Nightwatch: Ch. 4.3 – Fear and Loathing in EarthGov

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[4] To Stand Against the Night

[4.3] Fear and Loathing in EarthGov

Nightwatch’s tactics differ from world to world and situation to situation, but the basic strategy remains the same: promote the cause, infiltrate power centres, subvert potential opposition and finally, assume control. This strategy requires varying levels of subtlety, balancing careful salesmanship with the application of fear. Nightwatch operatives are typically quite skilled in tailoring the message to the audience, since tipping the division’s hand would be catastrophic in the early stages. Nevertheless, the basic pattern is nearly universal.

The division’s campaign on Babylon 5 is an ideal template for the standard Nightwatch operation, both in terms of the sort of campaign the group wages and what kinds of adventures the Games Master can weave around them. Nightwatch always begins slowly and carefully, but their plans can accelerate with terrifying speed.

[4.3.1] Idea Men

“Peace can be made, or broken, with a gun, a word, an idea, even a thought.”
— Pierce Macabee

The most successful liars, as Captain Sheridan once noted, hide their lies within truths to convince others to accept them. Nightwatch uses a particularly powerful and fundamental truth as a starting point – thoughts matter. Our concepts, ideas and viewpoints colour our actions, and some argue they even determine our reality in a sense. It is the tapestry of ideas as they cooperate, merge, divide and conflict with one another that creates society. Changing society means changing viewpoints, making some concepts more popular and others less acceptable, in some cases creating or destroying them entirely. In a free society, this is a positive trait, as words and ideas replace guns and bombs as the weapons of choice. Hopefully, superior ideas replace inferior ones and everyone benefits. In all cases, thought is encouraged.

Nightwatch takes that hope and inverts it. As has been noted, fear is the tyrant’s most powerful weapon, and Nightwatch’s first goal is to make citizens fear thoughts. Protecting society from its “own worst impulses,” the Ministry of Peace preaches finding those who disrupt society and helping them become “peaceful.” Propaganda is a large part of the Ministry’s effort, but propaganda can be ignored. By matching carefully chosen words with disturbing deeds, particularly shutting down proponents of more honest or open systems, Nightwatch works to “train” citizens in proper thought.

This is why psychology plays such an important role in both Nightwatch propaganda and operation. When they use pop psychology buzzwords to describe their goals, referring to disturbed malcontents and talking about helping them return to society, they convince the faithful and gullible of their benevolent goals. Other citizens fall into a continuum between being swayed by the propaganda and finding it sinister, both of which suit the division’s purposes. Ironically, Nightwatch uses the discussion of psychology as a psychological tool, allowing it to seem reasonable and caring while it prepares the populace for the capture and reeducation of its enemies. By framing the debate as rational, reliable patriots helping the mentally unbalanced, it gains a tremendous advantage in the public relations battle.

Framing is vital to such attacks. The Big Lie’s greatest weakness is the truth, so the spin doctors and political officers must work to ensure their language is used. By forcing the opposition to fight on their battlefield and choosing the language of the debate, they make it harder for others to challenge their message. Discipline is essential to this strategy as well. While many voices may rise against them, they are typically disorganised and come at Nightwatch from different angles. With message discipline provided by the political office and ensured by the Nightwatch organisation, they combine expert manipulation of language with volume and repetition to keep people thinking about their positions rather than their competitors’.

Misinformation is perhaps Nightwatch’s most important talking point. To maintain the Big Lie, they must make it appear to be the truth. The truth, therefore, must appear to be the actual lie. By constantly hitting the misinformation concept, they drill into the populace the idea that Nightwatch’s enemies are either lying or have bad information. They combine this with the danger of harmful ideas and the belief that their enemies are unstable to create a variety of excuses allowing people to dismiss other arguments, avoiding the hard work of thinking.

“Our thoughts form the universe, they always matter.”
— G’Kar

Ultimately, Nightwatch is right about the importance of thought. Their methods are, however, deeply abhorrent. Rather than promoting greater and broader thought, they become thought police, attempting to narrow and delineate which forms of thought are acceptable and which are “disturbed.” By linking thoughts of resistance to mental illness and sedition itself, they turn such ideas into diseases to be cured, and the “infected” are isolated for treatment. It is Nightwatch’s most clever line of attack, and in spite of all its other crimes, quite possibly its most despicable one.

[4.3.2] Slow and Steady

Every successful predator learns one invaluable trait: patience. Make no mistake, Nightwatch is a predator, and human society is its prey. This is why the Ministry of Peace must push its agenda through carefully, to avoid alarming more than a handful of alert patriots. Each new restriction on liberty is enacted cautiously, a logical progression from the one before it, then carefully spun and justified until it becomes accepted as part of the status quo. Like the Centauri military strategy of neutralising and securing a conquest fully before advancing, this political variant ensures that their gains are protected from the manoeuvres of their rivals as they move forward.

