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The Federalist Diaries


The Eleventh Commandment, Part 1:
Should We Ask Mel Brooks?

Семь раз отме́рь, оди́н отре́жь.
Translation from Russian: Measure seven times, cut once.

Remember the Mel Brooks comedy in which Moses comes down from Mount Sinai with fifteen commandments, but when one tablet breaks, he proclaims the Ten Commandments? Seriously, there are rules to live by to save us time and money, to lessen the pain and confusion. One such rule is “We shall not pass judgment or take action without confirming the information which has incited or attracted us.”

Do you know how valuable this is? Extremely valuable. This applies to the unexpected letter coming to the house, with an announcement about a lottery winning. Or to the chain e-mail telling us that Microsoft will pay us to forward the chain e-mail. Or the nauseating election-campaign advertisement warning us that some candidate is a wolf in sheep’s clothing or some proposition a Trojan Horse. Yes, this includes any contract which we sign, any warranty which we buy, any trinket or bauble which a salesman brings into our office and offers for a dime on the dollar. This includes any magic bullet for health, any get-rich-quick program, any solicitation for charity from a telemarketer. And, as if we were about to walk through a minefield, this includes anyone asking us for private information like a Social Security number, offering us a reward if we help by first giving him money or giving us groundbreaking news in a ten-second soundbite.

And there is a corollary to this commandment: the greater the consequence of our judgment or more irreversible our action, the more time we must take and more reluctant we must be to decide or do anything without the confirmation. Better to do nothing than the wrong thing, unless a person’s life be on the line and we must decide or act quickly.

Here is the rub. How to confirm information without spending any money and without taking much time? Whom can we trust for a quick, reliable confirmation?

First, it would be good—actually, prudent—for each of us to be self-reliant with regard to confirmation of information. This means that we should take care of ourselves, decide for ourselves. But that is not realistic for most people, because they do not have the time or skill to confirm information. Is there a safe alternative?

Yes, we could have a person in our lives to act as the guardian. Like a lawyer, but without any negative connotation or vision of sugarplums dancing in his head. The guardian would take the time to identify and connect with sources of confirmation, then give us the confirmation or rejection of information. The guardian should be somebody close to us, a family member or a long-time friend; however, not somebody famous and remote, like a President, spiritual leader, head of a consumer organization or movie star.

This is not something to muse upon for a couple of minutes and then follow nonchalantly with a discussion about professional football or after-holiday sales. So, what concrete step can we take now to have a guardian now, as scam artists, hucksters, and propagandists do not stop until after the damage has been done?

January 11, 2007






























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