* After his exile from Russia to the West, Alexander Solzhenitsyn was a tireless voice warning of the dangers of staying silent and, worse, agreeing to lies. His short essay, Live Not By Lies, was released just before his exile from the Soviet Union in 1974. It provides a blueprint for how to start breaking free of oppression. It makes for instructive reading today as well.
The version here is my own but is directly inspired by, and closely follows, Solzhenitsyn's form and format.
At this point, dissenting voices are silenced by AI algorithms before their words strike a single ear. Now just a handful of independent platforms host uncensored views, where a few brave heroes say the things that are no longer permitted in public. In the mainstream media we witness gratuitous trashing of all America's accomplishments ignoring mountains of contrary evidence right before our eyes. Celebrating far flung dictators and tyrants. In the name of globalization, we recklessly feed China's bloom while hollowing out our own industrial base. In the Fukushima-fueled nuclear panic, Europe handed its energy security to Vladimir Putin. Is there any way back? They silence anyone they want, and call the slightest pushback or denial further evidence of guilt – always the mob; the individual is powerless.
Our nadir is near. The cultural rot is well set in, and the physical rot of our roads and schools runs close behind. Our debt looms farcically huge over us, and children no longer believe their lot will be better than that of their parents. And yet, we still carry on as if nothing has changed. What can we do to halt the decay? We're just one voice. We've been so thoroughly scared by the public shaming and demonization that for no more than the reward of being left alone we're prepared to sacrifice our founding principles, our history, and our moral character. Just don't send the Twitter mob after me!
We lack courage, determination, and purpose. We don't even care that the 250-year experiment in American exceptionalism is being strangled before our eyes – if I'm quiet, perhaps the mob won't notice me. The only thing we care about is not upsetting the excitable. We are afraid of being called "racist" or "privileged" or "systemic oppressors." What has been taught for a generation in universities has seeped into primary schools: everything we need to know about you is determined by your skin color, your gender, and other identities. You cannot escape your oppression and the system that gave rise to it. What does it have to do with you as a person? You cannot control the very systems of power.
But you can! To avoid thinking for ourselves, we will swallow almost any nonsense. It is not the mob we should blame, but ourselves. We may feel uncomfortable at what we see happening, but feel helpless to take action. Our voices have been silenced as effectively as any muzzle. Nobody cares about our ideas, and no one wants to hear them. How can you get an angry, shouting mob to hear your voice? They have no mind, so how can you change their mind? We used to have representation through our politicians, but we have no confidence in the fairness of elections in our country. What use are strikes and demonstrations when they devolve into street fights, property destruction, and arson?
Now that the university elite have laced poison into the minds of an army of youths, we see the withered fruit of an angry but aimless mob, bent on destruction. They know only that the current system is corrupt, and so must be torn down. The idealistic young believe that utopia flowers upon the ashes of a destroyed civilization, when all they have achieved is rubble and ruin. No thank you academic wizards! Now we know that hate and oppression yield only hate and oppression. Let our thoughts be clear on the cause and effect!
Is our fate sealed? Is there really no way forward? Is our only choice to cower in silence and let the mob rampage? Maybe they will burn out their passions themselves. But the fires will not die out as long as we ourselves daily spread and support – and do not distance ourselves from – the most pernicious aspect of the new ideology: the assault on truth. When the mob uses violence and lies to destroy livelihoods, it feeds on righteous anger: "Fear us, oppressors! Your time has come, and we will shout you down, root you out, and de-platform you." But the attention of the mob is fleeting. After the briefest moments, it turns to a new victim, a new outrage. To keep their targets perpetually off balance, they challenge fundamental truths with their claims that: violence is speech, speech is violence, gender is a social construct, police cause crime, racism isn't racism if you put the word "anti-" in front of it, logical reasoning and correct answers are white supremacy, and so on. Most of us are not caught up in an Antifa protest when we walk out our door each day, but we are perpetually ensnared in a maelstrom of lies that masquerade as the new truth. You do not need to believe them, but you dare not challenge them. And that is the heart of the matter.
