Divide and rule

I don't usually write about politics on this site because I like to keep things constructive and jovial, but I had an epiphany last night that I thought was worth sharing.

Ever since the 2016 election here in the US, I've felt an increasing political divide amongst my peers and in society at large. I've also found that the mainstream political left in this country has veered in a direction which I cannot myself support, and that I've sought different perspectives across the political landscape. I won't mention what the specific policy positions are that have led me to this shift, since they're irrelevant to what I'm about to suggest.

This growing political rift has led to violent confrontations in multiple cities, including my own. It has led my partner and I into arguing about our political differences instead of uniting around our shared values. It has engulfed the country in an all-out culture war, wherein we disown and disavow those tribes who disagree with us.

Our nation's bitter disagreements are about moral issues over which people will almost certainly always disagree. Things like abortion rights, gay marriage, religious freedom, globalization, and immigration.

As well, they're often about our immutable characteristics: race, gender, class, ethnicity, religion, and sexual orientation.

But what if our squabbles are actually the ruling class's means of control and manipulation? What if, in all our fighting amongst each other, we're not speaking truth to power but actually giving it more fuel?

Divide and rule is a strategy of gaining and maintaining power by breaking up larger concentrations of power into pieces that individually have less power than the one implementing the strategy.

According to Wikipedia, the technique involves:

  • creating or encouraging divisions among the subjects to prevent alliances that could challenge the sovereign
  • aiding and promoting those who are willing to cooperate with the sovereign
  • fostering distrust and enmity between local rulers
  • encouraging meaningless expenditures that reduce the capability for political and military spending

Applied to US politics in 2019, we see:

  • news media promoting issues which seek divide the populace according to race, gender, and sexuality
  • major political parties embracing this strategy of division, since it serves the ruling class
  • growing tensions between racial groups and between the genders
  • diverting political spending and energy away from real challenges to power (i.e., limiting campaign contributions and lobbying, financial system reform, and universal social welfare systems) toward those that distract and divide (i.e., racial and gender inequality, immigration)

This isn't to say race and gender issues aren't important. They are. But they're also divisive and breed resentment. They incite the worst tribal qualities within us. And the irony is that the strategies currently employed will never unite us because they're designed specifically not to.

This strategy works from both sides. For instance, take gender. In popular media, women are told they're part of an oppressed group in America. Whether or not that's true is irrelevant to our discussion. What's relevant is that they believe it. In believing this, an agenda is set: rectify the gender gap. But men might not see things that way. They might say women have been granted, by power of the legislature, all the rights men have. They won the right to vote, the right to own property, and freedom of movement. Men now resent women for their suggestion they are oppressed. Women resent men because they feel oppressed. Neither realizes they're being had by the real oppressor: the thumb of a ruling class who has all the money.

You see these corrosive dichotomies everywhere in society. Feminists fighting the patriarchy versus men's rights activists. Black Lives Matter versus Blue Lives Matter. Leftism versus classical liberalism. Antifa versus the Proud Boys.

Resentment toward diversity quotas for putting aside the principles of meritocracy in the workplace in the interest of more racial equity. Anger at white men for the fact they hold most positions of power. Outrage at police brutality directed at young black men. Wanting to send all the immigrants back to where they came from because they're taking jobs. Resentment because you can't use the bathroom that suits your gender identity. Anger because there's a man in the woman's bathroom.

It is in the interest of those in power to keep us disagreeing with one another over issues that are inherently divisive so we don't focus on the burgeoning concentration of political and economic power in the hands of a few people.

George Carlin made light of this fact years ago:

They keep the lower and middle classes fighting each other. Now to balance the scale I’d like to talk about the things that bring us together.

Things that point out our similarities instead of our differences. Because that is all you ever hear about in this country is our differences. That’s all the media and the politicians are ever talking about, the things that separate us, things that make us different from one another. That’s the way the ruling class operates in any society.

They try to divide the rest of the people. They keep the low and the middle classes fighting with each other so that they, the rich can run off with all the f*cking money. Fairly simple thing, happens to work. You know anything different, that is what they are going to talk about, race, religion, ethnic, and national background, jobs, income, education, social status, sexuality, anything you can do – keep us fighting with each other so that they can keep going to the bank.

You know how describe the economic and social classes in this country? The upper class keep all of the money, pays none of the taxes. The middle-class pays all of the taxes, does all the work. The poor are there just to scare the sh*t out of the middle-class.

Now, this isn't an appeal to conspiracy theory. I don't think there's some meeting behind closed doors where the ruling elites gather and discuss which incindiary news stories they'll publish in order to sow unrest. No, it's more sinister than that. It's all about incentives.

News media organizations, now more than ever, are incentivized to publish the most anger-inducing, crazy-making, Facebook-post-generating stories they can. They rely upon our clicking their articles so we'll see their advertisers' ads. Which headline would be more likely to get you to click: one about campaign finance reform or one about a racial or gender-based issue?

Okay, so if this is all true and we're being manipulated into fighting with one another over issues with no solutions, what do we do?

First, we must banish the sources of these corrosive ideas from our lives for good. The Washington Post, the New York Times, Fox News, MSNBC, and the like are owned by some of the most powerful people in the world. They don't care about us. The sooner we stop listening to them and heeding to their agenda, the better. We should start to see news media for what it is: propaganda.

Second, we must become more mindful when we're engaging in rhetoric about issues that will perpetually divide us. This doesn't mean we shouldn't speak truth to power about real oppression, but that we should frame issues in a way that does not alienate those who might otherwise be proud allies in our struggle. Engage more in discussion about issues that resonate with everyone, like poverty, healthcare, infrastructure, and the concentration of political power in the hands of the few.

Third, we must strive to engage with people whose viewpoints are different from ours. But, rather than engaging politically about our differences, we must seek to forge alliances apolitically. We must recognize when we're engaging in an unwinnable fight over abstract concepts and return our attention back to the real world. We'll never agree on whether one race is more oppressed than another, but almost everyone can agree that no one should live in abject poverty.

Fourth, we must continually ascend to take a bird's-eye view of our own behaviors and retrain ourselves to recognize when we're playing into the divide and rule game. One way I think we can accomplish this is by recognizing when we're feeling resentment toward other people who are different from us. Whether we're men feeling resentment toward women, gay toward straight, or black toward white, it's a good indication we need to take a step back and realize we're being distracted from the dark ruling class strategy of divide and rule.