Timothy Snyder (2017) On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons From the Twentieth Century.

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On the eve of President Trump’s ‘working visit’ to the United Kingdom this is a handy book to read. President Trump features more than Putin, or other twenty-first century despots. I guess this short book is a riposte to that shock election result, which wasn’t a shock to Snyder. Depots don’t read books. And Trump doesn’t read. His library consists of stored Tweets.  Snyder’s lessons  On Tyranny shifted through the sands of the mass killings of the Holocaust and Stalinist purges looks at then and now. It’s a call for vigilance, but more than that it’s a call for democracy to be transparent and for that to happen we need a more equitable and just society in which each citizen can be held equally accountable for his or her actions.

Our own traditions demands that we examine history to understand the deep sources of tyranny, and to consider the proper responses to it. We are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communisim…

1 Do not obey in advance.

A citizen who adapts in this way is teaching power what it can do. #MeToo

First they came for the Socialists

I did not speak out.

I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Windrush generation

I did not speak out.

I was not black.

Then they came for the homeless and unemployed.

I did not speak out.

I was not homeless or unemployed.

2 Defend Institutions

We do not subscribe to the view that Mr Hitler…will suddenly deprive German Jews of their constitutional rights.

We do not subscribe to the view that Mrs May…will suddenly deprive us of the NHS and we will need to pay for health treatment.

We do not subscribe to the view that…some people do not deserve housing, or food, or their children should be educated.

We do not subscribe to the view that 1 in 4 children live in poverty.

3 Beware the one-party state.

‘eternal vigilance is the price of liberty’.

‘The hero of a David Lodge novel says that you don’t know when you make love for the last time that you are making love for the last time’.

We don’t know that when we see a Tory gerrymandered system based on patriotism and lies that we’d see such atrocities such as foodbanks on our streets and some children labelled at birth as being the wrong kind of children. Rejected.  Shame on us.

4 Take responsibility for the face of the world.

The symbols of today are the reality of tomorrow.

In the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin prosperous farmers were portrayed on propaganda posters as pigs.

Under the Cameron and Osborne era anyone on benefits were portrayed as the worst kind of scum. Channels 4 and 5 tried to outdo each other featuring characters, that happened to be –stereotyped- real people, with programmes ending in the tagline Benefits.

‘A neighbour portrayed a pig is someone whose land you can take.’

‘Thus the German who marked shops as ‘Jewish’ participated in the process by which Jews really did disappear.’

Amber Rudd’s migrant memo and ‘hostile environment’ for immigrants in which she did not/ did have targets really did make immigrants disappear.

5 Remember professional ethics

Before the Second World War, a man named Hans Frank was Hitler’s personal lawyer. Later, governor general of Poland where millions of Jews and other Poles were murdered.

I G Farben and other German firms exploited the labour of concentration camp inmates.

Poundstretchers take on staff from benefit office to ‘train’.

‘Just following orders’ doctors and nurses in the health assessment centre in Cadogan Street.

‘Just following orders’ the benefit clerk who sanctions the unemployed.

‘Just following orders’ care staff who puts your mother to bed at six o’clock

6 Be wary of paramilitaries.

‘American state government pay corporations to run prisons, the use of violence in the United States is already highly privatised.’

‘As a candidate, the president ordered a private security detail to clear opponents from rallies.’

Mob violence and the ideology of exclusion.

The British government pay corporations to run prisons…and schools and railways and the NHS.

7 Be reflective if you must be armed.

The evils of the past involved policemen and soldiers doing irregular things. Be ready to say no.

In the Great Terror of the Soviet Union, NKVD officers recorded 628 691 executions of supposed enemies of the state.

The Holocaust began not in the death facilities, but over the shooting pits in eastern Europe.

Black Lives Matter# because time and again it’s proven they don’t really.

8 Stand out.

Remember Rosa Parks.

Remember Hillsborough.

Remember Grenfell Towers.

9 Be Kind to Our Language

Read books.

Victor Klempner noticed how Hitler’s language rejected legitimate opposition. The people always meant some people and not others (the president [Donald Trump] uses the word in the same way) encounters were always struggles ( the president says winning), and any attempt by free people to understand the word in a different way was defamation of the leader (or, as the president puts it, libel).

