Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Harper and Godwin's Law. . .

All comparisons are, by their nature, imperfect. You can only compare things because they are, in one sense or another, dissimilar. If two things were the same, they would afford no comparison; pointing out an endless list of similarities does not a comparison make. Comparing disparate objects or actions is probably an unavoidable aspect of culture and language. We do it for all sorts of reasons, one of these reasons is political.

Godwin's law is the principle that the longer that one engages in a political discourse the more likely someone will invoke a comparison to Hitler or the NAZIs. This is hardly surprising because when people engage in comparisons they often look for an extreme example of good or bad to hold up against the object or act being promoted or denigrated. And people resort to Hitler or NAZIism because there are simply few other examples that are so universally loathed. Almost no one is going to come to the defence of the NAZIs so a comparison of something or someone to NAZIism tends to make a nearly unassailable point.

However, it is interesting to me that there are many people who object on principle to comparing anyone or anything to the NAZIs. These people are often rabidly pro-Israel. This phenomenon seems to be rooted in the simple fact that, for reasons that are utterly beyond me, Zionists seem to want to have a monopoly on the status of being victims of genocide. It is as though if we make any comparison of anything or anyone to Hitler or the NAZIs, then somehow we have lessened or denigrated the suffering of the Jewish people in the Holocaust.

However, apart from being engaged in terrible acts of mass murder against a number of groups (including not only Jews but Romani, Homosexuals, communists, and socialists) the NAZI party was also a political party with a political strategy and a political agenda. It was a fascist agenda that they shared in various ways with the other Fascist parties of Europe including Mussilini's Fasci Rivoluzionari d'Azione Internazionalista, Franco's Falange Española, and a number of others. Given that simple fact, it would be intellectually dishonest to a priori ban any comparison with the NAZIs. It is, no doubt, a provocative comparison, and one that is sometimes used in a way that makes little sense. But it is an intellectually legitimate one nonetheless. The problem is, of course, that people are quick to assume that if I, for example, compare one part of a party's platform or strategy with the NAZIs' that I must necessarily be comparing all of their political platforms or strategies. This is simply wrong and nonsensical. I could, for example, quite easily compare certain strategies used by, say, the NAZIs in their fight for North Africa, with certain things that the Americans did in "Desert Storm," without trying to imply that this means that Hitler and Norman Schwarzkopf had identical political agendas.

Enter Nepean NDP Candidate Sean Devine. Mr. Devine recently tweeted this image for which he has received criticism from many quarters.

However, criticism of Mr. Devine's comparison doesn't take the form of rational critique or debate. Instead various political commentators simply call him names. Again, the implication here is that, for some reason, no one can ever do anything that makes a comparison with the NAZIs legitimate. However, in recents history it was the Conservatives (and John Baird in particular) who were so publicly guilty with comparing someone with the NAZIs when they repeatedly compared Russian leader Putin's action in Crimea with Hitler's invasion of Czechoslovakia. It is interesting to me that those who seem to be critical of Mr. Devine's comparison where loath to call out Mr. Baird for the same thing. 

But here is the thing. In 1933 the NAZI Government did, in fact, institute the "Malicious Practices Act." And this act was directed squarely at Homosexuals, Jews, Romani, and other racialized or "undesirable" groups of people. Linguistically and strategically this act bares a haunting similarity to Harper's "Barbaric Practices" tip line. Furthermore, the Conservative Party is engaging in a similar kind of political strategy to the NAZI strategy; to wit, create fear of 'the other,' generate racial suspicion and hate with the clear intention of appearing as the nation's protector and savour. This does not necessarily mean that the Conservative Party of Canada has adopted an entirely NAZI program or strategy, but in this case they are clearly pulling a book out of Goebbels, and this is not, therefore, a specious comparison. 

The Conservative Party of Canada has adopted a number of strategies that were central to the NAZI efforts, particularly their communications approach. Make a small number of points repeat them over and over and over, nothing you say has to be true - it only has to appear to be true, repeat a lie often enough and people will assume that it is a fact, never accept responsibility for your own failures - blame others, trade on fear and anger, scapegoat religious and social minorities, etc., etc. Other parties have, of course, adopted some of these too, but Harper has made Joseph Goebbels' approach everywhere in his political identity, and refined some of these techniques in modern ways. 

To refuse to make these comparisons simply because a few people are irrationally offended by them is intellectually dishonest and would be wilful ignorance. I for one won't kowtow to a handful of mainstream commentators who wouldn't know a solid argument if it fell on them from the sky. 


Anonymous said...

That is a sensitive swamp that you've crawled into Kirby. But I'm sure that Kellie, she-wolf of the SS, would agree with you. And I heard a rumour that Oberfuher Leitch is designing medical experiments that can be performed on children. You know, just in case the Conservatives win another majority government.

Kirby Evans said...

@ Anonymous - it is indeed a sensitive swamp. But it is simply nonsensical for people to say we can't compare the HarperCons to the NAZIs when there are important rational comparisons to be made.

Marshall said...

Sensitive swamp or no, there are valid comparisons to be made of the political actions that the duly elected Nazi party took in the 1930s which the Harper government has employed now, both legislative and communicative. Sadly, they have been brushed aside in the angst which accompanies any discussion of German politics of the era.

Anonymous said...

This I tried to ask on another's blog; So when does it become necessary to call a spade a spade? After they come for the unionists?

lungta said...

history doesn't repeat itself
but it rhymes
politically the same tricks work over and over
human psychological dynamics remain the same
so about every 80 years or so..........

Anonymous said...

First, when folks succumb to Godwin's Law, I don't get upset, I just roll my eyes.

Second, the Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act differs in substantive ways from the Malicious Practices Act of 1933. Despite its provocative name, it is a relatively reasonable piece of legislation that prohibits child/forced marriages (with potential criminal consequences) and inhibits the immigration of polygamists. Hardly at par with the tyranny of the national socialists.

Third, the Nazis were so exceptional (indeed all of the Second World War was) as to make it unhelpful in comparison to present day (hasty generalization fallacy?). Dozens of more comparable totalitarianism exist.

Fourth, it is simply overused, so much so that we had to create a term to describe how often it is used (Godwin's Law). Consequently, even well-thought out comparisons appear lazy. The strategy lacks persuasive power. Comparing someone to Hitler, or the Nazis has devolved in to meaningless code words to those folks who already believe that same thing as you. Eg: People compare Obama to Hitler, but the only people who understand how this could make sense are people who already believe Obama is like Hitler. It's use is to rally one's own group and to "other" their political opponent (which, admittedly, serves some purpose, but not a persuasive one).

Kirby Evans said...

@ Anonymous, you make good points. However, you miss the central thrust of the problem here. As the de facto creators of modern fascist ideology and political structures, the NAZIs are central to understanding the thrust of an important element of Capitalist ideology. It is, in fact, a significant favour and concession to the right when we exile proper discussion of NAZIism and its relation to contemporary rightwing political ideology and strategy. A similar problem on the left doesn't obtain for the simple reason that the right has no problem comparing ANY leftwing idea to Stalinist Russia. However, even though such comparisons are usually specious, Stalinism (and arguably Leninism) should be important reminders to any socialist how easily socialism can be co-opted and corrupted if we aren't careful.

As for the differences in the Malicious Practices Act vs the Barbaric Practices Act of the HarperCons. Perhaps you failed to read the opening salvo of my post where I pointed out that if things were the same THERE WOULD BE NO SENSE IN COMPARING THEM!