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Friday, October 20, 2017

Lessons from Timothy Snyder's "On Tyranny" (Chapters 1 & 2)

In politics, being deceived is no excuse. - Leszek Kolakowski

I decide to start "On Tyranny" by Timothy Snyder because I wanted to know what was possible if all of us stay quiet during this time of political uncertainty. I not only received a lesson in civic responsibility but a deep look at the history of nations and what happens when the citizens of that nation "stay home" or tell themselves "I don't want to get involved." Snyder blew me away. He understands that the needs of the future are the needs of today. There is no "they will take care of it" because "I" am breathing, talking, human being on this planet and "I" must protect the future.

"Most of the power of authoritarianism is freely given. In times like these, individuals think ahead about what a more repressive government will want, and then offer themselves without being asked. A citizen who adapts in this way is teaching power what it can do."

Snyder goes on to state later in this chapter, "At the very beginning, anticipatory obedience means adapting instinctively, without reflecting, to a new situation."

Where in the last eight months have I simple went silent or turned away to the growing noise about the state of our politics? What did that look like? Why?

For starters, and truthfully, I got into the habit of looking out for policies and actions that only affected me personally, because the noise had grown so loud I did not know where to look. The mess of the media and the marching of the press stalled and ever deterred me from engaging. Now, remembering to breath first thing in the morning, I can see what that silence will cost my community and the country. I am fully awake. I was not "adapting instinctively" but rather trying to keep my sanity.

Today's version of democracy, I don't believe can sustain itself if you and I don't take active participation to see to its survival. We cannot afford to "think ahead to what a more repressive government will want" and give it to them but instead think about what we want the world, our communities, and our families to look like and produce, champion, and get behind that.

"It is instructions that help us to preserve decency. They need our help as well. Do not speak of "our institutions" unless you make them yours by acting on their behalf. Institutions do not protect themselves. They fall one after the other unless each is defended from the beginning. So choose an institution you care about - a court, a newspaper, law, a labor union -- and take its side."

History has a lot to teach us about the need for humility and wisdom. Snyder uses telling examples from Hitler's reign in Germany to convince us that we should not take in vain who we have placed in power and what their position is there. If our candidates made promises on the campaign trail, those promises could be an insight into what is to come. We should not vote against our best interest under the assumption that action of loyalty will garner loyalty. It does not work like that. In the case of German Jews, voting for Hilter's leaders who they thought would keep them safe, well, we know how the story goes. There is no loyalty when power has run amuck. You and I must be loyal to humanity in the preservation and protection of it. 

What institutions do you care about, is it religious, education, marriage? Fight for it.

The book referenced is "On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century" by Timothy Snyder.

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