Sure, of course, it’s another hoax

First, as if there was any doubt, this (figure 1) is a hoax[1]:

Found on Facebook, May 31, 2015, fair use.
Fig. 1. Found on Facebook, May 31, 2015, fair use.

The meme attracts my curiosity because it’s interesting that it would gain traction. Over two years ago, Snopes called it “a long-running Internet hoax that has been circulating in one form or another since 1997.”[2] I found it in my Facebook newsfeed just a few minutes before starting to write this post.

I’ll assume and Snopes says the meme was created as a prank[3] so I’m not thinking about the person who created it. Rather, I’m thinking about people who circulate it. What does this say about them? I mean, besides that they’re gullible.

Most obviously, it suggests that the circulators believe that the rich are willing to share their wealth. This despite a prevailing economic ideology that promotes greed and the fact that the rich, especially those like Bill Gates, are the people who have been most successful within that ideology. So why would people think that Gates would be so generous?

It might be because of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which is at work on a number of causes. I’ll leave aside questions about the possibility of self-interest in some of that work as I really haven’t time to dredge up the rumors and check in to them right now.

But I’m more inclined to suspect the Protestant Reformation. Yes, that Protestant Reformation, the one that happened hundreds of years ago (I don’t know of any others). This asserted that human beings have individual relationships to the god of Abraham. Which, of course, very conveniently bypassed the entire Roman Catholic hierarchy. It also asserted predestination, the idea that a select and already determined few will be admitted to Heaven. It also suggested that the god of Abraham would reward “the select” for their hard work and faith in this life. Which is to suggest that the rich are rich not only because they are deserving, but because they are favored by the god of Abraham.[4]

Things get twisted. In fact, with the Protestant Reformation, they got twisted pretty quickly. It wasn’t long before, particularly with the advent of capitalism, that people were working their tails off not merely to improve their condition in this life, but to assure themselves that they were among “the select,” bound for heaven.[5] “A core element of the American credo is that talent, skill, hard work, and achievement largely determine life chances. We believe that everyone has a fair shot at whatever is valued or prized and that no individual or group is unfairly advantaged or disadvantaged.”[6] Talent, of course, is a gift of the god of Abraham. And it is his will that enables achievement. Skill may be developed as a consequence of hard work.

But life isn’t fair. Lots of good people work very hard for very long hours and barely make enough to get by.[7] So if you think anything at all of yourself, but you’re poor, you’re probably wondering when and how that god of Abraham is going to reward you. Or, if you’re a non-believer, you probably have still absorbed a notion that some people might call “magical thinking,” that success is a product of “the right attitude.”

So something has to happen. There has to be that lucky break. That ship has to come in. We won’t all be rich some day, but you will because you do all that stuff and think all those good thoughts. Because you believe.

We might also note that this is very individualist thinking, just like with Martin Luther and his proposition that everybody has an individual relationship with the god of Abraham. See? Even atheists believe.

So there’s Bill Gates and his $5,000. Be sure to click ‘share.’ It’s your chance at the big time. And as for your friends who don’t? They’re losers. They’re undeserving. Because they’re unbelievers.

Snopes concludes,

The bottom line is that no matter which incarnation of this silliness one receives, the principle is the same: there’s still no free lunch, and big companies aren’t going to hand out fabulous vacations, thousands of dollars, free trendy clothes, new computers, cases of candies, wads of cash, or new cars just because someone with a functioning Internet connection does them the favor of forwarding an e-mail.[8]

But I guess we all need hope. Some of my friends voted for Barack Obama, twice.

  1. [1]Snopes, “Bill Gates $5,000 Giveaway,” February 13, 2013, http://www.snopes.com/inboxer/nothing/microsoft.asp
  2. [2]Snopes, “Bill Gates $5,000 Giveaway,” February 13, 2013, http://www.snopes.com/inboxer/nothing/microsoft.asp
  3. [3]Snopes, “Bill Gates $5,000 Giveaway,” February 13, 2013, http://www.snopes.com/inboxer/nothing/microsoft.asp
  4. [4]Richard Tarnas, The Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas That Have Shaped Our World View (New York: Harmony, 1991).
  5. [5]Richard Tarnas, The Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas That Have Shaped Our World View (New York: Harmony, 1991).
  6. [6]Thomas M. Shapiro, “Introduction,” in Great Divides: Readings in Social Inequality in the United States, ed. Thomas M. Shapiro, 3rd ed. (New York: McGraw Hill, 2005), 3.
  7. [7]Scott Sernau, Worlds Apart: Social Inequalities in a Global Economy, 2nd ed. (Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge, 2006).
  8. [8]Snopes, “Bill Gates $5,000 Giveaway,” February 13, 2013, http://www.snopes.com/inboxer/nothing/microsoft.asp

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