Unless you are black or a recent immigrant, you have no experience living in a police state. Then, you may want to consider this article as your primer for living under terror. If Naomi Wolf in her recent book “The End of America: A Letter of Warning To A Young Patriot” has it right, you don’t have much time to learn. Wolf’s book is scarier than any Stephen King’s fantasy (at least for me), I don’t recommend reading it at night.
The second book I started reading last night is “Takeover: The Return of the Imperial Presidency and the Subversion of American Democracy” by Charlie Savage. I found this book even more interesting than “The end of America” because where Wolf’s book is prescriptive, Savage’s is descriptive (the Stewart-Colbert two-headed monster should invite the author to the program if it hasn’t yet).
The first thing you need to remember is that tyrannies are extremely popular. For one, they usually come to provide peace and order to societies that feel that things are out of control. It doesn’t seem to matter that societies end up being as bucolic as cemeteries instead of as chaotic as a County fair, we have, after all, our well-cherished peace and quiet. The other issue is that when people start being incarcerated, disappear, or begin to be otherwise “organized”, the rest of the society tends to shut down in a very human way. You see, our instinct is to avoid pain and seek reward, when the threat of pain becomes too high, it is just natural to withdraw into silence. Dictators usually herald this silence as the clear demonstration that the silent majority supports the system, hence the popularity of tyrannies. So, if you are human, you may need to be aware of this little flaw of ours.
If you don’t mind a little bit of strong hand in order to have your well deserved comfort, here are a few simple steps that will allow you to participate in the social experiment of a totalitarian America:
- Do nothing
One of the best ways (although not the fastest) to achieve a totalitarian state is to stay away from the messy world of politics. This is easy, because it is also practical. While other paths require effort, nihilism requires only the continual search for mindless entertainment, the avoidance of any opinion that may disrupt digestion, and in general the avoidance of participation. This is due to the caking tendency of power, which forces it to clump together in the hands of the few, in order to avoid this you need some anti-caking agent (like a well written constitution enforced by all of society)
- Assume it can’t happen here
It does not matter that that’s the title of a 1935 book and that for “it” to not happen here it was necessary to actively fight “it”. For “it” to happen, repeat over and over “it can’t happen here” until it does happen.
- Think that American democracy is a God-given right
He loves us, right? And he bestowed upon us democracy and nobody can take it away from us, right? Yeah, right.
- Be proactive in your quest for ignorance
History is boring, politics is boring, and economics is boring. Besides, the fact that Paris Hilton picked up a pizza boy talks to me in a more direct way than abstract ideas about liberty and the pursuit of happiness (unless the pursuit of happiness means the pursuit of money, in which case I am all for it)
Remember, that those simple steps will not guarantee that you will live to see a strong hand commandeering the country on a sea of turbulence (they may kill you in the process).
Passionate as Wolf’s book is, I really don’t think we are on the verge of disaster. If any lessons can be drawn from history, one is that Americans tend to react very strongly against threats to American democracy. If we don’t make it, though, here are some simple steps to live under terror:
- If you are the rebellious type, good news! You need to do nothing, the government will declare you an enemy of the state sooner of later
- Keep an eye for the exile country of choice of your favorite writer, intellectual or scientist (you will learn about them because the press will tell you how unpatriotic of them it was to leave the country, and how we are better off without them)
Don’t worry about the language or weather of that country, make plans for joining them over there.
- If your favorite writer, intellectual or scientist happens to be unable to leave the country, do not try checking to which penitentiary facility they were transported. Pick a second favorite and do as instructed in 2.
- If you think that your duty is to stay and fight, good news! The government will declare you an enemy of the state immediately
- Be ready to enjoy a simple life, going from your job to your home every day, and never getting in trouble (for instance, never meeting with more than 3 people in the same place)
- If you like sports, be ready to excel at the sport the state decides your are more capable of playing (or else)
- If you are a writer, intellectual or scientist and you are not one of those mentioned in 2 or 3, you have more opportunities:
- You can bend like the bamboo in the storm
- You can crack
- In case of 7.a., here are some handy arguments you can tell yourself every night before drinking yourself to sleep:
- “At least “the terrible treat” does not exist anymore” (sorry, it is hard to tell what the terrible treat may be in the future)
- “My first duty is to my country, the form of government is secondary to the national integrity”
- “I need to remain alive for my family, things can not be this bad for ever”
- “This is not the right time to act, I am bidding my time and I will participate in the liberation movement when it’s safe to do so”
- If you are a painter or another kind of artist, and you are of the abstract persuasion, there is only one piece of advice for you: don’t.
- Totalitarian governments like realism and despise abstract art as degenerate (don’t ask me why, they just do). I suspect it’s because during totalitarian governments people without imagination are promoted to organize the cultural life of the country. Another reason may be that all those people without imagination you despised along your artistic career find an opportunity to shine under the sun. For whatever reason, if you don’t like realism, start to like it.
- When you become a realist artist, you will need to be aware that during totalitarian regimes reality is defined by strict rules. Do yourself a favor and check the official reality before the first stroke of enlightened inspiration.
Of course, this is not an exhaustive list, but I trust my readers to come up with deeper and wider ideas about what not to do when we are not there.
“The End of America: A Letter of Warning To A Young Patriot” by Naomi Wolf
Franklin @ September 24, 2007