I woke up today to this video—a Taco Bell ad, if you can believe it—that I found posted on one of my regular sites. Please watch it.
I think there is a reason why images of this kind are resonating with more and more people. When I was a boy, we would look at something like this and think “Soviet Russia.” Not so much anymore… aside, perhaps, from the film’s background setting.
Just a few minutes later, I opened an email from a friend, linking to a speech delivered a few days ago in Toronto. It was delivered by a young author named Sofi Oksanen (I’m told she’s terrific), commemorating the 1949 Baltic Deportations.
As I went through the speech, I was struck by the fact that dominated people, irrespective of where and when, go through the same things. We tend to think of domination in very large, overt terms, but the truth is that domination rests on a foundation of attitudes and expectations. External domination requires the support of internal domination.
Hard, soft, or otherwise, domination involves the same themes, over and over.
So, here are some passages from Ms. Oksanen’s speech, and the thoughts that they spawned in me:
The Soviet system depended on the fact that people had learned not to give voice publicly to things that were unfavorable to the system.
Have you ever noticed that when people speak badly of the IRS or the NSA, they lower their voices? That is precisely the same thing that happened under the USSR. There is zero difference.
Did this happen more commonly under Stalin? Perhaps, but, more often than not, that’s just an excuse to ignore the subject. We may as well say, If it was worse under Stalin, then we’re free.
And if that’s a valid statement, the tortured victims of the Soviet gulags should have been saying, It’s worse in Cambodia under Pol Pot. So, we’re free.
And perhaps they were.
Domination rests on statements such as these. And every time we lower our voices, we affirm the fact that our culture is dominated by brutes.
Those who expressed improper opinions risked being denied entry to the Soviet Union where our relatives were still living… We were under constant threat that we would never again be allowed to step inside the borders of the Soviet Union, never again see our relatives.
Have you noticed all the exit-tax laws that have passed in recent years? I can tell you that the people who’ve thought about running away have noticed them. You can now be denied reentry to the United States for any number of reasons. There are tax reasons, of course, but there is also a universal reason—the No Fly List. Piss off the dominators and you won’t be allowed to see your relatives ever again.
And how, precisely, does one get on or off the No Fly List?
Shall we say, Well, it isn’t being used very much like that? First of all, how would you know? Because you didn’t hear it on CBS News? And shall we really fall back on If it’s worse somewhere else, we’re free?
Censorship… did not exist officially in the Soviet Union, but was masked as editorial recommendations.
Think that isn’t the case here? Then start talking about 9/11 being an inside job, and see what happens to you. Now, I’m not sure that the “inside job” folks are right, but shouldn’t they be able to voice their opinions without being publicly shamed?
“Conspiracy theory” is a term that is used to dominate thinking. And, sadly, it’s used mostly by the dominated, upon the dominated.
“Free speech” sometimes protects individuals from hard domination. Soft domination, however, represses speech just as well. Again: Try playing “9/11 Truther” at a cocktail party some time. See what happens.
The disconnect between the personal and the official was quite wearing, and it forced people to develop layered personalities, double-identities.
I hear this all the time. People play “good, obedient boys and girls” when dealing with dominators, then do their best to avoid their predations. One of my friends dubbed this “the bifurcated life,” and he’s right. And it’s not especially good for us… not that we're left many good choices.
Finland, whose school textbooks had to have Moscow’s approval.
This is standard these days, and has been for a long time. Textbooks are paid for by governments; therefore, they will never make governments look bad. Whether those government offices are near or far (more and more, the far ones dictate the content of textbooks) really doesn’t matter: Whoever pays will be supported.
Memory also had to be rebuilt, biographies had to be collected and archived, a foundation for new research and history writing had to be created.
I’m half tempted to use that as a catch phrase for my newsletter.
Citizens of such nations… hold in their minds iconic images of their history and their tragedies. They find it difficult to grasp or imagine what kind of people they would be if they had grown up in another kind of reality.
This is a serious problem for those who haven’t lived abroad.
Trust that revealing private experiences or opinions does not get you in trouble. Trust that it does not lead to a psychiatric ward, where people holding opinions inconvenient to the state would be sent in a country in which anti-Soviet thoughts were literally a sign of mental disorder.
I suspect that most people still don’t know the story of Brandon Raub. If you don’t, please read about it. These things are happening, in America… and they don’t make the evening news.
It’s true, however, that such evils aren’t universal: this type of hard domination isn’t everywhere.
For example, a few months ago, I attended a show trial in New York. The same actions, in a less rich, polished setting, would very nicely have fit the model of the 1930s Soviet Show Trial. But a couple of months before that, I was testifying in a fair trial in the Midwest, conducted by a sincere, honest judge.
The difference between the two trials was political importance. And that brings to mind a Saul Bellow quote from several decades ago:
For the first time in history, the human species as a whole has gone into politics. Everyone is in the act, and there is no telling what may come of it.
Having the benefit of time that Mr. Bellow didn’t, I’ll tell you what comes out of it: rigged textbooks, political show trials, and censorship enforced by the censored.
Ms. Oksanen continues:
Countries who after getting out from under their occupiers have managed to create a free press.
These days, we call the free press “Alternative Media.” But Alternative Media is under attack already. The dominators don’t like it, and they’ve been quite unrestrained for more than a decade. A large portion of the populace all but worships their violence. What reason would they have to pull back?
Finally, here’s a quote that Ms. Oksanen included in her speech, originally from Tzvetan Todorov:
The enemy is the great justifier of terror and a totalitarian state cannot live without enemies. If there aren’t any enemies, they must be invented.
Something to think about, in my opinion.
In The End…
In the end, whether hard, soft, or otherwise, the evils of oppression in this world can always be traced back to domination.
We must remember that the most dangerous of all dominations are not the ugliest and scariest; they’re the ones that seem normal to us… that can even seem essential to us.
A Free-Man’s Take is written by lifestyle capitalist, author, and freedom advocate Paul Rosenberg. You can get much more from Paul in his unique monthly newsletter, Free-Man’s Perspective.