Tobold's Blog
Monday, April 03, 2017
 
Avoiding Godwin's law

Godwin's law states that "As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Hitler approaches 1". While some would consider calling somebody a Nazi the ultimate insult, it is also probably the least effective one. If everybody eventually gets called a Nazi, nobody is. And so a lot of "serious" media do their best to avoid Godwin's law. But I am wondering whether they overshot their goal.

There are currently a lot of parties and political movements on the rise which are frequently labeled as "populist". Populists were behind the Brexit referendum. Trump is being called a populist. Populist parties are taking part in several European elections this year, although up to now they didn't have the success some people feared. But all of these populists are right of center. They all use some variation of "<insert country here> first!". They all blame foreigners for the woes of the country they live in, either other countries, multinational organizations (like the EU) or immigrants. So for me as a (hobby) historian, the better term to describe these movements would be "nationalist". But apparently that sounds too much like Nazi, so media don't like to use that term.

While the Nazis certainly were nationalist as well, nationalism is a much earlier concept, being most prominent in the 19th century. It is the direct anti-thesis to globalism. And as such it is easy to understand why nationalism is on the rise again, as an increasing number of people realized that globalization has unresolved problems. It is a pendulum swinging back, globalism was born out of disillusionment with nationalism, and now nationalism is coming back out of a disillusionment with globalism.

The danger of nationalism isn't Hitler or the Nazis. The danger of nationalism is that if you constantly blame foreigners for your troubles, you end up not solving your problems, and living in a not very peaceful world. That isn't to say that I predict a war between the UK and Europe. But it is almost certain that the Brexit negotiations will not be very peaceful, that they will either fail completely or result in an outcome that is far from what the Brexiters promised, and that ultimately the UK government will blame the EU for all negative consequences of the Brexit.

Comments:
This is about the last place I'd choose to discuss politics in any serious manner but if you purport to be an historian, even a hobby historian, you probably should take some time to study the current definitions of the terminology you use. You could do worse than begin here: http://www.nationalismproject.org/what.htm
 
Why? What is wrong with the Wikipedia article on nationalism that I linked to? Why would I eschew neutral Wikipedia in favor of an unknown website with unknown political affiliation?
 
The amusing thing about that website is that it appears to exist to argue for some very academic, abstract redefinition of nationalism, away from the current, up to date, commonly accepted definition. However, the one time it uses the word nationalism, not in the proscriptive, moralistic usage where it's trying to tell others what they should do, but in the normal type of linguistic usage where it's simply trying to communicate with others, is in the disclaimer text "The Nationalism Project is a scholarly website and is not affiliated with any nationalist groups or organizations. No political agenda is being advocated by this site; it is intended purely as an educational resource. While scholarly submissions are welcome, contributions containing any clearly ideological political bias will not be accepted."

It tries so hard to argue against the commonly accepted meaning of 'nationalism', but when it comes time to refer to the well known 'nationalist groups' in the modern day, this website doesn't stick to its guns and come up with another term for these ideologically driven groups, it just goes right out and calls them 'nationalist groups', thereby betraying that the authors of this website full well understand how the term actually functions in the modern version of this language; and that furthermore the authors of this website have created this futile attempt to redefine this entrenched term out of anger at these groups for hijacking the term that they feel is rightfully theirs.

I am surprised that you would credit this overly emotional tilting at windmills with any kind of seriousness, Bhagpuss.
 
tldr: When someone answers the question: "What does X mean" with a different definition than the one they are clearly using when they simply use X in a sentence as it naturally came up, then it is plain to see that in the former case they have answered with what they think X ought to mean, and in the latter case they have revealed what it actually does mean to them, in the most fundamental and visceral sense.
 
I think that 'populism' and 'nationalism' are not completely off the mark, but what is really perceived by many is that national democracies have been hollowed out and we are openly ruled by a trans-national elite.
 
One thing you have to realize in the U.S. is that most Americans don't know anything about the geo-political situation leading to the rise of the Nazi party and World War II. They only know the evil bad guys led by Hitler with their concentration camps who can be happily gunned down in movies and video games. So any comparison between the rise of Trump and the rise of Hitler is lost on them, they assume Hitler must have seized power in a bloody coup or something.

And so many don't see "nationalism" as anything bad, more comparable to "patriotism." Not only is it virtuous, you are a traitor if you don't feel that way.
 
Actually I see a lot of people equating Trump to Hitler. I agree that they are ignorant of history.
 
Please don't let political correctness(PC) creep into and effect the etymological origins of words. Having to qualify the usage of a word with a PC driven blather about context provides no one with a moral high-ground in any debate. All it does is have a confounding effect on the relevant facts.

@Tobold

The danger of nationalism is that if you constantly blame foreigners for your troubles..

And in the context that you used Godwin's Law in the beginning of your post, I would offer that Godwin's Law has already morphed into a mechanism of PC that is used to derail a conversation, as such, in an effort to shift a discussion away from an area that someone doesn't really want to discuss. Some(you in this case) would say that supporters of Nationalism tend to blame foreigners for their troubles, but remove the PC component in a debate about Nationalism and you see people who are arguing that certain facts - such as unfair trade, reciprocity and sustainability - are the key components in a debate against Globalism. Not about what immigrants are doing once inside their perspective borders. Yet, journalists and others are purposefully engaged in an effort to show how Hiter and Nazism should be the talking points whenever discussing Nationalism.
 
Tobold,

You are looking at this through the lens of "We have to help the third world!" and then constructing arguments with what you see through that lens. We don't HAVE to help the third world beyond encouraging them when they emulate us in their efforts to benefit themselves. Now, we shouldn't be hurting them, either... but that's another issue.

