Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Truth or Propaganda?

I got e-mail from someone I am not sure I know. She basically sent it to everyone in her address book. It starts out something like “I’m not trying to change anyone’s mind, but I think everyone ought to read the following. It’s written by a very intelligent man who isn’t a name-caller and doesn’t use scare tactics or anything. He just lists some facts that we all ought to consider.”

Now I’m not going to tell you anything about the issue involved because that’s not the point. Suffice it to say that it was regarding an issue that is hotly debated in our society today. I’m not going to tell you whether the attachment was from a conservative or a liberal because it doesn’t matter. It wasn’t the position that bothered me as much as the irresponsible manner in which he presented his opinions and the fact that someone out there actually thought it was intelligent, well reasoned and not a scare tactic or name calling.

Okay, honestly, it was a position I happen to oppose. But I don’t like it when people I agree with use these same tactics. I just notice them more when someone with whom I disagree uses them.

First of all, it was very large, bold type. Anyone who is visually screaming is not calm or reasoned.

Secondly, there wasn’t a single fact in the whole article. It was mostly polemic and opinion dressed as fact. He said things like if we take this course of action we will be just like people in country X. “God Forbid”. Okay, I don’t actually know much about the situation in country X and what I do know is all good. So I’m not exactly sure what horror he is asking God to Forbid. I’ve got a hunch that many of his readers also don’t know. But he sounds like he knows and he says “God Forbid.” This is a scare tactic.

He then goes on to rip to shreds the spokesperson for the issue he is opposing. He uses opinion dressed as fact over and over. He says this person is the kind of person who says what you want to hear but then does the opposite. This sounds like a fact, but it isn’t. It is slander unless he backs it up with some actual fact. He doesn’t actually call the spokesperson a back-stabber. I guess that’s what my correspondent meant when she said he isn’t a name-caller. But the implication is clear. Then he goes on to advise us to watch what he does rather than what he says. This is pretty good advice and sounds like something a father would say. So it tends to give credence to the unsupported nastiness that preceded it. But that is not the same as giving facts to support these claims.

I could go on, but you get the idea. If you don’t, try reading the rules for submitting an article to Wikipedia. There is a very good example of what good, honest, factual writing should be like.

So I shot her back two e-mails I recently received on the same issue. One was a real article on the issue with real facts written by someone who has really studied the issue. The other was a thoughtful opinion written by a man who is truly concerned for the welfare of humanity. It was conciliatory and embracing and written in normal type. I didn’t really think about why I sent them. Upon reflection, I think my real agenda was to show her what facts and opinion without scare tactics and name calling look like.

But she shot back an e-mail saying that she is educated and informed and I need to look into the issue more. Well, probably she’s right. But I’m not going to allow myself to be educated and informed by nasty people, so I asked her to remove me from her address book and she did.

I don’t mean to say that she is nasty. As I said, I don’t actually know who this woman is. It sounds like she is a nice person. But we both obviously think the other person is kind of dumb and misled and we neither of us want to hear what the other has to say.

Is this the core of what is disturbing me? I’m a nice person. If two nice women can’t find a common ground for discussing things they disagree on, what hope is there for the world? Or am I just annoyed that someone who doesn’t understand the difference between fact and opinion and cannot recognize not very subtle propaganda has my e-mail address?