28 March 2011

Reductio ad ???

In 1990, professor Mike Godwin humorously noted: "As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1," which is now referred to in Internet circles as "Godwin's Law."  The comparison to Hitler, or to the Nazis more generally, is often referred to as the "reductio ad Hitlerum", a phrase coined by ethicist Leo Strauss.  It is a formal logical fallacy, an ad hominem or ad misericordiam argument.  It is the fallacy of irrelevance, or guilt by association.  Among the examples of false logic comparing various people to Hitler are arguments such as "Hitler preferred Classical Art, so anyone who prefers classical Art is just like (or as bad as) Hitler." or "The Nazis supported family values, so anyone who argues in favour of family values is just like (or just as bad as) the Nazis" and so on.  In the Internet discussion forums, Godwin's law is often invoked when one side in a debate invokes the reductio ad Hitlerum, and the debate is then closed, and the one who invoked the comparison has automatically lost the debate for invoking a fallacy.

One of the reasons why the comparison is made, and why Godwin and Strauss both thought the comparison should be used only in extreme and accurate circumstances, is because it is so powerful, or, at least it was so powerful.  The continued use of this hyperbolic attack weakens the comparison:  if everyone is like Hitler, then Hitler was nothing special.  Accusations of Nazism simply become part of the background noise of the Internet:  meaningless, and powerless.

I thought of this in recent diatribes between Catholic groups.  I have had dialogues with Traditional Catholics, and I have had praise for them as well as the occasional criticism in the past.   The debates between Traditional Catholics and Liberal Catholics can get acrimonious, and there is much mudslinging on both- yes, both-sides.  I took part in the debates for a while, and then walked away, preferring to be a non hyphenated Catholic.  I generally don't have a dog in these races. 

So, why am I bringing this up now? Because a new comparison is making its way around the Catholic blogosphere: "Taliban Catholics". Like the reductio ad Hitlerum, this new attack, which I shall dub "the reductio ad binium ladenium" (patent pending) (yeah, I know.  Father Z. would be appalled at my latinization.  But he doesn't read this blog, so I feel secure.) is powerful because it is shocking: it calls forth images of Catholics with bombs strapped to their chests, blowing up those who disagree; Catholics calling out fatwas, or Catholics flying planes into buildings and engaging in terror.

None of which has actually happened. The comparison is a logical fallacy and a formal error. People who sit at their computer screens who occasionally vent their spleens and rage at perceived wrongs may be, on occasion and with justice, called uncharitable.  They are in no way terrorists.  So while I generally avoid getting into these debates, I have to say, Michael Voris is correct in his assessment here: being called Taliban Catholics is wrong, and embarrassingly so for those who say it.  In resorting to calling names, those who use it are tacitly admitting they have no point: they can only resort to slinging mud.  It is the last refuge of a child on the playground.

Though I usually stay out of these debates, I can say with the authority of this new derivative of Godwin's law: Those of you who use this term as a substitute for debate: You have just lost.


LarryD said...

Well written. I like Michael.

Dim Bulb said...

You have just lost.

That's what Hitler said to the Brits after Dunkirk.

Bear-i-tone said...

Dim, you comparing me to Hitler?

Vox Cantoris said...

As one who has been told in writing many things about me which I did not even know and who has been lumped in as a "Taliban" Catholic, thank you for this post.

I am not a Traditionalist or any other hyphenated Catholic.

I am Catholic.

And that means that I believe all that the Catholic Church teaches and that the Catholic Church teaches all that I believe even when I find it particularly difficult to accept, I still assent to it.

Of course, if that makes me a "Taliban" Catholic or an "extremist" which is another slur thrown around, what does that make those who use this language.



Puff the Magic Dragon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bear-i-tone said...

Vox, in the end, it doesn't really matter what you should call them as much as it does what you should call yourself, which is "happy", as in, happy are you when others persecute you..."

Anonymous said...



Dim Bulb said...

I just didn't want Godwin and Strauss to look foolish.