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Godwin’s Law

This post was written by Donald Michael Kraig
on July 23, 2012 | Comments (6)

David Godwin is a brilliant fellow. He’s a true expert on all things magickal and his knowledge of esoteric lore is second to none. Most recently he has been working as an editor for FATE magazine and has dug through their decades of files to create three books for Llewellyn, True Ghosts 2, True Ghosts 3, and True UFO Accounts. I was the editor of FATE for three years, so I have a soft spot in my heart for all things ghostly and extra-terrestrial. If you have an interest in documented and sworn stories of ghosts and UFOs these books make great reading.

David Godwin

David also wrote one of the most important books ever for all occultists. One of the basic concepts in virtually all occult traditions is the idea of correspondence. This is the idea that one things can correspond with another thing and stand in for it. For example, if you want to increase your energy by linking to the vibrant and outgoing energy of the planet Mars, instead of traveling to that planet you can simply wear the color red because red corresponds to Mars. There are a huge variety of correspondences, far beyond the capability of the memory of anyone I know. As a result, magicians resort to books with lists of such correspondences. Many occult books have a few pages with lists of such correspondences. For example, there are some basic lists of valuable correspondences in my Modern Magick.

When the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn began, they considered such lists quite secret. Aleister Crowley took their list, expanded upon it, and published the correspondences. Today, these form two books, 777 and Sepher Sephiroth, and are published together as 777 and Other Qabalistic Writings of Aleister Crowley. For decades this was a must-have book for every occultist.

In 1979, David broke this monopoly with Godwin’s Cabalistic Encyclopedia. He presented the same information and greatly expanded upon it while making all the correspondences easier to access. Almost overnight his book became the must-have classic for every magician. The current edition is revised and greatly expanded, making this one of the most used, practical resources for any magician.

But that’s not what I wanted to talk about.

Godwin’s Law and the Internet

The Godwin I wanted to discuss is not David. Rather, it is a man named Michael Godwin. Michael is a lawyer famous for handing cases of internet law. He was the first staff counsel for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and later general counsel for the Wikimedia Foundation.

But he is best known for his observation of what happens in internet discussions. “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.” That is, as internet discussions get longer, the more likely they are to claim that someone is like Hitler or the Nazis. This is known as “Godwin’s Rule (or Law) of Nazi Analogies,” or just “Godwin’s Law.”

On the internet, this “law” has been taken to heart. Sometimes, group moderators will actually shut down or close a discussion when someone claims that another person is like the Nazis (or the SS, or the Gestapo) or Hitler. This has resulted in a corollary that, in most cases, is accepted as part of Godwin’s Law: whoever compares others to Hitler or Nazis first loses the argument.

Is this fair? Well, consider this:

Unless you start a war that results in the deaths of sixty million people
while trying to wipe out all traces of Jews, Gypsies, Poles, Gays, and occultists,
you don’t even come close to being compared to the Nazis.

The use of Godwin’s Law has extended far beyond forums and internet discussions. Today, rather than occurring at the end of long discussions, untrained self-described “journalists,” bloggers, talk-show hosts and others put out the Nazi comparison right at the beginning. As soon as they do that, I think they should fall under the aegis of Godwin’s Law: They lose the argument.

So What Does This Have To Do With Magick?

There are two important ways that understanding Godwin’s Law is important to magicians. First, as I wrote in a previous post, “the path of the real magician” involves seeking out truth. In that post I discussed the importance of checking original sources. Here, I want to point out another issue.

Our minds tend to seek patterns, even where they don’t exist. Take a look at the following image (click on it to see it full size):

if you’re like most people, it will appear to be moving, like a flag undulating in a gentle breeze. But it’s just a static picture, not a video; a JPG, not an animated GIF. Your mind creates the illusion of movement. It creates a pattern of motion where no actual pattern exists.

Now, look at this logical argument:

So when someone throws around the “Nazi” label, their goal is for you not to find out the truth and examine what someone is saying. Rather, it is to have you simply discard anything the person has to write or say. They want you to think, “That person is evil so let’s ignore them.” They set up a pattern as described above and want you to accept it. They don’t want you to think.