George Osborne used the word welfare to legitimise the use of taking money from the poorest members of society and give it to the richest. This wasn’t called theft but wiping out the deficit and balancing the economy.

10 Believe in truth.

The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights.

Victor Klempner – truth dies in four modes.

  1. Open hostility to verifiable reality. e.g. One attempt during the 2016 presidential campaign found that 78 percent of his factual claims were false. e.g. the cladding on Grenfell towers was fireproof.
  2. Shamanistic incantation and endless repetition. e.g. Build the wall. Lock her up. e.g. the NHS is safe in our hands
  • Magical thinking, or the open embrace of contradictions. e.g. president’s campaign involved cutting taxes for everyone, eliminating the national debt, and increasing spending on both social policy and national defence. e.g. George Osborne and the Conservative Party promised to eliminate the national debt and maintain the same levels of services. e.g. The NHS is asked to find savings from its savings and decrease bureaucracy by appointing more managers to manage change.

A blatant abandonment of reason. Amber Rudd’s I did not set targets for deportations of immigrants from the UK. These were set at a local level and they weren’t really targets.

  1. Misplaced faith. e.g. the Fuhrer’s all-knowing greatness. Trump’s ‘I alone can solve it’ from local crime to the problem with Russia or North Korea, but not Israel. He’s already solved that. e.g. the doublethink of Osborne cutting money to the poorest in our society and telling them he was helping them.

11 Investigate.

Like Hitler, the president [Trump] used the word lies to mean statements of facts not to his liking, and presented journalism as a campaign against himself.

We will be better off after Brexit. Lies.

The NHS will gain an extra £150 million a week. Lies.

There will be no hard border in Ireland? Really? How?

12 Make eye contact and small talk.

It was no great surprise that Teresa May fled from victims of the Grenfell fire. Like Trump she doesn’t like dealing with minions. They leave that kind of things to their servants.

13 Practice corporeal politics.

Power wants your body softening in a chair.

Solidarity in Poland began small. #MeToo. #Black Lives Matter.

14 Establish a Private Life.

Scrub your computer. Tyrants seek the hooks on which to hang you. Try not to have hooks.

Facebook theft and manipulation put Trump in the White House. Few journalists talked of Russian involvement and the trashing of privacy codes.

Hannah Arendt suggests totalitarian regimes seek to remove the idea of privacy, everything is public, unless you’ve got something to hide (tagline). Society becomes a mob seeking sanctioned scapegoats.

15 Contribute to good causes.

Support civil society and help others to do good.

16 Learn from peers in other countries.

Russia used many of the cyberwar techniques against the Ukraine that is deployed against the United States.

Most Americans do not have passports. Most claim they would die defending America, but against what?

17 Listen for dangerous words.

Extreminsm. Terrorism.

Be angry about the treacherous use of patriotism. We surrender freedom for safety against the other. Immigrants. Asylum Seekers.  Health tourists. Families on welfare. Feral children.

Extremism, those not in the mainstream. The poor and disadvantaged who need to be controlled. Locked up.

18 Be calm when the unthinkable arrives.

The oldest trick in the book, burn the Reichstag, blame the Jews, suspend freedom of expression, the right to a fair trial, the only way to deal with terrorists is to torture and terrorise.

Create a hostile environment in which asylum seekers do not have legal aid, do not have the right of appeal, do not have any rights. Send them home. Don’t worry where home is. We will define it for you.

19 Be a patriot.

Mr President. What is patriotism?

It is not patriotic to dodge the draft

It is not patriotic to mock war heroes.

It is not patriotic to discriminate against active-duty members of the armed forced (i) in one’s companies, or (ii) to campaign to keep disabled veterans from one’s property.

It is not patriotic to compare one’s search for sexual partners in New York with military service in Vietnam that one has paid to dodge.

It is not patriotic to avoid paying taxes, especially when American working families do pay.

It is not patriotic to expect American taxpayers to finance one’s own presidential

campaign and then to spend their contributions on one’s own companies.

It is not patriotic to admire foreign dictators

It is not patriotic to share an adviser with Russian oligarchs.

