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Setting the stage for 2018: Figuring out our allies and opponents

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Setting the stage for 2018 Figuring out our allies and opponents

Before we started deciding on the rules of the game, figuring out how to define the terms of the battle, we should first identify what freedom actually means to us and who or what stands in the way. That may sound rather like an obvious point, but at least in part, who or what we view as an obstacle is a good reflection of what it is we think we are protecting. If we are familiar with the basics of the Constitution, this should be relatively simple. Freedom is the freedom from government interference, and in generally, the ability to live, prosper, and pursue happiness so long as our actions do not infringe on the rights of others. By that token the obstacles to freedom are:

  1. Government interference
  2. Anything that stands in the way of life, liberty, prosperity, and pursuit of happiness – such as security threats, economic problems, crime, or natural disasters.
  3. People who are willfully promoting government interference with our lives or facilitate the security threats or other obstacles.

Most people would likely not have an issue with any of the above, not even the “villains” as we may perceive. The differences will usually either vary as to the degree to which others oppose those 3 items, or the interpretations. Then there is a group of people who is simply not familiar with the Constitution or the history of the United States, and may claim that the they think the First Amendment should have limitations, etc. In sum and substance, however, they are no different from people who are more familiar with the issues and formulate their interpretations in a more informed and deliberate way.

Now, there are many reasons why people may choose to adopt a different level of what they find personally acceptable under either of those three categories. We can spend hours going through them, but the worst case scenario is that we are facing an ideological adversary, who is pining for a society with very little freedom and is determined to destroy society as we know it. The other two categories of people to worry about: benevolent but deluded “fellow travelers” who firmly wish for everyone to live well, but essentially at some point check common sense at the door, and people who are so zealous about being perceived as freedom lovers than in pursuit of freedom and in opposition to the adversarial elements and “useful idiots”, become very much like them.

Besides those three groups, there exists a great number of people with highly complex and individualized views on various issues, who either don’t fit neatly into any boxes, or fall somewhere in between, or vacillate among different groups.  This is why the fight  for freedom is more complicated than we would like to admit. There often are no clear answers on who is an ally or an absolute adversary, because most people do not think in absolutes, contrary to the polarized views we are presented with in social media. So how do we deal with the ambiguity? How do we winnow out the absolute “enemies”, diffuse the fellow travelers, and win over everyone else?

The “Enemies”

The hardcore ideologues are usually firm in their convictions, aggressive, and politically astute. They do not care about the sacrifices they have to make in order to reach their goal. They may be revolutionary, but more often than not, they are revolutionary, understanding that it takes time to win over supporters without the use of political violence. They may implicitly or explicitly support or instigate violence, which we have seen some evidence of on campuses, but that tactic is a culmination of decades of relatively peaceful activism and brainwashing. The ideologues are usually the professors, not the students. Some of them are older and old-school, and have been “assets” of the Communist party, anarchists, and other movements. They make common cause with other radical movements, but they are patient, venomous, vengeful, and they understand how to use power. They are the true “haters”, who may be quite familiar with the history of the revolutions, and yet fully embrace the mentality and goals anyway. On the other end of this spectrum are the cynical manipulators who may not much believe in hard leftist or socialist ideologies, but who understand that these ideologies are a perfect vehicle to power, and it is ultimately the power and the control that they crave.

Such people are completely amoral, at least somewhat sociopathic, and view the means as justifying the ends just as much as the ideologues – but the ends for them are purely personal gain. I bet there may be an aggregation of data on professors, think tank members, public intellectuals, journalists, and others who belong to either of these categories, but if not, such individuals are easily discernible and those who are around them should be encouraged to be aware of them, their tactics, and their goals. Situational awareness is key part to preparation. These guys need to be rooted out, and their ideology debunked and delegitimized. In 99% of the cases, they are not going to come to a sudden miraculous revelation or realization of all the wrong that they did. The best outcome is that one day such mentality is marginalized, and anyone who follows it becomes socially unacceptable, and part of the fringe with no influence, no different from the Nazis. How is that achieved?

First, by raising awareness among target groups.

Second, by immunizing them against the worst tactics.

Third, by arming them with tools to combat the influence of such people – including development of critical thinking skills, a buddy system, where you have witnesses at every confrontation to prevent he said-she said situations and smear campaigns, record keeping, understanding the systems and the vulnerabilities within these systems that strengthen or are exploited by such individuals, developing the flexibility and the resilience to develop appropriate responses, and to recover from losses.

Workshops and training are excellent ways to develop and practice such skills. Remember, however, most of such battles are going to be in uncontrolled environments where many of these individuals will have an upper hand, control of the turf, and frequently, the element of surprise. That is why data about the presence of such people and their record is essential for advance preparation, and the more confident people can later choose these confrontations at their leisure. But the first stage will be much more like responding to asymmetrical warfare than a controlled strategy. The only unifying factor here is that most of such people will be in some position of power in areas where they are best position to promote ideologies or narratives adversarial to the US Constitution, culture, the idea of freedom, or Western society..

