Saturday, March 20, 2010

Maille that fist

This has been going on as long as I have been on the internets, which would be since about the mid-90's, and probably longer.  It is so ubiquitous that many people probably hardly even notice it.  It is a seemingly innocuous little thing that really began with snail mail variants, then fax-forwarding (remember faxes? Someone asked if I had one the other day!) but has grown exponentially since those days.  It is, however, far from innocuous in my tiny and insignificant opinion, instead being a profound subliminal cultural meme that deeply affects us - all a little differently for sure - but which touches upon some of our core human fears, desires, and ethical values.

I'm talking about the chain email - chain mail.  The sorts that tell you to pass this on to twenty friends and the person who sent it to you and so forth.

The other type of chainmaille - armour.  What this one lacks in coverage I guess it makes up for in distraction.  Ouch, I hope it's lined.

You perhaps think I'm just jesting here?  Well, um, I'm not actually.  Here's why.

We all mostly know by now about the seriously damaging, obvious types of chain mail.  You know, the virus warning hoaxes, the ones that threaten you with harm or even death if you don't forward them and so on.  What I'm talking about here are the innocenty, sentimental ones.

Now I'm a fan of teh kittehs as much as the next guy and recognize also the urge to pass on a beautiful wish or inspiring story.  I have no problem with this stuff, but I do dislike the manipulative agenda of the 'you must pass this on' emails.  Most of them use some form of emotional blackmail, bribery or fear creation in the request to pass it on.  Bribery and intimidation are the tools of those who seek power over you, not those who give of love or of themselves freely.

"But surely it's just a harmless forwarded message, and I can always ignore it, and whoever I send it to can just ignore it too, right?"

Well, really?  And how are you really feeling underneath about being told what to do - and why?  Remember that in the act of passing an email along, you become the sender.  You are now personally responsible for the messages therein.  No ifs, buts or maybes, if it has your name on it in my inbox, it's from you alright.  So now you want me to believe that if I don't send it back to you that I'm not your true friend?  Or that I don't 'get' the message?  Are you telling me that you seriously believe, with all your heart, that you will receive a miracle from Jesus if you meet His criteria (because obviously he wrote the original email) of passing this on to 24 friends within 24 hours, and that the same will happen for me if I follow these instructions?  Or am I just making up the numbers in your quest to get some miracle action happening? Didn't think so.  Yet if that's what your email forward meant, implicitly or explicitly, then that's what you said.

Ostracism.  To be shunned by the tribe.  It is a terrible feeling for most humans, and a dire and deep-seated fear, to be an outcast.  And now someone is intimating that by not following their instructions and perpetuating this manipulative tool of disempowerment in the world that I am somehow less worthy of membership of the tribe.  If I don't comply, I don't 'get it' or I'm not a 'committed Christian' or I am not sufficiently caring of others or I just don't see the Law Of Attraction in the way that you think everyone should.  So I am made to feel fear of not belonging.
These are ostraka, pieces of broken pottery used by ancient Athenians (Athenians who lived a long time ago, not really really old Athenians, necessarily)  as ballot slips to decide if certain persons should be ostracized - which then meant 10 years' exile.  It's where we get the word.

So when you forward on a message that requires the recipient to send it back to you, you are effectively making yourself their judge, the arbiter of whether they can be deemed worthy of your time, effort and kinship - I mean, what are they to think of what you'll think of them?  You've just told them they must send it on and send it back - but they still want to be seen by you as your friend so maybe they'd better just......did you really want to be a blackmailer? No, me either.

Desire marketing.  Combine this with fear of missing out (what if?)  and you have a powerful selling tool.  This one is especially prevalent with the 'make money by passing this lucky email around' and the 'Jesus loves those who pass this email around' ones.  Would Jesus write this email?  Sorry, I thought he was the forgivingest guy ever invented, and did not require tasks of obeisance and tests to prove one's worth.  I thought his daddy dispensed with that after the episode with Abraham (it was Abraham with the son he was asked to sacrifice, right?) way back BC.  And that person who sent you the lucky coin email, which clearly they sent to a zillion others, are they still your friend now that they've won millions in the lottery?  What, they didn't?  So whenever you send on one of these, realise that you are putting pressure on someone you probably love and like a lot.  You are saying "buy this hope - don't miss out!" And as we discussed earlier, this is your choice, your responsibility.  And, you've just given away a bunch of your power to a bullshit scam perpetuated by a friend of yours.

One for the Creationistas.

