Lies and Damned Lies 

There was a popular meme flying around Facebook this week. It was a picture of Mark Twain, accompanied by this sentence: "No amount of evidence will ever persuade an idiot."

That's a provocative quote, and it sounds like something Mark Twain might have said. It's appealing to everyone, because everybody thinks the facts are on their side and only an idiot would disagree. But Twain didn't say it. Nor did he say most of the things you see attributed to him on social media. In fact, there are websites entirely devoted to debunking or verifying Mark Twain quotes.

Here are some other things Mark Twain didn't say:

"Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint."

"The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco."

"There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics."

I could fill most of the editorial space in the Flyer with misattributed Mark Twain quotes, but I won't because — as Mark Twain also didn't say: "I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time."

click to enlarge 9eb8b004bc3765230af7b38ee5dbab5f572853f649349c0ae8eb7240c9f98623.jpg


There was another, more troubling, meme making the rounds this week. It was a picture of Democratic presidential candidate and California Senator Kamala Harris and her parents. The text claimed that Harris' father was Jamaican and her mother was Indian and that Harris was falsely claiming to be African-American. Other variations of the meme that were circulated claimed that Harris was the child of immigrants and born and raised in Canada.

An entire network of bots began tweeting the same allegation, word for word, within an hour or so of the second Democratic debate's conclusion. Even Donald Trump Jr. retweeted it, before later deleting his tweet.

Here we go again, America. Birtherism, part deux.

Harris' father was a Jamaican of African descent, i.e. black. (Ever wonder why black folks were brought to Jamaica?) Harris was raised in Oakland, California — which is still part of America, as far as I know. She has been described since her election as "the first black senator from California," and no one seemed to object. She was bused to school with other black children for the purpose of desegregation while in elementary school. She is as black as President Obama, Tiger Woods, Beyoncé, and millions of other Americans who have a mixed-race heritage that includes African roots.

Questions about Obama's citizenship, parentage, and place of birth were famously promoted into a full-fledged conspiracy theory, mostly by Donald Trump. That "issue" distracted and divided the American public for years. Now it's Harris' turn to become the target of a coordinated disinformation campaign questioning her race and citizenship. Daily Stormer and other neo-nazi sites have been leading the charge, as well as at least one foreign-based bot network. And it's being helped along by thousands of folks on Facebook, most of whom have no idea of the meme's origin.

I'm hard-pressed to think of a parallel in American history — of a time when propaganda and false "facts" were as easily spread among the populace. It's compounded by the fact that newspapers have shrunk and disappeared to the point where many communities have no reliable news source and where many Americans consume and take for truth whatever is fed to them on social media.

click to enlarge Kamala Harris - © BLACKKANGO | DREAMSTIME.COM
  • © Blackkango | Dreamstime.com
  • Kamala Harris

It's a fact that malign entities, foreign and domestic, are seeking to undermine our democratic systems and turn this country into an autocracy, similar to those of North Korea, Saudi Arabia, China, and Russia. That the president seems to be more comfortable with the leaders of these countries than with our traditional democratic allies is unsettling, to say the least. Destroying the reputations and credibility of would-be challengers to the president in 2020 is just part of the process. Trump hasn't come up with a derogatory nickname for Harris yet, but it's only a matter of time.

I'm not sure who actually said, "No amount of evidence will ever persuade an idiot," but these days it seemingly takes very little evidence to persuade an idiot. So check the sources of the information you receive before passing it on as gospel. Don't be an idiot. Your country's future is depending on it.

Bruce VanWyngarden

brucev@memphisflyer.com

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