Hrafnkell’s Law

Jan 12 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Don't mention der Führer's name!

It’s interesting that some people feel such a need to tip-toe around facts – around history in particular. Facts have become frightfully dangerous things in this ideologically charged era. Ideology does not sit well with facts, after all, since facts tend to disprove whatever is being sold. Stephen Colbert’s well known line (we cannot call it a joke) about the nature of reality. At the White House Correspondents Dinner in 2006, he said, speaking of President Bush,

Now, I know there are some polls out there saying this man has a 32% approval rating. But guys like us, we don’t pay attention to the polls. We know that polls are just a collection of statistics that reflect what people are thinking in “reality.” And reality has a well-known liberal bias.

As Colbert alludes, the Republican response is defensive. If facts create bias, well then, facts must be avoided. They tip the scales of the argument. We don’t want too many people paying attention to pesky old facts. They will be predisposed to disbelieve our lies.

Instead of facts, Republicans have begun to offer us “instincts” and “gut-feelings” – an appeal to what we “know” in our hearts and discounting what our brains might tell us; empirical evidence, logic, intellectual examination – and facts, go out the window.
Stephen Colbert, speaking on his show in 2005, captured the prevailing mood when he coined the term “truthiness” to describe this approach:

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
The Word – Truthiness
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Sarah Palin’s defense of her new word “refudiate” was reminiscent of Colbert’s defense of “truthiness”:

“We’re not talking about truth, we’re talking about something that seems like truth – the truth we want to exist. Now I’m sure some of the ‘word police’, the ‘wordinistas’ over at Webster’s are gonna say, ‘Hey, that’s not a word’. Well, anybody who knows me knows I’m no fan of dictionaries or reference books. They’re elitist. Constantly telling us what is or isn’t true. Or what did or didn’t happen.”

At least Colbert is a comedian.

So we have in our dictionaries a word that means “the quality of stating facts that you believe or want to be true, rather than stating facts that are known to be true.”
In other words, a word that perfectly defines the Republican approach to our evidence-based reality.

If the Constitution has lost value as a mere “guideline” or “list of suggestions” then truth has fared even less well. It doesn’t bode well that so many are afraid of both.

It’s become dangerous to talk about facts. Look what happens if you mention Hitler in any context. Up instantly comes cries of “Godwin’s Law!” This is not merely like pointing out that Hitler got mentioned. In 1989 Mike Godwin observed that on the Internet, all discussions eventually become about Hitler and the Nazis: “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.”

Sadly, it has become a way of delegitimizing an argument in which Hitler is mentioned. But sometimes Hitler is relevant, just as any unwelcome fact might be relevant.
But those who find facts inconvenient will do all in their power to silence them, to belittle them, to make them seem hazy and irrelevant, to call them into doubt.

Thus I am coining a new term today and I will call it “Hrafnkell’s Law” which is that “In an online discussion at the moment Hitler becomes relevant to the conversation the probability of somebody calling ‘Godwin’s Law’ as trump, approaches 1.”

Hitler isn’t trump. Neither is any law named after anyone. Facts, my friends, are trump. And only facts. And not simply facts, but facts not taken out of context, not twisted and contorted out of all recognition. As Al Franken said, people are not entitled to their own facts:

By definition, any claim to “your own facts” would amount to Colbert’s “truthiness” – not what is true but what you want to be true.

But it is not history that should conform to the system, but the system to history. The facts are what they are, like them or not. No fact can ever be irrelevant, no matter how inconvenient to one party or another, or to an ideology or a religion.

But today, the mere mention of facts is enough to get Republicans and Tea Partiers in a lynching mood. It gets ugly, fast, and the people who love to compare President Obama to Marx and Hitler will be the first to cry “Godwin’s Law!’ the moment anyone offers any facts on the subject, or if the innate conservatism of the Nazi Party is mentioned.
Everyone knows that Nazis were liberals, after all, and we can’t let the facts get in the way of that.

But sometimes Hitler and Nazis are relevant, and it would be dishonest to ignore them merely so one side or another can feel good about their lies and propaganda and ideology or even their religion. Don’t let facts be stifled. Defend them – with facts, the only trump.

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