“Don’t be scared,” was Crazy Dave’s advice as I set out to document some of San Francisco’s sexual quirks (writing can be a dirty and dangerous profession).
It was and remains good guidance that applies to most matters, especially politics. But politicos and their propagandists have long recognized the value of fear for creating herd mentality and inciting reaction ahead of thought. The Lie of Fear (“creating a false sense of fear in order to motivate people to action while easing them past critical thinking”) was the very first entry in the Catalog of Canards included in Shooting The Bull. As one old politician opined “If you can’t convince them, then scare the hell out of them.”
No wonder people are cynical about politicians.
There is a biological imperative behind fear. Eons of evolution caused a reflex in most animals as a means of survival. Fear is good in the right context because it keeps beasts alive long enough to make more beasts. However, the line is thin between fear of immediate threat and the anxiety of potential threats. This is where manipulating others enters the discussion. Be it a manipulative boy/girlfriend, car salesman or politician, it is the promotion of threat that causes your biological responses to trigger. The mere idea of a threat is threatening and moves people to react rather than think and evaluate.
Which is why you should always take a deep breath and a long, thoughtful pause when you feel anxious over the evening news, for the media is just another branch of the fear mongering industry.
The news has recently been filled with frightened people, with the president topping the list. Obama arrived at the University of Central Missouri to give a stump speech but barred College Republicans from attending (so much for freedom of assembly, public discourse, addressing grievances and a lot of other apparently former freedoms). Obama’s staff made the call by deliberately singling them out of the crowd, blocking them from entering the building despite having tickets for the event. Evidentially they were easy to spot due to their earlier participation in a protest rally, no doubt photographed and cataloged by Secret Service agents (note to the SS boys: The FBI doesn’t like the competition, so leave the dirty work to them). The president is apparently fearful of dissent, and as all propagandists do, controls what the public sees by controlling people.
Computer hackers (the new definition of ‘hacker’ that is) are now fearful of the government. Cyber espionage has been a valuable tool for national defense, and Uncle Sam was developing cozier relationships with the hacker community in order to recruit experts in systems vulnerability, virus creation and cyber warfare. That was until Edward Snowden dropped a dime to nark on NSA overreach, whereby the Feds are slurping your every email, listening to your cell phone (even when you are not using it) and cross-indexing your every tweet, post and breath. Before Snowden, Obama and crew had assured hackers that government hacking was benign, a notion now as vulnerable as your privacy. Trust now being shattered, the hacker community is turning away from the NSA and sadly the USA.
But of all the fear festering in the body politic this week, the ugliest of all comes from the gun control industry. The Internet – the universe’s largest copying machine – is mass distributing a messaging playbook created by and for the gun control industry. Misleadingly titled “Preventing Gun Violence Through Effective Messaging” the document is the work of a research company of dubious quality and a propagandist communications consultancy. The goal of the book is to align the public positioning of gun control industry members and solidify their talking points around what their surveys indicate will work. Instructions to their weak-minded field operatives include “alarming facts open the door to action”, “always focus on emotional and value-driven arguments about gun violence” and “tell stories with images and feelings.” Indeed, they caution gun control advocates to avoid statistics and even the term “gun control”. The entire messaging campaign is the combination of fear (“These reckless laws have gun-toting vigilantes roaming the streets making all of us less safe in our own neighborhoods”), sorrow (“Just imagine the pain that a mother or father feels when their young child is gunned down”) and stupidity (“The vast majority of gun owners support background checks”).
Most instructive though was their advice concerning the rare but always attention-arresting episodes of mass homicide. Recognizing that public reaction fades as facts emerge, their direction to gun control advocates is “The most powerful time to communicate is when concern and emotions are running at their peak.” In other words don’t wait. Don’t evaluate. Don’t pause for a fact check, reflection or perspective. Propagandize while the public is in a state of panic.
Crazy Dave said “Don’t be scared.” He might be crazy, but he is right.