Primitive humans, we’re told, managed but a precarious existence by living in small isolated groups and by minding their own business. Dangers lurked everywhere so distrust and fear seemed necessary for survival. No one beyond the group could be trusted. They were “strangers,” “aliens,” “outsiders” whose presence threatened disruption, even destruction.
Modern man has, in this respect, retained similar suspicions. Group bonds remain strong, local loyalties and arrangements much preferred. Danger often is perceived to exist beyond these strict boundaries. One must always be wary of outsiders often intent upon meddling, especially those peddling alien ideas, incompatible with established beliefs. They must therefore be rejected, forcefully if necessary.
Acknowledging the fundamental attraction of such appeals let us call attention to the frequent use of this tactic. Label the cause as “alien” or the individuals involved as “outside agitators” and you evoke powerful primal emotions and enlist widespread support. Consider the considerable evidence, both historical and current that supports this proposition.
In the pre-Civil War South, Southerners were outspoken in their defense of slavery. Accordingly those who questioned this institution were dismissed as disruptive “outsiders,” abolitionists stirred up by Northern propagandists. This led to a concerted effort to block the distribution of Abolitionist literature coming from the North into the South and to drive out “troublemakers” opposed to slavery. After the Civil War a defeated South would resist efforts to support those formerly enslaved and to transform Southern society by labelling as “carpetbaggers” Northerners who entered the region for such purposes. These “outsiders” posed a threat to Southern institutions and were therefore not welcome.
In the years that followed, Northern laborers attempted to organize unions, resulting in bitter clashes between Company owners and workers. Corporate spokesmen repeatedly labelled those sent in to organize the work force as “outside agitators” whose sole purpose was to stir up trouble. Strikers on the other hand were outraged when workers from outside their communities were brought in to replace them. They were “scabs” whose sole purpose was to undermine efforts to gain better wages and improved conditions.
In the 20th Century demonstrations and protests of all kinds were frequently portrayed as the work of Communists, outsiders clearly, who were intent upon overturning society. During the Civil Rights movement many whites in the South insisted the turbulence was purely the work of “outside agitators” from the North who had no business interfering with local arrangements of long standing.
We recognize a similar mindset and strategy in recent times as when certain social welfare proposals (especially those already in place in Western Europe) are stigmatized as “Socialistic” and therefore “UnAmerican” or in tirades against the federal government for meddling in local matters (when for example federal enforcement officials override the local police) or even when people complain about “outside money” pouring in to influence local elections. On the international scene we witness the same phenomenon as when Vladimir Putin blames outsiders for the disorder in the Ukraine or in Chechnya, or when Chinese leaders explain disturbances in Hong Kong as the work of “outside agitators,” or when numerous foreign leaders accuse the CIA of destabilizing their regimes.
And so it will probably always be that what is unwelcome, unacceptable and threatening will be explained as originating from the outside. Being “foreign” and “external” it must, as a consequence, be challenged and ultimately rejected by those insisting they are fully capable of managing their own affairs.