I am awash in a sea of bad information. How did this happen? I’ve spent too much time in the ocean of social media where information is plentiful, but accuracy is sacrificed for speed and volume. How does this happen? The easy answer, of course, is that people are idiots. This knee jerk response is just as flawed as the flotsam vomited out on social media even as you read this. People love outrage. More precisely, they love to be outraged. This is especially true when politics and religion are involved. This causes otherwise intelligent and thoughtful folks to randomly post thoughts, memes and links which are related to reality only by the thin thread of having originated from someone’s mind.
Another answer might be that I spend too much time on social media and should do something else like a read book. No thank you, Egg Head. That ain’t happening. We need to work together.
Phil Robertson is now the millstone around my neck. If you don’t know who Phil is, then good for you. You aren’t into social media and perhaps spend your time writing poetry. If so, you’re probably not reading this anyway. Phil is a “reality TV” star. His show, Duck Dynasty, is entertaining. It certainly seems scripted to me, but what do I know? Perhaps Phil and his family became multi-millionaires while bumbling about like…well…reality TV stars.
I won’t rehash what Phil did. There’s no point in doing so. He said things that pissed people off or made people happy. Outrage ensued. Many folks–again, otherwise intelligent–have risen to his defense by citing his right to “free speech.” One poster on Facebook said “What the hell happened to free speech in this country?” The answer is nothing, because Phil’s opinions have nothing to do with free speech. “But, but, but…he got FIRED!!” You are correct. He did get fired. Free speech, unfortunately, doesn’t prevent that. “YES, IT DOES!” you scream. Let’s read the First Amendment of the United States Constitution:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
[Note how I helpfully highlighted the part about “Congress.”] Congress has made no law regarding speech which affects Phil at all. In fact, no government official has done anything to Phil. Maybe you love what he said about gay people and African-Americans. If so, you have found some common ground with radical Islam. Maybe you’re a Libertarian sort who supports everyone’s right to speak his or her mind. I really don’t care. But, let’s all agree to never invoke the First Amendment again on this issue. We’ll all feel better. I know I do. Thanks.
It’s not only the plain language of our Constitution which cause confusion. Easily verified claims also drive us to hysteria. Here’s a favorite example. Occasionally, a meme makes the rounds about Presidential and Congressional pensions. It reads:
Salary of retired US Presidents……………………….$450,000 FOR LIFE
Salary of House/Senate members……………………$174,000 FOR LIFE
Salary of Speaker of the House……………………….$223,500 FOR LIFE
Salary of Majority/Minority Leaders………………….$194,400 FOR LIFE
Average salary of a soldier DEPLOYED IN AFGHANISTAN ……$38,000
Average income for Seniors on Social Security …………………$12,000
I think we found where the cuts should be made! If you agree, pass it on!
Aren’t you outraged? This is patently insane. Why would these people get paid for life!?!?! What kind of country do we live in? That’s a valid question but not because of this. The above information–while outrageous–is incorrect in almost every way. None of these people–not even the President–gets full salary for life. It simply is not true. Does this stop folks from being outraged about it? Of course not. Variations of this meme have been posted many times on social media. The comments are fairly frothing with their condemnation. Here’s my suggestion: When you see something that is so inane as to make you want to immediately post it on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, stop and think. Since you’re probably on the Internet at the time, do a simple search. Check the facts. You’ll be amazed how easy it is to confirm or counter such things. Again, we’ll all be better for it, and you won’t look like an uninformed ass.
Then there are the half-truths, those items of interest based in reality but twisted into something sort of whole truth. Here’s a meme making the rounds:
The House of Representatives passed a budget bill cutting pensions for veterans. (Not “Veteran’s”). That much is true. The reduction is actually a reduction of the cost of living increase for certain pensions. It’s what I call a “Government Cut.” A “private cut” is where you make less money next year than you made this year. It only applies to certain veterans–ones deemed young enough to re-enter the work force. Now, don’t get me wrong. This seems like a bad idea. We’ve worn out our military with endless wars. The least we could do is leave their pensions alone. On the other hand, don’t worry about veterans actually getting a cut in their pensions. The private sector, where there are no pensions anymore, is the only place that happens.
