Thursday, February 2, 2017

Be a Patriot

Women's March, Los Angeles

This was written by a prominent professor of history and given to me by a trusted professional. It's heavy and intense -- perhaps it will scare the shit out of you, but I think it's necessary, and I want to type it out here so that it's embedded in my own mind.

Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century

Our future freedom depends on our present actions.

Americans are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism or communism. Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience. Now is a good time to do so. Here are twenty lessons from the twentieth century, adapted to the circumstances of today.

1.   Do not obey in advance. Much of the power of authoritarianism is freely given. In times like these, individuals think ahead about what a more repressive government will want, and then start to do it without being asked. You've already done this, haven't you? Stop. Anticipatory obedience teaches authorities what is possible and accelerates unfreedom.

2.   Defend an institution. Follow the courts or the media, or a court or a newspaper. Do not speak of "our institutions" unless you are making them yours by acting on their behalf. Institutions don't protect themselves. They do down like dominoes unless each is defended from the beginning.

3.   Recall professional ethics. When the leaders of state set a negative example, professional commitments to just practice become much more important. It is hard to break a rule-of-law state without lawyers, and it is hard to have show trials without judges.

4.   When listening to politicians, distinguish certain words. Look out for the expansive use of "terrorism" and "extremism." Be alive to the fatal notions of "exception" and "emergency." Be angry about the treacherous use of patriotic vocabulary.

5.   Be calm when the unthinkable arrives. When the terrorist attack comes, remember that all authoritarians at all times either await or plan such events in order to consolidate power. Think of the Reichstag fire. The sudden disaster that requires the end of the balance of power, the end of opposition parties, and so on, is the oldest trick in the Hitlerian book. Don't fall for it.

6.   Be kind to our language. Avoid pronouncing the phrases everyone else does. Think up your own way of speaking, even if only to convey that thing you think everyone is saying. (Don't use the internet before bed. Charge your gadgets away from your bedroom, and read.) What to read? Perhaps "The Power of the Powerless" by Vaclav Havel, "1984" by George Orwell, "The Captive Mind" by Czeslaw Milosz, "The Rebel," by Albert Camus, "The Origins of Totalitarianism" by Hannah Arendt, or "Nothing is True and Everything is Possible" by Peter Pomerantsev.

7.   Stand out. Someone has to. It is easy, in words and deeds, to follow along. It can feel strange to do or say something different. But without that unease, there is no freedom. And the moment you set an example, the spell of the status quo is broken, and others will follow.

8.   Believe in truth. To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis upon which to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights.

9.   Investigate. Figure things out for yourself. Spend more time with long articles. Subsidize investigative journalism by subscribing to print media. Realize that some of what is on your screen is there to harm you. Learn about sites that investigate foreign propaganda pushes.

10.  Practice corporeal politics. Powers wants your body softening in your chair and your emotions dissipating on the screen. Get outside. Put your body in unfamiliar places with unfamiliar people. Make new friends and march with them.

11.  Make eye contact and small talk. This is not just polite. It is a way to stay in touch with your surroundings, break down unnecessary social barriers, and come to understand whom you should and should not trust. If we enter a culture of denunciation, you will want to know the psychological landscape of your daily life.

12.  Take responsibility for the face of the world. Notice the swastikas and the other signs of hate. Do not look away and do not get used to them. Remove them yourself and set an example for others to do so.

13.  Hinder the one-party state. The parties that took over states were once something else. They exploited an historical moment to make political life impossible for their rivals. Vote in local and state elections while you can.

14.  Give regularly to good causes, if you can. Pick a charity and set up autopay. Then you will know that you have made a free choice that is supporting civil society helping others doing something good.

15.  Establish a private life. Nastier rulers will use what they know about you to push you around. Scrub your computer of malware. Remember that email is skywriting. Consider using alternative forms of the internet, or simply using it less. Have personal exchanges in person. For the same reason, resolve any legal trouble. Authoritarianism works as a blackmail sate, looking for the hook on which to hang you. Try not to have too many hooks.

16.  Learn from others in other countries. Keep up your friendships abroad, or make new friends abroad. The present difficulties here are an element of a general trend. And no country is going to find a solution by itself. Make sure you and your family have passports.

17.  Watch out for the paramilitaries. When the men with guns who have always claimed to be against the system start wearing uniforms and marching around with torches and pictures of a Leader, the end is nigh. When the pro-Leader paramilitary and the official police and military intermingle, the game is over.

18.  Be reflective if you must be armed. If you carry a weapon in public service, God bless you and keep you. But know that evils of the past involved policemen and soldiers finding themselves, one day, doing irregular things. Be ready to say no. (If you do not know what this means, contact the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and ask about training in professional ethics.)

19.  Be as courageous as you can. If none of us is prepared to die for freedom, then all of us will die in unfreedom.

20.  Be a patriot. The incoming president is not. Set a good example of what America means for the generations to come. They will need it.

Timothy Snyder, Housum Professor of History, Yale University



  1. Ah, Jesus. Never did I think in my lifetime that I'd have to worry about shit like what's going on. Never. Ever.

  2. Damn fine post. I agree with every one, even as Catalyst correctly says it's going to be difficult. But....we've let a complete loony be the ruler of the land, even if we don't count ourselves among the millions that voted for the MF.
    We need to, in my case, help my kids and grandkids resist, much as I can.
    Again, fine post.

  3. Absolutely to the point. We watched a documentary on German tv last night (part of a tv drama on the lives of a Jewish/German family before and after WW2) and the comparisons to what is already beginning to happen in the US (silencing of journalists, downgrading and ridiculing of the media, singling out and blaming an entire faith for imagined evils, lies that are perpetuated with glee . . .) made us shiver with dread. Be aware. Be very much aware. We are with you.

  4. Well, I just wrote a long comment and the page reloaded and I lost it all. So. Suffice to say I agree with this list!

  5. May I add my two cents on self-care? 1. Give blood. 2. Get all your medical check-ups. 3. Get your teeth seen to. 4. Stay as (physically) strong as you can. 5. Learn and practice some form of self-defence. 6. Make yourself know to your neighbours. 7. Brush up your first-aid skills. 8. Learn how to bicycle and do so. 9. Get familiar with the geography of your surroundings - on foot. 10. Prepare as if for a two-week power outage. 11. Volunteer. 12. Learn how to forage. 13. Learn a skill you can use to barter. 14. Consider buying some small-denomination gold coins (also dried legumes and condoms) 15. Learn a foreign language. 16. Pack an emergency bag and have it at the ready. 17. Read. 18. One random act of kindness a day. 19. Set up a phone chain. 20. Make a plan B. 21. Network beyond the borders of your country.
    This is very much a pick-and-choose list. Point 14 sounds especially weird, I know, but it is the condensed family experience from World Wars. Oh, and please give blood!
    All the best

  6. Passports. And then if you READ your passport you'll see that it is actually government property and must be surrendered on demand.

  7. 19. Be as courageous as you can. If none of us is prepared to die for freedom, then all of us will die in unfreedom.

    Thank you for sharing Timothy Snyder's list of things we can do. And thank you, Regine Franck, for the self-care list. The list of what we can do separately and together is growing.



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