I realize that I'm riffing a bit on the Christian theme here, but it's because it's such a prevalent form of chain email.  I have no problem with JC as a dude, in fact I think he was one of our better specimens.  I have no beef with people who wish to get closer to the Divine through the lessons and examples of Jesus.  I do have an issue with using fear, guilt, ostracism and blackmail stamped with 'Brand Jesus' which so many people are so very susceptible to.  I suspect Jesus would chase these email creators right out of the marketplace, kick their silly arses into the dawn of realization, and then forgive them.  It's just I'm a bit sad for the caring Christians out there that they have to deal with this shit flying around plastered with the name they hold dear.

OK, so maybe you have had these thoughts too but didn't want to rattle your friend's cage by declining to participate.  Or maybe you just deleted the email with a wry smile and let it go.  What if we all decided to actually say...

"Thanks for the email forward Friend X, but as I think you didn't realise that the language of this email you forwarded is an attempt to emotionally blackmail, bribe and cajole us both into behaving in accordance with someone else's whims at no benefit and some emotional and spiritual cost to ourselves, I've decided not to send it back to you or on to anyone else.  I'm sorry if this does upset you, but it's what I feel is best for me right now.  No hard feelings at all though, hey.  Your loving Friend, Z."  Or something like that.  Maybe that's a bit closer to taking personal responsibility, and to healing oneself from the message we just got subtly putting us down.

Because it always hurts a little, even if you know it wasn't meant.  Language is like that.  In NLP and probably tons of other ways of looking at stuff they use a phrase "speaking in quotes".  It means that you can say stuff to someone and push their emotional buttons while pretending to talk about someone else.  (Apologies for doing it right now by way of example).  If I stand in front of you and talk about two guys I saw having an argument and how this one guy just kept saying "you're a complete bastard" over and over - really just "you're a complete bastard" and then the other guy starts arcing up and saying to the first guy "could be worse - I could have really shit taste in clothes like you".......and what's going on is that you are feeling on some level like I'm calling you a complete bastard and you're a bit worried now about what you're wearing today.  Same effect with the emails, where they pretend to be from some distant original sender.  Nope, they're from the one who sent it to you.  This "talking in quotes" is a very nasty, dishonest thing to do to someone.  So I'm very sorry I had to use an example to show you.

Here, I would like to give you some lovely cake to make up for it.  Please accept my apologies - I just meant to illustrate a point.  Let's share some cake - yum!  I made it with love.

If you want the love of a deity, there are better ways to demonstrate your love for them.  If you want more money, make friends with money.  If you want your friends to tell you they love you, then tell them how you feel about them.  If you want more friends, be more open and vulnerable and go some new places.

So please, be awake to the negative agenda behind these sorts of things, and to the amount of that manipulative vibe that rubs off on you every time you send one on.

"But I like the message, I think it's beautiful and I want my friends to be able to share!"

Well that's awesome.  Just edit out the requests to perpetuate it or send it back.  This makes it a gift.  Without strings or obligations.  Just exactly the kind you love to receive, yes? Very simple stuff.

Remember, all this is my opinion, and the great thing about my opinions - just like anyone else's - is you can always choose to ignore them.  Or forward them to twenty frien.......

We should never underestimate the power of this stuff.  It is a corrosive thing that (ironically perhaps) seeks to strengthen the hive mind but in a very negative and homogenising way - at the expense of individual responsibility.

And if anything's going to make this hive mind thing work, it's taking individual responsibility.

Here endeth the rant.

Now, pass this along to 20 of your fr.....


  1. Hey Eric,

    LOL I loved reading this post and so glad someone else has issues with chain mail = black mail.

    It really does put you in a predicament because you think that your 'friend' is busy and it is their innocent way of connecting and hoping for good fortune for you. There are other times when it makes you feel like a number especially when you bother to write to them as an individual, or it is a test of your friendship ("if you send it back to me I'll know" kind of nonsense). Then there are the times where it came from someone you don't really talk to anymore and you are in their mailing list and so you are not sure of the intention, especially at 10MB. I usually just ignore or delete but if it comes via a close friend I just delete the bs part and email the message back to them or forward if I like it. However, there is this really small annoying feeling that they have passed their fear onto you and somehow it will still affect being crushed by an elephant at exactly 8:15am tomorrow!

    Thanks for sharing Eric, I like the response email fact I might add it along with the 'Save the planet - do not print this email'. 'Save your friendships - do not send chain mail' logo pending.

    Enjoy your trip away
    Liese :o)

  2. Very nice, Eric. You're really a great writer! Almost makes it worthwhile to lose speaking ability. Or maybe not. I'm going through something similar with half my face paralyzed it's become harder for my wife to understand me and extremely difficult to be understood on the phone. I'm going to copy your response to chain mailers and use it every time I get one, especially if you think I should pass it on to 20 friends or I will suffer unimaginable misfortune over the next seven years along with a fast track to hell. -Brian