In fact, it could be argued that Nightwatch’s reign is as brief as it is due to a lack of patience. Admittedly, with the allegations of treason and murder flying around Clark and his administration, the Ministry’s hand was most likely forced by events. Even so, its progress until that point had been remarkably rapid compared to the erosions of previous democracies.

In spite of their rapid success, each step save the last was considered carefully and taken with caution. The political ground was secured with progress in EarthDome, the support of a majority in the populace won with judicious use of propaganda, individual areas of liberty were curtailed and the development accepted. If Nightwatch can be said to have a virtue, it would be the refusal of its leaders to take anything for granted.

[4.3.3] Eternal Vigilance

Perhaps the most insidious lie Nightwatch spreads is the idea that they are the ones protecting freedom. Propagandists and cell leaders routinely tell their audiences that Nightwatch exists to protect human liberty from the “alien agenda.” Political rivals and other dissidents are smeared as “unpatriotic” or as the real threats to freedom. Restrictions on rights such as free press and assembly are characterised as minor inconveniences compared to the great and terrible threat to liberty posed by The Enemy. This is how tyrants lay the foundations of despotism.

“With our basic freedoms at stake, no response can be too extreme. There may be some minor and temporary abridgments in the traditionally protected areas of speech and association, but only until this crisis is over.”
— Julie Musante

This inversion of liberty is done gradually, even more so than Nightwatch’s other tactics. It is much like the old adage about boiling a lobster – if you turn up the heat slowly enough, the lobster does not realise what is happening to it until it is too late. Attempts to pass laws that ban all independent expression will turn genuine democracies on the offenders with startling speed. Carefully spinning moderate restrictions, however, will have some proclaiming that it is past time for the government to do something about “those people,” whoever “they” may be, and all too many will just not care. The erosions are described as a small price to pay. Only its most strident opponents are targeted initially, in an attempt to lull others into a false sense of security. Reasonable people, after all, will never be subjected to these restrictions. Nightwatch comes for its most easily isolated enemies first. Next it targets weak or vulnerable political factions. Eventually, it goes after its major political rivals, but by then, there is no one left to speak out for the victims.

One of the advantages of this approach for Nightwatch is the difficulty that results in determining which side truly stands for freedom. Politicians on all sides continue to stretch the truth in the 23rd Century, and even the best of the breed will take shots at the statements of their rivals. Often, to be honest, these attacks are quite justified. Nightwatch was decried by many, yet only a handful of “extremists” accurately described the terrible depths the Ministry of Peace would sink to during its reign. Even most of its opponents did not want to believe that humanity could fall so far again.

On the other hand, falsely accusing political enemies of being a threat to democracy can be terribly effective if it is done loudly and consistently. The faction must be powerful enough to survive the backlash and influential enough to spin credibility into its claims, but it can work. When the other side justifiably responds in kind, most of those loyal to the party responsible for Nightwatch will simply believe their people and the apolitical will usually believe it is the usual partisan nonsense. Unravelling the truth requires time, thought and work, three things all too many people are unwilling to do to follow politics.

[4.3.4] An Ethic of Hypocrisy

It is unfortunate that so few in the Alliance look seriously at Nightwatch’s agenda before it takes control, as all the evidence of its coming corruption is there from the beginning. Its every purpose is hypocritical – purporting to spread peace yet overtly confrontational, supposedly protecting liberty when every action it takes destroys another freedom, claiming to fight aliens but targeting humans almost exclusively and claiming no purposes other than to watch and serve while they murder and rule.

It may seem presumptuous to declare Nightwatch evil in a universe filled with shades of gray and necessary compromises, yet there is a damning fundamental truth at its core. Simply put, in service to the party all is permitted, and in opposition to the party all is forbidden. This is “true” even if those serving the party violate the most fundamental principles of the party, and even if those opposing the party obey its rules to the letter in their opposition. The truth that condemns them is that they have no scruples, no limits and no principles. Ideology is merely a convenient excuse for power in the service of power. While this may not be accurate with individual members, it is the true guiding doctrine of absolute power, and thus of Nightwatch.

Worse, the higher ranking the member of the party, the more that can be justified as “service.” As long as the administration is not harmed, those with the right connections can do anything they want. Getting away with murder is the least of their venal advantages. At the same time, anyone who does not serve the administration in some way is vulnerable to the mere accusation of disloyalty, seditious talk or even unpatriotic thoughts. Senator McCarthy would be jealous.

