[p2p-research] Godwin's Law of Nazi Comparisons on the Internet

Paul D. Fernhout pdfernhout at kurtz-fernhout.com
Fri Nov 27 16:55:28 CET 2009

Andy Robinson wrote:
> Perhaps it would be more apposite to observe that, sadly, there is a lot
> in the contemporary world that is reminiscent of some aspect or other of 
> fascist regimes?
> Fascism is an outgrowth of a particular set of forces in
> capitalist/statist modernity which have not gone away, and not at all as
> dissimilar to other regimes as the extremity of its atrocities, or the
> condemnations of them, suggest. Hence it's actually quite accurate to
> suggest that many aspects of everyday authoritarianism are what Guattari
> terms 'microfascist'. (This I think is where we get the "Soup Nazi",
> "council planning board Nazis" and the like).
> In addition, fascism makes an effective reductio ad absurdum because it
> is highly unlikely that someone will respond by endorsing the fascist
> example. And reductio ad absurdum is an accepted form of logical
> argumentation for exposing flawed arguments. (For instance, when arguing
> with someone who thinks it is never ethically justified to use direct
> action against an elected government's policies).
> There is also a kind of 'state fascism' (similar to Francoist,
> Mussolinist and bureaucratic-Nazi mindsets) which is widespread in 'deep
> states' and which parallels with fascist regimes precisely because these
> regimes were outgrowths of the 'deep state' either directly (as in the
> various dictatorships arising from coups) or indirectly (as in the Nazi
> case, involving demobilised soldiers who reconstituted themselves in
> militarised organisations). It is subtly different from the kind of
> movement-fascism associated with neo-Nazi groups, but is possibly just as
> dangerous - it is I suspect the basic form of fascism, whereas
> movement-fascism is the form it takes when blocked in some way. (This is
> where we get the designation of policies or politicians as Nazi - the
> Patriot Act for example).
> Finally, I'd add that this kind of 'return' of fascism - probably as the 
> emotional heat of discussions increases - is proof of its status as a
> kind of 'traumatic object' in capitalist/statist modernity. It is because
>  fascism is an unwanted symptom of modernity, a side-effect of practices
> *most people endorse and take part in*, that it is disavowed and warded
> off, wrongly labelled as an instance of extreme Otherness. And it is
> because of this traumatic status that it periodically returns as an
> expression of emotional hostility to a position - most often (though not
> always) to a position that brings out the dark underside of 
> capitalism/statism/modernity. It is, paradoxically, in this emotional 
> 'return' that the truth of the situation is revealed - at the very least
> (in the less appropriate cases of use), in showing the traumatic status
> of fascism and its 'extimate' relationship to supposedly 'non-fascist' 
> capitalist/statist societies; and very often, also revealing the real 
> continuities arising from its symptomatic status.

Yes, that is very insightful, to begin to see things along a continuum, 
rather than logical discontinuities, even as, at some point, a quantitative 
difference becomes a qualitative difference.
"They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933-45"
"To live in this process is absolutely not to be able to notice it — please 
try to believe me — unless one has a much greater degree of political 
awareness, acuity, than most of us had ever had occasion to develop. Each 
step was so small, so inconsequential, so well explained or, on occasion, 
‘regretted,’ that, unless one were detached from the whole process from the 
beginning, unless one understood what the whole thing was in principle, what 
all these ‘little measures’ that no ‘patriotic German’ could resent must 
some day lead to, one no more saw it developing from day to day than a 
farmer in his field sees the corn growing. One day it is over his head.

In one of the youtube videos of Jacque Fresco talking about the origins of 
the Venus Project, he suggests that when an economy collapses, people will 
tend to turn to the "strong man" dictator to save them. (I can't find that 
exact video again yet.)

If what we see today is the failure of capitalism, then it is not 
unreasonable to suggest that we may see dictatorship as the response to the 
economic crisis of "abundance". As I see it, ironically, the failure of 
capitalism may be through the abundance capitalism is producing violating 
the scarcity assumptions underlying capitalism, with abundance producing 
effects like rising unemployment through increasing automation and limited 
demand. Obvious solutions like a basic income or a gift economy or a 
"resource-based economy (Fresco's suggestion) don't fit the scarcity 
mythology of capitalism, and so can't be tried. It is not insanity within 
the capitalist world view to assume capitalism blows itself up (that's just 
"natural" with plenty of recent evidence, and is one natural outcome of 
competition), but it *is* obvious insanity to the capitalist word view and a 
social system based around managing scarcity to assume abundance through 
sharing is possible, because abundance and sharing violates the most 
important central assumption of our industrialized society, that there is 
not enough to go around unless people are forced to produce it on threat of 
individual starvation and individual poverty. So, it makes more ideological 
sense to turn to dictatorship and keep capitalism, rather than have 
democracy and try something different as far as economics.

