Whether it’s the news sites or more interactive social media, we keep running into the same effect. I know you’ve seen it, but I’ll remind you anyway. There’s this picture of a ragged guy on the sidewalk wearing his old army jacket. The caption reads “Take care of homeless vets before feeding refugees!”
To some this makes perfect sense; to others it’s horribly offensive. To me it’s an obvious trick, a false dichotomy — don’t fall for it.
Seriously: The United States of America is the wealthiest nation on the face of the Earth. We’re at the peak of our prosperity at the pinnacle of human history in an age of technological marvels, wonders beyond imagining. If we can’t find the spare change we’d need to feed and house both veterans and some refugees, we’re doing this wrong.
Spoiler alert: We’re doing this wrong.
The people who invented the meme about the ragged vet are either blithering idiots (who nevertheless display excellent prowess at PhotoShop) or they serve a political cause. RePosting is easy; it’s just a click and you’re done, and who stops to think about these things? As a result, any compelling image soon spreads across the Net, and every pair of eyes that sees it registers it. Just like any other advertisement, it sticks in your memory, for the most part unexamined — until it comes out of your mouth. From that moment on, you think of it as your own.
Which is odd, because you’d expect if there were any real thinking going on, you’d realize how dumb you just sounded. (Not to mention heartless… but that’s another thing entirely. Let’s focus on dumb. One thing at a time.)
All this begs the question: WHY are people creating these memes? ‘Cause, let’s face it — they work way too well to be accidents.
The answer’s simple enough. People create these in order to get the effect of spreading the thought around. That effect is anger — anger at the refugees, or anger with the people who call you on saying something stupid, even anger at a government that can’t house and feed its veterans. The important thing to the meme-writers is that rage — because angry people vote.
Now, before you start feeling all self-righteous (and angry! Don’t forget angry!) about that evil party that’s spreading all the bad memes… it’s both parties. More than that, it’s everyone with a political axe to grind. The creation and dissemination of provocative content is a highly profitable industry on the Net. When you Share or RePost, you’re doing their work for them (except you’re not being paid, are you?)
The news does the same thing, and for the same reason: Money.
It’s not homeless vets; this week it’s the tear-gassing of migrants who were storming the border. The talking heads are all pointing at the same picture of a mother and kids running through clouds of CS gas; CNN is bemoaning the inhumanity; Fox News is busily pointing out that under Obama they used tear gas twice a month, and that the famous picture is apparently smoke grenades. And viewer numbers go up, and ad revenue comes flooding in.
And then we’re asked the question: Should we tear-gas the migrants? Or should we muster social workers to come down and care for them? Which is the moral choice? What’s the right thing to do?
You don’t need to look all that hard to see the false dichotomy.
One more thing: Don’t expect this to get solved right away. Trump is loving it; he gets to look tough on immigration while doing essentially nothing. The DNC is loving it; they get to show how evil Trump is while doing even less. Meanwhile, the city of Tijuana is quickly running out of money trying to feed and clothe and house and medic a massive refugee camp that just keeps growing.
Because it’s in nobody’s best interest to fix the problem. Why should they? They’ve already got your anger; all they need to do is point it at The Other Side.
…well, nobody’s best interest but some migrants. But who cares about them anyway?