Divide and conquer.
It's a phrase that has existed, in some variation or another, for well over two thousand years, and an idea that has existed seemingly forever. As a strategy, it is as brilliant as it is perverse - keep the people fighting amongst themselves, and they will be too weak, too fractured, to fight you - and it has worked far more often than not.
It's not hard to understand why this strategy is so successful; humans are hardwired to desire an authority figure and to be suspicious of those we see as "different". Any particularly ambitious and immoral person can exploit the latter to become the former. But to maintain that power, to increase that power, that takes some real work. It is easy to remind people of tensions that have always existed - to poke the bears with names like Right, Left, Race, Religion, and Sex. It is a guarantee that there will always be stereotypes, there will always be bigots, there will always be clashing ideologies, and anyone clever enough to manipulate that fact will always have a good chance of grabbing a little power. It's easy to keep hot buttons hot. Real power, real influence, however, comes when you can create conflict between those who once saw themselves as being on the same team. It's easy to start a fight between a left-winger and a right-winger, for example, but what if you could get two lefties to declare themselves enemies? What if you could get historically oppressed people to fight - often viciously - amongst themselves? What if you could get generally privileged people to pick petty arguments between one another? How much easier would it be to control things then?
Way easier. That was a rhetorical question. It would obviously be way easier. Better even yet would it be if that in-fighting happened organically, and I fear that's where we are heading. It no longer requires any real effort on the part of the powers-that-be to create conflict between allies. We now happily, willingly, righteously, throw ourselves into battle with anyone who disagrees with us even slightly. Feminists hate feminists. MRAs hate MRAs. Liberals hate liberals and conservatives hate conservatives. Black activists disagree with black activists, LGBTs fight with LGBTs, Christians battle other Christians. And, on some level, that's a good thing. I do not believe it is healthy to develop a hive-mind, to launch oneself into an echo chamber, and to never duke it out amongst ourselves. It is infinitely valuable to hear different perspectives on the same topic or ideology. When it becomes problematic is when we make a foe out of anyone who does not agree with 100% of what we believe. When we reject would-be allies due to a single difference of opinion. When we begin to see vibrant colours as the fence-sitters in a black and white world. When we are comfortable making enemies and bigots of those who are neither. And that seems to be, if not where we are just yet, the road we are on. It's not a road I am happy to be traveling.
Don't get me wrong - I vehemently believe we must be honest and unflinching in what we truly care about. I do not expect anyone to stand down or compromise on significant, passionate issues. What I do expect is some cooperation. I expect humans to recognize one another as humans, and to acknowledge and respect the fact that we will never be in perfect agreement. I expect us to wake up to the fact that the more divided we are, the easier we are to conquer. That the more importance we place on petty differences, the less likely we are to accomplish anything. I expect us to view the society we live in as a direct reflection of ourselves, and to act accordingly.
Divide and conquer. It is as brilliant as it is perverse. And it works because we let it.