By the way, my attempted humorous take on that: :-) I'll repost it here:
"A post-scarcity "Downfall" parody remix of the bunker scene"
Dialog of alternatively a military officer and Hitler:
Officer: "It looks like there are now local digital fabrication facilities 
here, here, and here."
Hitler: "But we still have the rockets we need to take them out?"
"The rockets have all been used to launch seed automated machine shops for
self-replicating space habitats for more living space in space."
"What about the nuclear bombs?"
"All turned into battery-style nuclear power plants for island cities in the
"What about the tanks?"
"The diesel engines have been remade to run biodiesel and are powering the
internet hubs supplying technical education to the rest of the world."
"I can't believe this. What about the weaponized plagues?"
"The gene engineers turned them into antidotes for most major diseases like
malaria, tuberculosis, cancer, and river blindness."
"Well, send in the Daleks."
"The Daleks have been re-outfitted to terraform Mars. There all gone with
the rockets."
"Well, use the 3D printers to print out some more grenades."
"We tried that, but they only are printing toys, food, clothes, shelters,
solar panels, and more 3D printers, for some reason."
"But what about the Samsung automated machine guns?"
"They were all reprogrammed into automated bird watching platforms. The guns
were taken out and melted down into parts for agricultural robots."
"I just can't believe this. We've developed the most amazing technology the
world has ever known in order to create artificial scarcity so we could rule
the world through managing scarcity. Where is the scarcity?"
"Gone, Mein Fuhrer, all gone. All the technologies we developed for weapons
to enforce scarcity have all been used to make abundance."
"How can we rule without scarcity? Where did it all go so wrong? ...
Everyone with an engineering degree leave the room ... now!"
[Cue long tirade on the general incompetence of engineers. :-) Then cue long
tirade on how could engineers seriously wanted to help the German workers to
not have to work so hard when the whole Nazi party platform was based on
providing full employment using fiat dollars. Then cue long tirade on how
could engineers have taken the socialism part seriously and shared the
wealth of nature and technology with everyone globally.]
Hitler: "So how are the common people paying for all this?"
Officer: "Much is free, and there is a basic income given to everyone for 
the rest. There is so much to go around with the robots and 3D printers and 
solar panels and so on, that most of the old work no longer needs to be done."
"You mean people get money without working at jobs? But nobody would work?"
"Everyone does what they love. And they are producing so much just as gifts."
"Oh, so you mean people are producing so much for free that the economic
system has failed?"
"Yes, the old pyramid scheme one, anyway. There is a new post-scarcity
economy, where between automation and a a gift economy the
income-through-jobs link is almost completely broken. Everyone also gets
income as a right of citizenship as a share of all our resources for the few
things that still need to be rationed. Even you."
"Really? How much is this basic income?"
"Two thousand a month."
"Two thousand a month? Just for being me?"
"Well, with a basic income like that, maybe I can finally have the time and
resources to get back to my painting..."

 From comments at Amazon about this book:
    "Adolf Hitler: The Unknown Artist" by Billy F. Price
"Hitler was known to be a "frustrated artist." ... When Hitler had applied
to the art school in Vienna, he was turned down. They did recommend that he
become an architect since he enjoyed painting buildings. Unfortunately, he
had dropped out of school when his father had died and was not qualified for
entry into architect's school. So, he went into politics instead. Imagine
how different the history of the twentieth century would have been had they
accepted him into the art school."

A basic income might have averted WWII. What might it help with now?

It's hard to build a self-consistent wold view in the face of rapid 
technological and social change, even leaving out issues of values.

I like a lot of what, say, Jacque Fresco says, even as I think he assumes 
too much about science being value neutral. But he makes some good points 
here about scientists creating the machines of war, but somehow not seeing 
himself how there is a contradiction there is suggesting we can use only 
science to design a new future:

And here is Jacque Fresco on why local solutions are limited:
And while I agree in general, he may miss the point that a lot of local 
solutions might add up to global solutions. And that undercuts his point 
about a single unified cybernetic solution.

