One of the most critical capacities an individual can possess right now is a finely tuned B.S. Radar. There are so many lies and half-lies floating through our culture, an individual needs to be proactive about telling the differences between what is true and what is false. Critical thinking is at a premium right now if you do not want to be carried along with those who are doing their best to shape your beliefs and your life (usually without you knowing it, but with your full consent).
If you read the dissidents who made it out of the Soviet communism and European socialism of the mid twentieth century, all of them write often about how lies work and how important it is to not fall for them. Their experience, and thus their warnings, are universal. They speak to the rest of us in one voice.
In an era when metaphysical and existential certainties are in a state of crisis, when people are being uprooted and alienated and are losing their sense of what this world means, this ideology inevitably has a certain hypnotic charm. To wandering humankind it offers an immediately available home: all one has to do is accept it, and suddenly everything becomes clear once more, life takes on new meaning, and all mysteries, unanswered questions, anxiety, and loneliness vanish. Of course, one pays dearly for this low-rent home: the price is abdication of one is own reason, conscience, and responsibility, for an essential aspect of this ideology is the consignment of reason and conscience to a higher authority. The principle involved here is that the center of power is identical with the center of truth.
There is a lot to absorb in this quote, and it sits in the middle of his example of a greengrocer who goes along to get along (a famous example in these circles of literature). But a couple of thoughts are in order.
The lies of totalitarians pull people apart and create “metaphysical and existential” crises. The ties that normally bind us – the family, church, local education, etc. – are systematically destroyed by those who want political power over people. Then, unsolvable and unending crises are manufactured to create the sense that there is no answer until more and more power is given to the State.
And when people have been pulled apart and made suspicious of each other, they can be made to believe the State without question. This also comes with the added benefit of distrust of neighbor. But there is a catch about how truth and power work when the State gains in power.
Havel writes, “The principle involved here is that the center of power is identical with the center of truth.” The State wields both and will wield both at its whim. When this happens there are no “foundational principles” except the power of the State. This is why the goalposts keep shifting. This is why people who were heroes to the Left last year are the goats this year.
This is also why many Christians who gave an inch to the political Left years ago find themselves completely adrift with no recourse but to go along to get along.
The solutions to this kind of “truth drift” are bound up in refusing to lose your connection to family and church, to refuse to believe and speak lies, and to focus your attention on the good of your neighbor. Every totalitarian surviving European agrees – find like minded people, do not give in, and buckle up. How difficult this will become in the current American situation is yet to be seen. But the more people (from any political persuasion) who refuse to let the crises force us to treat the State as savior, the better off we will be.