Divide and Conquer

Note to “AmericanDigest” readers who c0me here: ¬†Quit being fucking racist, sexist douchebags, will ya? Sheesh.

You know why it is that “divide and conquer” is such a powerful tool?

Because it works. Fomenting division in those you oppose is not merely time honored as a tactic — it is time tested and highly effective as a tactic. It’s use applies in both grand social fights and interpersonal conflicts. It is one of the single most powerful tools in the arsenal of anyone, no matter what side of anything they are on — if you can get your enemy squabbling within its ranks, or you can take advantage of a weakness to create such, you weaken them.

Turn your enemies against each other, and you will have fewer enemies to fight.

How do you do that?

Well, one of the most common ways of doing that is you use spies and misinformation. In short, Espionage. These days, the concept of espionage in the US has all these massive overtones of cold war era legacy imagery and issues — it’s either james bond or some nebbish little nobody.

But there are other ways of conducting espionage. Espionage is dependent on methods and lines of communication — the goal is to attempt to control the information of your opponent. In this age of the internet and the ubiquitous personal computer, this age of cell phones and phone banks, there has never been as easy a way to communicate.

And when it comes to the internet, there’s a peculiar quirk to it.

People have a tendency to go to the same places — to limit the kinds of information they take in. They go to places they like, where people share similar ideas, and where they feel comfortable — “safe spaces” they are sometimes called, to use a common phraseology.

They get together and talk about the things that interest them — for example, mommy bloggers are generally bound by their discussion of things mommy related. So they talk about kids and families and women’s issues and cooking and the way husbands and boyfriends can be totally cool and incredibly infuriating at the same time.

I read a lot of mommy blogs, I noticed last night. Odd. Probably a vicarious living on my part that’s helping me cope with something personal.

In any case, there’s an interesting side effect to this that people noted as far back as 1997.

Folks get “set in their ways”. They go only to sites within a particular network, and rarely step out of it and become involved in other things. An example of this is one of the problems with being an Activist — or, to use the new term, social justice worker — is that it is very easy to simply only stick to sites and blogs and news articles and such that stay just within the narrow confines of your activism.

Here’s an example: how many LGBT activists do you know that are actively involved in and part of places like world net daily, free republic, and the drudge report?

There are a lot who read stuff there and then come back to report, but that’s not what I’m talking about — I’m talking about people who are genuinely part of those communities — those affinity groups.

This “sticking to your own kind” sort of mentality — this insular quality — makes for an ideal opportunity for espionage directed towards the task of dividing and conquering.

In 1999, a group of folks who were part of a particular political campaign sat down in a room with a bunch of computers. They were beat up ones, old, running mostly windows 95, but they were all hooked up to an expensive (at the time) T-1 line. All of these donated computers had been carefully refurbished, and the latest, greatest browser was on them.

This is the time before blogging had really taken off. Email and chat rooms and the peculiar threaded conversation realms were the norm.

They sat in this room with a guy who wasn’t all that. He was paid to be there, and he was there to teach them some things. Among those things were how to use certain words. How to write certain kinds of sentences. How to argue (although that was a basic quick job). And, most importantly, how to come across as someone or something you weren’t.

The goal of that class, and then after that, the people in that room (which was fairly cheap to set up, all things considered), was to divide the supporters of a rival candidate in an election that was not due to take place for another 8 months. This was done in a wide variety of ways.

For example, a couple people would go in and be all quiet at first, fairly humble, and make minor comments and agree with other people chatting (most of the time it was chat) and bring up things that were common themes among them. After about a month, they would have acquired some credibility, and would suddenly disagree with something someone said about the candidate. They would then introduce on of the talking points of the campaign.

A talking point not from the campaign that they were working for, but from the carefully crafted list of them so that it seemed to be a talking point already in use by the campaign they were attacking.

An example here would something like some fundie joining Pam’s House Blend, “lurking”, and then slowly getting involved and then coming out as an assimilationist. He would “act like a gay person” — and it’s interesting to see how readily people’s stereotypes can be modified by exposure without changing their actual ideas about that stereotype.

They would then start to create a wedge within the opponents, laying the groundwork and foundation for a campaign by their actually choice that would take advantage of the issues created and made worse.

This is a slow, subtle, careful kind of work — all espionage is. IT is not all that exciting, and is really, really deceptive. It’s the kind of stuff that takes time, and effort, and focused attention.

And money.

Each of those participants were paid a full time job’s wages. At the time, it was about 8 bucks an hour, which in the particular economy wasn’t awesome, but wasn’t bad, either. They all knew or knew of each other, as well — recruited from places like churches, AA meetings, and apartment complexes. They didn’t talk about what they did much, because that was part of the job, and every last one of them believed wholeheartedly in their choice of politician.

They were true believers. Willing to sacrifice and put up with extra stuff because they ultimately feared the person they were working against.

They changed the course of the election — in part by giving rise to a second candidate on the opposing side that ultimately did split the vote.

The funding to do all of this was provided by a non-profit organization linked to a church.

The teacher was paid to set up and do this kind of thing in multiple locations throughout the district. Each time, he would take a measure of that area’s views overall, and tailor the responses to it. He earned a pretty good sum doing it too — 15K per site, plus another 10K beforehand for research. Which he conducted primarily by talking to people in the areas targeted at grocery stores, convenience stores, gas stations, retail shops, malls, etc. Friendly little momentary conversations that were preceded and followed by careful observation.

In today’s terms, the equivalent would be a sock puppet. Someone paid by an organization to go to sites frequented by the target group and use the knowledge of that group against it. In LGBT terms, it might be things like saying Obama is a lousy president, or bisexuals don’t exist, or trans folk are screwy, or gay men hate trans people, or anything that would be a meme that is divisive within that online community. Something that almost always, some small group of people already there have said at least once before.

They become echo chambers, in effect, which is actually what this kind of espionage has been called in the past. And since the groups are fairly insular, the echo chamber’s effect is magnified — especially when it’s heard often in different places within the social network.

This is the danger of singing to the choir the song they already sing. They know it, they will often forgive an occasional harsh note.

And then, when the big moment comes, the fight is on. If the saboteurs — the spies — did their job properly, then there is dischord, and infighting, and the opponent is distracted enough that they “drop the ball” and fail to effectively engage the medium in a manner that conveys a clear, unified message.

Which is important. People want to hear a clear, uniform message. They want the message to be simple, sound bitey, and it needs to make sense to them on their terms.

Some might note that none of my messages are really all that sound bitey. To many people, they don’t always make sense.

The truth often *doesn’t* make sense. Fiction, however, fiction *always* has to make sense.

Truth can be uncomfortable, unpleasant – fiction, well, to sell it one has to make it comfortable, familiar, and structured.

Truth is, truth doesn’t always win out. It does not always set you free, either. Sometimes truth makes you run from it.

And sometimes truth can divide.

And when division happens, there is conquering soon to come.