I also feel Fresco discounts here how the values that you bring to science 
(perhaps from some form of religion) may affect what you research, how you 
interpret your conclusions, or what you build as a result:
For example, "efficiency" as he mentions there in designing a sailboat is 
always relative to your values. Jacque Fresco may have religious values in a 
sense, many of them good ones, but he doesn't seem to want to admit them. He 
does talk about values here:
But I have not yet seen him acknowledging that what he suggests is, in a 
sense, a religion, built around values and assumptions and a choice of tools 
and perspectives with which to approach the universe. And everyone has a 
religion in that sense, of making assumptions, supporting values, and 
choosing tools to reason with or express those values and assumptions.

Even Hitler had a self-consistent "world view" to justify what he did:
   "Hitler's World View: A Blueprint for Power" by Eberhard Jäckel'"
"A highly intelligent and very valuable book by one of the ablest writers on 
Nazism in Germany. Hitler's world view-the intellectual system which was the 
dynamic force of his career--is too often omitted from the history of his 
movement. Jäckel has reconstructed it with great skill and scholarship. His 
book tills a serious gap: it shows us the human motor which drove that 
otherwise inexplicable machine of brutal conquest and extermination. ... 
[Jäckel's] critique of the self-contradictions historical research has 
brought upon itself by abandoning systematic analysis and relying instead on 
intuitive judgments and the obiter dicta of ex-Nazis such as Hermann 
Rauschning is cogent and convincing. So also is his analysis of the 
development of Hitler's ideas from the "conventional foundations" with which 
he began in 1920."

Anyway, the past as regards Hitler is perhaps best seen as a caution about 
self-consistency not being enough. There were endless scientific 
rationalizations in Germany at the time for the Jewish holocaust.

And it was also all "legal" by local laws -- or made so, after the fact, the 
Nazis being sticklers for thorough paperwork and proper procedures being 
followed, even if the paperwork was about genocide and the procedures about 

I think Jacque Fresco defines much of the problems of our society well, and 
also defines well much of the likely solutions, but there is still some 
little part I disagree with somehow from what I have seen. And it somehow 
revolves around deifying science and engineering in some of what he says, 
even as he says other things that conflict with that at the same time.

The fact is, it is just hard to stand up, disagree with the status quo, and 
propose and alternative. Anyone who does that risks getting labeled in a 
variety of ways. And, any one person doing it risk that some of their 
assumptions may be flawed, or some of their values may be questionable, or 
some of their choices of tools may not be appropriate.

I'd agree with Fresco if he straight out said, say, that the scientific 
method, in the context of humanistic values of egalitarianism and charity 
and love and faith in cooperation and abundance or whatever other values, 
can produce a mostly happy society. But he does not quite say that from what 
I have seen so far. And maybe no one can, because, as Jacque Fresco says, 
all societies are emergent and subject to evolution. It is not fully clear 
what the values of future societies will be, or how any simple statements 
about something like "cooperation" will be interpreted in the future.

Here is a different take on that by Charlie Chaplin, suggesting what leaders 
say can make a difference in what values they express, even surrounded by 
good engineering:
   "Charlie Chaplin: Zeitgeist Remix"

Though I think Chaplin did not see how the excessively hierarchical nature 
of media at the time ("the medium is the message") was itself something that 
lent itself to abuse. The internet is a bit more hopeful, being more 
interactive and p2p than radio and TV plus paper mail back to broadcasters.

Religious values sometimes oppose dictatorships, but they sometimes align 
with them too, since many big established religions are themselves hierarchies.

I like Manuel de Landa's points on the need for a balance of meshworks and 
hierarchies.  Maybe that goes for multiple hierarchies that balance each 
other (the USA had counterbalancing legistlative, executive, judicial, and 
press hierarchies, and I hope still does. :-) A hierarchy and a meshwork can 
balance each other in different ways as well. But maybe that is not enough 
in the absence of some good values, some sensible assumptions, and choosing 
effective tools.

The problem is not bureaucracy and hierarchy. Fascism is just that taken to 
an extreme. The issue is balance. The opposite of Hitler and unity is 
perhaps the "Hatfields and the McCoys" with endless feuding.

