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PostPoints tip: Don't prove Godwin's law

More than two decades ago, Internet pioneer Mike Godwin made the observation that "As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1." That principle has since become known as Godwin's Law and remains--unfortunately--relevant today. Readers of my most recent Web chat got a real-world example of Godwin's Law in action when one participant, fed up with people yammering about the wonderfulness of their iPhones, made a passing remark about "Mac Nazis." I replied by writing that it's always a mistake to make that comparison unless you actually think that the people with whom you disagree hold Hitler in high regard. (In a follow-up e-mail, she pronounced herself chastened and apologized.) So I'm going to use this week's e-mail to offer a simple reminder: No matter how stupid you may think other people's views on smartphones, computers or other topics, don't use the N-word if you don't mean to equate them with the losing side in the European theater of World War II. Instead, please stick to such less-polarizing insults as "morons," "fools" and "dupes."

By Rob Pegoraro  |  August 30, 2010; 7:27 AM ET
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Rob - sorry, you are being too sensitive. With all the bile that is thrown out in the comments section, that nazi comment was one of the tamest.

Just wondering, would you have protested if she used "macstalins" or "macpolpots"?

Posted by: popopo | August 30, 2010 8:22 AM | Report abuse

So, Rob, who you think you are now... the internet nazi nazi? ;-)

Posted by: alaskaray | August 30, 2010 10:22 AM | Report abuse

I don't think the "Mac Nazi" comment is really an example of Goodwin's Law. That commenter was just using the colloquial shorthand for people that demand adherence to their chosen outlook. It goes back to the Soup Nazi from Seinfeld.

I always thought Goodwin's Law applied more to back-and-forth arguments where one party is actually drawing a real comparison between their opponent and the real Nazis.

Posted by: jerryravens | August 30, 2010 11:19 AM | Report abuse

From the Wikipedia page "The law and its corollaries would not apply... to discussion of other totalitarian regimes, since a Nazi comparison in those circumstances may be appropriate. "

Arguably, the iPhone /is/ the product of a totalitarian regime.

Also note that many of us talk about "Linux/Unix Hippies" (often "Dirty Unix Hippies").

Except that MacOS /is/ Unix under the hood, making Mac Users into Dirty Unix Nazi Hippies and... I'm going home now.

To my beautiful 24" iMac.

Posted by: wiredog | August 30, 2010 2:08 PM | Report abuse

For milder abuse, about "Macpots"?

Posted by: MartinJoKing | August 30, 2010 4:47 PM | Report abuse

I agree with jerryravens. "Nazi" -- as someone trying to maintain strict control -- became a colloquial expression with Seinfeld's Soup-Nazi.

(The culpability of Nazi soldiers was nowhere near the true evil of Hitler. Using the "H" word is the real internet-offense)

Posted by: ADCWonk | August 31, 2010 9:01 AM | Report abuse

There's a more general point to Rob's argument, though, regardless of word choice: don't get your ego so tied up in your gadgets and apps that you feel called upon to diss others. Those gadgets etc just aren't that important --


Posted by: mjohnston1 | August 31, 2010 9:56 AM | Report abuse

How about we just avoid ad hominem attacks absolutely. I really am sick of all the discourse where if you don't agree with someone, the knee-jerk reaction is to let go with a personal attack. Why can't we have reasoned discussions about facts, and if we drift into opinions, then say so and agree to disagree.

Posted by: eboyhan | August 31, 2010 11:36 AM | Report abuse

While I agree with earlier comments that IN THIS CONTEXT you can trace the evil-doers back to Seinfeld, the current state of political discourse has not helped matters. Anyone who seriously wants to allege that the current American president -- or any other official elected to national office -- "holds Hitler in high regard" is delusional. And of course should be quarantined in a concentration camp.

Posted by: 54Stratocaster | August 31, 2010 9:29 PM | Report abuse

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