Thursday, August 20, 2009

Godwin and the End of the Democracy

The American political dynamic always seems to strike an uncomfortable equilibrium, making me exceedingly proud and deeply ashamed in similar portions. And, the greatest pride is generally followed by the deepest shame.

I'm ashamed.

I walked a little taller abroad, knowing that our profound commitment to democratic ideals made history last year and, more than any military invasion of foreign autocracies, made those ideals palpable to despots worldwide.

The source of my shame is complex. Did our Framers not understand that the precipitous decline in civil culture would twist the First Amendment so that pernicious reductio ad Hitlerum, criminal slander in more civilized nations, would become a staple of public policy discourse? Or, that the Second Amendment would be so malleable that the ill-intentioned could openly stalk our leaders in public with loaded semi-automatic assault weapons?

I bash the media gently and with great care. I'm one of them. I know that it's very hard to turn away from a train wreck. And, appreciating the recursive irony of this very post, I'm not sure that we should so readily give voice to these destructive slanders and self-accelerating excursions past civility.

I can't stop CNN. Nor, in another brush with irony, could I actually stop Yahoo!. But, I do think that our newer media have a deeper understanding of these cultural indicators. And, we can contextualize them in a manner that enhances understanding, rather than conceding to the prurient voyeurism of network news.

I watched the accompanying clip in disbelief. That an entire panel of network journalists could analyze this "Nazi" drivel without reference to Godwin's Law is incredible to anyone who's ever actually used "those Internets."

Godwin got it, in the old Usenet days, by identifying basic digital mob behavior:
As a Usenet discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.
As "those Internets" grew to include sophisticated commenting, it wasn't hard to see that Godwin's initially-humorous Law had legs. Check out any good-sized chain on HuffPo. My man was dead on. The Law applies to meat-space, too.

So, my point is that the MSM pundits missed the key conclusion, derived from the "jumping the shark" corollary to Godwin's Law:
For example, there is a tradition in many newsgroups and other Internet discussion forums that once such a comparison is made, the thread is finished [.]
I guess, then, the remaining question is which "thread" has ended in this application of Godwin's Law? Is it our democracy generally? The healthcare debate more specifically? Our culture and civility?

Monday, August 3, 2009


I chuckled a little when TechCrunch's Michael Arrington, presumably in a fit of pompous rage, announced that:

Truth is, this train left the station a while ago. Before Om Malik and Arrington, anyone following the incessant tweeting of my man, @iancr, or his fistfulatyen blog got the distinct, sinking feeling that all was not well in the iPhoniverse of Apple acolytes (in early October of last year):
Anyone wanna buy a three week old iPhone 3G, 16GB? You don’t even have to stick with AT&T for two years to get a cheap price. Make me an offer.
I'm moving against the tide, having just picked up an iPhone after they added the Fat Finger Feature (horizontal keyboard).