I’m sure everyone who reads this site is familiar with Godwin’s Law, but just to refresh the memories of those who might be a little bewildered with the modern world, let me explain. Godwin’s Law states that the longer an internet discussion goes on, the more likely it is that someone will be called a Nazi or compared to Hitler.
That’s why those of us who labour at the coalface of the interwebs are studiously careful to avoid Godwinising, because in the normal course of things, to do so is to lose the argument there and then. However, there’s a consequence to Godwin’s Law, which is this: sometimes, people really are behaving like Nazis. Sometimes, it’s right to point out fascist characteristics in things people do, without fear of being Godwinned and I think such a situation has arisen in recent weeks.
I’ll explain in a moment what I’m talking about but another bit of exposition is necessary first.
How do you study a phenomenon, such as, for instance, the behaviour of a new aeroplane wing design? Simple: you put it in a wind tunnel and observe what happens. This is better than crashing planes and killing people.
How do you measure the spread of a deadly virus? Do you let it loose in the population and see how it gets on? No. You grow it in a Petrie dish and see how fast it propagates. You develop mathematical models and you predict where it will go.
How do you decide if a skyscraper will fall down in an earthquake? Do you build it and see what happens? No. You construct a scale replica and you shake the hell out of it.
These are all much safer ways to approach an analysis than to wait for the full-scale disaster because they do no harm. This is what experimental science loves: a contained environment where individual characteristics can be isolated and studied.
Now, you might be aware that a story emerged in the local Limerick papers recently concerning a dog run over by a van. Normal fare for a small provincial organ but hardly anything that need derail the G8 summit. It was a nasty enough little article, based on a letter from a woman who saw nothing but who alleged that somebody else did. The letter claimed that drunken students from the University of Limerick had deliberately enticed a little dog to follow a ball in front of a van, resulting in its death.
As a result, somebody set up a Facebook campaign entitled Petition to expel the UL students who lured a dog to its death. Despite a complete absence of evidence for any malicious intent, there are now something in the order of 14,500 people endorsing this page, many of them howling for blood.
It was very helpful of them to set up this Facebook page, where intolerance can be studied, just as a wing in a wind tunnel or a queen in an ant farm, without doing too much damage.
The comments include incitement to murder, and it seems that no amount of reasonable argument is acceptable to those who set up the petition. Several people who disagreed with them have received temporary bans from Facebook, after complaints from the people behind the page, some of whom seem to have murky connections and some of whom appear to be straightforward idiots.
I reposted something from one of the more vocal contributors, and last night, I was surprised to see that it had also been deleted following a complaint, so let me put it up here again, for the record. The contributor, Gill Ham, appears to be focussed mostly on Muslims, dogs and Union Jacks.
This individual seems to have no connection at all with Limerick, and yet is probably the most active participant in the page.
I decided to investigate what fascistic tendencies an internet page could display and to see if this one might tick many of the boxes. Clearly it won’t tick them all, since the people who set up this page don’t govern a country or own a military, luckily for the rest of us, but this isn’t about calling people fascists. It’s about seeing what tendencies they share in common. This is about determining how fascistic tendencies manifest themselves in the small things and how people can be duped into believing any old nonsense.
Or to put it another way, this is about seeing how easy it is to take advantage of people’s stupidity and to rouse up a mob, based on nothing but supposition.
Fascism has its origins in stupidity and in bullying. Most of those commenting in support of the Facebook campaign are plain, old-fashioned stupid, while a small number are downright sinister and using this little non-story as practice for the bigger things.
Lawrence Britt has isolated certain characteristics, some of which seem to me to be present in the Facebook campaign. It’s surprising how the human mind works when it sets its face against logic.
Powerful and Continuing Nationalism – Fascist regimes tend to make constant use of patriotic mottos, slogans, symbols, songs, and other paraphernalia.
In this case, substitute nationalism with extreme animal fetishism.Instead of flags, substitute pictures of cats and dogs.
Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights – Because of fear of enemies and the need for security, the people in fascist regimes are persuaded that human rights can be ignored in certain cases because of “need.”
Controlled Mass Media
In this laboratory case, control of the media is limited to silencing critics by accusing them of abuse.
Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause
In this case, almost all commenters are willing to overlook human rights and punish people without trial. Some are willing to see them murdered.
Where is this going? Am I calling the people who run this campaign fascists?
Of course not, but I have no doubt that they’ll see it that way. As the sort who are prepared to condemn people on the basis of no evidence, I doubt very much they’d be able to comprehend the point I’m making here.
But for the rest of us, the point is fairly simple. These stupid people aren’t fascists, but they do display the characteristics that make fascism possible in the wider sphere. An uncritical belief in demagoguery, a willingness to suspend human rights, a fanatical adherence to a cause, gross intolerance of conflicting viewpoints and a willingness to silence dissenting opinion.
Not fascists, but they do provide a good ant farm for studying how it begins.
Microfascism. Now with added touchy-feeliness.