September 10, 2018

Fear and Outrage as the Preferred Fundraising Approach

smash the oligarchy protest
We are all used to hearing claims like, "If x happens, some horrible but vague consequence will occur." This appears to be the preferred tactic of almost every group trying to raise money or stimulate activist efforts for any almost any cause. We see it from all the secular activist organizations. We see it from the NRA and the "family values" crowd. We see it from liberal groups and conservative groups. Evidently, the way to motivate people to donate money or engage in political activism is to scare them, piss them off, or both. It matters little whether you or I might tire of these tactics; as long as they continue to work on most people, we will continue to see them.

A post recently appeared in my RSS feed reader with the following title: "Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court Would Solidify Christian Privilege." The post was written by Hemant Mehta (Friendly Atheist), and it seems to be a good example of the sort of thing I'm referring to here. It is hard to deny that this sort of thing is effective. In fact, the first thought I had when I read that title was, "But I don't like Christian privilege!" It then occurred to me that Christian privilege has been solidly in place for a hell of a long time in the U.S., making this threatened consequence seem a bit less scary.

Hemant quotes some of the doom-and-gloom predictions made in a New York Times article about what will happen once Kavanaugh is confirmed and asks "Is that the America we want to live in?" The answer is obvious. "Hell no!" And yet, much of what is described already seems to be the America in which we live. Christian privilege is everywhere. While we atheists do have an occasional legal victory, all those metaphors about trying to empty an ocean with a teaspoon ring true. Of course, this is a clear case where my location (Mississippi) likely affects my perceptions of Christian privilege.

None of this means we should disengage, retreat into apathy, or surrender. I agree with Hemant that anyone who does not want Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court and who is lives in a state where his or her members of Congress have not already made up their minds should contact them quickly. I also agree that there are plenty of excellent reasons to worry about Kavanaugh even though I suspect that most would apply to anyone President Trump would nominate. Unfortunately, I do not see this one as a fight we are likely to win. That is why I previously wondered about some of the risks involved in how it is being fought.

I think that outrage fatigue is a real thing and something about which we should be concerned. I think it is important not to over-rely on it and to supplement it with other methods. By doing so, we might end up with activism that is still effective and more sustainable.