Flagrantly false emails & the election

It would be hard to say what part of the election I find more agonizing – the immense amount of money spent by both sides on such an unproductive endeavor, the partisan sniping that poses as, and usurps the place of, studied debate on the issues faced by the nation, the chattering talking heads on cable and radio and the net who talk endlessly about their own views without ever pausing to engage in real debate, and on and on.

For the most part, I cannot control these things – and so to the best of my ability, I ignore them. What irks me even more are the things that are under individual control that are not stopped by a moment’s thought or a second’s effort.

Case in point – since shortly after¬†Palin’s addition to the McCain ticket, I have been alarmed by news stories regarding her desire, in 1996, to ban some books from her local library in Wasilla, Alaska. I first read about that issue on Boing Boing, which linked to here, quoting an article in Time. The story is now covered in, at this moment,¬†over two hundred other places.

Great. I think any American with a love of our liberties would immediately become alarmed at the prospect of banning any books, even if they were objectionable to many people, as the freedom of speech, thought, and opinion is such a central, distinguishing feature of our nation.

Returning to my opening thought, however, I have now received the same email, from several smart people, that alleges to be a list of specific books Palin sought to ban in Alaska. As I looked at the list, my first reaction was shock and sadness, but after a half-second, I thought – is this real? I cannot imagine either of those reactions is unusual, and yet it seems that in fact the second one is. In less than ten seconds, I fired up Google, searched for Plain and book banning, and found the article on Snopes that debunks the list as being a resurrected rehash of books marked for banning at various points in American history. The best part of the list – it includes books written after 1996, when Palin made her original inquiry.

Looking at the email that was sent to me, and reading the chain of email addresses recording the path of its travels on its way to me, saddened me more than the list itself had for that first moment. Freedom of speech will always make some people uncomfortable, and some will always contemplate the possibility of banning the ideas they do not like. I can see how that would be tempting, even though I know it’s abhorrent to my conception of America. Worse than the possibility of banning these books though, to me, is the fact that so many smart people are so willing, no, eager to believe the worst about those with whom they disagree. Those email addresses referred to many people, and the ones I know among them are all smart and computer savvy. Yet not one of them had taken the less than a minute to turn up the fact that the mail was a sham.

No wonder the campaigns in this country pander to our basest instincts and fears, when so many of us are too willing to believe that and too lazy to make even a modest effort to learn facts for ourselves. If we cannot be bothered to try to learn the truth, we will always be saddled by politicians who will not make a greater effort to do so themselves.

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