Fear, uncertainty and doubt (“FUD”) is a strategy used in marketing, propaganda and politics that has its modern origins in precursors dating back to the 1920s. It is based upon the following principles:
• Know the people you are targeting.
• Feed them misinformation that will create in them a state of fear, uncertainty and doubt.
• Suggest that you, and you alone, have the solution.
FUD is typically used by people and organisations who seek power for its own sake and personal wealth by any means. Conservative governments, whose core philosophy espouses the self-interest of the individual above the good of society (Thatcher even denying the existence of society), have routinely relied upon FUD.
In Australia, for example, Menzies, aided by a pliant press, created the Communist Scare. He accused Evatt, then leader of the Opposition, former Justice of the High Court and third President of the United Nations – a man of acknowledged superior intellect and integrity who threatened to oust Menzies from the Prime Ministership at the next election – of promoting the cause of Communism in Australia. The press aided the Menzies campaign by suggesting that Evatt and the ALP had the intention of ultimately enabling the installation of a Communist dictatorship in Australia. It was claimed that Reds were everywhere sprinkled throughout the Australian community in the most unexpected places and were preparing to spark a Communist revolution. Eventually, the Liberal Party/press campaign became so ludicrous it was commonly referred to as “Reds under the bed”.
Menzies maintained his FUD Communist Threat theme throughout his time in office. When Reds could no longer be found alongside our slippers, we discovered that they had perniciously perverted one of our favourite family games, dominoes. The Domino Theory, as Mr. Menzies advised the Australian electorate, had Communist China lining up the countries of South East Asia like dominoes to fall in succession under its sway so that, as if by gravity, the last domino would fall upon Australia, enabling the “yellow hordes” to descend upon our fair nation of “superior race” transplanted British-to-the bootstraps white chaps. The Domino Theory underpinned Menzies public rationale for involving Australia in the Viet Nam War. One extreme Menzies FUDism was the lie he told to the House of Representatives. He claimed that the US President had written to him, invoking the ANZUS Treaty on behalf of the US as the basis of its request that Australia send troops to Viet Nam. This was a lie pluperfect: No letter had yet been received by Menzies, and the US President’s letter, when it finally did arrive, had been written at Menzies prior request. Menzies had an election looming – and there’s nothing like a war to shore up a Prime Minister’s stocks. (This whole episode is unsurprising redolent of Abbott sending Australian military forces to Iraq to fight ISIL long before anyone had asked for them, let alone agreed to accept them. Sending personnel to fight Ebola just doesn’t have that sexy ‘War Prime Minister’ ring to it.)
Little wonder that Howard in office followed the example of Menzies, his role model. The little FUDer was quick to exploit Tampa and ‘kids overboard’, which fed into his dog-whistle racist sloganeering all aimed at outer suburb electorates where the number of recent migrant arrivals and the unemployment rates were both high and education levels, on average, were low. But as Howard knew, FUDers must always cover their tracks against the time when the truth eventually comes out and, to this end, he ensured that track-covering became ingrained within the LNP culture. For example, former lawyer Peter Reith, chosen by Howard for his Tenth Dan in the art of FUDing, was told by senior military personnel that there was a video which showed that the refugees had not thrown their children overboard. He responded that it should be kept under wraps (so that Howard could claim, at least prior to the election, he was never told.)
But the greatest FUD campaign of modern times must surely be the conjoined ‘Stop the Boats’ and ‘Our Borders Under Threat”. The LNP initially claimed that terrorists would choose the risky maritime option over the routinely safe arrival by aircraft. When the manifest stupidity of this claim became the object of public ridicule, the terrorist scare was replaced by the ‘uncontrolled hordes of queue-jumpers’ claim with more than a few dog-whistles to the still disadvantaged outer suburb voters. Of course there are no queues which do not measure their waiting list in years, and no places where people on those queues can survive while they wait. Typically, boat people have no travel documents because the governments from whom they seek refuge will not issue them. This means that they cannot travel by air and a leaky boat is their only option. They know they may die at sea, but they are prepared to take that risk in the certain knowledge that they will die if they return to their country of origin.
The ‘Stop the Boats’ part of this FUD is supported by both the LNP and ALP on the faux humanitarian claim that it will prevent drownings at sea. Both have aligned themselves with this FUD, in reality, for political reasons. Neither have addressed the issue of the fate of refugees who are forced back to their countries of origin. Neither have addressed the immorality of using the thinly disguised torture of children, women and men as a state sanctioned instrument of policy administration. Neither have addressed the option of regional cooperation using the money spent on ‘Stop the Boats’/’Sovereign Borders’/’Offshore Detention’ to fund additional resettlement programs for refugees in transit.
Of course, when a FUD works the way this one has, you will always find the main-chancer who will see it as a means to grasp even greater power and create an even greater empire. Scott Morrison is the exemplar. From the beginning of his tenure, his demeanour, language, and obsessive stair, conveyed an innate lack of empathy for the plight of the refugees whose suffering and fear had cause them to risk their lives in the pursuit of refuge and whom he now proposed to consign to the torture of indefinite detention in his makeshift tropical hellholes. This multilayered inhumane FUD constructed upon a fundamental abuse of human rights has enabled Scott Morrison to create his new, all-powerful, mega department. Should the ALP ever find a leader whose moral compass points at the principles of social justice rather than the last poll results, and should that leader one day hold the office of Prime Minister, it is to be hoped that Morrison’s most egregious breaches of human rights are investigated and if proved that his was the guiding hand, he is prosecuted to the limit of the law.
The recent death of Gough Whitlam, the State Funeral for him, Noel Pearson’s oratory, my personal recollections of the impressions Gough made upon me as a young man, what he stood for and fought for, and the sight of Tony Abbott in the front row of the Sydney Town Hall, sparked a memory of a particular English period at school. The richness of the language, it seemed to me and many in the class, was never more evident than in the word “bathos”: that English had a single word to convey such a complex, multi-layered concept applicable to such a multifarious range of human events. And my memory of the discovery of “bathos” was, of course, revived for me, as I’m sure it was for many, when we contrasted the sublime, FUD-free Whitlam and the political descent we must now endure to the ridiculous Abbott.