The chain email I recently received about how Target stores are supposedly discriminating against US Veterans reveals how the internet has been exploited as a tool for manipulating opinion, using a rhetorical strategy that diminishes our ability to think by inciting an emotional reaction.
Although based on an actual event, the original misunderstanding between Target and the veterans bears little resemblance to the version presented here. According to the Urban Legend web site, this email story has been mutating over the past year, making it seem more and more outrageous. The intent is to make the reader become upset -- for example, by adding the parts about Toys for Tots and gays and lesbians. And of course, Target is not French; it is a US-based company.
Lesson: These messages are almost always bogus. The more outrageous they appear, the more likely they are to be incorrect! When you get such a message, just go to www.google.com and type in a few words. I typed in "Target Veterans" and immediately got to the page I've referenced above.
We must be aware that people abuse the right to free speech by creating such stories, with the specific intent of manipulating our thinking. The writers attempt to mobilize political opinion by playing on our biases (e.g., "The French are bad" "Our society caters to gays and lesbians, while the Veterans are left in the streets.") Unfortunately, these very biases are created by and reinforced by such fallacious messages.
Hitler followed this same strategy: Start with a real problem (e.g., the post-WWI German economy), point to an easily identified group (e.g., the Jews), and incite fear in the populace. Thus thinking is replaced by hateful emotion. Now the problem is easily solved: Attack the entire group of people you have blamed, rather than dealing with the actual problem. Because the mind has been overwhelmed by emotion, critical thinking is impaired, so people actually lose the ability to understand what is happening to them. Indeed, when the fallacy of their behavior is pointed out, they are more likely to react defensively because they associate the topic with a strong emotion, which inhibits change.
The damage done to our society by chain emails and simplistic talk radio shows is potentially serious. Gray ambiguous situations are repainted in black and white, with well-defined, easily identified villains (the French, the gays, the liberals). The difficult analysis required to solve real problems never occurs, and we become polarized, like the Democrats and Republicans, the Israelis and Palestinians, the Muslims and the modern world, the Irish Catholics and Protestants, etc.
Copyright © 2004 William J. Clancey. All Rights Reserved.
Recently we asked the local TARGET store to be a proud sponsor of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall during our spring recognition event.
We received the following reply from the local TARGET management:
"Veterans do not meet our area of giving. We only donate to the arts, social action groups, gay & lesbian causes, and education."
So I'm thinking, if the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall and veterans in general do not meet their donation criteria, then something is really wrong at this TARGET store. We were not asking for thousands of dollars, not even hundreds, just a small sponsorship for a memorial remembrance.
As a follow-up, I e-mailed the TARGET U.S. corporate headquarters and their response was the same. That's their national policy.
Then I looked into the company further. They will not allow the Marines to collect for 'Toys for Tots' at any of their stores. And during the recent Iraq deployment, they would not allow families of employees who were called up for active duty to continue their insurance coverage while they were on military service. Then as I dig further, TARGET is a French-owned corporation.
Now, I'm thinking again. If TARGET cannot support American Veterans, then why should my family and I support their stores by spending our hard earned American dollars and to have their profits sent to France.
Without the American Vets, where would France be today?
Feel free to pass this along to whomever you want.
Veterans helping Veterans
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