Anybody who has wallowed in the comments under a YouTube video, or been drawn against their better judgment into an argument on Facebook, will understand the value of Godwin’s Law.
In part, it states that whoever in an online shouting match first invokes Hitler or the Nazis out of context (e.g. “Oh, well, I know another country that kept people they considered ‘foreign’ locked in camps!”) has lost the argument, regardless of the justness of their cause or the impeccability of their logic.
The Australian Parliament, like the internet, plays host to much cringe-inducing debate. Christopher Pyne recently compared the Labor’s party leadership woes to the last days of Hitler, famously depicted in the German film Downfall. He complained that he wasn’t alone in alluding to the twentieth-century monster: Labor’s Mark Dreyfus had previously compared the Liberal campaign against the carbon tax to Nazi propaganda.
How then would our MPs and Senators fare, were they subject to Godwin’s Law?
First, let’s extend the definition slightly to include that other much-referenced strawman, Joseph Stalin, who totalitarian state and collectivist ideology led to policies that killed millions; making him an egregious comparison to say, Labor’s social democratic tendencies, which led to policies like Medicare.
Just last week, Labor’s John Murphy derailed an otherwise strong speech on the irrefutability of evidence for climate change by comparing the Opposition Leader Tony Abbott to Trofim D. Lysenko, a fraudulent scientist — “supported by Joseph Stalin”, Murphy informed the House — who propagated junk theories about genetics and agriculture which led to mass starvation across the Soviet Union.
“In a similar manner,” said Murphy, “the Leader of the Opposition appeals to individuals who are unwilling to to accept the evidence of experts.”
The Family First Party leader, Senator Steve Fielding, offered a pearler in 2009.
“The Durban II conference is scheduled to begin,” he told the Senate, referring to the UN’s controversial anti-racism conference, derided by Israel and its close allies as a forum for anti-semitism.
The conference opening date “happens to be the same day Adolf Hitler was born”, said Fielding. “How appropriate, therefore, that this festival of hatred should take place on the same day that one of the most evil men in human society was brought into the world.”
But in 2009, Senator Ian Macdonald — in the course of a rollicking, unwieldy debate that covered debt, Gough Whitlam, the Global Financial Crisis, and Labor’s 1950s split — hit the Godwin’s Law double-whammy.
“One can only assume that Senator [Steve] Hutchins was supporting the ultimate socialists — that is, communist Russia when they join with Nazi Germany to take over the world,” he told the Senate.
“I can only assume,” he went on to say, “that Senator Hutchins thinks there is something good about rolling over to aggression from socialist and Nazi combinations.”
Who else is guilty of transgressing Godwin’s Law? Which party is most partial to playing the dictator card? See for yourself on Party Lines.