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What’s Wrong with Glurge (Uplifting Heart-Warming Stories)?

A friend of mine posted a piece of glurge on facebook.  It was a story of an unidentified baby girl whose mother died in the Holocaust, was raised by gentiles, discovered her Judaism through Chabad, became a pediatrician in Israel, and was injured in a terrorist attack whereupon her long-lost father recognized her as one of a pair of twins whom he assumed had been killed, because of a unique necklace.  I asked the poster if it were true and he responded — whether or not it’s true you know you can help people by giving to charity, and he gave me a link to a Chabad charity that helped to convert Jews to Chabad’s brand of Judaism.   When I complained in the thread that it disrespected the victims of the Holocaust to post heart-warming stories without regard to their veracity, a woman countered, in essence — what’s wrong with glurge?  Why not post your own stories that you know are true rather than criticizing the stories of others.  (I think she said “putting them down”.)

I think glurge stories are like counterfeit currency.   Like counterfeit currency they are parasitic upon our institutions of real testimony.  Like counterfeit currency they lead to a debasement of real emotional curency.

I have a real family story of the holocaust.  My grandma Gisele (Gussie) avoided the holocaust by emigrating at the age of fourteen against her parents’ wishes and by working in the garment industry in New York was able to get her family out of Europe, thereby saving them.

It is much less heart-warming than the story of the long-lost twin and the gold necklace, but it’s true.  If people believe glurge my grandma’s story has to compete with fake stories.  There is no way she can win.

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5 thoughts on “What’s Wrong with Glurge (Uplifting Heart-Warming Stories)?

  1. N.S. Palmer says:

    I saw the same story and had a similar reaction, but there’s more to be said. Your position seems partly utilitarian and partly deontological:

    (1) Fake stories decrease the value of real stories and, implicitly, devalue the lives and experiences of real people. That injures the innocent and decreases total good.

    (2) It’s simply wrong to injure the innocent, even if one’s intentions are good. It’s particularly wrong to show disrespect and cause further injury to victims of injustice.

    The case is similar to counterfeiting money. If money’s value comes from the holder’s ability to spend it, then sufficiently good counterfeit money does not directly injure people who accept it and it increases their monetary welfare. However, by increasing the supply, it tends slightly to decrease the value of money, thus causing slight harm to everyone who uses the money, even if they’re not aware of it. It’s also dishonest, and we can make either a purely deontological argument that it’s wrong or a Kantian argument that it’s not universalizable.

    It’s a challenging question.

  2. Mikey says:

    I don’t agree with you here. The problem with that story is that it’s rubbish, not that it’s not true. If it had been a really good story you wouldn’t have asked if it were true, and if it had been presented as if it weren’t true, but more a parable or fable then you would still have been repulsed in the same way. Well, maybe not you, but I would have.

    People put glurge on Facebook all the time, along with chain letters and sunset-backed falsely attributed inspirational quotes. I don’t think there’s any point in trying to fight it, but there might be some value in avoiding it.

  3. N.S. Palmer says:

    In my opinion, the all-time champion example of “good glurge” is the Christian story (John 8:7) of Jesus and the woman who committed adultery: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.”

    Whatever one thinks about Jesus (etc.), that story does not appear in any of the earliest copies of the Book of John, and Bible scholars are almost unanimous in thinking it was added later. A scribe had heard the story, it was the kind of thing he thought Jesus would have done, and it had a good moral point, so he added it to the text, and it propagated from there. It was a “good counterfeit” in that it was difficult to detect — most people even today take it at face value — and it had good moral results.

    So I can’t agree that glurge is necessarily a bad thing. On balance, high-quality glurge can be a good thing.

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