This is a prime example of excellent propaganda. Take a grain of truth, twist into something outrageous and scare everyone. Remember that Hitler got elected by scaring the hell out of people. There’s a reason he had a Ministry of Propaganda. It works.
Finally, there are those debates that rage over opinions. Most of these involve politics or religion–two topics which civilized people never discuss. Bear this in mind: There are two sides or more to each such debate:
Obamacare: POINT–The program is already failing and far too expensive for the country to afford. Socialized medicine will lead to reduced services for everyone. COUNTERPOINT–It’s the law. Give it time, and the kinks will get worked out. If socialized medicine is so horrible, why do we provide it to our military veterans. Wouldn’t they be better off buying their healthcare in the market?
- Phil Robertson: POINT–He’s free to speak his mind and express his faith. Leave him alone. COUNTERPOINT–People are also free to be offended by his comments. We don’t have to leave him alone.
- NSA: POINT–The Government is only gathering data. They have no way to do anything with it. COUNTERPOINT: Yet. There is nothing more un-American than spying on your citizenry.
- TAXES: POINT–Let’s raise taxes on the highest earners. This would quickly fix all our fiscal problems. COUNTERPOINT–Our government has a history of spending every penny it brings in–and more. Until we fix that, more revenue won’t help.
These few examples show how it works. There are two sides to all theses issues. It just depends on your political prism.
Of course, acknowledging differing opinions isn’t our way. God forbid that we be asked to actually respect another’s views. We prefer to be right. In fact, we demand it, even when we are wrong. I am fortunate to have friends from all walks of life. Their politics range from Left-leaning Communists to budding Neo-Nazis. The Right’s take on current events is a combination of moral outrage, moral superiority (always Christian), the U.S. Constitution (if you don’t like something, it’s unconstitutional) and some nostalgia (such things as whipping children are fondly recalled). The support Republicans and like all Ayn Rand quotes. The Left approaches these issues from a different angle, of course. They are intellectual titans ready to make fun of religion (always Christianity. They don’t say anything about Islam, Judaism, et al.), cite obscure authors, and engage in relentless name-calling often involving obscene language. They support Democrats and love to quote Barack Obama, Mahatma Ghandi and hate all Ayn Rand quotes, even though most of them are atheists like Rand.
Here is a typical social media exchange regarding Mr. Robertson, who has eclipsed war, world hunger and random violence as the issue of the day:
- Original Post: I stand with Phil! The Bible says that we will be persecuted for Him! Christians have freedom of speech, too! Our country is being destroyed! I will never watch TV again!
[See how our friend has concisely encompassed the significant elements of right-wing rage. The Bible, persecution, morality, patriotism and broad and incorrect legal principles.]
A response from the Left naturally flows:
- Comment: You can stand with that bigoted, homophobic, racist if you like. I have never seen his show. In fact, I do not own a television having traded mine for a Navajo Dream Catcher. Freedom of speech is not an issue here–offensive, racist, homophobic rhetoric is. The Bible supports all manner of prejudice. I suggest you read the collected works of Bertrand Russell instead.
[Our Leftist chum has countered with his own salvo. He engages in name calling that far exceeds anything Mr. Robinson has done but does so from a perch of intellectual superiority. He is above mere TV watching. He concludes his concise commentary by inferring that atheist mathematician/philosopher Bertrand Russell is a better source for moral guidance than the Holy Bible. Well done.]
This exchange will continue with many additional posts by these and other commentators. The Right will contend they are right because, well, they are right…or Right. The Left will froth and name-call, even resorting to the use of vulgarities to make their points. Ultimately, no one makes any sense and everyone is angry.
I’m embarrassed to admit that I have engaged in this foolishness on occasion, especially when legal principles are misstated. I forget my advantages in this regard: 1) I have actually read the Constitution; and 2) I graduated from law school. I, too, have been called names. One Lefty even called me a racist for correctly noting that the ubiquitous George Zimmerman is Hispanic. I countered with own my stream of obscenities. It’s easy to fall into this trap. I do not judge.
Let’s all commit to work as one to make all this easier for me. After all, wouldn’t the world be a better place if things suited me? Don’t be a racist, homophobic, liberal, conservative, Communistic Neo-Nazi, Bible-thumping Atheist.