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Posted by on Oct 1, 2007 in At TMV | 10 comments

Why We See Elliott’s Law

Elliott’s Law posits that:

As an online discussion concerning race grows longer, the probability of a person referencing Martin Luther King, Jr. as a means to justify their racist and/or ignorant attitudes approaches one.

It’s certainly something I’ve observed. But why Martin Luther King? Because he’s dead, that’s why. And being dead, he poses no threat to the “splitting” meme that tries to discredit the current generation of civil rights activists from their peers in the 1960s. Other political civil rights leaders from the 60s (particularly the living ones) don’t work for that goal, because a) their advocacy is substantively identical to that of contemporary leaders, b) the critiques they were subjected to are substantively identical to those folks want to throw out against contemporary leaders, and/or c) they are literally identical — by and large, the current crop of Black civil rights leaders earned their stripes by working in the 60s civil rights movement. King, of course, can no longer explain his advocacy, can no longer remind audiences of how he was criticized and abused by the White press, and can no longer pose a threat to directly challenge current policies. Making him a very convenient prop. On account of being dead.

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  • As an obvious variant on Godwin’s Law, which references the probability of someone accusing another of being a Nazi or Hitler, I should note Schneider’s corollary:

    That those compared to the Fascists are often done so because their use of Fascistic online tactics also approaches one.

    Apply this to Elliott as needed.

  • I don’t understand the corollary (grammatically, I mean). One’s “use of Fascistic [sic] online tactics” can’t “approach one”, only a probability can approach one. The first clause of the sentence “that those compared to the fascists are often done so” is also grammatically gibberish.

    I presume the law either could mean “folks who are called fascists are so called because they (are likely to) use fascist tactics” or “folks who call others fascists (are likely to) do so to mask their own fascist online tactics”.

    As a matter of grammar, though, neither of those points is expressed as you wrote it.

  • And of course, by citing Elliott’s Law anyone referencing MLK who disagrees with the person citing can thus be categorized as ignorant or racist out-of-hand without having to deal with what they’re actually saying.

    Convenient, that.

  • David: add in the ‘the probability of using’ before Fascistic tactics. Typo, too quickly. But, Fascistic needs no sic- it’s a legitimate adjectival suffix.

    So is your grammatic claim wrong. If one is going to try to avoid the substance of a debate by nitpicking, at least let there be nits.

    But it’s a nice way to dodge the legitimacy of the point, as well as what Tully states.

  • “That those compared to the Fascists are often done so because their use of the probability of using Fascistic online tactics also approaches one”

    doesn’t make anymore sense. It does fix the “approaches one” problem, but it doesn’t fix the incoherency of the first clause, nor does it do the really important missing work of telling who is the target of the corollary (the compared or the comparers). I’m guessing its the latter, but that’s not something I could derive from the sentence (and thus no “point” I could “dodge”).

  • ‘I presume the law either could mean “folks who are called fascists are so called because they (are likely to) use fascist tactics” or “folks who call others fascists (are likely to) do so to mask their own fascist online tactics”.’

    The use of ‘to’ obviates the second claim.

    Perhaps we need a Tully’s Law, as well?

  • But, dance on.

    Motion in place often illudes stasis.

    No sic needed.


    Main Entry: 1-ic
    Function: adjective suffix
    Etymology: Middle English, from Anglo-French & Latin; Anglo-French -ic, -ique, from Latin -icus — more at -Y
    1 : having the character or form of : being : consisting of
    2 a : of or relating to b : related to, derived from, or containing
    3 : in the manner of : like that of : characteristic of
    4 : associated or dealing with : utilizing
    5 : characterized by : exhibiting : affected with
    6 : caused by
    7 : tending to produce
    8 : having a valence relatively higher than in compounds or ions named with an adjective ending in -ous

    So, now that we’ve established you are dancing about with flawed grammatical claims, and a wanton use of sics, perhaps you might actually deal with my or Tully’s point?

  • My understanding of “fascist” is that it is the adjective as well as the noun form — both “he’s a fascist” and “that’s a fascist argument”. But if “istic” is an acceptable alternative, that’s cool too. My first comment genuinely wasn’t meant to be antagonistic — the “law” as stated didn’t form a coherent sentence, and thus I was unsure of what the point was supposed to be.

    As to the now somewhat clarified argument, I’m not a fan of the corollary, nor the “shutdown” claim, for essentially the same reason: part of discussing issues of race has to include discussing issues of racism. If I respond to X argument by saying “I think that’s a racist argument”, it’s not a discursively legitimate response by X’s proponent to just curl up in a ball and complain about how I used the “r” word. To the folks for whom that is their response, my rejoinder is simply: “grow a pair.” That doesn’t mean my claim of racism is automatically true, but the attempts to banish it from the discussion entirely (by casting it dichotomously as a trump card and presumptively invalid) is not a positive development.

    The irony, of course, is that you could have thrown Elliott’s law back at me: you think my color-conscious policies are racist, I used MLK’s works to support it, hence, I’m an example of Elliott’s law. It’s oddly content-neutral that way. Albeit, the point of my post was to note how MLK’s actual, substantive writings are so often perverted — E’s law was merely a jump off. And that too, is further irony — while making a point about dodging points, nobody actually has responded to the substance of my post, preferring to chat grammar and how claims of racism are conversation-ending.

  • Perhaps we need a Tully’s Law, as well?

    There’s already a Tully’s Corollary to Kaplan’s Law.

    Tully’s Law: The odds of a “law” such as Elliott’s Law or Godwin’s Law being used to avoid substantive discussion on a contentious issue increases in direct proportion to the relevance of the citation.

    David’s point is still well taken. Citing the dead brooks no disagreement, as the dead can’t respond. And MLK said an awful lot of things, sometimes contradictory, so parsing his speeches and writings can support anything. Kind of like citing scripture.

    Change the phrase “their racist and/or ignorant attitudes” to “their position” and Elliott’s Law becomes speaker-neutral, and utterly true. I object to it as stated, because as stated it assumes and implies that only racists and ignoramuses ever cite MLK for justifications, and/or that only “racist and/or ignorant attitudes” can be justified by citing MLK.

  • David: My first comment was, despite my swift moving fingers, meant to be humorous.

    I think Godwin’s Law, while generally correct, ignores the palpable nastiness that people online let loose. If you’ve ever seen Forbidden Planet, I call it the Monster of the Id. People who are too wimpy to stand up to spouse, bosses, or bullies, in real life, become psychopaths online.

    Thus, it was ironic to use an anti-Hitler (MLK) in an opposing maxim.

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