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How a movement is destroyed from within
A general response to a troubling trend
Collapse is collaborative process
Haven’t you noticed how almost everything these days descends into lame in-fighting and petty squabbles? Maybe it’s human nature, it could always have been this way. In the age of near-instantaneous communication it’s all effectively leverage for those who want to derail good causes. We all have to be careful how we empower those who benefit from undending conflict.
Rules of engagement
Nothing is new under the sun. People get lead astray, others take advantage of people riled up under all kinds of causes. We have seen it before and it will continue to happen over and over.
A nation can survive it’s fools, and even the ambitious. But it cannot survive treason from within. An enemy at the gates is less formidable, for he is known and carries his banner openly. But the traitor moves amongst those within the gate freely, his sly whispers rustling through all the alleys, heard in the very halls of government itself.
Marcus Tullius Cicero
Cicero has kindly identified 4 major detriments to any human endeavor:
Covert Opposition (traitors)
He tells us that 1,2 and 3 are not the most damaging. We are also reminded at how easy it is for traitors to go entirely unopposed. There are a couple of reasons for this:
Actual traitors will likely have some blend of attributes from incompetent or self-interested allies.
Accusations are expensive, you divert critical energy away from the following:
Challenging overt opposition
Training / Educating / Equipping the less competent allies
Directing self-interested allies on more productive things
Overzealous purging of would-be traitors can spill-over into alienating sincere allies
Too often people denounce “tribalism” or bemoan people’s propensity as if they are above it or that it’s something that can be avoided. Most people understand their time budget is small and they will do their best to select leaders to follow. Sometimes this works out well, other times it doesn’t. Unending bickering doesn’t help people select better leaders, it just adds noise and anger.
What happens is when those followers perceive attacks on people they’re following, they perceive it as an attack on themselves. This inevitably escalates into unending flame wars that makes prominent people afraid to upset or disappoint their own following.
It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.
Nobody is above meticulous or even scathing critique. The more influential someone is, the more likely they are to receive fair & unfair criticism. People get defensive, especially when peoples’ egos inflate any criticism to an existential attack.) who deconstructs Alex Jones’ role in running defense for Trump and other bad actors.
Pay attention to his delivery, David is calm and factual about it. There’s little inflammatory rhetoric, it’s dry and academic. He lets the facts speak for themselves. Because of this, Jones has no choice but to simply ignore these criticisms, and pray that these criticisms aren’t widely heard. This is the best case scenario. Neutral observers get to decide for themselves, and Jones’ audience isn’t riled up in a fury to cancel anyone who shares something from David Knight.
It can be tempting to rouse up drama to raise the level of attention, but all it does is attract bad faith engagement. It is principally important not to devolve into endless cycles of smears. These fights will radicalize people in addition to any inflammatory rhetoric, which in turn maintains the cycle.
When you win, seldom few traitors get exposed. Often because some didn’t have the opportunity to cause enough problems yet.
When you lose, all the traitors are exposed. Everyone feels betrayed and the knives come out.
This is a problem when you have a large-scale problem with multiple battles running in parallel and participants can be in a variety of them. Even the best of the best can’t be perfectly useful in all battles at the same time.
To reiterate: provably bad actors must be dealt with, but they must be handled with caution. It’s quite naive to believe that an iron-clad take-down of a bad actor can only result in them apologizing and quietly ducking out. More often than not there is very little to gain by directly confronting bad actors. The very same lies, misdirection, and selective use of facts can again be weaponized against people trying to keep things honest and effective. This means that these fights are largely inevitable, but we are still responsible for our role in inflaming them.
This is why choosing your battles is important. What are we really fighting for? Are we fighting to dunk on the misinformed or are we fighting to bring a tiny light of truth to these dark times? If that’s the case, the way forward requires those of us who are able, to hold on tight to those firing in the right direction without compromising on the battles we’re trying to win. Cooperation is more important than conformity.
Hardly anything good has come from pitting people’s audiences against each other. It is ironic when someone who pretends to be above-it-all by refusing to apply good/evil labels on left/right pro/antivaxx, yet use them liberally within a movement. It’s the same game on a different field.
Even if nobody is at fault, the fire rises and the signal gets lost behind raging tempers. Who really wins by escalating fights within people who would like to see the truth win out?
Ultimately, we need each other. Being quick to descend into purity spirals and flamewars only further drives people apart. Nobody has to concede any intellectual ground to still be charitable, kind, and thoughtful.
It wasn’t tightly-knit warm and thoughtful people that fueled the rise of health tyranny. It was lonely, atomized, and scared people without hope. It wasn’t the shocking videos from Wuhan that started it. Instead it was years before, the bit-by-bit destruction of the things that brought people together.