September 20, 2020

Divided We Fall

cooperate and connect

Suppose that there was a group of people in power that was very interested in maintaining the status quo. They oppose whatever changes you or I might consider progress. While some merely oppose change of any kind, others would prefer to roll back much of the progress we have made on a number of issues (e.g., separation of church and state, same-sex marriage, reproductive rights). Some of them even long for the days when atheists were so hated that we might be assaulted for criticizing their preferred religion.

If you were a member of that group, what would be one of the most effective tactics you'd have at your disposal for accomplishing what you wanted? That's easy! You'd take advantage of any opportunity that presented itself to create division among those of us who were working for the sort of change you opposed. You'd know that as long as we were fighting among ourselves, we'd present no threat to you. We'd be rendered ineffective. This divide and conquer strategy is not new, but too few of us recognize it because it can be done so effectively in covert ways (e.g., social media).

When we devote our efforts to squabbling with those who agree with us on 90% of the issues instead of working to bring about the sort of change we say we want, we are serving the interests of those who benefit from our divisions. This has clear implications for politics. The liberals on Twitter who are attacking other liberals for the "crime" of supporting a presidential candidate who agrees with only 90% of what their preferred candidate wants are working awfully hard to re-elect Trump.

This also has implications for reproductive rights. The feminists on Twitter who jumped all over Alyssa Milano seem to have forgotten that her "sex strike," misguided as it might have been, paled in comparison to the assault on reproductive rights that prompted it. The pro-life folks reaped the benefit.

And no matter how much we might pride ourselves in being skeptical, rational, or whatever else, secular activism is not immune to this either. When we condemn our national secular organizations for working to advance various social justice issues, who benefits? I suspect the Christian extremists enjoy our division. They must know it limits our effectiveness and makes it easier for them to advance their agenda.

The answer is not to ignore any conflict that surfaces among atheists, secular activists, political allies, or others working to advance the goals most of us embrace. Pretending problems don't exist rarely makes them go away. At the same time, it is vital to recognize that someone is benefiting from our squabbling and that it is rarely us. Too much is at stake to allow ourselves to be weakened through division.