ConstitutionThe whole ‘viral internet’ phenomenon can tell us a lot about each other. By ‘viral’, of course, I’m referring to the ton of information that gets passed along from person to person in email forwards, YouTube videos, blog entries, Facebook notes and such, and by which people come to believe all manner of bullshit. People pass it along for a variety of reasons: because it’s funny, because it’s fascinating, because they want to help, because they want to inspire, because they want to protect their friends from computer viruses or other malady.

And when it comes to politics, information spreads virally usually because it resonates with the reader who then becomes the sender, who agrees with the opinion and the manner in which it’s presented.

Through the course of my radio job, I’ve developed a bullshitometer, and this is the perfect story to demonstrate its effectiveness. I received an email today from a regular listener, which started:

“The following was written by State Representative Mitchell Kaye from GA. ‘We, the sensible people of the United States …. hold these truths to be self-evident …. that a whole lot of people are confused by the Bill of Rights and are so dumb that they require a Bill of No Rights.'”

The rest of the email then goes on to list the rights that don’t exist: that there is no right not to be offended, no right to the wealth of others, etc. It was great, and I agreed with the first few so wholeheartedly that I began to think that it was probably written by a libertarian, like me. This was exactly the kind of thing a good libertarian would write, since so many rights are simply ‘made up’ by people who don’t understand the concept of rights in the first place and a ‘Bill of No Rights’ made total sense to me.

I was right. As a matter of fact, the email was not written by Kaye at all, but by Lewis Napper, a libertarian candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2000. Snopes has the correction here, which confirms that Napper is the author and made me smile with the recognition of a political ally.

But, as I began to read on, it became apparent to me that there were parts of the email that didn’t resonate with me, and moreover which don’t concern rights at all, let alone the values of a libertarian author. As I came to the the last two sections, I smelled a rat. ‘This wasn’t part of the original piece!’, I thought. ‘A religious conservative has fiddled with this and added stuff that wasn’t there!’ It reminded me of the moment I first discovered as a Christian teenager the changes and additions that people had made to the bible throughout the ages. Just like a game of ‘Chinese Whispers’ or ‘Telephone’, the information had been changed as it was passed from person to person.

I googled the piece, managed to find the original by Lewis Napper, and compared the two. Sure enough, there were two sections added – and one section removed – by the conservative who did the editing.

The section that was removed (ARTICLE XIII) was about foreign policy, and by implication the military draft: that there is no right “…to demand that our children risk their lives in foreign wars…” This is certainly the section that conservatives would be least likely to agree with.

The sections added so seamlessly at the end…. can you guess the topics?

“ARTICLE X: This is an English speaking country. We don’t care where you are from, English is our language. Learn it or go back to wherever you came from!”

Nothing whatever to do with rights, or even ‘non-rights’. I suspect this is because the conservative who edited this didn’t wish to go quite as far as to say, “You have no right to speak your native language in the United States,” but wanted to convey his anti-multicultural message nonetheless. It’s such a tired message, actually; the result of cultural paranoia and a dewy-eyed wistfulness about life in 1950s America.

But no conservative editing of a libertarian article would be complete without a reference to how the United States was ‘founded’ on ‘God’. The last section reads:

“ARTICLE XI: You do not have the right to change our country’s history or heritage. This country was founded on the belief in one God. You are given the freedom to believe in any religion, any faith, or no faith at all, with no fear of persecution. The phrase IN GOD WE TRUST is part of our heritage and history, and if you are uncomfortable with it, TOUGH!”

Gotta love it. It’s wrong, of course. Contrary to being ‘founded on God’, the United States was one of the first truly secular nations in world history. Most of the founders were deists or theists, but they were careful not to enshrine ‘God’ into the documents upon which the new nation was built. It was to be a land of freedom from religious compulsion. None of this matters to religious conservatives, though, who added ‘In God We Trust’ as the national motto in – you guessed it – the 1950s, and who subsequently act as though it had always been there!

When you receive politically-charged viral information on the internet, see if you can spot the edits, consult websites like Snopes, and remember, nothing is more important than truth. Here’s the full original by Lewis Napper, in its pure libertarian glory, written in 1993.

We, the sensible people of the United States, in an attempt to help everyone get along, restore some semblance of justice, avoid any more riots, keep our nation safe, promote positive behavior and secure the blessings of debt-free liberty to ourselves and our great-great-great grandchildren, hereby try one more time to ordain and establish some common sense guidelines for the terminally whiny, guilt-ridden, delusional and other liberal, commie, pinko bedwetters.

We hold these truths to be self-evident: that a whole lot of people were confused by the Bill of Rights and are so dim that they require a Bill of No Rights.

ARTICLE I: You do not have the right to a new car, big screen color TV or any other form of wealth. More power to you if you can legally acquire them, but no one is guaranteeing anything.

ARTICLE II: You do not have the right to never be offended. This country is based on freedom, and that means freedom for everyone—not just you! You may leave the room, turn the channel, express a different opinion, etc., but the world is full of idiots, and probably always will be.

ARTICLE III: You do not have the right to be free from harm. If you stick a screwdriver in your eye, learn to be more careful, do not expect the tool manufacturer to make you and all your relatives independently wealthy.

ARTICLE IV: You do not have the right to free food and housing. Americans are the most charitable people to be found, and will gladly help anyone in need, but we are quickly growing weary of subsidizing generation after generation of professional couch potatoes who achieve nothing more than the creation of another generation of professional couch potatoes.

ARTICLE V: You do not have the right to free health care. That would be nice, but from the looks of public housing, we’re just not interested in public health care.

ARTICLE VI: You do not have the right to physically harm other people. If you kidnap, rape, intentionally maim or kill someone, don’t be surprised if the rest of us get together and kill you.

ARTICLE VII: You do not have the right to the possessions of others. If you rob, cheat or coerce away the goods or services of other citizens, don’t be surprised if the rest of us get together and lock you away in a place where you still won’t have the right to a big-screen color TV or a life of leisure.

ARTICLE VIII: You don’t have the right to demand that our children risk their lives in foreign wars to soothe your aching conscience. We hate oppressive governments and won’t lift a finger to stop you from going to fight if you’d like. However, we do not enjoy parenting the entire world and do not want to spend so much of our time battling each and every little tyrant with a military uniform and funny hat.

ARTICLE IX: You don’t have the right to a job. All of us sure want you to have one, and will gladly help you along in hard times, but we expect you to take advantage of the opportunities in education and vocational training laid before you to make yourself useful.

ARTICLE X: You do not have the right to happiness. Being an American means that you have the right to pursue happiness—which by the way, is a lot easier if you are unencumbered by an overabundance of idiotic laws created by those of you who were confused by the Bill of Rights.