Sunday, October 28, 2012
Land of the Gullible
I received an email forward the other day that reminded me why so many Americans believe so many astonishing things. The email was supposedly from a September 2008 edition of 'Meet the Press' where Senator Obama was being questioned about his stance on the National Anthem. Strangely it was also attributed, at the bottom, as being from a Washington Post columnist as well, which should have been a tip-off to readers that something wasn't quite right. The text contains explosive statements about Obama's plan to disarm America and that the flag is a symbol of oppression and so on. Suffice it to say that you would be hard pressed to find many Americans who wouldn't be shocked by the comments attributed to, then, candidate Obama.
The only problem is that it's completely made up! The actual guests on that edition of 'Meet the Press' were Sen. Joe Biden and Tom Friedman. According to info on this urban legend from snopes.com, a site that is sort of a Myth Busters for rumors and other misinformation, the seeds for this doozie were sown by a political columnist's satirical "Semi News" feature. A feature explicitly subtitled, "A Satirical Look at Recent News". Yet, either by ignorance or intentional design, this piece was used to mislead gullible people into thinking Senator Obama was about to replace the national anthem with 'I'd like to teach the world to sing." No, seriously, that was one of the so-called quotes!
I know I shouldn't be, but I'm still amazed that this story could have been taken seriously. Though, to be fair, I'm just as amazed that people think an African prince wants to give them millions of dollars or that a long lost acquaintance you've never heard of is desperate to have sex with you, and by the way she's a hot redhead with a "killer bod". What makes these things insidious is that they play to our weaknesses. If you weren't lonely, then you'd be a lot less likely to believe an email from some anonymous, sex obsessed woman. If you didn't already have deep seated distrust of Senator/President Obama then you'd never be taken in by an email claiming that he wants "to disarm America to the level of acceptance to our Middle East Brethren." They play to our own prejudices. In that way they can be a bit of a wake up call, alerting us to some of the thoughts, desires and concerns that lurk just beneath the surface of our conscious mind.
We're all gullible to some degree, otherwise advertising agencies would all be out of business and Miller Lite ads wouldn't feature armies of busty, scantily clad women. The important point is to recognize our own biases and factor that knowledge into our decision making. If you recognize that you have a knee-jerk response to anything related to a particular person, then be honest enough with yourself to acknowledge it as the baseless emotional response it is. We all have this problem to some degree, as it's part of being an emotional creature. But it's pointless, and sometimes self destructive, to let it rule your actions. Maybe you do dislike President Obama, but just make sure your disagreement is based on actual policies and positions and not a bunch of lies and urban legends designed to play to your emotions and trick you into following someone else's agenda.