Godwin’s Law, as posed in 1990, was this: “As a Usenet discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.”  As internet forums replaced the Usenet, people generalized Godwin’s Law: Given enough discussion about anything, eventually somebody makes an analogy with Nazis and kills the conversation.
It was initially posed as a descriptive law, like gravitation or electromagnetism. In recent years, I’ve seen people more often describe the invocation of Nazis as a “Godwin’s Law violation”. That requires treating it instead as a proscriptive law, a commandment like Thou shalt not make an analogy between your interlocutor and Hitler.
In 2017, we are living in a post Godwin’s Law world. It isn’t funny or provacative to draw analogies with Hitler, nor is it a norm violation to say that something is what Nazis would say, when the current political scene involves actual Nazis.
Of course, President Trump isn’t literally Hitler. But some small fraction of his political base are actual Nazis, he has emboldened them to sieg heil in public, and part of his political strategy is not to distance himself too far from them. When we can ask whether it’s right to punch Nazis, not as a moral thought experiment but as a question about something we saw on the news, then Godwin’s Law just misses the point.
Cristyn and I got back last night from a weekend road trip to Syracuse, where we attended a martial arts seminar with Dan Inosanto. It was the first vacation we’ve taken in a while.
My vacation schema for as long as I can remember is to take along a laptop and some books and to fill in-between time with philosophy. I’m not sure I can remember a vacation as an adult that didn’t have at least some of that. But not this time.
Instead, my head was filled with punches, kicks, sumbrada, trapping, and hubad lubud. There was definitely more going on than I could follow, but I had things to do and learn. Cristyn has done a lot of JKD, and so grokked more of the barehand material than I did. Also, in addition to Guro Inosanto, there were a lot of high level practitioners in the room who were happy to help out.
There was also fascinating history and storytelling, literal sitting at the feet of the master stuff. This included the quotable aphorism: “If I teach you, you will forget. If you discover it, you will not forget.”
Tracy McMullen, a musician and scholar who plays saxophone and thinks about American vernacular music, was in Albany last weekend to collaborate with Cristyn on a musical project.
Making conversation at dinner on the last night of her stay, I asked if she’d heard of and had opinions about Mostly Other People Do The Killing’s Blue (an album that’s a note-for-note remake of the 1959 classic Kind of Blue). It turns out that she has a paper about it forthcoming in The Journal of Jazz Studies. Since I’ve also written about it, there was lots to say. A long discussion about covers, authenticity, and versioning practices ensued.
Since the number of people who have written scholarly articles about Blue is small, possibly just the two of us, it’s an odd coincidence. In some ways, though, it was like old times. I originally started thinking about the philosophy of music because of social connections through Cristyn, at grad school parties where I ended up in conversations with musicians. Although I met Tracy once or twice back then, I hadn’t really gotten a chance to know her until this weekend.
Tracy’s visit also made me nostalgic for my year at Bowdoin, since she’s now a prof there. I’m not struck by it often, but it doesn’t take much for me to be struck by that nostalgia.
For popular books, it is traditional to get a big shot to write an introduction in hopes that star power will increase sales. I remember countless science fiction books from when I was a kid with introductions by Isaac Asimov or Harlan Ellison. Stephen King later stepped into the role of ubiquitous introductions.
So there is a strange thrill from the fact that Naomi Oreskes wrote the introduction for Pope Francis’ Encyclical on Climate Change and Inequality. Naomi, a geologist turned historian of science, was faculty at UCSD when I was a grad student. I took a course and an independent study with her, and she was a member of my dissertation committee. She’s since moved to Harvard and become a heavyweight in reflections on climate change. Her book Merchants of Doubt (with Erik Conway) is a fascinating study of the forces behind science denial.
This is a poem written several years ago, back in May 2011. I came across it while looking through some old files. It resonates just at the moment, when my Facebook feed is flooded with paeans for Prince.
At the Palais Royale
Anyone can use these words in any situation.
These words are in no way special.
You kind of have already been there.
Say yes or no, uninterrupted.
This guy is, but that is not.
Prince is destroying
the minds of our Christian children,
because he was sexually deviant.
You know Superman.
That was racy.
My background was askew.
There were always fights,
but the bus driver didn’t care.
One of my first memories.
The craziest shit —
it was stamps, too.
We’d alternate mornings.
I can tell you every top ten soul song from that year.
It’s really not about making the music.
Sade disappoints me
Beautiful, it reminded me of a concentration camp.
It reminded me of the moon.