How does one identify a wedge strategy?
In general, the most effective tactic is to look for breaches of coherence, where coherence is expected. Thanks to pervasive pragmatism in American education and in American media culture, few Americans expect coherence, of anyone, in anything. Incoherence is so pervasive that it is no longer noticed even in contexts, such as political arguments, where coherence is essential. To recognize wedge strategies, it helps to have made a habit of using the techniques of what Ayn Rand, in "Philosophy: Who Needs IT," called "Philosophical Detection." Then look for discrepancies, and when the habit of philosophical detection is with you, they will jump out of the page: discrepancies between the message and the messenger; between the principle that is being implicitly or explicitly invoked, and the use that is made of that principle; between language and substance; between what is said and what is left unsaid, between what is said and what is implied. If you find A on on the exposed side of the discrepancy and B on the hidden, then you are dealing with a wedge strategy.
Between Message and Messenger
One of the earliest items in the training of every intellectual concerns the fallacy of ad hominem and related arguments. The intellectual learns to focus on the argument - and to ignore the identity of its source. This may well be why so often intellectuals appear almost eager to be taken in by a wedge argument. Who makes an argument is irrelevant to its validity, but it is not irrelevant to its uses.
When Ayn Rand was asked to help fight against "Social Justice," a totalitarian movement, cause A, she paid attention to the fact that the invitation had come from Dashiell Hammett, one of Hollywood's most notorious sympathizers with Communism - cause B. Then it was just a matter of completing the identification.
Similarly, the recent spate of wedge strategies from advocates of coercive religion was started with a demand to teach creationism, and then "intelligent design," in the schools in the name of "open debate" - the demand coming from the most adamant defenders of censorship, and of extripation from school curricula of any mention of, let alone open debate about, other topics relevant to school students' lives, especially of non-procreational sexualities and of sexual pleasure. This would have been an evident badge of a wedge strategy - even if Phillip E. Johnson had not already identified it overtly as such.
Between Principle and Goal
One of the weirder results of the recent California election was the passage, by referendum, of a prohibition against confining farm animals. The proposition was promoted by "animal rights" groups, and every ad mentioned that California is already the leading state in the production of free-range chickens and eggs. The implied appeal was to knowledge that products from free-range animals are tastier, and probably healthier for humans to eat, than their counterparts from confined animals. Many voters were hoping that, with confinement of farm animals prohibited, the supply of free-range meat and eggs would increase, making them more affordable. The implicit principle was that farm animals should serve as food for humans - yet the goal was to reduce the number of chickens and other farm animals slaughtered for human consumption in California, as a way station toward the total elimination of animals as a source of human food. This measure could have been stopped, by pointing out that free-range chickens were being used as a wedge issue toward the eventual prohibition of all meat farming, including the free-range kind.
Between Language and Substance
Wedge strategies of the "false-A" variant depend on language that seems to refer to a concept of A while referring to something else. Christianist false-A wedge strategies stand out by using common words such as "life," "freedom," "equality," "tolerance," "values," "principles" and so on, in reference to other, often opposite concepts. For example, the "Institute for Justice" has been waging, under the slogan of religious "freedom" and "equal treatment," a campaign to force states to eliminate the requirement, that organizations which act as agents of the state must respect the religious freedom of individuals to whom they provide services on behalf of the state, and provide equal treatment irrespective of those individuals' beliefs and practices, sexual identity and so on. (The IJ website describes this as follows: "the Institute for Justice litigates on behalf of private charities and religious organizations to protect the vital role they play in addressing the myriad social problems confronting America." This litigation is directed primarily against the requirement that, when acting as agents of the government and receiving government funding, such organizations may not discriminate against any clients of government programs on the basis of those clients' religious or philosophical beliefs, sexual orientation and so on.) Thus a campaign to deny religious freedom and equal treatment by agents of the state to individuals - is packaged as a campaign to force respect for the "religious freedom" and "equal treatment" of religious organizations. (This is not meant to disparage the valuable work that the Institute for Justice has done for property rights. Those to whom property rights are at the top of their personal hierarchy of values, may have good reason to associate with that organization - but, like any Objectivist who associates with any non-Objectivist organization, need to be aware of wedge agendas and risks of compromise.)
Between the Said and the Hidden
Every wedge strategy depends on showing wedge issues on which A happens to agree with B - and on keeping issues on which they disagree hidden. Every successful counterattack against a wedge strategy involves bringing the hidden contradictions to light. For example, in my successful campaign against Proposition 4, which would have enabled parents to force a teenage woman to continue a pregnancy against her own judgment and will, in the name of "parental involvement," I wrote:
If read carelessly enough, Prop. 4 seems to bar parental coercion of the young woman "through force (such as forcible confinement,) threat of force, or threatened or actual deprivation of food or shelter." But this bar applies only to coercion intended to force the young woman to undergo an abortion. Prop. 4 conspicuously does not bar parents from using forcible confinement, or other "force, threat of force, or threatened or actual deprivation of food or shelter" to force their daughter to continue her pregnancy, eventually forcing her to give birth against her will. This asymmetry effectively endorses parental force – against that pregnant young woman who wishes to set her life on a course that does not include giving birth in her teens. Those who hear Prop. 4 defended as a measure for parental involvement, should understand, before they vote, exactly what kind of parental involvement is being endorsed.It is by recognizing contradictions that one can (1) identify a wedge strategy, before one is induced to compromise one's own rational values; (2) neutralize the wedge strategy; and (3) counteract it.
(Next - Wedge Strategy, Part 4: History and Implications)