Do you know why Godwin’s law exists?
You don’t know what Godwin’s law is, do you? Ah well, kids of today, et cetera.
Godwin’s law states that “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.” (via Wikipedia). On Usenet, this is traditionally taken to mean that the person who starts referring to their opposition, their arguments or their mother as Hitler, a Nazi, or worse than both or either has in doing so automatically lost the argument. Godwin on why:
But the Nazi-comparison meme popped up elsewhere as well – in general discussions of law in misc.legal, for example, or in the EFF conference on the Well. Stone libertarians were ready to label any government regulation as incipient Nazism. And, invariably, the comparisons trivialized the horror of the Holocaust and the social pathology of the Nazis. It was a trivialization I found both illogical (Michael Dukakis as a Nazi? Please!) and offensive (the millions of concentration-camp victims did not die to give some net.blowhard a handy trope). (‘Meme, Counter-meme’ – Wired Oct 1994 – Mike Godwin)
As far as bad people go, Hitler was a monumental fuckhead, as many wise historians (and Eddie Izzard) have said. He is responsible for the deaths of an unimaginable number of people across a broad swathe of cultures and groupings. He is going, will go, has gone down in history as being one of the single worst people ever to lead a country.
And so we get to the point. No2ID, a lobbying organisation set up to oppose the government’s plan for a national ID database, published an advert in national newspapers (I know it went in the Guardian, but am not sure where else), basically comparing Tony Blair to Hitler, and this annoys me.
It annoys me because there are a great number of problems with the proposed ID cards bill, starting with the fact that no large government computer project in the last decade has actually worked, working though the right to privacy aspect, pointing out that the bill states we are responsible for the information being correct but cannot change it and a thousand other good, logical reasons why this braindead piece of cobbled together attack upon our personal liberties needs to be – at the very least – put on hold until the problems are fixed, and possibly even scrapped altogether.
The advert as published makes the people objecting to ID cards look like rabid, mouth frothing lunatics. Blair is, for all his faults, not as bad as Hitler. Of all the ways that Blair and Hitler can be compared, in fact, ID cards are one of the least effective (Yes, the National Socialists implemented an ID card system. We had one too. Implementing an ID card system does not make you the bad guys, it’s the reasons why you’re doing it and what you will use it for that do that.
The public in general are under reacting, true. They either don’t see the problem, don’t believe there’s anything we can do, or have swallowed the “it’ll stop terrorists” line.
But the effect of the advert is to make our side retreat to the same safe ground of hyperbole that the anti-terrorist stuff inhabits, a place where we can safely be sidelined as a collection of over dramatic, overreacting freaks.