Neither extreme seems very healthy. And, as Manuel de Landa points out, in 
the end, neither lasts:
To make things worse, the solution to this is not simply to begin adding 
meshwork components to the mix. Indeed, one must resist the temptation to 
make hierarchies into villains and meshworks into heroes, not only because, 
as I said, they are constantly turning into one another, but because in real 
life we find only mixtures and hybrids, and the properties of these cannot 
be established through theory alone but demand concrete experimentation. 
Certain standardizations, say, of electric outlet designs or of 
data-structures traveling through the Internet, may actually turn out to 
promote heterogenization at another level, in terms of the appliances that 
may be designed around the standard outlet, or of the services that a common 
data-structure may make possible. On the other hand, the mere presence of 
increased heterogeneity is no guarantee that a better state for society has 
been achieved. After all, the territory occupied by former Yugoslavia is 
more heterogeneous now than it was ten years ago, but the lack of uniformity 
at one level simply hides an increase of homogeneity at the level of the 
warring ethnic communities. But even if we managed to promote not only 
heterogeneity, but diversity articulated into a meshwork, that still would 
not be a perfect solution. After all, meshworks grow by drift and they may 
drift to places where we do not want to go. The goal-directedness of 
hierarchies is the kind of property that we may desire to keep at least for 
certain institutions. Hence, demonizing centralization and glorifying 
decentralization as the solution to all our problems would be wrong. An open 
and experimental attitude towards the question of different hybrids and 
mixtures is what the complexity of reality itself seems to call for. To 
paraphrase Deleuze and Guattari, never believe that a meshwork will suffice 
to save us.

More than anything, I see the lesson of Hitler more about things like 
excessive bureaucracy, excessive Prussian-style schooling, excessive 
science, excessive competition, excessive faith in capitalism and related 
exponential economic growth, racism (a form of rankism), and of course, the 
failure of basic values like cooperation, sharing, diversity, tolerance, and 
love (in part through excessive schooling, which also originated in Prussia).

On excessive bureaucracy:
"IBM and the Holocaust is the stunning story of IBM's strategic alliance 
with Nazi Germany -- beginning in 1933 in the first weeks that Hitler came 
to power and continuing well into World War II. As the Third Reich embarked 
upon its plan of conquest and genocide, IBM and its subsidiaries helped 
create enabling technologies, step-by-step, from the identification and 
cataloging programs of the 1930s to the selections of the 1940s. "

On an excessive emphasis of "science" that came first from the USA:
"The eugenics movement begun by Galton in England was energetically spread 
to the United States by his followers. Besides destroying lesser breeds (as 
they were routinely called) by abortion, sterilization, adoption, celibacy, 
two-job family separations, low-wage rates to dull the zest for life, and, 
above all, schooling to dull the mind and debase the character, other 
methods were clinically discussed in journals, including a childlessness 
which could be induced through easy access to pornography. At the same time 
those deemed inferior were to be turned into eunuchs, Galtonians advocated 
the notion of breeding a super race."

One excessive Prussian schooling:
   "The Land of Frankestein"
"In no uncertain terms Fichte told Prussia the party was over. Children 
would have to be disciplined through a new form of universal conditioning. 
They could no longer be trusted to their parents. Look what Napoleon had 
done by banishing sentiment in the interests of nationalism. Through forced 
schooling, everyone would learn that "work makes free," and working for the 
State, even laying down one’s life to its commands, was the greatest freedom 
of all. Here in the genius of semantic redefinition1 lay the power to cloud 
men’s minds, a power later packaged and sold by public relations pioneers 
Edward Bernays and Ivy Lee in the seedtime of American forced schooling."

On the economic failure of the Nazi pyramid scheme and how it drove war:
   "How Germans Fell for the 'Feel-Good' Fuehrer"
"Hitler not only fattened his adoring "Volk" with jobs and low taxes, he 
also fed his war machine through robbery and murder, says a German historian 
in a stunning new book. Far from considering Nazism oppressive, most Germans 
thought of it as warm-hearted, asserts Goetz Aly. The book is generating 
significant buzz in Germany and it may mark the beginning of a new level of 
Holocaust discourse. ... Once the robberies had begun, a sort of "snowball 
effect" ensued and in order to stay afloat, he says Germany had to conquer 
and pilfer from more territory and victims. "That's why Hitler couldn't stop 
and glory comfortably in his role as victor after France's 1940 surrender." 
Peace would have meant the end of his predatory practices and would have 
spelled "certain bankruptcy for the Reich.""

