False memory and the hug that never was
© by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Thursday, October 8, 2015


"It ain’t what a man don’t know that makes him a fool, but what he does know that ain’t so."
Henry W. Shaw

I copied the above into one of my quote books (I am working on my fourth) decades ago. I’ve repeated it myself, but had forgotten who said it when I wanted to use it today, so I googled the quote – and found it attributed to Mark Twain, though with some admissions that he may not in fact been the first to say it.

My quote books aren’t organized by subject, so I started paging through, and found it in Book 2, attributed to Mr. Shaw, whom I suspect is the right author. The point in the above quote therefore makes itself.

In fact Twain and Shaw, the latter using the pen name Josh Billings, were contemporaries, almost equally well-regarded at the time. I’ll bet someone later thought the quote might seem cleverer if attributed to Twain.

One of my pet peeves is the clever statements made by ordinary people, who then attribute them to famous people, often in this era to Andy Rooney or Lee Iacocca, so they’ll get published. I always check these statements with snopes.com before passing them on, and often learn that they are wrongly attributed. When I complain to the person who sent them to me, they usually don’t understand why this bothers me. I see it as a way of stealing someone’s identity, or using celebrities without their permission to make a point with which they may or may not agree.

What got me started on this subject was learning last weekend that Gov. Chris Christie didn’t hug President Barack Obama when the latter showed up after Hurricane Sandy, bringing federal aid. At the time, the Republican governor was supporting Mitt Romney’s second presidential bid, and the image of the hug stayed in people’s minds, making Christie’s criticism of Obama useless in the last days of the campaign. It has since been affecting his own presidential campaign, as frequent reference to it makes him seem too soft, too tolerant of the Democrat president.


However, there never was a hug. One of my Facebook friends posted that Fox News’ Greta van Susteren recently apologized to Christie for being the first to charge “hug”; she has recently seen a photo and in fact, he and the president were just shaking hands, though Obama did that Clinton-thing of grasping the opposite upper arm.

I would swear I once saw “the hug”. Chip remembers it too, asked me: “was this a mass hallucination?” All I could find on the internet was a photo of the two of them walking with their arms around each other, which was odd enough.

But I also heard, and have repeated, that it bothered me more that Gov. Christie said he “wept” when he got a call from Bruce Springsteen, riding with the President on Air Force One. I decided that Christie is too emotional to be president. Today, suspicious now of “what I think I know”, I looked this up too; Christie was clearly kidding when he said that. So he’s back on my list of possible candidates.

I don’t “know” this, but I strongly suspect that Obama set up Christie to appear weak, and therefore get him off the Romney campaign trail. The fact that it worked is the fault of those of us who believed what we were told and repeated it.

Of course this is a small thing, in the context of the big things people believe that ain’t so. Every October, living near Salem, we are reminded of the Witch Hysteria, the giant delusion that many people shared in 1692, resulting in the death of alleged witches. Then, fewer than forty years ago, the delusion repeated itself as accusations against Day Care providers, across the country and again in Massachusetts.

The Fells Acre Day Care case was the worst, resulting in the false imprisonment of Violet, Gerald and Cheryl Amirault. Eventually, most people came to realize that there was never abuse at this Fells Acre, that the government’s entire case was false, that the Amiraults were innocent. However, the injustice goes on, as Gerald Amirault is still on parole, still wearing and paying for his GPS ankle bracelet.

Candidate Charlie Baker had promised to deal with this if he was elected. Yes, I believed him. Must admit it’s not the first time I believed something a politician told me that wasn’t so, making me a fool; bet I’m not the only one.

In college freshman Philosophy class, we studied the French philosopher Rene Descartes, who famously said “I think, therefore I am,” arguing that this is the only thing we could know for sure. I did that little exercise, then slowly began piling on other things I was reasonably sure I knew.

Politically, I remain convinced that freedom and personal responsibility are the two highest values, the basis for the American ideal. But I had always thought that Americans, by definition, shared those values; it has taken me many decades to realize that this could be wrong. NOW what?

One of my favorite novels is “Illusions” by Richard Bach (better known for “Jonathan Livingston Seagull”), in which the protagonist repeats a favorite phrase to an observer: “It’s only a movie.” I recall during my early years of trying to make sense of activities on Beacon Hill, conservative Taxation Committee Chairman Jack Flood (D-Canton) said that a lot, just to get himself and the rest of us through the day.

Moving from literature to music, I can still sing along with Judy Collins: “I’ve looked at life from both sides now, from up and down, and still somehow: it’s life’s illusions I recall, I really don’t know life at all.”

Or how about the advice of the Stage Manager in “The Fantasticks”, when his young charges insist on looking at reality: “Put on the mask! You must always wear the mask!”

Now I’m wondering: how many illusions am I willing to give up at this late point in my life? I’ll go back to my quote books, Book One, my beloved Henry David Thoreau: “To know that we know what we know, and that we do not know what we do not know, that is true knowledge.” I shall continue to aspire….and share what I “know” with you.

Barbara Anderson of Marblehead is a weekly columnist for the Salem News and Eagle-Tribune Publishing Company.

The comments made and opinions expressed in her columns are those of Barbara Anderson
and do not necessarily reflect those of Citizens for Limited Taxation.

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