Terry Semel Trips Over Godwin's Law

from the not-again dept

Yahoo continues to take publicity hits regarding its business dealings in China and cooperating with authorities. Speaking at the D: All Things Digital conference, Yahoo boss Terry Semel is quoted as saying that he doesn’t know what the company would’ve done had they been in a position to business in Nazi Germany. Though it’s not clear, exactly, what question Semel was answering when he said this, it’s undoubtedly a gaffe — any question relating to Nazis should be responded to with the least amount of nuance. But as they say in politics, a gaffe is really an inadvertent statement of truth. It seems that Semel truly believes that on net, Yahoo’s participation in the country (and thus their obligation to comply with the law) is a good thing. That’s a legitimate viewpoint, though certainly one that reasonable people can disagree on. Also, conferences should acknowledge that, as on internet forums, when someone brings up Nazis or Hitler, that particular conversation is over.

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Comments on “Terry Semel Trips Over Godwin's Law”

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DeadlyOats says:

Why should the conversation be over?

“Also, conferences should acknowledge that, as on internet forums, when someone brings up Nazis or Hitler, that particular conversation is over.”

Why should that end this conversation? It is relevent to Yahoo!’s dealings with the Chinese government.

Sure – as far as we know – Communist China has not sent millions of people to the death camps, but they are locking people away for decades at a time, or longer, for mearly expressing their views on political issues – hundreds, maybe thousands, at a time. On the other hand, Communist China is also known for it’s ruthless methods of dealing with political free thinkers – besides extraordinarily long prison sentences, for speaking out.

Yahoo! is corroborating with a repressive regime. So, how is a question of whether Yahoo! would corroborate with the Nazis and Hitler, not be discussed?

After what’s been discovered about AT&T and that other giant phone company, giving the NSA information about U.S. Citizens’ calling habbits, shouldn’t we know more about Yahoo!’s tendency to denounce citizens to their respective governments?

Maybe Yahoo! should be investigated to see if they’ve given info on U.S. Citizens’ surfing habits to the U.S. government – illegally – too.

What was that Nazi SS officer’s excuse? “I was only following orders”?

I, for one says:

Godwin, Shmodwin

Let us put this Godwins law to rest once and for all. It is an ugly meme circulated by the very proponents of denial and historical revision I expect we all universally hate. To axiomatically put *any* discussion or comparison beyond mentioning the Nazi phenomenon is stupidity in the extreme, and at worst it is collusion in the very process that led to the rise of this dark period of human history.

I think the words “Those who cannot remember history are doomed to repeat it.” sums up my argument here.

Fact: There was such a thing as a Nazi regime in Gemany in the 1930s

Fact: The aims of that regime led to a world war in which millions of people died.

Fact: The regime engaged in many political practices which two generations held as the epitome of pathological thinking including, eugenics, ethnic cleansing, nationalist propaganda, not to mention the less dramatic effects of censorship and the subversion of the peoples army and police against them to serve the extra-national interests of the state.

Fact: This sorry episode culminated in the systematic slaughter of about 4 million Jewish and Gypsy persons in death camps.

To pretend that this represents some unique and unrepeatable mistake, that it is not a symptom of our deeper human natures, and that no parallel can be drawn between it and the political thinking of some contemporary extremists is utter naivety.

Certainly one should not use the comparison lightly, and that in a nutshell is the somewhat humorous assertion of “Godwins Law”, for example calling the police Nazis for breaking up a noisy party.

However, when it comes to matters of corporate collusion with repressive regimes, involving actions that result in the imprisonment, or worse, of people for beliefs or activities widely held as rights by decent thinking westerners, then I believe the comparison is entirely appropriate.

Perhaps a better rule to invoke in this case is Benfords rule of controversy, since the Yahoo company are being extremely cagey about their involvements leading to wild speculation.

I’m sure many Jewish and German folks feel equally offended by this frivolous and largely misunderstood “Godwins Law”. To render the subject anathema to the extent that people do not feel comfortable debating these serious humanistic issues is a disservice to those who perished.

Perhaps we need a new law. Those that invoke Godwin at the earliest opportunity have lost the argument since they have proved themselves incapable of engaging in difficult debate and are largely ignorant of history.

Before I get a dozen replies explaining all the ways that Yahoo are NOT like Nazis, you have missed the point.

Rikko says:


Godwin’s Law exists because of the quantum leap from any rational conversation to doomsaying by fools believing we are inches from a genocidal fascist regime.

If a braindead twit thinks that some person with an opposing viewpoint is somehow bringing about another Nazi regime, they are clearly beyond reasoning with. THE CONVERSATION IS OVER.

Why should that end this conversation? It is relevent to Yahoo!’s dealings with the Chinese government.

Don’t be retarded. The parallels you can draw between contemporary China and 1930s Germany are about as strong as between 1930s Germany and the Mongol invasions of Persia. Technological and economic changes between the two periods render any one-to-one analogies flimsy.

Trollificus (profile) says:

and furthermore...

Godwin’s meme was, of course, directed at the (common but certainly not universal) internet MISUSE of the Nazi analogy, as in “Soybean subsidies??? That’s JUST HOW NAZI GERMANY STARTED!!” or “I bet Hitler would have deleted my post just like you did, you nazi!”

Such usages DO trivialize the horrors of the Nazi regieme.

I don’t really see how speculation about Yahoo’s imaginary dealings with the Nazis is any more useful than speculation about how they would have dealt with Ghengis Khan or the Big Bad Wof. The conversation about Yahoo’s actions does not have to be declared ‘over’ for such speculation to be seen as useless.

The Third Reich presents an easy target, uniformly viewed as entirely evil. Its use in analogy with any current regieme is clearly an attempt to sneak unwarranted assumptions into the argument.

Wizard Prang (user link) says:

Nothing to see here folks, move along.

“Terry Semel is quoted as saying that he doesn’t know what the company would’ve done had they been in a position to business in Nazi Germany.”

As a publicly-owned Corporation, Yahoo is required to do that which is most profitable and falls within the law.

There is an ethical element, to be sure, but his first duty is to the shareholders… or did I miss something?

p8r1ck says:

everyone has a hierarchy of duty.

Everyone has a hierarchy of duty and for most organisms, humans included, it is themselves first. Terry likely thinks about himself first, his family second, his company third, his country fourth, someone else’s country fifth, etc. We always act in our own interest first and perform actions that most directly relate to our own survival and the survival of our genes. On an organizational scale, Yahoo will always serve itself before any nation, as any company would, as IBM did in the example above during ww2. This is not an unexpected or abnormal action and shouldn’t be judged right or wrong, this is simply how life evolves; it performs the perceived most efficient action for survival and evaluates the consequences and keeps the performing the ones that work. If we don’t like how organizations operate within the system we have created, we need to modify the system to create consequences more painful for destructive actions and more rewarding for beneficial actions. “I, for one” is right on in saying that when Godwin’s Law is invoked, everyone has missed the point. The point is to continue the conversation, increase awareness, and modify actions based on increased awareness. This is how thought, personality, and society evolves.

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