Dispatches from the Suburbs of Hell

Heaven is for the obedient. Hell is for the wrathful. What of the ones in between? We wind up in the Suburbs. Our sin is individuality. Our punishment is boredom. But at least we're in good company.

Location: New England, United States

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

O'Brien's Corollary

Some of my favorite modern adages:

"Anything that can go wrong, will." - Murphy's Law

"Never ascribe to malice what can be explained by incompetence." - Hanlon's Razor

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." - Clarke's Third Law

"The most ineffective workers are systematically moved to the place they can cause the least damage: management." Dilbert's Principle

"90% of everything is crap." Sturgeon's Revelation

and my personal favorite:

"The longer an online discussion goes on, the greater the probability of someone comparing someone else to Hitler or the Nazis." - Godwin's Law

I've been in many an online debate, and have been privy to many proofs of Godwin's Law. As anyone who's been in that situation can attest, it's quite annoying. It's the sign of someone who's run out of ideas, but refuses to admit defeat. When you bring up the closest thing to pure evil that ever walked this earth as proof of your argument, you've stooped to dealing in absolutes, which means you've forfeited the discussion. It makes perfect sense.

But there is another situation, similar to Godwin's Law, which I've found myself in many times before, and since, to the best of my knowledge, no one has yet laid claim to it, I hereby define it and name it after myself: O'Brien's Corollary to Godwin's Law. And it runs thus:

"1. Any political discussion, wherein a decision of an American official or an American law is being criticized, will eventually lead to one party declaring that all parties involved are lucky that they can live in a country where they are free to criticize their own government.

2. The more heated the discussion becomes, the more likely this declaration will be made.

3. The party who makes this declaration is most likely defending the criticized decision and/or law, and will make this declaration upon imminent defeat or impatience with the debate's progression.

4. This declaration effectively ends the debate without a decisive winner."

I've had this happen to me on many a heated discussion, and I've not only found it frustrating, but somewhat disturbing. It's not the declaration itself that bothers me - Hell, I'd be criticizing my government even if I wasn't allowed - but rather the implication of the person uttering it. Normally it's said out of anger or frustration on the other person's part. Anger that they're losing ground in defending their position. And there's a real hostile undercurrent in the statement: "Be grateful I can't kill you for what you just said, boy." It's similar to the people who invoke the First Amendment: 90% of the time they're saying something controversial, infuriating, or just plain tasteless. The other 10% of us who have reasonable opinions don't need to.

So there you have it, ladies and gentleman, boys and girls, lords and ladies, and everyone in between. A new law. A new weapon in your intellectual armory you can level at those who tell you to shut up and count your blessings...or else. Just make sure you tell them, you heard it here first.


Blogger R2K said...

: )

8:56 PM, November 15, 2006  
Anonymous Portrait in Flesh said...

Wait a minute...so I'm not supposed to end any debate, political or otherwise, with the simple phrase "my needs"?

Great, I'm always the last one to know. I'd better go find a pyramid big enough to sharpen both my razor blades and my head...

12:54 PM, November 16, 2006  
Blogger James said...

And there's a real hostile undercurrent in the statement: "Be grateful I can't kill you for what you just said, boy."
Well said.
I would suggest accusations of terrorist sympathies be considered the same as Nazi comparisons, and have become much more frequent than Nazi comparisons in my experience.

3:10 PM, November 18, 2006  
Blogger Noreen Braman said...

let's add this codicil:

All online debates will eventually deteriorate into name calling and profanity as both parties become language bankrupt.

which is why my personal policy is to never engage in a battle of wits with someone who is obviously unarmed. :)

11:04 AM, November 19, 2006  

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