"It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool," Abraham Lincoln famously said, "than to speak out and remove all doubt."
One of the banes of instant Internet communication is the ease of impulsively dashing off the first, angry thought you have. The angrier you are, the logic seems to go, the more passionate -- and therefore what you say must be so. Unfortunately, passion and logic are polar opposites.
And "I'm entitled to my opinion" is no defense. After all, expressing a foolish opinion (no matter how entitled you are to it) is precisely what Lincoln was talking about.
In fairness, having a vibrant Internet discussion is wonderful, and some InstaComments are sharp and insightful. But those who would be wise to heed Mr. Lincoln's admonition detract from that vibrant discussion by spinning off-topic into universes unknown. In the end, such postings are why God invented skimming.
The other day, I happened on comments that followed a ThinkProgress article about Herman Cain reacting badly to Jon Stewart ridiculing the former pizza king's hyperbole.
One leaped out. Not because the words were worse than most, but because they were typical -- and attached to credentials. Written by Shelby Emmett, clearly she wanted her job as "Policy and Advocacy Coordinator at Healthy Teen Network" to add gravitas to her words. Given that the organization promotes its "advocacy on Capitol Hill" on its website, one does wonder whether or not Ms. Emmett's angry and increasingly off-topic statements mesh with the stated goals of her institution.
What they offer, though, is perfect example proving Abraham Lincoln's warning.
Ms. Emmett began by emptying her pistols, "liberals [sic] are racist. Liberals only see groups." - And I stopped right there, bursting out in laughter. In her very first two sentences, she managed to already contradict herself. Lumping all liberals into one group, and then chastising liberals for only seeing people in groups.
Never mind that the point is ludicrous. It's an old conservative trick: criticize your opponent's strength. It doesn't matter if it's not supportable, it forces your adversaries to defend themselves. This not only makes it look as if they actually have something to defend -- and co-opts their strength as your own -- but more, it moves the discussion away from the actual issue.
Ms. Emmett had already made clear her lack of objectivity, but I moved on to the next sentence, curious to see what how deep she dug her hole.
"YOu [sic] think black people need extra help," she spun off-topic, "and that we can't do anything without daddy government."
I have to admit, I started laughing again. But that's only because I'd just checked the website of the Teen Network, for which Shelby Emmett is the Policy and Advocacy Coordinator. And on their very own "Policy and Advocacy" page, the second "guiding principle" is -- "Our Belief that policy must address the needs of marginalized populations."
In other words, the Teen Network wants government to help minorities. In other words, Ms. Emmett's own organization believes that because of societal barriers black people do need extra help.
That's why, when you're so red-hot zealous, and impulsive, irrational passion takes over, it gets in the way of objective fairness and reason.
And so, she continues:
"If we leave the liberal plantation we are called sell outs....that's the truth."
Well, of course, it's not "the truth. And if someone tells you what "the truth" is -- and it isn't -- it makes everything suspect that they say. And that includes trying to tar liberals again with that racist "liberal plantation" smear, intended to link them to the despicable slave plantations where actual racism existed. Real plantations, of course, were the polar opposite of liberalism.
Certainly Ms. Emmett, as Policy and Advocacy Coordinator of the Teen Network, knows that. But angry InstaComments get in the way of sense. And keep proving Abraham Lincoln right.
And so, with difficulty, I made it through to her last sentence: "When liberals stop thinking I need them to succeed then talk to me about how wonderful your liberal views are."
Of course, one would hope that any Policy and Advocacy Coordinator understands that "liberals"(never mind that she sees them all as a group) don't remotely think minorities "need" them to succeed -- but then, one would also wish she grasped that her very own organization specifically states that marginalized minorities do "need" government assistance.
Still, it's polite of Ms. Emmett's offer to let me talk about how wonderful my liberal views are.
Wonderful liberal views include the 40-hour work week, child labor laws, federal deposit insurance, the TVA, Civil Rights Act, Social Security, Medicare and unemployment insurance.
Not one to leave well enough alone, however, Ms. Emmett got into an online debate and gave further evidence how InstaComment can whirl off-topic into reckless hate.
"16% unemplloyment [sic] in the black community...now that's racism!!", she writes, oblivious of contradicting herself again -- still dividing the world into the very groups she'd earlier blasted liberals for doing...while suggesting that a fix is needed for blacks, despite her having just said that blacks don't need that very help.
That's as far as I got reading Shelby Emmett's thoughts. After all, it's a bit conversation-ending when someone who is a Policy and Advocacy Coordinator, lobbying for government assistance, ends one rant by writing:
"hence why everyone is sick of your left wing marxist, state controlling, EPA regulating liberty destroying ideals."
Perhaps this is the position of the Teen Network. Perhaps not. I don't know.
But in the end, this isn't about Shelby Emmett at all, but rather how instant opinion in the heated-passion of the moment shouldn't necessarily be taken as thoughtful discourse. And that Abraham Lincoln was right about pausing a moment -- Better to remain silent and thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt.
Follow Robert J. Elisberg on Twitter: www.twitter.com/RobertElisberg