The Inverse Godwin’s Law

9 06 2008

I can’t claim credit for the idea (that honour goes to Slacktivist), nor for the name. Ninglun’s thoughtful post on some of the embarrassingly Talibanesque elements in the Old Testament provoked the following typically thoughtless response from Kevin:

Very impressive! You have blamed the taliban on the jooooooos! Kudos to you for that impressive slight of hand. Weird that Jews don’t kill people for their God, and muslims do (most people think the taliban is a muslim group)… often, but still, what does that matter? It’s the fault of the jooos! They’re so pesky, huh?

A complete strawman if you (unlike Kevin) bother to read Ninglun’s post, but I’ll pass over that, Ninglun having promptly pointed out Kevin’s dishonesty (or at least his profound inability to read for comprehension) to him later in the comments. Godwin’s Law addresses the derailing of discussions by means of the introduction of inappropriate or hyperbolic comparisons of x to Hitler/the Nazis. (“Hitler/the Nazis” can of course be replaced by any sufficiently diabolical entity in this formulation.) An “Inverse Godwin’s Law” would apply to arguments which claim that the critique of x is invalid because x is not as bad as [insert sufficiently diabolical entity here]. “Jews don’t kill people for their God, and muslims do,” claims Kevin, and therefore you’re not allowed to say anything critical about the Old Testament.

Slacktivist calls this “the NABA defense:”

When you have to resort to the NABA defense, you’re in bad shape. That’s NABA as in “Not As Bad As.”We’ve heard a lot of this lately from the nabobs of NABA in the Bush administration. The American abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison, we are reminded, was Not As Bad As the abuses committed there by Saddam Hussein back in the day. The lawlessness of Guantanamo Bay, the president insists, indignantly, is Not As Bad As the kind of thing Joe Stalin used to do. And while more than 100 prisoners have been beaten and tortured to death in American custody during the past three years, that’s Not As Bad As the death toll from the terrorist attacks of 9/11 — the event that we have taken as license to adopt means that are almost, but perhaps Not (quite) As Bad As the means of the terrorists we rightly condemn as immoral.

I do not merely concede these points, I heartily embrace them. Take the whole sordid affair — the Lynndie photoshoot, the torturing to death of innocents and adversaries alike, the “extraordinary rendition” of unknown hundreds or thousands on the slenderest of suspicions — and it still doesn’t put us in the same league as the A-list All-Stars of Evil.

But, good God, is this what America is now reduced to? Do we really have to go all the way over to Stalin or Saddam to find an example of someone whose behavior is reassuringly worse than our own? How are we supposed to maintain a shred of pride in our nation or in ourselves as a people when the best we can say for ourselves is that we’re Not As Bad As the worst people we can think of? Do we really need Stalin in the class to blow the curve so we can pass this course?

We’ve become like Lot, the troglodytic drunk who, while screwing his own daughters, took comfort that at least he was Not As Bad As his old friends and neighbors back in Sodom.

So there you have it. The Inverse Godwin’s Law: a handy tool for identifying antidemocratic sophistry, whether that sophistry is being enlisted to silence criticism of some blog-commenter’s sacred cows, or in the service of whatever wheelbarrow said commenter has pushed all the way to your blog (regardless of the topic under discussion), or in the service of shielding the abuses committed by governments from legitimate scrutiny. Be sure to use it.




One response

4 07 2008
Sydney WYD: Mutaween for Jesus « Five Public Opinions

[…] during the World Youth Day festivities. Said bristlers are, in my view, simply invoking the “NABA defense“. Of course, protesters in Sydney don’t have to fear anything like the kind of savage […]

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