September 16, 2018

Fear, anger, loathing, shame and disgust

This post is part of a series focused on political persuasion. Others in the series are linked from an introductory overview.

Marketing, persuasion and decision-making have a lot to do with emotions. Often, especially in politics, those emotions are negative.

In discussing that, it is common to focus on one or two particular kinds of emotion. Steve Bannon and Barack Obama both talk about “fear and anger”. I blogged last year about fear, and in a companion to this piece have written about outrage. But in this particular post, let’s acknowledge and partially disambiguate a broad range of negative motivations.

0. One complication arises immediately, in that words describing negative emotions may have multiple important word senses. For example:

1. One of this century’s most consequential political gestures was based on shame and humiliation. Mohammed Bouazizi was so distressed at the humiliations he suffered from a policewoman in his Tunisian town that he committed suicide by setting himself on fire. This act quite literally ignited the Arab Spring.

2. Shame also used to be a big part of consumer marketing in the US. One manifestation was the desire to “keep up with the Joneses”.

3. Shame-based marketing was also key to the rise of hygeine-oriented consumer packaged goods, such as deodorant soaps, dandruff shampoos, and laundry detergents. Such products, as well as other household cleaners, also often are marketed through invocations of disgust.

4. It is argued that conservatives are much more motivated by feelings of disgust than liberals are. This supposedly applies to both narrow and broad word-senses of “disgust”.

I’m not convinced, however, about the broad sense. Conservatives around the world support some remarkably disgusting leaders.

5. Any Hunter S. Thompson references even aside, hatred plays a distressingly large political role.

6. Disdain is all around in politics. So is resentment about real or perceived disdain.

Some would call this deplorable.

7. Up to a point, Steve Bannon is right; anger is a great big deal, especially if it manifests as outrage.

8. The persuasive power of negative emotions is obvious. But how and how much is it possible to counter-persuade? Actually, we are trained from childhood to resist our negative feelings. This is especially true of fear.

And so fear is often the negative emotion that it is easiest to argue against, at least with respect to the strength of the fear. Widely held fears that are also widely doubted include, for example, concerns about:

There also is strong pressure to resist disgust. Some of that is experienced in ordinary family life; parents stifle their own disgust at dirty diapers, and later encourage their children not to reject unfamiliar foods.. Increasingly many young people are also trained specifically to resist fear and disgust directed toward people of various minority statuses – which may help explain what in retrospect was a nicely rapid shift in societal attitudes towards the acceptance of homosexuality.

Unfortunately, the last major training some people have in resisting anger occurs around age 3.

Comments

One Response to “Fear, anger, loathing, shame and disgust”

  1. Patterns of political persuasion | Strategic Messaging on September 16th, 2018 3:15 am

    […] points are spelled out across several posts, with subjects that include fear, outrage, or negative emotions in […]

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