Column by Paul Bonneau.
Exclusive to STR
The next tool we are going to examine is the tyrant’s use and encouragement of hatred among those he wishes to govern. This is a part of the “divide and conquer” or “divide and rule” strategy.
Of the elements mentioned in the Wikipedia article, the most important are
1) creating or encouraging divisions among the subjects in order to prevent alliances that could challenge the sovereign; and
2) aiding and promoting those who are willing to cooperate with the sovereign.
Of course, the most obvious example of the first is the left-right political spectrum, a construct that, if not created for the purpose of “divide and rule,” was easily adapted to that purpose. The vast majority of people willingly accept this spectrum and the resulting hatred of those on the other end of it, despite its ridiculously poor ability to describe reality.
The latter is easily demonstrated. A person who is pro-life and supports the War on Drugs is usually considered “right,” while one who is pro-choice and opposes the War on Drugs is usually considered “left.” But what to do with people who are pro-life and oppose the War on Drugs, and with people who are pro-choice and support the War on Drugs? Even considering only two issues, the one-dimensional left-right spectrum fails. The two-dimensional spectrum sometimes used by libertarians fails by adding only a single additional issue (the separation between “personal” and “economic” freedom is completely arbitrary). There are hundreds of possible issues.
This construct does not serve our interests, although it certainly does serve that of the ruling class. It shouldn’t matter at all if different people have different political opinions, any more than it matters that they have different religions. What matters is whether people are simultaneously able, and determined, to impose their views on others. Your enemy is not some ordinary person on a different part of some ruler-contrived spectrum. Your enemy is the ruling class, the only people both able and determined to impose on us.
It is crucially important to correctly identify one’s true enemies.
Radical Muslims are not our enemies. While they may be determined to impose on us or harm us, they are not in any realistic sense able.
Mexican immigrants, including those designated by the rulers as illegal, are not our enemies. While they may be able to harm or impose on us due to their numbers and proximity, the vast majority are not determined to do so. In fact, it feels silly to write this because nothing important distinguishes “them” from “us.”
Of the second element in that Wikipedia article--aiding and promoting those who are willing to cooperate with the sovereign--the most famous (or infamous) example I can think of is the federal treatment of freed slaves during Reconstruction. These were put in positions of power over the former masters, and the former masters held down. This generated an intense hatred that took a century to abate. There are still echoes of it today with programs like Affirmative Action. The worst thing that could have been done to these “black” people was being “helped” by the federal government, and the worst mistake the “blacks” made was accepting that “help.” Contrast their plight with that of Chinese immigrants, starting in hardly a better place than “blacks” did, who did not get any “help.”
But this is getting off track. The point is, “whites” and “blacks” have long been separated for the benefit of the ruling class. It sure wasn’t for the benefit of “blacks,” who got a terribly raw deal out of it.
When you start to examine government actions, keeping “divide and rule” in mind, you realize that a large fraction of those actions are designed to pit some group against another--despite all the noise about “helping” somebody.
There are other examples, some that even libertarians are prone to fall into. Hatred of or sneering at religion is commonplace among libertarians. We (non-religious libertarians) should ask ourselves, “Whose interests are being served by sneering at the faithful? Is it likely we can convert the faithful to atheists by sneering at them?” Of course every person has opinions that are in error; no one has a perfect line on reality. It does not harm me if people have a belief in some god that I don’t have; it only harms me if they seek to impose it on me.
Another familiar example of “divide and rule" that libertarians fall prey to is the constant attack on statists and “sheeple.” If “statist” means those seeking to impose, then yes, they are our enemies. If “statist” means simply everyone other than libertarians, then again we are falling into the trap of serving the rulers’ interests. Most people, while often inconsistent on this point, largely do not seek to impose their will upon us, or can be talked into not imposing on us when they see it is an imposition.
How to counter “divide and rule”?
1) Keep this tactic in mind while reading news reports and stories. Always ask yourself if it might be a possible example of “divide and rule.”
2) Correctly identify your true enemies, those with both the intention and the ability to impose on you or harm you. Stop reflexively responding like Pavlov’s dogs to cues put out by the ruling class, dividing you from others who may actually turn out to be allies if you give them a chance.
3) Use the Internet to contact and interact with those you formally considered enemies. The primary thing you should bring to these exchanges is the question, “Would you impose on me if I decided I preferred living differently, under different rules and traditions, than you prefer? As long as I let you do the same? Doesn’t ‘live and let live’ sound like a good idea?” You will find that, even though disagreeing on particular issues, very few will be willing to force them on you, if they know you will not force your views on them. You have just converted former enemies into your allies. You don’t need to convert people to your views, and I’m starting to get the idea that it is counterproductive even to try. You just need to move them out of the category of “enemy.”
4) Stop evangelizing freedom. This will no doubt be controversial (not to mention, being difficult to restrain ourselves so); but is an extension of the previous point. Evangelism is the same as saying, “You’re wrong about X, and I’m right about it.” This is clearly going to generate opposition and shut down accommodation. Dale Carnegie has noted that “You cannot win an argument,” while strategist B. Liddell Hart has demonstrated the superiority of the indirect approach over a frontal attack. Instead of evangelizing, we should argue for freedom with a much more limited and attainable goal in mind: to generate tolerance in others. We want the statists we are arguing with to shed their reflexive disgust with our opinions to the extent that they will at least let us be. We can let our example do our evangelizing for us. A working example of a free society will make more conversions than any amount of argumentation ever will.
5) Stop reflexively hating others. When you are about to make some snide comment about some group, bite your tongue--if for no other reason than that people are individuals, not collectives. Stop using collectivist language. Stop being a collectivist. Success of “divide and rule” depends largely on having the mundanes thinking in a collectivist manner.
We have a lot more potential allies out there than we might imagine.