The most basic way to regain our forgotten freedom is this: holding fast to truth. Though unchallengeable dogma pervades academics, politics, and corporate offices, hold fast to this one thing: we will not help them by abandoning what we know to be true. We are held captive by our own thoughts, yet our own thoughts provide the key to our escape. Not giving in to groupthink and lies is the simplest place for us to start, and the most harmful to their ideology. Because when people embrace truth, it gives lies no room to spread. As with a pandemic, false ideas cease to have power when they no longer have vulnerable hosts to infect.
If we're honest, we are not ready to stand up to the mob directly. We feel too vulnerable to its wanton destructive urges to shout the truth in their faces. We don't need to. It is dangerous. But let us hold fast to what we know to be true. This is the way out of the morass, the easiest and firmest path, which recognizes our non-confrontational natures. It is also easier than taking a principled stand and actively resisting, like our ancestors did so admirably in the fight for civil liberties.
Our mission is simply to hold fast to truth, and not to let blatant lies into any of our thoughts, words, or deeds. The assaults on truth are everywhere, and each of us must step carefully away from the crumbling borders of sanity we encounter. If we did not give voice to the blatantly false and poisonous tenets of the new ideology, we would see how quickly they would be recognized for unhinged ravings and fade away. We would awake from the present nightmare and re-enter the fresh air and daylight of a rational world.
So if we can summon no more courage than this, let it be to consciously decide: whether to hold fast to truth or to stay silent amidst the storm as our sense of truth steadily erodes away. Will we contribute to the decline and fall of our society, or will we uphold the great democratic tradition we inherited and pass along a sound and just system to our children?
From this point forward, we will:
- Only write, sign, and publish things which we believe to be true;
- Only say things in public and in private that we believe to be true, and will resist speech being forced upon us by protestors, teachers, or the government;
- Not say or create anything that is intended to, or is used to, support an idea we do not believe;
- Not support that isolated examples of someone's speech or thoughts can be used as an excuse to silence a person whose ideas that challenge the orthodoxy;
- Only support causes that we believe in our hearts are just and valid, and never because we feel it will appease an angry mob;
- Not participate in any training, lecture, or speech where the speaker tells lies, spreads propaganda, or promotes policies that divide us on the basis of immutable characteristics like skin color;
- Only consume media that is committed to telling the truth and has demonstrated that they know the difference between ideology and fact-based reporting.
This is just a partial list of ways for you to hold fast to truth. If you start to follow these habits, you will no doubt apply them well in additional settings. Your resistance will be met with resistance, and some will fall prey to the ravages of the mob and be canceled. There is no exception to being truthful. No matter your position, no matter your political leaning, no matter your past support, you will be confronted with the choice to lie or hold fast to truth. Your decision shapes your character, each time.
If you are too weak to defend your character, do not take comfort at being temporarily in the majority. The mob will gladly invite reinforcements to its numbers, so long as you leave your independence at the curb. You are a cog in a mighty destructive machine, a sharpened tine on a viciously thrust pitchfork. As long as you are not the fodder that day, you are happy to be used.
Even this simple step of holding fast to truth is hard if you have become used to going along to get along. But holding fast is not as hard as the alternative that awaits if we wait too long. The image of the solitary man standing in front of the tanks on Tiananmen Square is indelibly burned in our minds. He held back the tide, if only for a moment, before being crushed under totalitarian ideology.
Holding fast to truth is not an easy path, but it is the least difficult of all other alternatives. Already today there are those demonstrating what it means to stick to their principles and to only speak the truth. Join your voices to theirs and neither of you stand alone! The more people that embrace the truth, the quicker we will put an end to the tyranny of lies. If we are not one or two, but hundreds or thousands, their power will evaporate. The threats to our safety, security, and sanity, will recede before our eyes.
If we are rendered helpless by fear, then we cannot complain about our fate. Ours is a self-inflicted harm. The longer we wait, the more time we give Congress and Big Tech to perfect their censorship and monitoring. Freedom is never attained without cost, and is not maintained without effort. Our freedom comes from a system that is not perfect, because it is the product of imperfect humankind. As Benjamin Franklin put it in a speech before the Constitutional Convention:
…when you assemble a number of men to have the advantage of their joint wisdom, you inevitably assemble with those men, all their prejudices, their passions, their errors of opinion, their local interests, and their selfish views.
Knowing that our system is not perfect, we have the choice to improve it, or to mutely stand by while others tear it down. If we are too weak to lift a finger in our own defense, if we have become too soft to stand up for what we know to be true, then we deserve our fate.