20 Be as courageous as you can.

Be an enemy of the people, if that what it takes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Viktor E. Frankel (1959 [2004]) Man’s Search For Meaning.

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Why should we listen to Viktor E.Frankel? Well, he’s a scientist, philosopher, a psychiatrist and author, but the real reason we should listen to him is because of the time he spent as an inmate in Auschwitz, Dachau and other concentration camps. That gives what he says heft, he’s walked the walk and suffered the indignity of being regarded as less than human and treated as a throwaway thing. His life and death as a Jew having little or no meaning for larger society.

So let us be alert—alert in a twofold sense.

Since Auschwitz we know what man is capable of.

And since Hiroshima we know what is at stake.

I’d fling in global warming and the threat of Trump and nuclear war, but I think Frankl covered it in his twofold sense, but such has been the propaganda war against the poor, common decency has been drowned out by the blaring voices, greed and sense of entitlement of the super-rich who have learned little or nothing of what it means to be human.

Frankl’s experiences in the concentration camps cannot be summed up in trite phrases, but he calls for a ‘tragic optimism’. In other words how it is possible to ‘say yes to life in spite of everything’. Life can be made meaningful if a human being learns he has ‘nothing to lose except his ridiculously naked life’. But there must be purpose in suffering. We must come to realize the truth of Nietzche: ‘Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ [I’m not a fan of that idea] but the truth or in jargon-speak the will to meaning of the Nietzchean precept: He who has a WHY to live can bear any HOW.  In other words, how you live can be determined by outside forces, for example, the Nazis or Kapos in concentration camps, or President Trump’s persecution of poor people in America, but you choose how to interpret this.  Only you can be judge and jury of your better self. My better self says I’ve read this book before, but forgotten many of its lessons.

The prisoners were only average men, but some at least, by choosing to be “worthy of their suffering” proved man’s capacity to rise above his outward fate.

Moment by moment, day by day, week by week, year by year, we make choices. They determine the kind of people we are. In Bernard MacLaverty’s Cal, he remembers his mother as being a great one for offering up her suffering to God. As a Catholic that’s something I recognise. Cal was unemployed. Frankl deals with unemployment neurosis as putting themselves in the wrong box. The unemployed are not useless but equate being useless as having a meaningless life. His answer they should volunteer and their depression would disappear. As should the tens of millions of the working poor. Because as Frankl says, ‘man does not live by welfare alone’. One way of viewing this is putting Frankl in the same box as Jeremy Kyle, get a job, even if you’ve got one. But that is to pander to my lesser self. To pander to a hatred of those Nazis that rob the poor and call it natural justice. There is wisdom in this book but if you search for meaning you’ll find what you look like. I once wrote a story (I think) in which the protagonist judges his own life. No god or the devil needed. I guess we all do that day by day. But I’m only happy when I’m unhappy. I’ll give the last words to Frankl.

‘Once an individual’s search for meaning is successful it not only renders him happy, but also gives him the capability to cope with suffering.’

Amen.

 

 

Holocaust Memorial Day, BBC 2, 7pm

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The BBC commemorate the liberation of Auschwitz, 70 years ago, the site of almost one million murdered, but also a symbol of  the six million other Jews killed and hundreds of thousands others killed in a genocidal purge of the pure Aryan-Nazi race that took place in a ring of hundreds of other camps.

As a Catholic the service itself was one I was familiar with. The solemn intonation, readings from extracts of Primo Levi, If This is a Man. Prince Charles bumbling on about the three lines scratched into a wall at Auschwitz: ‘I believe in the sun even when it’s not shining. I believe in love even when I don’t feel it. I believe in God even when he is silent.’ Then there was the music of Thereseinstadt sung by fresh-faced children of every creed an affirmation that even though the body may suffer and burn away the joy of creation of music and art will transcend self and for that moment shine.

I get all that. I understand the paradox of man being a flimsy thing, yet somehow indestructible. I understand that when the rule of law is subverted and twisted the oppressor and the oppressed can share the same body and it becomes literally every man for themselves. Then we had the  wisdom of David Cameron.

As a holocaust survivor kept repeating: ‘Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.’

http://unbound.co.uk/books/lily-poole