Because life is a parody of something that must exist somewhere.

20 April 2017

On Tyranny: Lesson 5

Lesson 5: Remember Professional Ethics

This lesson has to do with being ethical in your job. If Hitler, for example, asks a bureaucrat to do his paperwork for him involving murder, the bureaucrat should say "No." As Snyder says, "There's no such thing as 'just following orders.' "

I'm trying to imagine a situation in my own job (a professor of English) where I might be asked by a political leader to do something I would consider unethical. I guess in my situation it would be something like the government asking for information about students they have no business having? I admit that I'm lacking imagination in this area, since (I guess) I don't like to imagine anything horrible happening. Let's hope I don't have to look back at this entry in the future and realize how naive I was.

11 April 2017

On Tyranny: Lesson 4

Lesson 4: Take Responsibility for the Face of the World

This lesson is about symbols and presentation. Swastikas are the most famous symbolic example from the chapter. For me personally, as a guy who was born in Mississippi and who lived there for almost thirty years, it pains me that the state flag still has a symbol of racism and ignorance (the Confederate battle flag) on it. This chapter encourages me, more than ever, to do what I can to fight to have that stupid flag changed. "Do not get used to them," Snyder writes of these sorts of symbols. Unfortunately, "tradition" (being comfortable with the thing you're used to, whether it's good or bad) seems to be the #1 thing stopping this simple and obvious change.

I would also like to write about the online presentation of ourselves. It took me a long time to realize and admit that our lives online are not separate from our "real life." They are part of our real life, and it is a part of our lives that possibly reaches more people than our flesh-life. So when someone changes their profile picture in support of something (the rainbow flag for an LGBT issue, for example) or when someone uses hashtags like #BlackLivesMatter, this should not be dismissed as "slacktivism." This is us revealing who we are and attempting to change the face of the world (online or otherwise) for the better. (If nothing else, I can promise you that at least two or three of your friends really need to see that you are on their side.)

Timothy Snyder, in the book, writes, "Life is political, not because the world cares about how you feel, but because the world reacts to what you do. The minor choices we make our themselves a kind of vote... In the politics of the everyday, our words and gestures, or their absence, count very much." I would argue that how I present myself, whether online or face-to-face, is even more important than a vote. I can only vote once, but in presenting myself in a positive way, I can influence (at the least) hundreds or thousands of people. I don't usually think of myself as any kind of example, but we all are examples to other people (friends and family, but also strangers) whether we want to be or not.

06 April 2017

On Tyranny: Lesson 3

Lesson 3: Beware the One-Party State

It's the only thing worse than the two-party state.

Although I understand the argument for practical and realistic voting (my own #1 priority was to vote the hell against Trump), I defend those who voted for a third party in the last election, and I'm happy that third parties are getting more attention these days. I think it's sad that Bernie Sanders had to run as a Democrat instead of what he actually is.

But third parties aren't really the point of this lesson. What we fear is no choice at all. Snyder notes that the less popular of the two political parties currently controls everything on the federal level, which is scary for -- you know -- people. As Snyder puts it, such a party "must either fear democracy or weaken it."

Trump's fear of the press (and the first amendment in general) demonstrates this fear of the people, as does Mitch McConnell's lies in 2016 about wanting "the people" to have a say in who gets to be on the Supreme Court (forgetting, apparently, that the people elected Obama to appoint Merrick Garland) followed by his insistence that his party be listened to when it comes to Neil Gorsuch. Just to list two examples. I could go on, of course.

Snyder encourages readers to run for office. Things have gotten so bad that I've almost considered it. (I can think of only a few worse jobs for me.) In Alabama, where I live, much of my ballot is filled with Republicans running unopposed. A placeholder person who does nothing in office would often be better than those who actively do so much damage. (Have you kept up with Alabama politics lately?)

This is a grim chapter, with Snyder questioning whether there will even be an election in 2018. From what he's learned from history, you never know when you might be voting for the last time.

05 April 2017

On Tyranny: Lesson 2

Lesson 2: Defend Institutions

When I was a kid, I thought institutions were ever-present, indestructible, and run by responsible adults who knew what they were doing. Turns out, it's just a bunch of people. Everything is fragile, and anything can happen.

When Trump won the presidency, a common refrain was that "they" weren't going to let him break too much. The "they" here meant the smart people Trump would surround himself with (ha!), the other branches of government, whatever. Fortunately, some of those "they" (notably the judicial branch) are doing a great job, but it is only because "we" are supporting "they."

I'm trying to be a part of this defense of our best institutions in my small way. I'm also realizing how much institutions can be eaten from the inside out. The so-called "Alt-Right," a group of internet troll white supremacists and woman-haters, have made their way into these institutions, so that we now have to defend our home against these deadly insects. It's not as if these guys are super-smart masterminds; they're just a group of assholes. But here they are, and now we have to deal with them, else they'll just have their way.

This is what I mean by "just a bunch of people." There's nothing magical about the institutions themselves.

04 April 2017

On Tyranny: Lesson 1

Timothy Snyder published a very short (126 small-size pages) book in February called On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century. It compares the evils of the current administration to the tyranny we saw in Twentieth Century Europe and gives us twenty practical lessons for what we can do to resist the rise of tyranny in our own country, no matter who the president is.

I was so impressed by it that I decided to write a small blog entry for each lesson in the book, connecting it to my own life and ideas. In general, I tend to write a lot rather than a little, but I will attempt to keep each entry short, hoping that my posts don't become longer than the book itself.

Lesson 1: Do Not Obey in Advance

This one was initially confusing to me. Why would someone obey a tyrant before he even gives the command? Snyder explains that, in the beginning, this could simply mean adapting to a new situation too easily. It's that moment we've almost all experienced where something feels weird or wrong to you, but you do it anyway because that seems to be the new way and what can you do about it? Going along with rules simply because they are rules, without questioning them or even understanding them. (This happened to me more in childhood than in my adult life.) Or maybe resisting at first but then going along eventually because everyone else is doing it.

The more extreme version is anticipating what the tyrant wants and giving it to him before he asks, which Snyder describes as "teaching power what it can do."

This is why, for the current administration, we have to constantly fight back against things we know go against our values. As has been said many times, we can never accept perversions as "the new normal." My biggest problem personally in this area is (1) it becomes tiring very quickly when I simply want to live my life and (2) like most humans, I am able to adapt to new situations (even bad ones) quickly. The two things are almost the same, of course. So I try to give myself daily reminders that we are currently living in Hell instead of saying "This is fine." This series of blog entries is one of those reminders.

This is a good time to decide what you stand for as a human being, then prepare yourself to never cross the line you have drawn for yourself. To do otherwise is to set yourself up for simply throwing up your hands (or worse) later, which is obeying in advance.