“Must have an enemy”

A couple of years back, after the Orlando shootings, I sat in my old apartment — less than a year later I’d be living there solo, divorced — and read this New Yorker article on the gun business. I subsequently turned that article into this post on the value of having an enemy, featuring this pull quote from New Yorker:

For several years, Schmidt had a sideline in packaging his sales techniques. He calls the approach “tribal marketing.” It’s based on generating revenue by emphasizing the boundaries of a community. “We all have the need to belong,” he wrote in a presentation entitled “How to Turn One of Mankind’s Deepest Needs Into Cold, Hard cash.” In a section called “How Do You Create Belief & Belonging?,” he explained, “You can’t have a yin without a yang. Must have an enemy.”

Think about that for a second: “How do you create belief and belonging?”

Most people would answer that and say “Well, you find a church. You find a gym. You call and text your friends more often. You find a cherished partner. You find it through your kids. You do something professionally that fulfills you.”

No. The real answer might be “must have an enemy.”

Go into any social media comments section on a contentious issue and you’d see this writ large, full-force. It’s just people screaming back-and-forth at each other, defending their specific tribe over the other. Because the other — the enemy — is inherently and necessarily bad.

Just this morning, there’s an article in Washington Post about how MAGA needs to tear down Fauci, including this section:

If Fauci has been right about covid, then playing down the disease, mocking masks, modeling superspreader events, denying death tolls, encouraging anti-mandate militias and recommending quack cures were not particularly helpful. If Fauci has been right, they presided over a deadly debacle.

When former Trump trade adviser Peter Navarro claims that Fauci is “the father of the actual virus” or former chief of staff Mark Meadows complains about Fauci’s indifference to the (nearly nonexistent) flow of covid across the southern border, the goal is not really to press arguments. It is to create an alternative MAGA reality in which followers are free from the stress of truth — a safe space in which more than half a million people did not die and their leader was not a vicious, incompetent, delusional threat to the health of the nation.

I wrote once about the tear-down of Fauci, but more in the context of the decline of expertise. (I think we can partially blame LinkedIn for that.)

It’s crazy to me sometimes that we know community is important and relationships are important, and those things drive life and it’s what people ask for at the very end (more of that!), but in the day-to-day muck, so much of life, especially online, seems to be about finding enemies and “owning” them in some way.

To use another politically-charged concept, think of Hunter Biden. If you’re on the right, you will probably call him a “druggy” and a “thief” and “he banged his dead brother’s wife.” (That stuff actually happens a lot in the Bible.) If you are on the left, you will ask for compassion for his addiction, and you will talk about Jared and Ivanka. There’s no middle ground. The right comes back on the left with “The Trumps were already rich!” The left comes back with “You’re all ghouls.”

Must have an enemy.

I always knew in-group and out-group was a big thing — it drives most of the human experience, honestly and sadly — but the consistent process of defining yourself not by who you are, but by who you’re not seems to be at pretty drastic scale these days.


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