From our archives. Happy Holidays!

Thanks to David Roberts for an excellent series in Gristmill — including interesting references and reader comments — discussing the use of fear as a tool of motivation in American politics. Roberts is prompted in the first instance by the specific question of whether environmentalists should use scare tactics to win support on issues like global warming. He observes:

Progressives can be forgiven for envying the incredible hot hormonal rush of power that comes from stoking fear/anger. It's perfectly understandable, the temptation they feel to set up their own zero-sum struggles, to describe the dangers ahead (of poverty, or global warming, or infectious disease) in gruesome, apocalyptic tones, with a sprinkling of evil, mustache-twirling villains …

The idea is that, say, environmentalists should get people terrified of global warming, so that they hate it and seek out leaders who aggressively attack it.

But his discussion broadens considerably — including brain physiology and emotional intelligence — and is well worth reflection by all political and issue marketers and fundraisers.

After exploring the issue from a variety of perspectives, Roberts ultimately concludes that the end cannot justify the means … deliberately stirring up fear simply unleashes such negative attitudes and consequences that doing so is morally untenable.

In a nutshell, says Roberts:

We might gain some short-term victories by scaring the crap out of people, but a population in fear will always tend toward authoritarianism and violence. Reason, compassion, forbearance, and selflessness are the building blocks of true progressivism. If they have been driven underground, the progressive response should not be to resort to reactionary macho posturing, but to revive them …

Those who seek a compassionate society — who would bequeath their children a country and an earth in better condition that those they inherited — must always work against fear.

Think about it, and then fast forward to your latest direct mail copy, email alert, or press release. What's the fear quotient in your message? And should you feel guilty or not? Of course you need to draw your own conclusion.

But read on for our take …

Continue reading “What Is The Fear Quotient In Your Message?”

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