The ultimate goal should be to develop a system of first identifying and tracking such people, and second to exposing and eliminating them. These two could also be done simultaneously, but in the initial stages, information gathering should be separated from the action plan for reasons of developing a working strategy and expertise.

The Fellow Travelers

The fellow travels MAY be in a position of power, but more often than not, they are not “professional” ideologues, just people of all backgrounds with strongly held worldviews who act like political hacks or rebels, but firmly believe they are doing it for the good of the society they live in. They may not necessarily want a “fundamental” transformation, but their general arguments are a slippery slope, poorly thought out, and will eventually bring about a fundamental transformation, eating them along the way, much to their surprise.

The younger, revolutionary students and cultural warriors are likely manipulated by more experienced figures, and usually are predisposed to that either through family background, and early education, or various psychological vulnerabilities.  More often than not such people are looking for something meaningful to do, but may not put the hard work of researching and understanding their options. They may latch on to whatever “feels” good, even if it completely contradicts their values system or lifestyle (i.e. the largely meaningless Occupy Wall Street movement). Keep in mind that much more cynical forces can co-opt and infiltrate grassroots movements. But those forces belong to the above-described category and should be considered separately.

The activists more likely than not find facts, reason, and logic unconvincing, but emotionally appealing narratives that visually and experientially combat their preconceptions can work. Many of these kids mean well, even if they are confused and unaffected, so getting into big fights with them in public may be successful in mocking them and shutting down an annoying discussion, but will not break through their individual perspectives. However, people who are taught to hate a particular group or groups for the sake of helping some other perceived victim could be responsive to an invitation to dinner by a seemingly neutral person and exposure to kind individuals on a gradual basis. An alternative way to the same effect is organized, highly structured outreach effort that gives them reasons to join some worthwhile cause or movement before they are co-opted by stronger forces, maybe in high school rather than college, and simply channel their energy into something productive.

Keep in mind, most of such activists have no solid comprehensive history of the underpinnings of all these movements. They may be highly uneducated and ignorant of the source texts and earlier battles. Or they will have read the pop culture version of whatever it is they are proclaiming. Their worldviews may be fluid and easily confused. Interesectionality and increasingly more radical and bizarre views on transgenderism, various social norms, identity politics, and cultural relativism has to do with a lack of formal structure, expectation of discipline or boundaries, and basically a strong yearning to explore a sense of identity, but without any firm anchors or legitimate contexts for doing so. Whether this becomes a passing phase of belated teenage rebellion or something much more serious depends on how the people around them help them deal with it.  Neither mockery, nor aggressive response, nor unchallenged facilitation of what, in many cases appears to be little more than a desperate cry for attention coupled with confused paradigms, and poor manners will resolve the problem.

The adult/mature “fellow travelers” are a slightly different breed. They are likely to be more socially established, pursue more reasonable life paths and goals, and act “traditional” in many ways, yet have been reacting with excessive anger to recent political developments, and otherwise act like political hacks a lot of the time, refusing to admit even obvious facts that run counter to their worldview, arguing about increasingly absurd wedge issues, and hairsplittng when it is obvious that they are wrong, or using mountains of one-sided studies in lieu of well-thought out arguments.  Despite a general sense of exasperation, it is not hopeless to move them in a more reasonable direction. The very fact that they are willing to engage in discourse and risk being exposed for being wrong is a positive sign, and excessive defensiveness and movement away from such discussions into more comfortable echo chambers will do more harm than good.

Engaging in discussions, finding points of commonalities, identifying common humanity, and continuing to provoke thought with exposure to additional information is the best way to address this problem. Some minds may change on some issues some of the time. There is certainly no guarantee of anything, but so long as people can find in themselves to like and respect at least something about each other, and at least enough to stay in the discussion, all hope is not lost.

Everybody Else

Some of the best political advice I have ever gotten (and it was from Arnold Steinberg) was to maintain a broad tent, and to form alliances based on specific issues, despite all differences on other fronts. You don’t need to have a base of ideological purists, and most people will have some reasonable differences among themselves, evolve in their views, vacillate, and so forth.  It is ok to work with them or to discuss with them the one or two things you may have in common, rather than to frustrate oneself over the inability to find “enough” allies, who are close to you on most issues.  Flexibility is key to winning ideological battles, and not all battles will be won with the same people.

But before categorizing everyone you know under particular labels, start with yourself. The central part of winning any war is knowing yourself and where you stand on specific issues, and why. Remember, just as much as you are struggling to identify your future teammates, as well as the forces that may try to stop you, others will be doing the same to you. How open are you to having your mind changed and on what issues? What is a matter of principle for you, and what does not get you excited, no matter how important you think it should be? Only you know the answers to these questions, and only you ultimately define the kind of personal battle you are going to be fighting, though each battle, will, of course, be a part of a much bigger war.

Irina Tsukerman is a human rights and national security lawyer, based in New York. I can send something longer, but then it would go into all the other things I've been involved in and might be too long!

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