• Moral Panic: It’s a crisis!~!~!


    Last time in my Moral Panic count down, we talked about cherry picking and how it relates to moral panic. Today, we’ll chat a bit about another persuasive technique favored by those who seek to express their (of course) correct view:

    Persuasion technique #9: Keep ’em engaged with one crisis after another

    When I’m working on a longish sales piece, the lead is a perfect place to whip up a crisis. If I can conjure a good enough scenario, if I can trigger a strong emotion in my reader, then the sale is nearly a done deal (assuming I and/or my client don’t manage to make a stupid mistake and screw up the narrative).

    How does this work?

    The key point in all this is to keep the intended audience in a high emotional state. This is accomplished by cherry picking information, presenting it as proof for your overall claim, then go big on triggering outrage. In the online world, I’ve noted that big-time persuaders tend to then mobilize readers, and squash dissent. A consistent narrative, the story as well as the preferred interpretation, is essential.

    Here’s an example: I’m not sure what the 24 hour cable news networks would do without outrage. They sail from one “unjust” story to another. Once one unresolvable crisis has been somewhat squared away, a few more pop up to take its place. However, the overall narrative remains constant throughout each crisis.

    With exaggerated tones and somber (yet excited) voices, newscasters declare their supposedly unbiased point of view with condescending aplomb.

    Even in my hometown, I now walk home from the post office each morning reviewing new political fliers. One shows my candidate with a smiling face, American flag lapel pin, adoring audience… they’re the perfect antidote for all society’s woes. The next shows the same candidate in an unflattering pose, fuzzy gray tones, wrinkly face, a jarring font declaring them the be solely responsible for the latest plague to hit our fine nation. I can almost feel adrenaline squirt into my veins as I anticipate my candidate’s reaction to the latest half truth.

    The craziest part? Few people are swayed by these below-the-belt tactics. While the fliers are quite effective at mobilizing troops they’re generally not an effective way to attract new people to the group.

    Sailing from crisis to crisis is ultimately exhausting. And as usual, the truth (if it even exists) generally lies somewhere in that boring space between the two views.

    In our own skeptic community, since I’ve started writing in this space, I’ve observed one crisis after another; leaders in the movement get ousted, outed, and accused of horrific crimes; I’ve watched once-allies driven apart due to asking innocuous questions and relating seemingly benign observations; I’ve seen more junior high school juvenile name calling than I care to think about. The atmosphere often feels so volatile, I’ve seriously pondered chucking my little role in this community and moving to more peaceful, enjoyable projects.

    But I digress…

    Truth is, online skepticism as a whole often seems to reel from one scandal to the next. Meanwhile the overall narratives remain surprisingly constant. And, although we call ourselves “skeptics,” we seem to fall for moral outrage at the same, or similar rate as everyone else. (Ha. I guess we’re human, eh?)

    With troops mobilized on each side of any given issue, I can’t help but wonder how many outsiders peruse the internal, yet public communications of each faction, take one look, and say, “No thanks.”

    But as we proceed though the latest scandal, it’s helpful to recognize the pattern (how the controversy unfolds), acknowledge it, and learn when it’s prudent to respond and when it’s time to cut our losses and move on.

    After all, persuading the unpersuadable is not only fruitless, it’s frustrating to everyone involved.

    So, after this far too long diatribe, what’s the takeaway?

    Think. Observe. Contemplate. Fact check and verify. Then decide if you want to react, respond, tweet, engage in a conversation that will likely not go as you initially planned.

    Sure, living a contemplative life isn’t as exciting. But it’s sure nice to sleep at night knowing I’m not in the middle of a wild vortex I might have trouble exiting.

    Next time: Moral Panic: Your opinion means nothing!

    Note: The next installment will likely go up on Monday. My cluttered desk is full of half finished projects and I’ve got to get some of them squared away. See you then. 🙂

    Category: Moral PanicMy Opinion


    Article by: Beth Erickson

    I'm Beth Ann Erickson, a freelance writer, publisher, and skeptic. I live in Central Minnesota with my husband, son, and two rescue pups. Life is flippin' good. :)