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Connectors vs. Polarizers

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Spanish translation here [2]

In his book The Tipping Point (reviewed here [3]), Malcolm Gladwell talks about the importance of people he calls Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen in the viral propagation of ideas. Connectors are people who have a gift for making friends and acquaintances. Gladwell attributes this knack to “some combination of curiosity, self-confidence, sociability, and energy” (p. 49). 

Although he does not talk about introversion and extroversion, Gladwell’s examples indicate that good Connectors are extroverts, who are energized rather than drained by social interactions.

Good Connectors are people who have a foot in many different social worlds and thus can bring them together. Interestingly, in terms of finding new information and opportunities, most advantageous connections are often weak ties of acquaintance. This makes sense, because your close friends are all in the same social world, so it stands to reason that acquaintances would expand your connections to other realms.

Connectors are extremely valuable for the spread of ideas through word of mouth, simply because they know more people in more social realms.

In my experience, the best Connectors are not just people who reach out, but who are approachable and responsive when others reach out to them. That is half of how connections are made. Once made, such connections have to be maintained as well. This is why Facebook is such a boon to us. Although it is fashionable to deride social media, what differentiates it from the other media is that it facilitates person-to-person connections, particularly the loose, tenuous, and far-flung ones that are actually the most world-expanding.

Many movement people deride the internet in favor of the real world. Of course the real world is where politics happens. But before politics comes metapolitics: sharing ideas and building networks. And the internet is great for that. I would wager that 95% of White Nationalists under 50 would not be with us were it not for the internet.

The most important principle of movement connectivity I know is what I call the Fight Club principle: everybody gets to choose his own level of explicitness and involvement, and everybody else has to respect that decision. Since every society, regardless of its ideology, is ruled by better than average people, we need to recruit better than average people to our cause. But the people who have the most skills, resources, and connections also have the most to lose. Such people will not involve themselves in a dissident movement unless they have a reasonable assurance that we will respect their privacy. People who rant at and browbeat people who do not wish to become open advocates set off alarm bells. They are not to be trusted. They may “out” people someday. Thus prudent people will not and should not have anything to do with them. If you want people to connect to you, they need to know that you understand and respect their decisions about their level of involvement.

The best Connector I know in the White Nationalist world is Jez Turner of the London Forum, which is one reason why the London Forum is such a success, putting on veritable movement summit conferences multiple times a year. Given the bitter factionalism and difficult personalities in the movement, this level of success requires excellent diplomacy and a lot of good humor. The reason that there are not London Forum type events in every major European city is that good Connectors are in short supply.

One of the weaknesses of depending on Connectors is that once they are gone, the network is destroyed. That is what happened when my friend Beryl Cheetham, who was an important Connector, died this year. Once she was gone, I had no way of contacting the people I knew through her. But there was enough redundancy in our broader network that I could reestablish those ties, and the most helpful person for doing turned out to be Jez Turner.

Because of my role as Editor of Counter-Currents, I am a de facto Connector. But I’m just not good at it. Psychologically, I am introverted (INTJ, to be exact), so it is a stretch for me. At a certain point, I just can’t deal with one more social interaction and shut down, which is why I am often a tardy correspondent. Nor am I good at multitasking or remembering names. Ideally, I would have an assistant who is extroverted and good at multitasking (women are typically better at that than men).

Gladwell does not talk about the opposite of a Connector, which is a polarizer: a person who sows distrust and discord. Connectors build up the social capital of the movement. Polarizers tear it apart. I have encountered two kinds of polarizers.

The first group are polarizers on principle: they openly announce that their strategy is to subject anyone who is closer to the mainstream to relentless attack, both ideological and ad hominem, on the theory that this will split off people and win them over to their vanguardist groupuscule. I don’t deny that such an approach might appeal to some types of people, primarily masochists with inferiority complexes or under-fathered “lost boys”—the kinds of people who wanted to join the Marine Corps after watching Full Metal Jacket, for instance. But, as I argue in my essay “The Smartest Guy in the Room [4],” it only appeals to people who are inferior to whoever is issuing the harangue, which is no way to put the movement on an upward path toward attracting better and better people. Superior people simply ignore such polarizers, or want to crush them like bugs. I suspect that polarizers on principle are simply trying to make a virtue out of indulging their own prickly narcissism and tendencies toward paranoia and embitterment.

The most insidious polarizers actually pose as Connectors. Like genuine Connectors, they like to be at the center of things. But their dominant drive is ego gratification, and whenever that conflicts with the needs of the movement, the movement always loses. I have had dealings with two such people over the years. Both of them pose as Connectors and uniters of different camps and factions. But I began to notice problems.

First, despite their pose as uniters, the trend of their thinking always pulls toward the negative. They are gossips, gatekeepers, well-poisoners, purgers, and shunners.

Second, they prefer the Star Chamber and the whispering campaign to open discussions, so the accused cannot defend themselves.

Third, they always insisted on remaining middlemen. They would not just put people in touch and let them take it from there, because at that point they were no longer needed.

Fourth, they would tell me stories designed to alienate me from people I did know.

In both cases, however, it turned out that these people were pathological liars. And their lies served only one purpose: to stir up drama and intrigue around themselves, which apparently satisfied a neurotic need for attention and a desire to feel powerful. There is really no calculating how much damage such drama queens have done to the movement, since the people they drive apart seldom ever compare notes and realize how they have been deceived.

Gladwell’s discussion of Connectors brings a very important phenomenon into focus. Connectors are extremely valuable and extremely rare. If we want our message to go viral, we need to find and cultivate Connectors whose tendrils reach out into as many different worlds as possible.

Polarizers, by contrast, are a plague. Open polarizers are easy to spot and are generally ignored, because the better sort of people don’t want to work with jerks. Drama queen stealth polarizers are a much bigger problem, but now you know how to spot them.

In my next essay, I will look at Gladwell’s discussion of Mavens and Salesmen.