Dear Republican Email Forwarder,
I have plenty of my own criticisms of Obama, and to a certain extent I agree with the opinions expressed by many of your forwards, but I have grounds for being skeptical of any verifiable/falsifiable claim made, or assumed, by any email forward ever. Your forwards in particular however, are nearly always factually in error, completely unresearched, without basis, overly simplistic, and poorly written as a matter of style. Their logical inferences are almost entirely unwarranted and their rhetoric tends to be very alarmist, inflammatory, and polarizing. They are not edited, fact-checked, or peer-reviewed. Email is a very poor context for dialogue, and I can see little to no benefit in reading or forwarding your poorly punctuated cyber-graffiti. I not only advise you to cease and desist in forwarding this garbage to me, but I generally think this practice propagates belief in falsehoods, division, unwarranted panic, and many, many other undesirable things and so advise you to stop reading and forwarding this nonsense in general.
The particular email I received from you recently, which purports to be an opinion piece published in a newspaper from Czechoslovakia (which was spelled wrong) whose name returned zero results in Google (not to mention the fact that, as of 18 years ago, Czechoslovakia is no longer the name of a country), is intended to make the reader feel like opinions of Obama abroad are negative (to counter the message of the left). There are other pieces that advance this same message. There were several criticizing Obama’s treatment of Britain, including the DVD box set he gave to the prime minister and the iPod he gave to the Queen (were these deliberately insulting, honest blunders, or perfectly acceptable gifts?). There were pieces overreacting to his honest blunder in toasting the Queen during her song (you can really see the embarrassment in his face at realizing his mistake). There are also pieces about Obama being snubbed by Britons (eg. Wills and Kate). There are pieces about Israel too, including his alleged snubbing of the president and the remark he made about pre-60’s borders (I have my own opinions, but they’re irrelevant). I could easily go on. I have 185 email forwards about Obama in my inbox.
The reality is mixed as far as Obama’s popularity abroad is concerned. It’s complicated. More of the world approves of current US leadership than disapproves (which rating is significantly better as a matter of fact than it was during the Bush Administration). But even that’s almost not worth mentioning without lengthy commentary (is it a good thing to be popular around the globe? What percentage of the rating increase is due to longstanding enemies whose anti-American goals are being helped by the current administration? Or is it that current leadership has actually built bridges?). Simplistic messages are misleading, muddying, and tend to gloss over relevant distinctions and details.
And so when I receive emails that have factual errors, invalid inferences, and simplistic messages, I cringe. Now, why do I care so much?
The biggest reason why I react so strongly is because I almost always agree with the underlying motivations for the emails and I often agree with their opinions. And so because of this, it kills me to hear my own views expounded and advanced with poor reasoning, factual errors, and rhetoric that divides instead of persuades.
I find myself reacting this same way, only much more viscerally, when I see fellow Christians acting hypocritically, saying asinine things in the coffee shops like “just have faith”, making poor arguments that make it seem like Christianity is based on factual errors and poor reasoning instead of verifiable history, strong arguments, and experiences that rationally ground our faith and produce charitable behavior and transformed lives.
What intensifies my reaction to political email forwards and causes me to react so sharply, though not quite as sharply as I react to shallow or hypocritical Christian belief and behavior, is something personal. Put yourself in my shoes for a moment. My wife, as you may know, is one of the smartest people in Kootenai County, and is a very conservative Christian. Yet, she is politically very liberal. Most of the arguments for conservative (or what I would call “Classical Liberal”) economics, social policy, and foreign policy that she hears are quite simply bad arguments. They are often highly spun stories about current events, invalid inferences, over-generalizations, and factually false. Though she knows better deep down, this gives her the impression that there aren’t any good arguments for my views, just like the uncharitable and ill-informed brothers and sisters in Christ give unbelievers the impression that Christianity is based on silly myths and that Christians are selfish hypocrites.
While I believe that Lindsey stands up well in her corner and holds intellectually respectable political views, I simple disagree with her on them at the end of the day. It doesn’t wear on our marriage because our marriage wasn’t founded on politics, it was founded on something deeper than that. But that doesn’t change the fact that insofar as the political sphere is concerned I would want to persuade her of my opinions. And these email forwards typically hurt my cause instead of helping it.
So I appreciate that you think of us when you forward emails. I know that you’re an intelligent, well-informed person and fully capable of interpreting these forwards with a grain of salt. I know that not everybody takes them seriously and that many of the pieces constitute something akin to water-cooler talk, etc., etc.. I get all that, yet even accounting for the admission that I tend to over-react to them, I still think the practice is a poor and counterproductive way to pass around information and opinion and that it does more harm than good to all parties involved.
There’s nothing I like less than bad arguments for a view I hold dear.
– Daniel C. Dennett