The other day someone remarked that a member of his church group said that he had heard that democratic presidential candidate and Senator Barack Obama, if elected, will purportedly refuse to take his oath of office using a Bible and will instead substitute the Koran. The gossip dispatcher qualified his alarming allegation by saying that he did not know if it were true. Aside from the obvious — that this is one of the many hoaxes believed by the same group of people who fear that the late atheist crusader Madalyn Murray O’Hair is alive and well and presently in cahoots with the Federal Communications Commission — there is another problem with name dropping in this context.
True or not, once a supercharged tidbit of gossip drops, its negativity sticks. Simply stating that one cannot verify whether something is true is a sorry excuse for spreading malicious rumors. At no time in history, after all, has it been so easy to check via the Internet whether the things we read or hear have any basis in fact. Yet we all know the type: those who would rather become conduits of damnable lies than spend two minutes fact checking on About.com’s Urban Legends page.
Not only is feckless forwarding a sure way to get all your friends and family signed up for oodles of SPAM, but it is one of the chief ways in which dangerous computer viruses spread on the Internet (via attachments). Mindlessly forwarding unverified email also dulls recipients’ senses so that when real news stories or causes for alarm come along, nobody knows exactly what or whom to believe.
“The Boy who Cried Wolf” may be our undoing.
Consider the subject of the so-called North American Union, which has been reported extensively by commentator and Harvard-trained political scientist Dr. Jerome R. Corsi on behalf of the conservative publications Human Events Online and WorldNetDaily. According to Wikipedia, a desire to create a currency shared by Canada, the U.S. and Mexico in order to compete with the higher-value euro simply does not exist outside the realm of conspiracy. Never mind that a shared “regional currency” is a logical outgrowth of the North America Free Trade Agreement. Never mind that a similar progression of trade and currency took place in Europe to an initially naive and increasingly acrimonious public reaction. And don’t tell that to the Council on Foreign Relations. In a November 26, 2007 CFR publication titled “Regional Monetary Integration“, ivy-league economists discuss the benefits and potential public relations obstacles to introducing a common currency in North America and elsewhere.
Similarly, there is nothing imaginary about the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America that President Bush, former Mexican President Fox and former Canadian Prime Minister Martin signed in March 2005. The SPP is a natural extension of the NAFTA framework that former presidential candidate Ross Perot infamously remarked would result in a “giant sucking sound” of Middle Class American jobs exiting the border. (Of course, we all know how NAFTA saved the day. General Motors still can’t get it right despite access to cheap Mexican labor. See “Was Ross Perot Right?“.)
Are there real concerns to which we ought to pay heed? Absolutely. Should we express those concerns by forwarding anonymous email or gossiping to coworkers, friends or anybody else who will listen — before we take time to learn if there is any truth to what we have heard? Never. For if there is one thing worse than examining a possible “conspiracy”, it is being asleep at the wheel of democracy.
When rumor is fact and reality is conspiracy, we are in a dire place indeed.
This nation’s guiding democratic principles cannot survive willful ignorance any more than our friends and family can stomach constant reminders of our frightful gullibility. For those that care to reform their wicked ways, I have a fashionably “retro” suggestion: Newspapers. Perhaps if we read a bit more and gossip a bit less America will reclaim its spot in the top 20 literate nations.