Wednesday, April 14, 2010

I'm going slightly mad...

I've been sick with a flu that just won't go away and it occurred to me that my last post here was on a somewhat cranky note.  Which I don't like to do.  I was only joking anyway... well, mostly.  But I'm not mad!  Not entirely.  Just feverish and worn a bit thin.

Since I've been home and largely at loose ends, I've been actually paying attention to the emails filling my inbox and I've been largely disheartened by what I find there and by how little of it was written by or indeed vetted by the people who sent it to me.

So allow me this curmudgeonly moment and an open missive to the people of the United States of America:

Benjamin Disraeli once said: "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics." He has since been quoted in this context by everyone from Mark Twain to the writers of West Wing. In modern parlance, I would add one to Mr. Disraeli's list... "Lies, damn lies, statistics... and chain emails." I might eventually go so far as to add a fifth "Political bloggers" but that's not what this is about.

I commend to all thinking people of this benighted country the following article from, written back in 2008 and as true today as it was then.

That Chain E-mail Your Friend Sent to You Is (Likely) Bogus. Seriously.

The most pernicious part of this trend in American political mudslinging isn't that there are lies being told about issues, or bills or candidates, it's that they are a cynical abuse of friendship and filial devotion.  We are inclined to believe a story simply because we love, respect and trust the person telling it to us. It is made even more of a sin because it's not consonant with chatting with your neighbor over the garden fence about the latest rumors out of the DC cesspit, it's about the widespread and largely innocent spreading of lies among loved ones at the behest of a hidden author.

This is nothing more than an abuse of the Great American Grapevine by some venal cur hiding in a bunker deep underneath a white marble facade in Washington DC. It is about taking those closest to you along in the grand and sweeping lies promulgated by the extreme wings of some political party. And it needs to stop.

For heaven's sake, people, it's time to make up your own mind based on something other than internet rumors. This is an important moment in American history.  Things are happening around us and we need to know our minds and our decisions aren't based upon rumors and innuendo, but upon facts and the reality of our situation.  Not doctored photos and out of context quotes.  You need to be thinking clearly, not loading yourselves and your loved ones up with lies.

There are lies we cannot avoid from people we know are likely lying to us.  Politicians, used car salesmen, lawyers, political bloggers and talk radio calumniators...  Why in God's name would you want to add yourself to that list?  Please think for yourself and stop lying to those who love you.

That is all.
Thank you.



  1. So who or what becomes the arbiter of "the truth"? I'm not being snarky here, but seriously asking how we expect people to differentiate between the lies, damned lies, statistics, chain emails, political bloggers, and the truth? For example, you and I have access to and use some of the exact same primary sources, yet I know we come to two very different conclusions based on those sources. If we, who are well informed, can't even agree on "the truth", then who can?

    Again, I am not being snarky. This is part of the core of what has been bothering me about the nature of the debate, and it is a problem that I want to understand and help solve if I can, but I know it can't be solved until enough people of diverse views come together and figure out what such a solution might even look like.

  2. You are misunderstanding me. This isn't about people sending me their opinions of a policy or bill or politician, it's about lies. Most of these emails are generated on the basis of outright lies or misrepresentations of facts. "In God We Trust" was not removed from the dollar coin. President Obama was not sworn in (either time) on a copy of the Quaran. I am not impressed by screen grabs that misrepresent a scene of a quote is misattributed when I can easily find the actual footage or the actual quote in its appropriate context.

    No political party, ideology or anyone else will ever win me over with lies. By being 'well informed' I can see through them. By being adept at using the resources available to me I can refute them as I often do.

    That doesn't make me or anyone the arbiter of truth. It makes reality the arbiter of truth.

  3. Ah, I did misunderstand because I did not realize the nature of the lies you were referring to.

    Nevertheless, my question remains, even if it is not appropriate to the thing you address.

  4. Note that I wrote that entire post without expressing an actual political opinion? (Unless asking people to make up their own minds and stop lying counts as a political opinion, which it might in the current climate, I don't know.)

    Anyway, this isn't a political blog and that wasn't a political post, it was a plea for reason and sanity. So I'll stand by my original thesis: Stop lying to the people who love you.

  5. It wasn't a question of political opinion so much as one of how to create effective dialog, but you're right that it doesn't belong here for a variety of reasons. Consider it withdrawn.

  6. Fascinating post. ICT has created a whole new arena for the manipulation of the electorate with some disturbing trends. Given that your blog is largely about writing and communication I think it is an emmiently suitable place to hold this discussion. More than ever we need to encourage the critical use of digital information. I have not experienced the type of emails your discussing but I am sure it is only a matter of time before they become just another tool in the armoury of political trolls.
    Hope you feel better soon.

  7. Everything I type is false. And this comment is a lie.


Pages to Type is a blog about books, writing and literary culture (with the occasional digression into coffee and the care and feeding of giant robots).