Alexander Solzhenitsyn penned an essay titled, “Live Not By Lies” in 1974, and it contains a lot of wisdom for people who feel the force of coerced opinion and speech codes in our culture today. If you don’t know about Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s life, I encourage you to familiarize yourself with him. He was a dissident from the Marxist/Communist regime of Soviet Russia, an author, a political prisoner in the gulags, and a political refugee in the United States.
I also encourage you to read the whole essay – it is a short read. But here are a few excerpts worth reflecting on.
We have been so hopelessly dehumanized that for today’s modest ration of food we are willing to abandon all our principles, our souls, and all the efforts of our predecessors and all opportunities for our descendants—but just don’t disturb our fragile existence. We lack staunchness, pride and enthusiasm. We don’t even fear universal nuclear death, and we don’t fear a third world war. We have already taken refuge in the crevices. We just fear acts of civil courage.
Marxism and Communism inevitably result in severe shortages of even the most basic needs and food items, in large part because their production and sale are tightly regulated by the state. While we do not live with food rationing, substitute those with job applications and diversity training, and we feel the same pressures. Do we lack staunchness and personal pride in the face of what the state, or a powerful employer, can take from us? Do we fear civil courage more than a riot in our city?
When violence intrudes into peaceful life, its face glows with self-confidence, as if it were carrying a banner and shouting: “I am violence. Run away, make way for me—I will crush you.” But violence quickly grows old. And it has lost confidence in itself, and in order to maintain a respectable face it summons falsehood as its ally—since violence lays its ponderous paw not every day and not on every shoulder. It demands from us only obedience to lies and daily participation in lies—all loyalty lies in that.
And the simplest and most accessible key to our self-neglected liberation lies right here: Personal non-participation in lies. Though lies conceal everything, though lies embrace everything, but not with any help from me.
And so it is with 2020. While there is still plenty of violence in our streets, it has been ignored and supported by powerful public lies. Have you wondered to yourself how so many people can put up with so much violence? Simply ask someone whose news sources ignore it or whitewash it and listen to them hedge every fact and turn it on its head in order to ignore and justify the truth that is otherwise obvious to all. (How about a news anchor standing in front of a burning building and shouting rioters calling it a “mostly peaceful protest”?)
Our immediate reaction? It should be to refuse to live according to lies. Don’t make life decisions based on them. Don’t build a social media profile based on them. Don’t stay afraid because of them. Don’t turn on your neighbor because of them. Don’t let your innate understanding of family, sexuality, and morality be based on them.
I’ll let Solzhenitsyn have the last word:
But there are no loopholes for anybody who wants to be honest. On any given day any one of us will be confronted with at least one of the above-mentioned choices even in the most secure of the technical sciences. Either truth or falsehood: Toward spiritual independence or toward spiritual servitude.
And he who is not sufficiently courageous even to defend his soul—don’t let him be proud of his “progressive” views, don’t let him boast that he is an academician or a people’s artist, a merited figure, or a general—let him say to himself: I am in the herd, and a coward. It’s all the same to me as long as I’m fed and warm.