Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Using Fear is Morally Repulsive – and Effective

Much has been made of late regarding the latest salvo from Sheldon Adelson’s Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling.  After a couple of FAILS using what passes for “facts and logic” (Congressional hearings and newspaper Op-Ed), the group put together a n over-the-top video (to be used as an ad?) that Poker Players Alliance VP of Player Relations Rich Muny called “going full Reefer Madness.”

It’s one thing for us in the poker community to mock and roll our eyes at the Coalition’s scare tactics.  It’s another to forget how effective fear is when trying to motivate individuals.

Depending on your age, you can recall several scary political ads that were short on facts and long on terror - The Daisy ad (LBJ vs. Goldwater) and the Willie Horton ad (Bush Sr. vs. Dukakis) are two of the best known.  There are plenty of others.  In fact, it becomes the de facto way to go once the campaign runs dry of good news and facts.  Which is to say, pretty damn early in the campaign.

There is a lot of psychological evidence to show that fear is a potent motivator.  And while we’re talking about actual politicians here, not voters, it makes sense to me that the fear aspect might work even better here.

First, politicians have a lot on their plate, and internet gambling is not high on the list of “must do” items.  Second, the idea of prohibiting an activity is more the speed of the current government, and in line with traditional action on vice – rarely does the Fed step in to allow an activity, especially vices like gambling.  Third, because the two top memes of politicians nowadays (as it related to their overall agenda – being re-elected) is terrorism and jobs, the Coalition’s scare tactics dovetail nicely.  Unfortunately.

So how does one combat a fear campaign?  One does not fight it – one overcomes it – with knowledge.

For fear is usually being afraid of something we don’t know, or don’t understand.  Fear of the unknown is irrational since if we don’t know what can hurt us it makes little sense to invent or imagine something in order to scare us…but that’s exactly what we do.  And if there’s a friendly source fanning the flames of our imagination – presto – FEAR!

Take the current marriage situation.  Of course, it’s not like the state of marriage is anything anyone has tried to legislate (irk irk).  Times past were filled will fearful images of marriages that bent from “normal,” and politicians and others played on those fears.  Of course in our enlightened 21st Century those laws are gone, and a couple can be of any…race.  And yeah, the atmosphere is changing for same-gender marriage, too.  Slowly, but surely.  Yet, there’s plenty of fear being spread here, too.

Education.  Exposure (since the push to ban online gambling comes from those who make their money in the gambling business).  And the constant communication to let those that might be swayed by the fearful drumbeat that there is nothing to fear.

Especially when there really is no bogey-man except the man telling you about the bogey-man.

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