Misdirection & Target Selection, Part 1
We’re up against a lot. With hundreds of species going extinct every day, with the oceans being vacuumed of life, with the last vestiges of wild forests being felled or burned and the heart of the planet being torn up to poison the air, civilization is driving Earth towards biotic collapse. We can’t afford to waste time or energy with so much at stake; dismantling the society that is dismantling the planet is no easy task.
For more than 30 years now, the environmental movement has been working toward that end, yet in few (if any) circumstances have we been able to seriously dislodge the foundations of industrialism. Despite our best efforts, the species count continues to decline as the carbon continues to rise. Those we’re up against are well protected and have immense resources at hand to protect themselves from disruption.
Systems of power—such as patriarchy, white supremacy, capitalism, civilization—safeguard themselves through brute force. They react with overwhelming violence against those who oppose them. However, this isn’t the only tool available to those in power, and rarely is it the first to which they reach when they feel threatened. One of the more sinister and effective techniques is systemic misdirection.
Oppressive and destructive systems protect themselves first and foremost through disguise and deception. They hide their weaknesses and vulnerabilities, coaxing us into attacking dummy targets or symbols of their power, rather than the material structures that support their power. The results are ones we’re all familiar with (or should be): we focus our attention on specific symptoms of the problem rather than the underlying causes, and our efforts for political change are diffuse and uncoordinated, challenging only particular manifestations of larger oppressive power systems, rather than the systems themselves. We wander into a strategic dead-end, and energy is redirected into the system itself.
We are guided into a strategic dead-end, and our energy is redirected to bolster the system itself.
Breaking free of this misdirection-dynamic requires a thorough lifting-back of the veil that’s been draped over our eyes. It means focusing our efforts where they will be most effective, targeting critical nodes and bottlenecks within industrial systems to bring civilization down upon itself.
We need critical and strategic processes of target selection. One powerful tool towards this end is the CARVER Matrix. CARVER is an analytic formula used by militaries and security corporations for the selection of targets (and the identification of weak points). “CARVER” is an acronym for six different criteria: criticality, accessibility, recuperability, vulnerability, effect, and recognizability.
Criticality is an assessment of target value and is the primary consideration in CARVER and target selection. A target is critical if destruction, damage or disruption has significant impact on the operation of an entity; or more bluntly, ‘how important is this target to enemy operations?” Different targets can be critical to different systems in different ways: physically (as in interstate transmission lines), economically (such as a stock exchange), politically, socially, etc.
It’s important to remember that nothing exists in a vacuum; society is made up of inter-related entities and institutions, and our targets will be as well. Thus the criticality of a potential target should be considered in the context of the way that target relates to larger systems. For example, there are thousands of electrical transmission substations all over the world, and hence they may initially seem non-critical. However, some substations carry a much greater load than others and are systemic bottlenecks, whose disabling would have ripple effects across entire regions. Criticality depends on several factors, including:
- Time: How rapidly will the impact of the attack affect operations?
- Quality: What percentage of output, production, or service will be curtailed by the attack?
- Relativity: What will be affected in the systems of which the target is a component?
Accessibility refers to how feasible it is to reach the target with sufficient people and resources to accomplish the goal. What sorts of barriers or deterrents are in place, and how easily they can be overcome? Accessibility includes not only reaching a target, but the ability to get away as well.
Recuperability is a measure of how quickly the damage done to a target will be repaired, replaced or bypassed. Just about anything can be replaced or rebuilt, but some particular things are much more difficult, such as electrical transformers, few of which are manufactured in the U.S. and which take months to produce.
The fourth selection factor is vulnerability. Targets are vulnerable if one has the means to successfully damage, disable, or destroy them. In determining vulnerability, it’s important to compare the scale of what is necessary to disable the target to the capability of the “attacking element” to do so. For example, while an unguarded dam might seem a vulnerable target, if resisters had no means of brining it down, it wouldn’t be considered vulnerable. Specifically, vulnerability depends on the nature & construction of the target, the amount & quality of damage required to disable it, and the available assets (personnel, funds, equipment, weapons, motivation, expertise, etc.).
Next is effect. Effect considers the secondary and tertiary implications of attacking a target, including political, economic, social, and psychological effects. Put another way, this could be rephrased as “consider all the consequences of your actions.” How will those in power respond? How will the general populace respond? How will this affect future efforts?
Last is recognizability; will the attack be recognized as such, or might it be attributed to other factors (e.g. “It wasn’t arsonists that burned down the facility, it was an electrical fire”). Depending on the particular circumstances, this can cut either way; taking credit for an attack can bolster support and bring more attention to an issue, but it may also make actionists more vulnerable to repression. Recognizability also applies at a more individual level: were fingerprints or other evidence left at the site of the target through which the identity of the attackers can be determined?
Often, numerical values between 1 and 10 are given to each of the target selection criteria in the CARVER Matrix, and then totaled for each potential target. More generally, CARVER presents a critical framework for strategic planning and decision-making, helping us to avoid misdirected action.
It needs to be said that this sort of critical and calculated approach to resistance efforts applies to nonviolent & aboveground groups and operations as well as those that are militant or underground. Nonviolent resistance is too often distorted to fit romanticized ideas of a moral high ground, and is relegated to pure symbolism. But struggle (whether violent or nonviolent) isn’t about symbolic resistance; it’s about facing down the reality of power, identifying its lynchpins, and using force to disable or break them. The particular tactics we use determine the form the force will be applied in, but unless we identify and target the critical lynchpins, the daily destruction wrought upon the earth will continue unabated as we strike at the distractions dangled before us.
For too long our movements have fallen prey to poor target selection or misdirection. When we’re not too busy fighting defensive battles, we focus our energies on those entities which are either entirely non-critical to the function of industrialism or are invulnerable given our capacity for action. And the world burns while we spin our wheels.
In part 2, we will take a closer look at several examples of different actions, applying this analytical examination to better understand the importance and relevance of target selection in radical movements.
The forces we’re up against are ruthless and calculated; they’ll do whatever they can to keep us ineffective, and when that fails, they bring down all the repressive force of which they’re capable. If we’re to be successful in stopping industrial civilization, we’ll have to identify and undermine its critical support systems. We don’t have much time, which is why we can’t afford to waste it on actions, targets or strategies that don’t move us tangibly closer to our goals.