Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Fear Fatigue

Synonyms: Unknown

Category: State of population affect

Definition: Not a stock phrase used by info speak as such. Rather, an assessment of the conduciveness of psychological forces within a given audience to the techniques and strategies of info speak. In a model I call the Receiptivity Continuum, it is the point at which continued use of info speak tactics begins to yield diminishing results.

The primary general strategy underlying info speak's numerous specific tactics is the appeal to audience fear. From the point of view of sparking prompt action, it is a very effective strategy. Fear may be the single strongest human emotion, the one provoking the most immediate and least ambirguous reaction -- fight or flight. Secondary strategies such as fragmentation, ambiguity and incoherence serve to intensify the effect and enhance the audience's identification with the speaker.

However, there are serious drawbacks related to the exploitation of fear. Firstly, since fear prompts immediate action, persons acting under its influence are not likely to make considered calculations of long-term implications. Each hastily undertaken action is therefore likely to result in both unforeseen negative consequences and reduce his or her capacity for the prolonged rational thought required to address the situation.

Secondly, in the context of public discourse, an audience's inducement to fear by a speaker is predicated on that speaker's ability to provide relief. A programme of prolonged provocation will, over time, gradually reduce the audience's faith in the speaker's ability to do so, if not cast doubt on his or good intention itself.

The eventual result will be a kind of flame out, a point in time at which a critical mass of individuals are simply no longer willing or able to sustain continued fear. This I term the point of "Fear Fatigue".

It is usually not possible to definitively identify the specific point in time of Fear Fatigue's inception or completion, since it is a group phenomenum. It normally takes place over a protracted period. While the specific trajectory of the flame out will vary among individuals, the overall result is certainly a reduced or even extinguished support for the speaker, his or her specific programme and its underlying ideology and conceptual framework.

Inquiries into the nature and history of Fear Fatigue have led some to posit a theoretical alternative state called the "Joy Inflection"--a point at which discourse is driven by more positive emotions like love or mutual respect.

Etymology: Name of a 1980's pop band from Manchester, England.

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