On rankism:
Rankism is a term coined by physicist, educationalist and citizen diplomat 
Robert W. Fuller. Fuller has defined rankism as: "abusive, discriminatory, 
or exploitative behavior towards people who have less power because of their 
lower rank in a particular hierarchy". Fuller claims that rankism also 
describes the abuse of the power inherent in superior rank, with the view 
that rank-based abuse underlies many other phenomena such as bullying, 
racism, sexism, and homophobia. ... According to Fuller, the abuse of rank 
is experienced by victims as an affront to their dignity. He defines the 
term dignitarian as "a condition in which the dignity of all people is 
honored and protected." [16] Fuller and his supporters have launched a new 
social movement to promote the creation of a dignitarian society. The 
Dignitarian Movement asserts that their aim is to overcome rankism in the 
same way that the civil rights and women's movements target racism and 
sexism. Wambach offers communication skills the reader can use to achieve 
right-rank, the use of one's position, anywhere within a hierarchy, to 
better individuals and society by showing respect for the human dignity of 

On excessive competition (assuming any is good at all):
   "No contest: the case against competition"
"We need competition in order to survive."
"Life is boring without competition."
"It is competition that gives us meaning in life."
These words written by American college students capture a sentiment that 
runs through the heart of the USA and appears to be spreading throughout the 
world. To these students, competition is not simply something one does, it 
is the very essence of existence. When asked to imagine a world without 
competition, they can foresee only rising prices, declining productivity and 
a general collapse of the moral order. Some truly believe we would cease to 
exist were it not for competition.
   Alfie Kohn, author of No contest: the case against competition, disagrees 
completely. He argues that competition is essentially detrimental to every 
important aspect of human experience; our relationships, self-esteem, 
enjoyment of leisure, and even productivity would all be improved if we were 
to break out of the pattern of relentless competition. Far from being 
idealistic speculation, his position is anchored in hundreds of research 
studies and careful analysis of the primary domains of competitive 
interaction. For those who see themselves assisting in a transition to a 
less competitive world, Kohn's book will be an invaluable resource. ...

Anyway, "Godwin's law" is harmful to the extent it keeps people from having 
discussions about these sorts of things and gaining deeper insight into 
these issues. Godwin's law can lead to things like thinking "Never forget" 
means to build up vast heavily-armed rankist bureaucracies fed by 
cradle-to-grave competitive-oriented schooling built around extreme 
pyramid-scheme capitalism and maintaining militarized buffer zones for 
"lebensraum", when that is the sort of thing that lead to all sorts of 
holocausts in the past. It is the deepest sort of forgetting to do that, and 
I say than as someone with some Jewish roots, and with distant relatives 
killed during the Jewish Holocaust during WWII, and whose mother lived 
through the occupation of Rotterdam during WWII and the hunger winter, and 
who probably would not have survived another year or two of Rotterdam 
occupation with ever tightening racist laws.

It is much easier to just say "Adolf Hitler was a bad man who lead the world 
to ruin" than to think about why he became who he was and how the forces 
around him might have empowered him. It takes a lot more mental energy to 
see, as you point out, that even fascism itself is more a symptom of a 
deeper problems (as linked above) than the entire actual disease itself.

Another related post by me:
"Re: [Open Manufacturing] Re: Do artifacts (even money) have politics? 
(German WWII example with Hans Posse)"
As I flipped through those pictures [the 100,000 images the German 
Government donated to Wikipedia], and knowing a little about history, I
realized that WWII could not have happened without the manufacturing
competence of the German people; they needed their tanks and submarines and
synthetic fuel from coal plans to work well. They also needed effective
logistics for their military plans, and so they needed intellectual
competence too. But, the Germans would not have invaded other countries
without some less positive world views too -- both a sense of superiority
and a sense, from World War One, of previous unfair treatment. (Echoes of
Iraq for the USA?) It's been said that intelligence is knowing how to do
things, wisdom is knowing what is worth doing, and virtue is actually doing
it. So, the Germans in WWII and the times leading up to it then had
intelligence and a sort of hard-working virtue, but not a lot of good wisdom.
   Obviously, any brief effort trying to summarize decades of time and the
behavior of millions of people is going to be big generalization. Can it be
a wise generalization? Maybe.

--Paul Fernhout

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