Opinion » Maxed Out

Max's law... explained



"You like po-tay-toes and I like po-tah-toes."

George & Ira Gershwin

"I'm okay; you're okay."

– Thomas Harris

"You say tomato, I say shut-up."

– Annabelle Gurwitch

Long before anything was called social media, back when the Internet was something largely used by the military and academics, Mike Godwin formulated a seemingly immutable law of online discussion. Godwin's Law states, more or less: As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.

Those of you who have a firm grasp of probability, fractions and/or percentages can skip the next sentence. For the rest of you, as a refresher, a probability of one means something is absolutely going to happen, 100 per cent of the time. In every human endeavour except professional sports, 100 per cent is as good as it gets. In professional sports, if you've come to win, you will inevitably give it 110 per cent, which goes a long way towards explaining how it is crooked agents, lawyers and accountants manage to regularly leave jocks who've made tens of millions of dollars broke.

But I digress.

Max's Law can be seen as a corollary of Godwin's Law. It states: Any online discussion will inevitably move toward polarization leading to a profoundly stupid, false moral equivalency.

Allow me to demonstrate. Any discussion of, say, Stephen Harper's latest assault on the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms or, less formally, an institution, ideal or belief many Canadians believe actually define this country — the search for which is still our number one pastime — will, sooner or later, run up against the brick wall of someone who argues, "They're no worse than the other guys. They were crooks too."

Generally, the argument will continue, losing steam, until, in an attempt to be more specific, the proposition will be made that, "The Conservative's (insert outrage here, e.g., contempt of Parliament, environmental record, fiscal misadventure) is no worse than the Liberal sponsorship scandal."

That's usually the last post I read because I don't enjoy arguing with idiots or reading what they have to say. It is particularly disheartening, however, when it's made by people I generally think of as intelligent and at least somewhat politically aware. I chalk it up to another victory for our learned sense of false moral equivalency.

Let's take a brief detour into history.

The federal Liberals came to power in 1993 after the Dark Ages of Mulroney, a time of Conservative rule notable for the nosebleed fiscal deficits run up by putative conservatives during a time of unimaginable — by today's standards — prosperity. Administering some bitter, in all senses of the word, medicine, the Liberals, to everyone's disbelief, began to balance the budget and even run surpluses by 1997.