Strategy Lessons of Border Patrol Refusal Videos

In the 1983 film War Games the government has built a computer to simulate all the ways in which thermonuclear war might play out in order to find the best strategy. This is great for a government than can spend millions on research, but I'm not likely to convince the RAND corporation to program a simulation of my romantic relationship and run tests to determine the best way to get my girlfriend Marijke to take the dog out in the morning.

But there is another way to run variations on certain scenarios. The internet connects us together, even unintentionally. So if you can find enough of the same kinds of interactions recorded you can create a theory on how to optimize that scenario.

An example is "Border Patrol Refusal Videos" on YouTube. It's an unintentional virtual community optimizing crowd-sourced strategies to an invented game.

The game is not to get through the checkpoint, because they could simply admit to being US citizens. The game is to get through the checkpoint without answering the question of citizenship.

Some people play this game outside Border Patrol Checkpoints, but the low risk of Border Patrol checkpoints (you can always just show your ID and be let go) allows for a relatively safe environment.

The common strategy is to make demands and ask loud questions. By acting with confidence they don't allow the figure of authority to have any power over them.

It's clear that they are learning from one another. They share similar language and arguments. Also there is an obsession with Mexico and Nazi Germany...

Frustration for the win. Victory through exasperation. Or as I like to call it, The Insufferable Strategy.

Eventually the Border Patrol agent realizes the ridiculousness of the situation and that there is no win condition for them. They have to give up.

One man rises up as the beautiful mind of non-compliance. He simply doesn't speak. (The original video was 15 minutes, I've edited it down to 1:22.)

He spent over two hours at a Border Patrol checkpoint. Two hours! (He has more videos exploring different strategies, from handing out "Yes, I'm a US Citizen" business cards to wearing a wig and installing a disco ball in his car.)

YouTube has allowed us to see, over and over, that non-compliance works at a Border Control checkpoint. The checkpoints allow people to practice questioning authority. As they grow more confident they can start to question higher levels of authority.

What Border Patrol Refusal Videos highlight is an effective tactic with no planned strategy. The strategy is an emergent property of the game being played out online. Should enough people see these videos and replicate them it would be the effective end of the border control checkpoints. Should the checkpoints be removed the relatively safe space to practice anti-authoritarian behaviors is also removed.

Like the computer in War Games the lesson the internet teaches about ineffective use of authority is that the only winning move is not to play.

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A guide to making difficult conversations possible—and peaceful—in an increasingly polarized nation.

  • How can we reach out to people on the other side of the divide? Get to know the other person as a human being before you get to know them as a set of tribal political beliefs, says Sarah Ruger. Don't launch straight into the difficult topics—connect on a more basic level first.
  • To bond, use icebreakers backed by neuroscience and psychology: Share a meal, watch some comedy, see awe-inspiring art, go on a tough hike together—sharing tribulation helps break down some of the mental barriers we have between us. Then, get down to talking, putting your humanity before your ideology.
  • The Charles Koch Foundation is committed to understanding what drives intolerance and the best ways to cure it. The foundation supports interdisciplinary research to overcome intolerance, new models for peaceful interactions, and experiments that can heal fractured communities. For more information, visit

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