Friday, June 8, 2012

Scare Tactics

For this post I want to talk about an interesting article I came across a few years back with the following headline:
Feds release chilling footage of damage Faisal Shahzad could have done if Times Square bomb worked [emphasis mine]
This is an excellent example of the Appeal to Emotion, specifically Scare Tactics. As the name suggests, an Appeal to Emotion is a fallacy in which one tries to convince people to endorse some claim by stirring up the emotions of her audience rather than provide a reasoned justification. There are lots of different kinds of Appeal to Emotion, depending on what emotion is being appealed to. One of the most effective versions of the Appeal to Emotion is Scare Tactics in which the emotion appealed to is fear. As anyone who has been paying attention to post 9-11 US politics will know, Scare Tactics are one of the favored methods politicians use to win elections and gain support for the policies they pursue. This headline and the article that accompanies it are a good example of how central scare tactics are to US policy. As the article notes, a major component of the prosecutions argument for life imprisonment is a video purporting to show what could have happened if Shahzad had succeeded. Shahzad did not succeed, and the article even suggests that Shahzad was incompetent. However, fears about what could have happened were stoked by the prosecution and then amplified by the media in articles such as this one. The point of all this should be obvious: keep the American populace in a state of fear and terror so that they will continue to support politicians, their policies, and the growing police surveillance state.

Whenever I think about this issue, I often think of the following clip from Family Guy. It is always surprising to me when real life is just as absurd as a cartoon.

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