Crowley’s Law

As always, laws aren’t named after the people who invent them. In 2011 I remarked:

“@frasernels” refers to Fraser Nelson who is now @FraserNelson on Twitter. @palmer1984 immediately informed me that I had nicked this observation from her, which I find very credible since I seem to make a habit of presenting her best ideas as my own! But it’s mildly noteworthy because Monbiot was taken with it, tweeting

and later, in The Spectator runs false sea-level claims on its cover (jointly authored with Mark Lynas):

(We should, as the tweeter Paul Crowley suggested, institute a new version of Godwin’s law: a rightwinger, when his claims are challenged, will soon denounce his opponents as thought police. Let’s call it Crowley’s Law.)

Fraser Nelson’s invocation of the spirit of Orwell that inspired the coinage was quite ridiculous, done in the face not of any kind of censorship or suppression of speech but simply of direct criticism of what was a laughable publishing choice in the first place. However, I’m writing this blog post as a quick link to set the record straight on one issue: I’ve never agreed with George Monbiot’s politically partisan framing of the problem.

Update: the perfect postscript:

Published by Paul Crowley

I'm Paul Crowley aka "ciphergoth", a cryptographer and programmer living in Mountain View, California. See also my Twitter feed, my webpages, my blogs on Dreamwidth and Livejournal, and my previous proper blog. Or mail me: paul at

6 thoughts on “Crowley’s Law

  1. How about a law for how people hold up government intervention as some sort of gold standard which no other form of retribution can compare to? :-)

    More seriously, I think in a lot of conversations like this the framing is “Well you’re not literally being arrested for doing so, therefore your entire claim that you’re being censored/oppressed is invalid”. A lot of other things can have much the same effect. Doxxing, death threats, getting someone fired from their job, these are all pretty effective forms of supppression even if they’re not being performed by a government agency.

    Also one person saying you shouldn’t say/do something isn’t a particularly effective form of suppression but a thousand people doing so rather is. I agree people are too quick to play the Orwell card, but there’s a pretty clear continuum and although I’m not sure where the point of it not being ludicrous to use this comparison lies I don’t think you have to go all the way to the far end of it to get there.

  2. The way I think of the word thoughtcrime is: it’s arguments of the form “you’re a bad person because you presented an argument for a particular conclusion”. For example, if you cited a study that suggested that the government should be more socialist on the margin and I dismissed to you as a “communist” instead of talking about the study, that’d be a thoughtcrime accusation. The opposite-wing version is citing a study suggesting that, say, men and women are not equal in some important way and this is genetic in origin, and getting labeled a “sexist”.

    I actually think if this use of the phrase “thoughtcrime accusation” saw wider use it’d be a pretty good thing. People dealing with the substance of their opponent’s arguments rather than being allowed to dismiss them based on the conclusion seems like it’d be an improvement.

    1. I would certainly like people to more often prefer saying “you are mistaken” rather than “you are evil”, but I’m not sure this is the best way to go about it.

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