[4.3.5] Social Cleansing

While telepaths face discrimination and fear, no other genetic human minority must deal with such problems on any significant scale by the time of the 2250s. Class warfare, on the other hand, is alive and well, and the usual suspects – the rich and powerful – are waging it full bore on the classes below them. While President Clark is not as dependent on corporate campaign donations as most politicians, he is canny enough to keep the wealthy on his side. This is how being late for work becomes the treasonous “sabotage of efficiency” and how allowing lurkers to appear on ISN and talk about their squalid conditions becomes sedition.

Rewriting the dictionary is easy when you own all of the presses. True, Nightwatch does not literally change most reference works, though this is only because they never have the time. That does not stop the Ministry of Peace from redefining problems by redefining people. Anyone lost in the cracks of society is not the victim of market forces or heartless regulations. Instead, their positions are their own fault, through laziness, criminal behaviour or outright insanity.

For that matter, it is easy enough to “redefine” criminals as mentally disturbed themselves. If a crime has been committed, there are rights and procedures that must be addressed. Insanity is a disease. Victims are isolated by professionals until they are “cured,” and the only recourse of the prisoner is to appeal to another professional. Further, by making dissent a matter of mental imbalance as well as criminal behaviour, Nightwatch conflates the two, each a symptom of the same problem.

And so the issue comes full circle, back to class warfare. The poor, the homeless and the desperate are all sick. The Ministry makes as strong a case as it can for the blame being theirs, but whether the illness is their fault or not the problem is social rather than economic. Certainly, the administration claims to do what it reasonably can to alleviate their condition, but it is not a “problem” that can be blamed on or solved by government. By ignoring the problem, it really can go away, after a fashion. This assumes that to Nightwatch, lurkers dying off as a class is not a problem, but given their ideology it may be viewed simply as “decreasing the surplus population.”

[4.3.6] Morality

Nightwatch talks a great deal about morality, but we never learn exactly what they mean. Aside from the basic moral tenets that cross religious and philosophical lines, which G’Kar summed up neatly as “be kind to one another” and the less ethically oriented sense of legal but unacceptable behaviour, morality seems to be another way of saying “ideologically correct.”

It seems likely that being peaceful is part of the Nightwatch concept of morality, as it is a division of the Ministry of Peace. The idea of people being at peace with themselves to help them have peace with their neighbours is a laudable one in the abstract. Given the Nightwatch focus on words and ideas, however, it seems inevitable that it would expand the moral idea of “peace” to include actions such as protesting the government and causing dissension by starting debates over harmful ideas.

In the end, “morality” is whatever Nightwatch defines it to be. This makes it an ideal propaganda weapon, and the Ministry of Peace is not going to weaken its facility by defining the whole too closely.

[4.3.7] Logical Fallacies

Normally, a breakdown in the logic of an argument is due an honest error of reasoning on the part of its proponent. For example, when Londo and G’Kar each accuses the other’s race of being responsible for random bombings on Babylon 5, they are both guilty of at least two fallacies, related to emotion and induction, but in each case the protagonist genuinely believes his argument. These logic flaws can be persuasive at first glance and require varying levels of analysis to unravel.

On Earth, politicians rarely make this sort of mistake. Rather, they use logical fallacies deliberately in order to buttress weak positions and bolster attacks on their opponents. Nightwatch does this because the logical fallacy can be useful in promoting a cause, especially to its loyal base. As long as the argument sounds reasonable, those who are inclined to believe it are unlikely to consider its merits carefully, while those who truly want to believe will ignore its flaws outright. Emotional appeals and careful application of logical tricks, the latter including generalisation, distraction, false analogies, fabricated evidence and deceptive cases for cause and effect, all create a smokescreen for the Ministry of Peace. This screen hides the truth, the facts and even the issues themselves in an attempt to keep citizens focussed on moral and ideological issues. Nightwatch can win arguments on these grounds since it constructs and controls the battlefield, changing the rules if it is ever at a disadvantage.

Opponents will most likely see through the flaws and point them out aggressively, assuming they can do so without being arrested or “reeducated.” Nightwatch’s allies will defend the illogic, however, and few others will pay enough attention to sift through the evidence and unravel the truth for themselves. Self-deception is the Ministry’s greatest ally when it peddles this sort of propaganda.

[4.3.8] True Denial

Indeed, denial is vital to the entire operation. Nightwatch taps into the natural desire to avoid conflict, blame and guilt. Members of Nightwatch are encouraged to not just participate in its activities but to invest their identities in the organisation. A Nightwatch operative is a true patriot. To be a true patriot, you must support Nightwatch. If you love Earth, help the Ministry of Peace help the Alliance. “Loyal citizens like you are Nightwatch.”

