Friday, 25 October 2013

Playing the Cancer Card Against Chain Letters

All right. You know that Facebook status chain letter that's been going around, asking you to post it or share it to show respect and honour those who have been fighting cancer? Actually, there are several, but they all have the same basic idea, and they all employ the same subtle emotional bullying to get you to share them. Since they come from someone you probably like, and they appear as a personal request from that person to share them, you feel obliged to do so, not just because you don't want to disappoint your friend but also because you don't want to look like you are indifferent to people with cancer.

You know what? It's a chain letter. That's all it is, really. The heartfelt personal request from your friend? They may feel the same way, but they didn't write it; they're passing along what they think is a heartfelt request from one of their friends. And chain letters, they're basically the memetic equivalent of a virus. They get into your mind, instruct you to make copies, and the copies go off in hopes of infecting more minds. Unlike biological viruses, chain letters rarely kill their hosts, but the basic ecology is the same.

So odds are, the person who sent it to you isn't going to be heartbroken if you ignore their personal request, because it isn't actually their request: they're just relieved to have avoided feeling guilty for ignoring their friend's "personal" request.

And as for respecting and honouring cancer victims, well, obviously I can only speak for myself, and maybe that chain letter has brought real comfort to others, but for my part, I am unmoved by the gesture. Look, I know people who forward these things mean well, but seriously, if you want to do something nice for cancer patients, go volunteer at a cancer clinic. Give money to support cancer research. Go get a colonoscopy before you start showing symptoms so you can avoid using up scarce medical resources to treat a preventable cancer later. Stop smoking. Or if you really just want to make a gesture or send a message, don't cut and paste someone else's words or graphic: take a few minutes to write your own. I mean, presumably they've friended you because they think you're a decent person already, and it kinda goes without saying that decent people care about people with cancer, so clicking "share" doesn't exactly supply your friends with new information. 

So. Let me play the cancer card here, and speak in my capacity as a former cancer patient: If someone forwards you a chain letter asking you to pass it along out of respect for cancer patients/victims/survivors, I hereby give you permission not to forward it. I won't feel disrespected.

No comments:

Post a Comment