January 17, 2009

"Real" truth and the "state" truth

Bookworm, Can't fight group think:

Several years ago, I read one of Natan Sharansky's books in which he described his life as a refusenik in the former Soviet Union. One of the points he made that struck me with incredible force was the way in which citizens in totalitarian regimes develop an internal life entirely separate from the external forces against them. For example, Soviet citizens were forced in public to accept that their economy was a miracle of Communist exceptionalism, even as their logical brains figured out that this propaganda bore no relationship to the truth. Their brains developed a binary quality, processing the "real" truth and the "state" truth, creating an exceptional level of intellectual and emotional stress.

I was rather brutally reminded of that yesterday, when my husband and I had the opportunity to listen to our children speak to third parties about the upcoming inauguration. Both of them, using almost precisely the same words, stated that they were very excited about the inauguration because Obama is the first African-American president, which makes him special.

Later, Mr. Bookworm said to the kids that it sounded a bit funny to him them saying the same thing, and asked if they really meant that. Both assured him that they did not. That is, they didn't bear any hostility to Obama because of his race. They simply didn't care. However, both earnestly explained that, if they didn't say this rote line about Obama's historica importance, they would be ostracized....

A side effect seen in totalitarian states (you could call SF, and Bookworm's Marin County, sort of "honorary totalitarian states") is that those pushing the "state truth" are intellectually weakened, and that they become fearful. Liberals around here are often angry and defensive, and push the "state truth" stridently and insistently. They are afraid. They are living in fear, exactly like a tyrant who does not know who might be plotting against him.

Another irony is that Obama's election has been robbed of most of its "historic meaning" precisely because he ran as someone who was going to be "historic." That's sort of like letting all your friends know you would like a surprise birthday party. The affirmation that you are loved and valued lacks a certain indefinable something...

Posted by John Weidner at January 17, 2009 10:10 AM
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