The whole purpose of this particular propaganda campaign is to break down the separation that ordinary people naturally develop between themselves and large groups they belong to. Nightwatch would be especially prone to this reaction if its experts did not counter it. While the Big Lie is used as positive reinforcement for this function – Nightwatch is right and everyone else is wrong, so its constituents are also the only people who realise the rightness that others are blind to – the other facet of the campaign creates a violent aversion to contrary arguments or evidence. Opponents must be lying. If they have no evidence, that proves they are lying. If they have evidence to support their “lies,” it must be fabricated, and they are lying. Alien technology provides the excuse to dismiss even “irrefutable” proof.

Once people are responsible for Nightwatch, either through membership, support or even inaction, they do not want to know what the division really is. If a member admits what Nightwatch is really saying and doing, even to himself, then he must also admit that he supported such things. Few people want to take responsibility for being so tragically wrong. By subconsciously convincing its members that if Nightwatch is evil, they are evil, the Ministry ensures that most of its supporters will perform any mental gymnastics necessary to avoid reaching that conclusion.

[4.3.9] Reeducation

No matter how extensive and successful its propaganda arm is, Nightwatch knows it will make enemies. Thanks to the awful timing of certain revelations, at least from the Minipax point of view, its campaign has had less than perfect success. Regardless of these problems, the Ministry ideal is to convert everyone it can. Whether it values prisoners for information, propaganda value or political connections, Nightwatch often finds itself in a position where killing a rebel is an unpalatable option.

Therefore, when all other methods of persuasion fail, Nightwatch has its ultimate recourse. Between neural net immersion, advanced mood-altering chemicals, raw telepathic power and old fashioned brutality, no humans and very few aliens can resist the Reeducation Program for long. Sooner or later, anyone who is not rescued will break, though strong minds can recover quickly once the victim receives therapy. Once broken, the captive is rebuilt in a time and place of relative calm as a less strident Nightwatch therapist provides him with a new role in society, one dictated by proper thought and cultural purity. After the vicious methods of reeducation, this process is effectively impossible to resist.

As with the other extreme methods available to Nightwatch, reeducation is more effective as a threat than an actual weapon. Reeducating everyone in the resistance is simply not feasible, given the cost and specialised manpower required. On the other hand, where the Ministry of Peace would prefer to avoid using outright violence entirely, the reeducation of select targets is considered desirable. Enemy leaders are particularly valuable converts. Reeducated citizens will convince some viewers that their changes of heart are genuine, while the rest go cold with fear when they realise what happened to Nightwatch’s victims.

[4.3.10] The Alien Factor

Finally, there are few strategies that work as well for tyrants as the scapegoat. Misdirection is a classic element in sleight of hand, and the theft of freedom requires a deft hand indeed. By focussing the public’s concentration on threats from beyond, they are handily distracted from the danger in their midst.

While Nightwatch will ultimately coopt much of Homeguard’s membership, this strategy must be performed more subtly by a ministry than it is by an openly racist organisation. Moderates will not be won over by vicious rhetoric about “alien monsters” when there is every chance that they know better. Therefore, Nightwatch chooses its words carefully, balancing the need to satisfy its base with rhetoric and avoiding open bigotry that might turn the centre against them.

In official statements, the threat is never about aliens just because they are alien. Instead, the danger comes from hostile alien governments, alien agents undermining the Earth Alliance from within, alien propaganda designed to turn human against human and alien telepaths striking at the very heart of liberty – free will itself. The “alien telepath” threat is particularly useful in covering Psi Corps’ flank, as it encourages mundanes to value Earth’s own telepaths. According to the pro-telepath publicity campaign, Psi Corps is the thin black line between the human race and the utter domination of alien mind control.

Regardless of the specific threat invoked, Nightwatch’s basic talking point is simple. An individual alien may not represent a threat to humanity, but there can be no question that hostile alien governments exist. It is the Earth Alliance’s duty to protect its citizens from them. This point has the added benefit of having some truth to it. At any given time, considering the number of races in the galaxy and the constant ebb and flow of politics, the odds are good that at least one of those races is hostile toward Earth.

Meanwhile, unofficial statements in private meetings can be tailored to an audience. Nightwatch makes aggressive use of these “town meetings,” particularly in areas where groups like Homeguard thrived. Here, in the shadows even during the height of its own reign, talk turns to revenge and death. Human superiority is promoted aggressively. Fragile egos are boosted as spokesmen make impossible promises about avenging Earth’s defeats. Humour at the expense of the unfortunate Markab is followed by vile slander of the Minbari. Soaring rhetoric about human exceptionalism is punctuated with hints of a terrible Final Solution. These unscrupulous politicians gleefully feed “red meat” bombast to hateful thugs, and both leave satisfied, the politician with his power and the thugs with their sad illusions.

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