FUD: Coming Back into Style

A few days ago, I heard an interview with a software developer, and he used the word “FUD” (rhymes with Dud),  short for “Fear, uncertainty and doubt.” He continued, “It’s what people use to persuade you that they are right, you know, to scare you into believing what they want to do is best.”

Print paper, marbled with ink. Pitt pen, watercolor pencil.

Print paper, marbled with ink. Pitt pen, watercolor pencil.

The word has been around since the 1920s, but it was popularized by Gene Amdalh when he left IBM to start his own company. Amdahl said that IBM sales staff would use FUD to encourage employees to stay with IBM products instead of risking something new.

What a word. It’s perfect for today’s way of thinking.  It looms large in politics and religion, but we use FUD in almost every conversation when we want to persuade people do listen to us.

A few days ago, I noted on Facebook that my car had been broken into. No damage, and the only things taken were a USB cord originally plugged into the phone charger for the car.  A box of Kleenex, a tried up container of hand wipes, and a half empty bottle of Armor-All were taken. In a nod to irony, my mother’s quilt, finally retrieved, was untouched..

Someone left me the comment that the thief could have taken my garage door opener, checked my registration for my address and was now coming after me. She suggested I “watch out.”  FUD. What possible use could that remark be? She didn’t ask, but I was over 32 miles from home that day. Most thieves prefer to do their work without a lot of driving. I had taken the garage door opener with me, as I don’t leave anything plastic in the car in the summer.

Thanks to contributor Pete for this graphic

Thanks to contributor Pete for this graphic

FUD. Easy to believe, because an easy solution offered by someone else offers a faster solution than trusting our own logic, intuition and experience. Taking risks and measuring progress and defining success seems so much harder. And it is. But FUD works only if we let it work, and almost never if we begin to ask careful questions whose answers will open the map and point us in the right direction.

Quinn McDonald will mud-wrestle fear before she uses it as a reason for decision making.


36 thoughts on “FUD: Coming Back into Style

  1. A mud-wrestling Quinn! Just remember, never mud wresle with a pig, you both get dirty and the pig loves it! And while we’re on to it, one that I find particulary useful, never try to teach a pig to sing, you waste your time and annoy the pig.

    How about Fantasy, Understanding and Dreams? Or change it to FEK, Fun, Encouragement and Kindness (Watch an episode of Mrs Brown’s Boys and you’ll see what the FEK is all about . . . or just imagine, imagining will get you there)

    Great post . . . wonderful comments.

  2. People tend to have systematic errors in their perception of risk. We’re frightened by “big events” and think they’re more likely to happen than they actually are, and we underestimate some less dramatic things, particularly when there’s a cumulative effect. And we misattribute independent events, sometimes believing they’re cumulative.

    Flip a coin 10 times and get 10 heads, and many people believe the 11th flip is more likely to come up tails (it’s 50-50 like all the previous flips). Which are you more afraid of, terrorism or being struck by lightning? The second is more likely to happen. It’s astonishing how counterintuitive many statistics SEEM, even though you actually reproduce the same results all the time (a few careers ago I was a statistician).

  3. Part of the problem is that the subconscious really buys into FUD and so even when we are mud-wrestling it into submission (I love that image) some of it is permeating into the lizard-brain, waiting to pop and and say, “Boo!” at some unspecified moment in the future. Every time it shows up we need to say, “Pshaw! Begone FUD! You have no power over me!”

    PS – I wonder if the naming of the infamous Bugs Bunny character Elmer Fudd has any relationship to the word? He would seem to personify Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt…

  4. Yes, FUD is pretty prevalent. Sales tactics use FUD because fear of loss is stronger than desire for gain. Btw, your commenter’s mention of theft via garage door opener was not unfounded. W had a ring of thieves doing that where I live and my garage and cars were broken into by thieves looking for garage door openers. That wasn’t FUD. That was a warning. I now keep my car doors locked even in the garage.