If you believe yourself to be a magician I feel it is your responsibility to look beyond labels and find the truth. It may be that you agree, partially agree, or entirely disagree with Mr. X. It may be you think what Mr. X is doing or saying is evil. But to equate our fictional Mr. X with those who are responsible for the deaths of 60 million people because you disagree with what he said doesn’t validate your position. Rather, it just activates Godwin’s Law and makes you a loser.

And that brings me to the second magickal realization: if you lower yourself to simple name calling rather than actually dealing with or responding to actual issues, you’ve lost the argument. If you can come up with a logical and reasonable argument to disagree with another’s actions or statements you’re acting as a magician. If by name calling you think you have won, when, in fact, you haven’t, you’re not just the source of invoking Godwin’s Law, you’re a victim of it. You’ve lost the argument and don’t even realize it.

And real magicians and magickal folk are winners, not losers.

Reader Comments

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#1 
Written By Dr. X
on July 23rd, 2012 @ 3:58 pm

You said: “Today, rather than occurring at the end of long discussions, untrained self-described “journalists,” bloggers, talk-show hosts and others put out the Nazi comparison right at the beginning. As soon as they do that, I think they should fall under the aegis of Godwin’s Law: They lose the argument.”

The same is true when one uses the term “racist.” If that can’t make their case without using that term, they loose the argument. In short, I agree with your post. :-)

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#2 
Written By Peregrin
on July 23rd, 2012 @ 8:24 pm

Another great post, DMK – thanks :)

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#3 
Written By Lyman Hall
on July 23rd, 2012 @ 10:47 pm

Ah.. what you’re talking about are buzzwords! The mainstream media uses them all the time. Their purpose is to rouse a visceral response in the one who hears it. Therefore bypassing the rational processes and creating a reaction that requires no thought.

Examples: Extremist, fundamentalist, religious zealot, skin-head, compound, nazi, dissident, terrorist, separatist, reactionary, white supremacist, assault weapon, muslim, jihadist, gun fanatic, militia, etc…

The second you hear these words, they paint a picture in your mind. That picture was placed there by the media. It’s purpose was exactly that, to taint you and your thought process to their view point! It’s a form of manipulation/control. A process you allow them to perform by subjecting yourself to their conditioning.

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#4 
Written By Stella Waldvogel
on August 2nd, 2012 @ 10:21 am

While it is horribly wrong to cheapen the death of millions of people by using them as leverage in some silly internet disagreement, “Godwin’s Law” has become a cliche. “Nyaaah, nyaaah, you said ‘Hitler’, YOU LOSE” is childish.

Behavior reminiscent of nazis, fascists, supremecists and/or Hitler should ALWAYS be called out, mocked, and derided.

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#5 
Written By Donald Michael Kraig
on August 2nd, 2012 @ 10:40 am

Stella, I agree that “Behavior reminiscent of nazis, fascists, supremecists and/or Hitler should ALWAYS be called out, mocked, and derided.” The problem is that some people pick ANY comment or action they don’t like and simply claim it is Hitlerian or Nazi-like. Rather than actually dealing with the issue and making a logical argument against it, people just use it as an ad hominem attack, often having NO relationship to Hitler or the Nazis at all. It is an attempt to make your opponent’s position or action look bad without having to refute it. As such, when people resort to such childish tactics, saying “You lose” deals with their lack of an argument, not with the actual situation.

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#6 
Written By Stella Waldvogel
on November 24th, 2013 @ 1:31 am

Yes.
Saying “OMG YOU DON’T LIKE ANGEL CARDS” (or whatever), “YOU’RE HITLER” is exactly the kind of the kind of thing I was referring to when I mentioned cheapening the deaths of millions of people. We’re totally on the same page there.

Calling out actual fascist, racist, or antisemitic behavior with a comparison to Hitler, however, is valid, and meeting it with “ZOMG, GODWIN, YUO LOSE” is the mark of an idiot.

A valid idea becomes a crowbar for morons all too easily these days.

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