Divide et impera. Divide and rule. It is a strategy of control that stretches back as far as recorded history. We can see it pretty much everywhere we look: separate people into social groups, then set them against each other. My argument here is that we live in an era of divide-and-conquer on steroids. We are not simply divided. We are shattered. And much of it has been by our own choice. Or choices. Let me explain.

We are offered an abundance of choices: choices in cloths, choices in music, choices in food, in sports, in hobbies, in religious sects, in TV shows and movies, etc. etc. Not only that, our choices are constantly changing: there are always new bands, new styles of music, new fashions, new religions, new shows, new this, new that. Miles Mathis has argued that this is part of what he calls ‘Operation Rolling Stone,’ which was a deliberate attempt by TPTB to promote constant change as a way of making more money. “They discovered that … [t]he more change of any kind they could introduce into society, the more money they would make.” And while I wouldn’t say he’s wrong, I would say that making money is not the only goal of constant change. It might not even be the primary one.

We see seeds of this in his argument: “Living creatures tend to equate change with discomfort. So to promote change was to go against human nature. It wasn’t something that would happen on its own. It had to be manufactured and constantly sold. It was revolutionary in another way, since it went against all tradition. Tradition had always taught that change was something to be avoided. All the major religions sought balance and harmony, neither of which could be maintained in times of rapid change.”

So the effect of constant change is to make people feel uncomfortable and off-kilter: in a word, out of control. It can be very disempowering and disconcerting to be surrounded by a world that is changing so fast you have to struggle just to keep up with some of it. Our governors would like nothing more than for us to feel anxious, bewildered, and disempowered.

But beyond that, constant change is another means of divide-and-conquer. First, because it divides young against old. Many new fashions tend to be looked on by older generations as suspect, such as the advent of Rock ‘n’ Roll and men with long hair in the 1960s or tattoos that started being popular in the 1990s. The latest craze is gender: now it’s not just about being gay or straight or even transgender. There are many genders in between. Apparently Baskin-Robbins got bored selling ice cream, so now they’re offering 31 flavors of gender. I’m about as open-minded as they come, but even I am choking on that one. I can’t imagine what damage the gender-bender craze is doing to real families. (And yes, I do believe it is a deliberately manufactured psy-op, which I will probably comment on in the future.)

The point is that accelerated change precipitates divisions between generations. But because it also comes along with such a wide and constantly changing variety of choices, it can also create divisions between people of the same generation.

To see how this works, I need to explain something about how people come to form their identities — their sense of self and who they are. Although I am reluctant in most cases to opine on human nature, one thing I do believe is that it human beings are social creatures by nature. And what this means, in part, is that our sense of who we are, our identity, is very much linked to our sense of what group we belong to. This is known as ‘group identity.’ So there is an almost inextricable link between my self identity and my group identity — my sense of who I am is linked to my sense of what group I belong to.

This has many interesting implications that social psychologists have been exploring for decades. One of the pioneering researchers in this field was Muzafer Sherif, who was one of the researchers who developed what is known as ‘Realistic Conflict Theory.‘ His theory of group conflict was pretty straightforward. He basically argued that group conflict is an outcome of real or perceived competition over scarce resources between groups. When two or more groups have divergent goals and compete over resources, intergroup hostility goes up. Sherif is famous for a set of experiments he did with pre-teen boys at a summer camp. Here is a short video about those experiments. It’s interesting to note just how easily those boys could be manipulated into hating each other or liking each other:

Fast forward a bit to the 1970s and ‘Realistic Conflict Theory’ has started to come under attack. One problem is that it is too restrictive. It turns out that people don’t need conflicting goals or scarce resources to divide themselves up and start fighting each other. Social psychologists started to do experiments where they simply told people: OK, you belong to group A and you belong to group B. This is called the ‘minimal group paradigm,’ because its goal is to investigate the minimal conditions necessary to divide people against each other. It does so by creating groups according to the most arbitrary and ‘minimal’ means possible, for example by assigning people at random to a groups denoted by a letter or number.

In experiment after experiment social psychologists have found that all you need to do is divide people up like this, and they will automatically show in-group favoritism and out-group hostility. In other words, they will show favoritism for other people in their group (for example by giving them more rewards or rating them more highly on some task) and bias -or downright hostility — against people who are not in their group. The reason for this is that our sense of individual self worth is tied to our sense of the group’s worth. So we tend to evaluate in-group members more favorably and out-group members less favorably as a way of maintaining our sense of personal self-worth.

The upshot of this research is that:

  1. People appear to be naturally inclined to divide the world up into ‘my group’ and ‘not-my-group’
  2. People seem naturally inclined to like and favor in-group members and to dislike and be biased against out-group members.

Which brings us to this ’60 Minutes’ segment on the Yale ‘Baby Lab.’ (Yes, I see that it’s 13 minutes 33 seconds long – what am I gonna do?) Keep i mind everything I’ve written when you watch it, and pay close attention to the part where they offer the babies cheerios or graham crackers for a treat:

So it turns out that you don’t even need to assign people to groups in order to get them to stat dividing the world up into “us vs. them”: people will spontaneously divide the world up into “people who are like me” and “people who are not like me” based on the choices they make. And they will tend to favor people like them and dislike people who are not like them — or even want to see them punished.

Now, that doesn’t mean that I am going to hate someone just because they don’t listen to the same type of music I do or eat the same snack food. But it does diminish the likelihood of me finding common ground with other people. And it exponentially increases the ways in which our  sense of in-group affiliation and out-group hostility can be manipulated — subtly or not — much like in Sherif’s Robber’s Cave experiments. In fact, those experiments now look like they could have been executed by TPTB in order to improve the sophistication of their divide-and-conquer strategies.

I hope you can see how this all relates back to my thesis. The proliferation and never-ending supply of choices can have but only one effect: to divide people against each other and therefore make them easier to control. We know they divide whites against blacks, Christians against Muslims, men against women, progressives against conservatives, old against young, Democrats against Republicans, and on and on. But every time we make a choice about what kind of music to listen to, what movie to go see, what TV show to watch, what food to eat, which sports team to support, where to go for vacation, what to do on the weekend, etc. etc., our potential for solidarity against our masters is fractured and weakened even further. We are, literally, shattered by choice.