like fashion."
As in: Those jackbooted, brown shirts at DEQ are goose-stepping around Saginaw and Midland counties.
Goschka's animus is partly directed at the DEQ's designation of a dioxin contaminated "facility" in the Tittabawassee River flood plain. Fair enough. He disagrees with the agency and the facility designation, and he's said so a number of times.
At one point in the ongoing debate, Chester publicly asked the Saginaw County Republican to apologize for saying the agency was trying to "put lipstick on a pig" in mailing out a brochure to flood plain residents informing them of the facility designation. That was mild in comparison to the Gestapo.
Comparing the DEQ's tactics to the Nazis does nothing to further any valid point Goschka may have. He has the right to say whatever he wants, however outrageous. Yet a public official should know better. Such comparisons increase public cynicism toward the government.
It is the tactic of the demagogue, plain and simple.
From The Saginaw News
For additional articles like this one, go to the Tittabawassee River Watch web site www.trwnews.net for complete coverage of the Tittabawassee River Dow Chemical dioxin contamination saga. . The Newspaper / Media page of our site contains an extensive archive of media articles dating back to January 2002. The source organization's web site link is listed to the right of the article, visit often for other news in our area. The Newspaper / Media page may be accessed by scrolling down to the bottom of the CONTENTS section and clicking on the Newspaper/Media link.