The New Godwin’s

Charles Stross recently revealed that he uses a software package called “Scrivener” to keep track of the complicated plots of novels he’s writing. His disclosure prompted an interesting discussion about the functions of literature, the uses of software, and Tolstoy.

One bright bulb, however, took umbrage at all of this talk of literature, and tossed a stink bomb:

What you think of Tolstoy (or pretty much any “classic”) depends on your relationship to the modern world and modern learning. If you think that fact-free noodling about the nature of man, society, god, nature, and so on is just awesome, you may find something of value in them. On the other hand, if your attitude to the world is “we’ve had 5000 years of people making shit up; how about we concentrate a little more on what can actually be establish factually rather than the opinion’s of some dude whose primary qualification is that he can write well?” then you’re likely to be rather less impressed.

To take an apparently trivial example, which is nonetheless easily understood, IS it in fact the case that all happy families are alike, while each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way? Should we accept this as true just because Tolstoy says so? Or should we look into the matter rather more scientifically?

You see people using essentially the same template, only slightly reworded, to respond to a surprising variety of discussion topics. I think of it as the new variant of Godwin’s Law. The moment this argument comes into play, you know that all rational discussion has ended.

Trolling people by comparing them to Hitler is so cliched, it’s practically ironic. But you can still catch people off-guard by accusing them of superstitious thinking, and you score extra troll points by insinuating that their “superstitious thinking” is backed up by an appeal to authority. When the hapless victim protests, “I was talking about poetry/metaphor/love/art/beauty or whatever, you know they’ve swallowed your bait, hook, line, and sinker. Just feign ignorance, presuppose that their goal was to make testable hypotheses (isn’t that the goal of all poetry and romance?), then continue berating them for “making shit up”.

Mark my words: this is the new Godwin’s, and it’s catching on fast. It will soon be bigger than Hitler.

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