“Fair Game”

This is rather unformed. Please recognize this is a jumping off point from which I’ll do more reading. It’s a question, not an answer.

I see, frequently, people on the left advocate for (and use, actually) a “fair game” approach to targeting enemies of the left. By way of explaining what I mean, let me back up to where I got the term: Scientology.

Scientology is reputed to have a policy for its enemies called “fair game.” Enemies of Scientology can be punished and undermined by any means necessary. Among its targets was the U. S. government, which would not recognize them as a religion. They infiltrated the IRS and other agencies to gather information on enemies and employed private investigators to gather intel and discredit their critics in the media. There are offshoots of Scientology which practice its teachings outside of the church, but they materials and access to religious practice for free. These practitioners are called “squirrels” by Scientologists and are also pursued using fair game tactics.

Scientology justified this as “any enemy of Scientology is an enemy because they’re the scum of the earth.” But it is a nigh-universal truth that everyone has something in their past which, presented properly, could discredit them within any circle you care to name. And if they found nothing, they could twist what they did find into something. They could camp outside of houses. They could make people’s lives miserable by getting them fired, losing them housing, damaging their marriages.

Fair game is very effective for limited goals. In the 1970s, the IRS chose to recognize Scientology as a religion. Lives of a few of their critics were, in fact, ruined. But long term, Scientology’s reputation was damaged. There are many fewer members joining nowadays. A few of Scientology’s leaders and big names are wealthy off of its structure, but as an institution which recruits and acts in service to a membership, it is not thriving.

I have some unformed thoughts as it regards leftists in the United States and a fair game approach. I won’t share them until they’re better formed. But I will say, I do see some people on the left seriously advocate a similar approach to politics and how we deal with enemies of leftism. Enemies of leftism often include other people on the left. Scientology is a hell of a lot more moneyed, organized, and ideologically unified than the American left is, and despite short term wins, it ultimately only served the interests of Scientology’s leadership. Perhaps we can develop a slightly more sophisticated ethics of political action (and means of dealing with legitimately bad politics on the left) than is employed by a failing cult.

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