The Power of FUD
This week the latest negotiating round of the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement is taking place in San Diego. IPI was there for the day set aside for groups to interact with negotiators, answering questions, discussing issues, and making a presentation. IPI is supportive of liberalized trade, so we inform negotiators on the virtues intellectual property protection and the free flow of data across national boundaries.
Of course, those who are not in favor of liberalized trade were also out, and in force. A horde of union representatives, Occupy and environmental activists flooded the negotiations, waving flags and wearing tee shirts decrying the agreement, the process, corporations, the U.S. government, and pretty much everything else they could think of.
But when discussing the details of the agreement, it was quickly clear that the activists didn’t really have any specific objection to treaty language, and in some cases agreed with it.
So why were they out in vocal opposition to the treaty, instead of out enjoying a beautiful San Diego day? FUD, that’s why.
FUD is an acronym for Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt, and serves as an opposition propaganda technique. It’s an example of the logical fallacy “appeal to fear.”
Unfortunately, appeal to fear is especially effective in the political realm. The opposition to the TPP consists of accusations of “an agreement being negotiated in secret,” and “corporations taking advantage of developing countries.” Driven by anti-globalization ideologues, the idea is to cast an air of illegitimacy around the process in order to kill it.
But the TPP is being negotiated as all trade agreements have always been negotiated, in good faith by the appropriate government officials of nations voluntarily participating in the process. Then, ultimately, in representative democracies the open political process determines whether the agreement is ratified. That is a representative process, not an illegitimate process.
But FUD works. Just this week we’ve seen the power of FUD as the European Parliament rejected the Anti-Counterfeiting Treaty (ACTA), putting it on life support. ACTA was negotiated voluntarily in good faith between a number of countries, including negotiators from the European Parliament. Lacking substantive arguments, opponents focused on FUD—the very same FUD being concentrated on the TPP. And it worked.
We elect our policymakers to decide based on facts, not FUD. In our new era of enhanced communications, it’s clear that people can be quickly and vocally mobilized based on both facts and FUD. The continued success of our democracy depends on elected representatives being able to tell the difference.