Though we may sometimes groan about politicians or policies we consider totalitarian, most of us are fortunate enough not to have suffered under a true tyranny. Lest we misunderstand or forget the real meaning of the word, it is imperative we study the observations of those who have actually encountered it. The most prominent witness account is Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago.
Canadian professor of psychology Jordan Peterson has studied this book in detail and used it in his lectures on personality theory. Gulag Archipelago gives us a chilling insight into the anatomy of tyranny, penetrating deep into the inner workings of the beast.
Tyranny Needs Ordinary People
It may come as a surprise to some, but tyranny is not a simple top-down oppression; it manifests at all levels of society. It requires the cooperation of ordinary people, who voluntarily make themselves part of the structure of oppression.
Solzhenitsyn gives one eerie example, in which a few people in a group were ordered to perform executions while the rest could go home. You might think that most people would happily avoid getting blood on their hands. But in the Soviet Union, people would stay out of comradery to those who were ordered to perform the murders.
Out of a sense of loyalty – and perhaps fear – people went to greater lengths than necessary to assist their oppressors. These were ordinary folk, not natural-born tyrants, and it was often virtues such as loyalty that were turned into instruments of death. In East-Germany, one in ten was a government spy looking for an opportunity to snitch on their fellow Germans – even family members.
Once the populace began engaging in tyrannical behavior, it cascaded throughout society at all levels.
What We Can Learn
Herein lies a valuable lesson to all free citizens. A dictatorship needs the assistance of ordinary people to become endemic. The bad news is that it takes a shockingly small minority of people acting as a rudder to nudge society in the direction of dictatorship. The good news is that it works both ways. Individual choices and actions do make a difference. Common folks can help stop despotism from spreading.
Let’s be practical. How can you contribute to the spreading of tyranny? If you are virtue signaling that all whites are racist, sexist, homophobic and Islamophobic – you know the drill – then you are adding to the problem. If you chime in when someone is falsely accused of being a bigot, you are doing the same thing that happened in the Gulag – just on a smaller scale. Even if you merely remain silent and allow injustice to occur, you are contributing to legitimizing abuse of power.
What You Can Do
You can stop the spread of tyranny by merely standing up against false accusations of hate and bigotry. It doesn’t take much. If someone idly comments that Donald Trump is a racist, or even Hitler incarnate, chances are he’s just virtue signaling and doesn’t literally believe it. All you typically need to do to shut that down is explain that calling Donald Trump Hitler is a massive insult to all the victims of the real Hitler.
Similarly, if someone frivolously says that America is a racist/sexist country, you could just say: “America is among the least racist/sexist/bigoted countries in the world. If you want to see real racism/sexism, go to Saudi-Arabia or pretty much any third world country.”
Although these seem like insignificant gestures in the grand scheme of things, history shows that only a small portion of the populace is required to prevent the spread of tyranny. Your actions can fight despotism, or they can foster it – choose wisely.