Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Godwin's Law

(aka Godwin's Rule of Nazi Analogies)

As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.

Let's turn for a moment to the subject of posting comments on the internet.

It seems to me that more bad manners are displayed on the internet than in any other common setting. Whether the venue is a threaded discussion, an open forum, an opportunity to comment on news articles, or some other enclosed universe, whenever differences of opinion surface, sooner or later someone heads right for the bottom with a mindless personal attack.

The intensity of the attack varies with what the attacker can get away with. Some sites enforce rules regarding personal attacks, vulgarity, disclosure of someone else's personal information, etc. But in general, some people will go as far as they are permitted to go.

Let me speak to those people for a moment:
    What are you thinking? If I like peanut butter and jelly and you prefer peanut butter and bananas - or, God forbid, you despise peanut butter with or without anything at all, then if I say

    "I enjoy the way peanut butter and jelly complement each other."

    and then you say

    "You're a (expletive deleted) jerk."

    then what do you feel you have gained?

    You might be right about that, but if so it would be a coincidence, not a demonstration of anything at all about peanut butter and jelly. Surely you can't think that this personal assault has provided proof of your position regarding peanut butter.

    So what do you gain by lowering the level? Is there some sort of satisfaction as a result? An "I showed him" afterglow? Do you smile to yourself, thinking "I won that one?" Can you really be unaware that thinking people, even thinking people who share your peanut butter preference, only shake their heads, knowing that you have not scored one point in favor of your position?

    Have you ever actually tried to understand the position of someone who disagreed with you?

    Do you ever wonder why others refer to you as trolls? Worse, why different people on different sites refer to you as trolls?

    It's because you're trolls.

    OK, I feel better now. I thank everyone for indulging me.
While we're on this subject, I would like to enlist anyone I can in a different but tangentially related cause. When you were young you heard from someone, perhaps several someones but almost certainly your mother at some point, that the use of profanity was a sign of a poor vocabulary. Yes you did, you know you did.

'Tain't necessarily so, and herewith my small contribution toward stamping out the belief that it is:

The position is most easily refuted by providing examples of people known to use profanity more frequently than the average person but not fitting the mold of having a poor vocabulary. Two who come to mind immediately are Mark Twain and Harry Truman. Now Truman may not have been a walking dictionary but the range of his vocabulary was more than adequate. And Mark Twain - well how could one say he had a poor vocabulary?

I speculate that this incorrect belief arose as a result of fuzzy thinking. Occasionally, very occasionally, a vulgar word happens to be just the right word to provide the oomph a speaker feels necessary to emphasize an important point. But if I were to acquire the habit of sprinkling profanities liberally throughout my speech, what would happen is that the effect of my using a profanity would be diluted. The ears of my companions, my audiences, would soon learn to tune the profanities out, and I would deprive myself of the effectiveness of using a profanity for emphasis.

A person who habitually speaks in profanities is a person who utilizes a poor speaking style, but not necessarily a person with a poor vocabulary.


barney said...

Hmmm, you've got something there, but that's not all of it -- and I'm not sure why.
Consider this: Bill Connolly; extremely funny, clever man, uses enough profanity to turn your hair white -- but it just doesn't seem to register because that's just the way he talks. Yet... Eddie Murphy and/or Richard Pryor; I am unable to listen to say, Raw, for more than a couple of minutes because of the language, which seems to be intended to shock. I just find it disgusting.
Of course it could just be me. Surely not!!!!! ;-)

BrokenDownProgrammer said...

Surely not, indeed. Ah ha ha ha ha ha ha.

I think the two cases bear out the theory. Neither Bill Connolly (in general) nor Eddie Murphy (in Raw) is able to use profanity for emphasis because of its overuse in non-emphatic situations. The listener's ear simply cannot isolate a profanity and say, "Aha! That's there for emphasis."

I agree about Raw. It was a failed idea, about two decades too late for much shock value and such a vulgarity overload that listening to it is akin to wading through sewage.

bonboncho said...

Words like the "f" word have become common in the everyday dialogs we participate in. It's more like saying "um" or "you know" while you converse with the other person. As a non-native speaker my vocabulary is definitely not rich enough for me to know and use other words to emphasize something so i regularly use some profanities. :)

BrokenDownProgrammer said...

Not exactly. It is common among certain groups of friends or associates in certain circumstances, but not by any means common among everyone.

In any case, the point remains: ". . . my vocabulary is definitely not rich enough for me to know and use other words to emphasize something so i regularly use some profanities."

The key word there is "so," implying that when you want to emphasize something you substitute a profanity for a word or phrase you don't know. But you and I have had many conversations, and I can tell you that the profanities no longer convey emphasis when you speak. I've heard them enough so that I just tune them out.

What does provide emphasis when you use them is your inflection and your attitude, but not those words.

Habitually using the "F" word to describe the inconvenience of being caught in the rain or the annoyance of stubbing your toe deprives it of any seriousness when you want to use it to describe, say, some idiot who T-bones you.

However, I confess my own occasional guilt in the matter. During ten years in the Army you can pick up some bad habits.

barney said...

Surely not... ;-)
Bill doesn't do it to shock which was sort of the point; it's just the way he talks. The other two though *shudder*
I still have the f word pretty much at the top of my list of ugly words though; it's a short list, but that's at the top. It's not an elegant word in any sense -- just widely utilised.

Anonymous said...

Though rarely, but sometimes, I start and catch myself - muttering something like OH! FA (pause, because I've realized what I almost said) and add "get about this!"

(who is impatiently saying that a lot in this interim between now and after)

Anonymous said...

Hahahaha Lass what you said reminded me about the movie The Man with Samuel Jackson. Eugene Levy was trying to teach him not to say the F word by saying something else .. like when you start saying FA...crying out loid .... FA...r crying out loud .... FOR crying out loud :)