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Paging Godwin

Justin Tardiff | Friday, January 27, 2006

As the length of any internet discussion approaches infinity, the probability of comparison to Hitler or the Nazis approaches one.

– Godwin’s Law

Paging Godwin, Godwin, you’re needed on line one.

We all know the next couple of months will be a flamewar of epic proportions. Notre Dame students can be evicted from their houses for having a party, and most of us don’t bat an eyelash; but say “vagina” in public and suddenly it’s all hanging from the fan.

So let’s review some of the standards of civilized discourse before donning our asbestos suits, shall we?

Corollary 1: If, in discussion, a comparison is made to Hitler or the Nazis, the discussion is generally held to have passed beyond the realm of useful discourse. The participant who made the comparison is, in most traditions, considered to have lost the argument by virtue of recourse to irrational appeal.

Most of us, myself included, were told a lot of lies by our history teachers as we grew up. One of those is that everything associated with Nazi Germany is inherently evil, down to toothbrush mustaches and Shock and Awe warfare. “Nazi” is our worst insult, on par with “child molester” or “atheist.” When we run out of rational things to say, when we are fed up with our opposition, when we just know we are talking to a brick wall, calling our interlocutor a Nazi sounds like a progressively better way to fit him or her with the black hat as the length of the discussion approaches, well, infinity.

Corollary 2: An intramural discussion will observe the fastest growth of probability of comparison to Hitler or Nazis when its topic is perceived institutional core values.

Corollary 2a: The probability that Hitler or the Nazis will be invoked in a public discussion of any of the following at Notre Dame is equal to one: sex, abortion, homosexuality, sex, academic freedom, the Chicago Cubs, parietals, the appropriateness of a baccalaureate education in business and sex.

Corollary 2b: The probability of godwinning a discussion of sexual morality in open forum at Notre Dame is 3.

Godwin could be seen sitting in the back row of Fr. Jenkins’ addresses this week, muttering to himself. Few others, it seems, noticed, but when Jenkins brought up the Daisenberger passion play (saying that Notre Dame would be forced to forbid a production of it because of its anti-Semitism), he used as a supporting argument the utterly irrelevant information that Hitler attended and praised the play.

Remind me to send that memo to the music department: all of Wagner is now off-limits.

Corollary 3: Intentional tripping of Godwin’s Law does not end rational discussion by those around you. It only makes you look like an asshat.

So please, everyone: feel free to love or hate the Queer Film Festival; choose to have a deep and fulfilling dialogue with your vagina, or not to; but leave the Nazi comparisons alone.