So, two points:
"globalism was born out of disillusionment with nationalism" Not really. Globalism is all about greed. People in developing nations just work for a lot cheaper. No one at a Board Meeting ever said "We can't stand how people are so pro USA! We need to help China at all cost." NO! That would be stupid. It was always "It's way cheaper, and we can get away with it."

And:
"The danger of nationalism is that if you constantly blame foreigners for your troubles, you end up not solving your problems" The people above the knee jerk reaction level aren't blaming foreigners for all the problems, they blame the short sighted policies that are tied to globalism, and the greed driving them. Building a US/Mexico wall, for example, isn't out of hatred for Mexicans, it's about not following sensible and sustainable immigration policy. Desiring balanced trade with China isn't about hatred for the Chinese, it's about wanting a policy featuring balanced and sustainable trade.
 
The correct response to an imbalance in trade is to change domestic policy, e.g. tax policy, to favor manufacturing and services of goods. Americans simply don't make the stuff that they want to buy. The knee jerk reaction is erecting trade barriers against China. Which doesn't work, because once you prevented China from selling Americans the stuff they want to buy, some other country will step in. Trade barriers never solve trade imbalances, they only ever increase prices.
 
"The correct response to an imbalance in trade is to change domestic policy, e.g. tax policy, to favor manufacturing and services of goods. Americans simply don't make the stuff that they want to buy. The knee jerk reaction is erecting trade barriers against China. Which doesn't work, because once you prevented China from selling Americans the stuff they want to buy, some other country will step in. Trade barriers never solve trade imbalances, they only ever increase prices."

That cannot be more wrong.

And here's why:
"Americans simply don't make the stuff that they want to buy."

Well, of course they do. They simply manufacture it in China. Or Malaysia, or India. Case in point: Apple. Apple is an American company. Americans designing stuff Americans (And everyone else, it seems) wants to buy. They just don't build anything in America.

Apple could easily do all their manufacturing in the US. They would make slightly less stupid profit, but they wouldn't go broke or anything.

And:
"The correct response to an imbalance in trade is to change domestic policy, e.g. tax policy, to favor manufacturing and services of goods"

That is literally impossible. The third world will ALWAYS be cheaper. And by craptastic margins. There is no amount of tax policy that favors manufacturing and services of goods that can overcome that.

You have to set up the system where Apple (for example) is compelled to manufacture in the US because manufacturing overseas results in huge tariffs when selling domestically.
 
But that is what I am saying: It's Apple's fault, and no amount of China-bashing will solve the problem.

Oh, and Germany exports to China a lot, and its not because Germany is cheaper. So good economic policy can overcome wage differences.
 
Meanings for political groups is a nightmare because everyone has different definitions and the haters attack their own misconceived definitions as opposed to discussing the actually held positions.
Haters of Liberalism equate it with unrestricted free-market deregulation, cronyism and corruption.
I equate Populism as saying/doing whatever gets you the most votes (as opposed to what you think is best for the people/country/world).
Haters of Nationalism equate it to Hitler.

In this respect I think Nationalism gets a bit of a free pass from critical discussion. Press and non-academic debate tread lightly when commenting on Nationalist in case they are accused of being either unpatriotic or using a "Hitler ate sugar" trope.
 
@Tobold

But that is what I am saying: It's Apple's fault, and no amount of China-bashing will solve the problem.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Not the Chinese bashing, but the "It's Apple's fault" line in your comment. Inside China there are efforts underway to get Chinese people to buy their own "homegrown" brands of smartphones. Chinese television has, for the past couple of years, used propaganda against Apple(and Samsung) citing quality and performance issues as to why the Chinese people should buy their own homegrown brands of smartphones. Popular social media sites in China even use the terms "American Imperialism" when talking about Apple and other American companies and their brands that are manufactured there. It's one thing to have discussions about Global trade partners and nationalism, but it's also worth having discussions when those trade partners engage in unfair protectionism, especially when it comes from the Government level.
 
But that is exactly what the US government is doing now. Why should the US be allowed to advertise "Buy American" and if the Chinese do it, it becomes unfair protectionism?
 
As a general rule, which Britain violated, you don't do the worst thing you can do to your opponent and then try to negotiate. Kinda doesn't work. What's going to happen in the EU hammers Britain in negotiations? They won't leave the EU?

Like trying to have a fist fight when you're on ice and the other guy is on solid ground.
 
If deciding to leave an association is considered the "worst" thing you can do to it, what exactly CAN you do?

 
@Tobold

Why should the US be allowed to advertise "Buy American" and if the Chinese do it, it becomes unfair protectionism?

Because historically "Buy American" was used by companies in an effort to support and maintain American jobs domestically. Not foreign jobs abroad. However, try as you may to make this look like an American versus Chinese debate, it is simply not so. Even Germany has been caught up in its own Protectionist battle with China. Just last month the German ambassador to China made public statements that protectionism in China is growing. German business owners are lodging complaints left and right that China is requiring "joint-ventures" instead of letting German businesses built autonomous, stand-alone production facilities there. China is also requiring businesses(not just German) to transfer new technologies to the Chinese government as part of being able to operate there, which is against the rules of the WTO.
 
"But that is what I am saying: It's Apple's fault, and no amount of China-bashing will solve the problem."

It is not Apple's fault. Apple, like all corporations, is a predator. You can't blame a predator for searching out prey... it's what they do. and if they're good predators, they're beastly at it. That's competition. Competition breeds superior systems that produce better, cheaper products.

But you can't just let your predators run wild. There have to be rules, rules that set monopolistic and cartel boundaries, and rules that establish balanced trade. That's Congress' job. It's CONGRESS, on both sides of the aisle, that has failed here.
 
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