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Appeal to Fear

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Appeal to Fear:

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The slightly more subtle form of Appeal to Force, Appeal to Fear isn't a direct threat, but nevertheless is based on the idea that something terrible will happen unless you agree with a given position. The difference can be summarized like this:

Appeal to Force: "Agree that 2 + 2 = 5, or else I'll beat you up."

Appeal to Fear: "Agree that 2 + 2 = 5, or else social order will collapse, criminals will go free, and they will beat everyone including you up."

This is a fallacy because whether an outcome is frightening has no relevance to whether the initial statement is true or not. Social order may collapse if you disagree that 2 + 2 = 5 (as in Nineteen Eighty Four), but that does not mean that 2 + 2 = 5. A type of Appeal to Consequences, where someone is supposed to be afraid of an outcome and therefore assume it to be true or false as a result. In marketing, this fallacy is known as FUD ("Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt") and is applied to the use of vague criticisms of opposing products in order to try to persuade consumers to buy by brand.


  • One of the most common variants is so-called "Hellfire" preaching, where the preacher focuses on the terrible things that will happen to people who don't accept his claims rather than anything positive about the religion in question (and, notably, without ever proving Hell exists in the first place, making this an appeal to consequences - leading to Pascal's Wager.)
  • Many old morality tales also use this fallacy by focusing on the horrible things that happen when children or adults break the rules; for example, The Boy Who Cried Wolf is traditionally eaten by a wolf for lying, as is Little Red Riding Hood for talking to a stranger.
  • This is also often used politically, playing off the fear of whatever is the scapegoat du jour (foreigners and ethnic minorities are common targets), and basically saying that if you vote for them, they'll pass legislation to "protect" the people from them.
    • It can also be used in reverse, with the politician appealing specifically to a fringe group with promises of safety from oppression.
  • Cracked Columnist Christina H. suggests this as a reason behind the "Tiger Mom" phenomenon. When an entire culture is afraid that praising their children will cause them to become spoiled, helpless failures, no one is willing to take the chance. As a result, many parents have never seen children being regularly praised, which feeds into the certainty that it must be dangerous.
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  • Abstinence-only sex ed. The students are taught about how if they have sex before (usually) marriage, they'll be guaranteed to come down with horrible STIs and/or produce a baby they can't take care or no protection. Worse, many are told (particularly in religious institutions using this method) that having sex before marriage is the cause of marital problems and divorce (and that being a virgin on your wedding night means they'll live Happily Ever After), that marriage makes all the risks magically go away (and thus there's no need for birth control in a marriage) and/or that they'll be Defiled Forever (especially girls) if they "give away" their bodies (and in some cases, if they date without the end goal of marriage...even if there's no sex involved). The adults who teach this way are banking that the teens they're teaching will think the risks are too great, and be scared and shamed out of having premarital sex.

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