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The Politics of Fear

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Over the past few months I have noticed the increased use of the politics of fear permeating the communication tactics of the Opposition. This being said, I hasten to add that such approaches have occasioned much benefit to the Opposition as their stratagems have been in sync with their tactics and as such have produced the desired outcomes. The first such occasion is what has become the now infamous Calcutta Ship statement.


Deconstructing such an offering outside the realm of effective target-based communications science will merely see an awkward and certainly unpleasant statement being offered on a political platform, with the attendant and expected response from the population of repulsion, but alas, the statement of itself—as simple as it may appear—turned out to be the defining moment of the Opposition’s campaign resulting in a wave of emotions ranging from fear to anxiety to dread.


Such a concept is titled fear mongering or scare mongering which, according to Wikipedia, is the use of fear to influence the opinions and actions of others towards some specific end. The feared object or subject is sometimes exaggerated, and the pattern of fear mongering is usually one of repetition in order to continuously reinforce the intended effects of this tactic, sometimes in the form of a vicious circle.


Fear is one of, if not the best, motivators out there. Most people, when faced with a real or perceived threat, will do something to eliminate the threat, either by fighting what has made them fearful or by getting away from the threat. This is the acute stress response or, as it is more popularly known, the fight-or-flight response. From the communications and political perspective, the desired outcome is to influence the voter to act on such a response.


Many can add their perspectives to the outcome of the elections in Tobago; however, one must take into account the outcome of the master stroke of infusing fear into the equation. The second such occurrence of the infusion of the politics of fear by the Opposition was the so-called labelling of the members of the Defence Force as “killing machines.”


We recall the headlines screaming such labels during the recently deferred parliamentary debates on the Defence and Police Complaints Authority Amendment Bill (2013). This simple phrase was repeated at every opportunity by those opposed to the passage and implementation of the bill, and regardless of one’s personal feeling on the bill, one must agree that if you were to highlight one outstanding point from the debates it is exactly this—solders are killing machines.


Such expressions, when allowed to mushroom in the psyche of the population, become embedded and challenging to erase. This is termed distraction by horror, which simply is a method that tries to create a connection between an opponent’s propaganda and horrific events. (For example, when a minority is being arrested by the police and one attempts to create a connection with past unjust actions).

Again, one notes the Opposition’s effective combination of its strategy and tactics working together to create the desired outcome. From a communications perspective, the Opposition seems to have a very clear communications agenda, with a potent and highly effective machinery designed to identify simple, key emotive phrases that evoke the very spectre of those things we fear most, or those things we cherish the most, be it the fear of Calcutta ships or the fear of killing machines or protecting our democracy—they have found the national nerve endings and have become marvellous at creating synaptic communications.



• Gail Alexander
returns next week.


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