A Word About Nazis


If there’s something Defensive Formula Feeders (DFFs) love even more than visiting breastfeeding discussion forums, it’s resorting to Godwin’s Law during said discussions:

“As an online discussion grows longer and more heated, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches” (Wikipedia definition of Godwin’s Law).

Otherwise known as “Playing the Hitler card”, it involves trying to refute an opponent’s view by comparing it to a view that would be held by Adolf Hitler. “You think mothers should put their babies’ needs first? OMG get lost Breastapo!”

DFFs do not, however, offer very compelling arguments as to why we should see some kind of moral equivalence between Nazism and breastfeeding advocacy. Perhaps they don’t need to. Simply by making some kind of link between National Socialism and the practice that irritates them, they succeed in implying guilt by association: putting two things that have no necessary connection together in the hope that the bad name of one will taint the other. It stems from the DFF’s reluctance to attribute subtlety and humanity to people with whom they strongly disagree.

The problem with guilt by association is that it fails to show what is actually wrong with the thing that is being criticised. If DFFs think certain brands of breastfeeding advocacy are wrong, they should show why they are wrong instead of resorting to reactionary hyperbolic innuendo to make them appear wrong by association.

Think about it. Not only is the label “Brestapo” an immature overreaction to breastfeeding advocacy, it is also highly illogical – an oxymoron. Breastfeeding is life-giving. At its core, it is all about supporting life. Nazism on the other hand, is about destroying life. Thus breastfeeding advocacy and Nazism are as polar as two opposites can be.

Without a doubt, any moral high ground is lost when an argument descends into such name calling. Yet reverting to Godwin’s Law is a deliberate ploy, a disreputable form of rhetoric which acts as a silencer on debate. As psychologist Lori Day has pointed out:

“Once this gun is unholstered, the thread is finished and whoever shot out the Nazi comment has not only lost his or her own credibility, but has ruined the discussion thread for everyone else because the piling on has begun. Once a thread has devolved into this kind of rhetoric, there is no saving the original topic.”

Likening breastfeeding advocates to Nazis involves intense aversion, anger and stereotyping as well as promulgating a hostile ‘us and them’ mentality, entrenching opponents in their positions. In this sense, Nazification is an aggressive form of hatred. It embodies a host of assumptions (e.g. lactivists are fascists) which would be seen to be false if stated explicitly, but which can have persuasive force when left unstated. When a DFF compares a breastfeeding advocate to Hitler, she does not make a purely logical comparison, but rather appeals to the listener’s emotions of disgust, anger, and fear. It is of course, easier to be offensive by making a comparison which is untrue, than to be clever by using elements of truth. It’s no surprise that DFFs adopt such a lazy route, given their analogous approach to infant nutrition.

Indeed, the Nazification of breastfeeding advocacy is also an example of a lazy fallacy known commonly as ‘the straw man’. Although their target is lactivism, DFFs do not in fact confront its reality. Instead, they set up as a target a caricature and attack that instead. But their subsequent easy victory over it is seen as a victory over the real McCoy.

Put in general terms, the straw man fallacy occurs when you deal with a distorted version of a group of people as though it were in fact the full and accurate one. The position of the group itself is taken to be flawed even though it has not actually been subject to proper critique at all.

When DFFs tar lactivism with the Nazi brush, they not only demonstrate that they are prone to overreaction with no sense of proportion, they also show how little effort they are willing to understand the lactivist’s points of view. Why should they? If they attribute hopelessly repugnant views to lactivists, the virtues of their own commitments seem obvious.

As a final thought consider, if you will, the moral and ethical repugnance the ‘breastfeeding nazi’ analogy places on the memory of the millions – Jews and non-Jews alike, and Germans themselves – who suffered at the hand of the Nazis. Brandishing the Nazi label during breastfeeding debates achieves one thing and one thing only: it trivializes evil. In doing so, it dilutes the memories of a particularly dark period in human history. Therefore I call upon you to leave this term of abuse to the history books.