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OJB's Law

Entry 2010, on 2019-11-01 at 21:17:37 (Rating 4, Comments)

Many people have heard of Godwin's Law. Some don't know it by that actual name, but are still aware of the ideas behind it. And still others might not have heard of it at all. If you are the last category, here it is: As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1. By "1" here, we mean 100%.

The rule is a humorous observation made by American attorney and author, Mike Godwin. It is often extended to say that anyone invoking Hitler in a debate automatically loses the debate, but that was not the original intent. However, I think it is fair in most cases to say that anyone in that situation (invoking Hitler to try to make a point) might have overplayed their hand and might have weakened their argument as a result.

So in summary, the law states that as a debate proceeds it becomes certain that Hitler will be mentioned, and the common extension is that when that happens the guilty party has either weakened their case, or lost the debate, as a result.

I often invoke the extended version of the law to point out where my opponents are drifting into the area of poorly supported supposition or extreme rhetoric. Note that mentioning Hitler doesn't really make anyone wrong, it just raises suspicion about why they feel the need to include such a trite and cliched point instead of using a more directly applicable one.

Perhaps because of the widespread knowledge of Godwin's Law, I don't see a lot of references to Hitler and Naziism in debates any more, but there are other, equally inane, points which are still being made.

So I would like to announce a new law, which I have (modestly) called "OJB's Law". That is, that as a debate proceeds on-line between a far-left, woke, social justice advocate and a more moderate person, the chance of the concepts of "racist" or "misogynist" or "mansplainer" being invoked approaches 1 (that is 100%).

I think most people would concede that racism and misogyny really exist. The case for mansplaining is a bit weaker, because that is a newer, less formal term, but I will allow that too, for the sake of this argument. So, sure, there are real cases where those words are fair, just like sometimes comparisons to Hitler and Naziism are fair, but in the vast majority of cases they are invalid and simply used as lazy and unsophisticated way to shut down a debate, especially when the person might be losing.

So I commonly see statements like "I'm not going to talk to you any more because you are just a racist", or "your opinion is irrelevant because you are a misogynist" , or "Just shut up, we don't need mansplainers here". When I see these I consider it a win, because the person is attacking me, or what they perceive to be a defect in my personality, instead of attacking my points, which presumably are much harder to counter.

Are there occasions when I actually am a racist, misogynist, or mansplainer? Well, not in my opinion, but these words do have quite flexible meanings, or at least their real meanings are open to interpretation, so it is possible that by some people's interpretation I am. But I think that, according to the strict definitions of these words, most people share these deficiencies to some extent.

For example, the dictionary definition of "racist" is: "a person who shows or feels discrimination or prejudice against people of other races, or who believes that a particular race is superior to another."

There are differences between races so it is inevitable that some will be better than others in some ways, while probably being inferior in others. But that idea is weakened by these points: many people now aren't purely one race, the difference in abilities within the human population as a whole is greater than the average difference between races, and cultural differences are likely to create greater effects than biological variations.

So if I say black people must be superior because they are the best at basketball, or sprinting, or marathons, is that racist? And if I say that Asian people must be superior because their average IQ is higher than any others, is that being racist? Oh, what about this one: white people have developed the greatest civilisations, systems of government, philosophical and scientific methodologies, and technological advances, so they are superior.

Are those examples racist? Very few would say yes about the first example, a few more would claim the second is, and a lot would claim the third is. But are they really any different?

In fact, I wouldn't make any of those claims. First, because they aren't always true, and there are numerous exceptions. And second, because I just don't think race is important enough to worry about. But I will debate the relative merits of different cultures. For example, I think Western culture is far superior to Islamic culture. Is that racist? Not according to me, but according to my opposition? I don't know, and I don't care.

At this point I should admit that a case could be made from the point of view of my opponents against me, along very similar lines. They might say that as soon as I mention words like "social justice warrior", or "the far left", or "the woke crowd" I have equally strayed from the real substance of the debate.

But there is a difference. I just use these words as a general description of a group, and try not to assign any value to them. I also don't use them as an excuse to dismiss an argument. So I would never say "I don't need to answer your points because you are just an SJW". But I might say "SJWs often make that point but I think it is invalid because...". And yes, I would explain why, and not just end with an ellipsis!

I am getting pretty tired of asking people not to use those words in debates, and in pointing out how they just destroy what little credibility they might have had to start with by using them. But I still often do persist in commenting, or just ignore the fact the word was used, or use their insult in a humorous way against them. Here are a few examples...

Opponent: He is a racist... why you feel bad when Australians say that kiwis should go back to New Zealand...
Me: This word racist is very over-used. I suspect everyone's a racist by your definition. Most people just don't care about that word any more.

Opponent: I object to smarmy racist pricks like you
Me: Well thatís OK, because youíre probably not the sort of person I seek approval from.

Opponent: So really you donít have the choice in how itís supposed to be pronounced, either learn it or be deemed ignorant and racist.
Me: Stop trying to inflict your opinions on everyone else. And please don't make these groundless accusations of racism - this sort of thing is getting tedious.

Opponent: and as for saying the silly Maori version, thatís quite open racism on your part
Me: Excellent. I was wondering how long it would be before I got called a racist. You didn't disappoint! Thanks.

So I think I will be invoking OJB's Law quite a lot in future, because poorly supported charges of racism, misogyny, and mansplaining don't look they will be going away any time soon!

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