    • The Internet is RIFE with this stuff, all purporting to be the “real truth that you need to hear.” Not to mention ALL of those lovely urban legends about almost anything you care to mention.

      Not to say we don’t need to be careful,but to live in fear is to not live at all.

      • I actually consider locking my cars to be very pragmatic, just as locking my house is, to protect myself and loved ones. I’d rather have the routine of locking my cars, which is easy, than to have to deal with theft (and a feeling of violation) again. I guess some people roll with the punches better and don’t let it affect them. I don’t know anyone like that myself.

        • I remember a time a long time ago that we didn’t lock our house or cars. But never since I have lived in big cities. Locking my house and cars are part of leaving them or stepping through the door.

  5. I’ve never hear of the word FUD before, but I can see it everywhere now that I know what it is. It is quite pervasive in the news media, which is why I have given up most news sources. Trusting and believing in ourselves is a great way to keep it out of our lives. 🙂

  6. Interesting that your mother’s quilt was not taken. We had thieves in our home a few years ago. I was not as fortunate as you. They took my wedding rings, the originals and the anniversary set. I had left them on the bathroom counter in a dish as I always did when I went out to garden. The laptop, my briefcase with $500. worth of consultation books in it, among other things. I still mourn those rings. I try to remember they were just things but they were close to my heart and carried cherished memories. I still have the memories….

    • The “it’s just things” idea in my notebook is just as dumb as “sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me.” Of course words hurt, and “things” are imbued in memories and wonderful feelings. I’m so sorry this happened to you.

  7. Appeals to FUD are typically ill-considered nonsense. They’re often constructed out of two kinds of logical fallacies that rely on manipulating language.

    The equivocation fallacy is changing the meaning of a word unexpectedly. (This is also a way to construct a joke.) An old example is:
    “Brad is a nobody, but since nobody is perfect, Brad must be perfect, too.”

    The straw man fallacy is at least as common. It’s where you misrepresent some aspect of A, then base the next thing you say on your misrepresentation, not on A. This is American Politics 101.
    “Let’s eat at Joe’s, the food is delicious”
    “No way, their food is high in cholesterol, and cholesterol is never delicious”

    I’m also fond of the No True Scotsman and the false dilemma fallacies. So which is it going to be? Do we take to the streets to demonstrate against FUD, or do we sacrifice our little fingers like the Yakuza do? No true American would choose differently!

    And oddly enough this stuff, too, is from Aristotle. We are up to our eyeballs in slimy sophists nowadays! But anybody can turn on their innate sophistry detector. I started playing a game with my kids when they were 5 or 6 called “what is this ad trying to make you do?” When they were a bit older it included “why do they think it’s good to lie to you?”

      • You could pick up a copy of Aristotle’s Rhetoric. It’s in 3 parts, part 2 is the good one. There’s a Kindle edition at Amazon for 99 cents!

        • Hmm, I wonder how that could work. I can think of a couple possibilities. One is the input would have to be an existing ad (or in an election year, maybe a given speech or something) and it could link to human-generated commentary. The key would be that the commentary would be an ongoing project, so it would (if you’re lucky) already exist.

          Another would be a more automated approach based on key words and key phrases. It would be difficult to do better than “simplistic” though.

          A more manual approach would be a set of “fallacy building blocks” that you’d assemble yourself — maybe it could lead you to identifying a plausible or fallacious appeal.

          Interaction would be the most interesting problem to address; from “gadgety”, where you point your phone camera at an ad, it’s recognized and you get back a result, to “construction set” where it’s something you do (picking cards and combining them, for example) that isn’t connected to any outside media.

  8. My favorite part of this whole post was the visualization of you mud wrestling fear before you allowed it into your decision making process. That made me smile…but also slowly nodding. It’s sure a daily practice, but it is possible to stop fear from ruling. And it is also one of the most freeing practices I have ever experienced.

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