Winning Discussions: Appeal to Fear (Effective Pirating)

Winning Discussions: Appeal to Fear (Effective Pirating)

Logical fallacies are techniques that people use to make an argument appear convincing even when it is wrong. Learning how to identify and refute logical fallacies is one of the best ways to win in a discussion. Catching an opponent committing a fallacy will force him to retract his error or he will appear foolish or manipulative to his audience. There is a dark side to this. Once you learn to identify logical fallacies you will also be able to use them. Do not deliberately use them against fellow Pirates; it is extreme bad manners and you will most probably be caught out.

The Logical Fallacy – Appeal  to Fear

Fear is one of the most powerful motivators in making decisions. It can easily override rational thinking and lead to faulty decision making. It is also called argumentum ad metum or argumentum in terrorem. While it is easy to see it being used in justifying increased surveillance and invasions of privacy in response to perceived threats of terrorism it is not so easy to identify more subtle forms. In the tech world the acronym FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) was developed to identify subtle messages that corporates use to create fear and doubt about competitive companies and products. The Halloween documents revealed internal Microsoft conversations on how to use FUD against the Open Source Software.

Creating angst about financial or social security can be more effective than bombastic threats about physical safety. People are very bad at judging risk. We evolved to be more responsive to fear than rational thought as stopping for a moment to consider if a movement in the trees was indeed a danger could well lead to our ancestors becoming someone’s lunch. Hence many people are more afraid of flying than the much more dangerous act of driving. More afraid of being the victim of a terrorist bomb than a drunk driver.


There may be jihadists in our country that need to be surveilled. Therefore giving up our right to privacy will make us safer.

Ebola is a deadly disease. We need to shut the borders to anyone who may have come in contact with it.

Feminists are coniving to take over men’s roles. Real men should resist feminism.


You can read more about the ‘Appeal to Fear’ logical fallacy in a wikipedia post and logical fallacies in general in this wikipedia article.
Remember that just because someone commits a logical fallacy it does not mean their argument is necessarily incorrect. If you have the time and resources then use the principles of scepticism to test their reasoning objectively.

This article is a part of a series called Effective Pirating:

Winning Discussions: The Fallacy Fallacy (Effective Pirating) 09/01/15
Winning Discussions: The Gambler’s Fallacy (Effective Pirating)
Winning Discussions: argumentum ad ignorantiam (Effective Pirating)
Winning Discussions: post hoc, ergo propter hoc (Effective Pirating)
Winning Discussions: Ad Hominem (Effective Pirating)
Winning Discussions: Appeal to Fear (Effective Pirating) 21/10/14
Winning Discussions: Begging the Question (Effective Pirating) 17/8/14
Winning Discussions – The Bandwagon Fallacy (Effective Pirating) 11/8/14
Effective Pirating: Winning Discussions – Tu Quoque 24/7/14
Effective Pirating: Winning Discussions – The Straw Man 17/7/14
Effective Pirating: Choose your Opponents Carefully 7/7/14

Featured image: CC BY-NC Filipe Varela