I've just read for the first time a striking, challenging, and inspiring essay by Solzhenitsyn on truth-telling, "Live Not By Lies." Its echoes and applicability in our own day and in the "land of the free and the home of the brave" are chilling. As you read the quotations below, I ask you to think about all the ways in which so many are being asked to live by lies in order to have any livelihood at all. Think of mandatory corporate sensitivity training, college courses and orientation sessions that are nothing more than indoctrination, job firings for Facebook postings that dissent from the leftist agenda, the incessant drumbeat of our increasingly blatantly dishonest mainstream media. Solzhenitsyn calls us to a kind of passive resistance to the culture of lies, a refusal to be part of the herd that appears to assent to them. His words sound like a trumpet call and are frightening in their implications. For too many, following his prescriptions would indeed mean genuine hardship and loss of livelihood and prospects. And that, even if they do not actively seek to stick their necks out but merely refuse to appear to go along like sheep and say "shibboleth." Solzhenitsyn's words need to be heard and pondered. I have added a few emphases to them in the form of bolded sentences, though even that is an almost presumptuous gilding of lilies. My own further comments, somewhat orthogonal to his essay, will come afterwards, and you need not read them if you do not want to, for what he has to say is a great deal more important.
The circle—is it closed? And is there really no way out? And is there only one thing left for us to do, to wait without taking action? Maybe something will happen by itself? It will never happen as long as we daily acknowledge, extol, and strengthen—and do not sever ourselves from the most perceptible of its aspects: Lies.
When violence intrudes into peaceful life, its face glows with self-confidence, as if it were carrying a banner and shouting: “I am violence. Run away, make way for me—I will crush you.” But violence quickly grows old. And it has lost confidence in itself, and in order to maintain a respectable face it summons falsehood as its ally—since violence lays its ponderous paw not every day and not on every shoulder. It demands from us only obedience to lies and daily participation in lies—all loyalty lies in that.
And the simplest and most accessible key to our self-neglected liberation lies right here: Personal non-participation in lies. Though lies conceal everything, though lies embrace everything, but not with any help from me.
This opens a breach in the imaginary encirclement caused by our inaction. It is the easiest thing to do for us, but the most devastating for the lies. Because when people renounce lies it simply cuts short their existence. Like an infection, they can exist only in a living organism.
We do not exhort ourselves. We have not sufficiently matured to march into the squares and shout the truth our loud or to express aloud what we think. It's not necessary.
It's dangerous. But let us refuse to say that which we do not think.
This is our path, the easiest and most accessible one, which takes into account out inherent cowardice, already well rooted. And it is much easier—it's dangerous even to say this—than the sort of civil disobedience which Gandhi advocated.
Our path is not to give conscious support to lies about anything whatsoever? And once we realize where lie the perimeters of falsehood, each sees them in his own way.
Our path is to walk away from the gangrenous boundary. If we did not paste together the dead bones and scales of ideology, if we did not sew together the rotting rags, we would be astonished how quickly the lies would be rendered helpless and subside.
That which should be naked would then really appear naked before the whole world.
So in our timidity, let each of us make a choice: Whether consciously, to remain a servant of falsehood—of course, it is not out of inclination, but to feed one's family, that one raises his children in the spirit of lies—or to shrug off the lies and become an honest man worthy of respect both by one's children and contemporaries.
And from that day onward he:
*Will not henceforth write, sign, or print in any way a single phrase which in his opinion distorts the truth.
*Will utter such a phrase neither in private conversation nor in the presence of many people, neither on his own behalf nor at the prompting of someone else, neither in the role of agitator, teacher, educator, nor in a theatrical role.
*Will not depict, foster or broadcast a single idea which he can see is false or a distortion of the truth, whether it be in painting, sculpture, photography, technical science, or music.
*Will not cite out of context, either orally or written, a single quotation so as to please someone, to feather his own nest, to achieve success in his work, if he does not share completely the idea which is quoted, or if it does not accurately reflect the matter at issue.
*Will not allow himself to be compelled to attend demonstrations or meetings if they are contrary to his desire or will, will neither take into hand not raise into the air a poster or slogan which he does not completely accept.
*Will not raise his hand to vote for a proposal with which he does not sincerely sympathize, will vote neither openly nor secretly for a person whom he considers unworthy or of doubtful abilities.
*Will not allow himself to be dragged to a meeting where there can be expected a forced or distorted discussion of a question.
*Will immediately walk out of a meeting, session, lecture, performance or film showing if he hears a speaker tell lies, or purvey ideological nonsense or shameless propaganda.
*Will not subscribe to or buy a newspaper or magazine in which information is distorted and primary facts are concealed.
Of course we have not listed all of the possible and necessary deviations from falsehood. But a person who purifies himself will easily distinguish other instances with his purified outlook.
No, it will not be the same for everybody at first. Some, at first, will lose their jobs. For young people who want to live with truth, this will, in the beginning, complicate their young lives very much, because the required recitations are stuffed with lies, and it is necessary to make a choice.
But there are no loopholes for anybody who wants to be honest. On any given day any one of us will be confronted with at least one of the above-mentioned choices even in the most secure of the technical sciences. Either truth or falsehood: Toward spiritual independence or toward spiritual servitude.
And he who is not sufficiently courageous even to defend his soul—don't let him be proud of his “progressive” views, don't let him boast that he is an academician or a people's artist, a merited figure, or a general—let him say to himself: I am in the herd, and a coward. It's all the same to me as long as I'm fed and warm.
You say it will not be easy? But it will be easiest of all possible resources. It will not be an easy choice for a body, but it is the only one for a soul. Not, it is not an easy path. But there are already people, even dozens of them, who over the years have maintained all these points and live by the truth.
So you will not be the first to take this path, but will join those who have already taken it. This path will be easier and shorter for all of us if we take it by mutual efforts and in close rank. If there are thousands of us, they will not be able to do anything with us. If there are tens of thousands of us, then we would not even recognize our country.
I would not presume to tell others, all far more perilously placed than I, how strictly they should apply Solzhenitsyn's words to their own lives, nor how strictly they should advise their children to do so. If your company holds required propaganda meetings, should you refuse to go to them? Or is there a way to avoid living by lies while going, maintaining a scrupulous silence, a refusal to affirm the propaganda, even if this invites suspicion? I know of one corporate employee who has courageously refused to participate in making a square for (of all things) a "diversity quilt" to be hung in the corporate headquarters. He knows quite well that "diversity" is now a not-so-subtle code word that affirms, inter alia, sexual deviance. He is applying Solzhenitsyn's advice even without (I would wager) having heard it. Must all do the same, even at the risk of their and their family's livelihood? That must ultimately remain between each man and his conscience. But it is sobering and salutary to ponder the challenge.
One other point occurs to me, from the second, shorter quotation from the essay. Chesterton said that the men of the cross go gaily in the dark. But, I would add, it is back-breakingly difficult, almost psychologically impossible, to go gaily in the dark alone. We need friends and brothers in arms. One of the saddest facts of the contemporary American scene, almost sadder in its own small way than the big picture of the toppling of constitutional America, is the fragmentation of the conservative movement. Here I refer even to American social conservatives, not merely to a cobbling together of allies--say, social conservatives and fiscal conservatives--who otherwise have little in common. I do not derogate such alliances. I think they serve an important role. But here I am talking about those of us who actually know and see the evils of abortion, euthanasia, the sexual social agenda, those of us who believe that the unborn child, the lab-created embryonic human being, the vulnerable elderly, and the handicapped should be protected in law from the forces of death, those of us who know what marriage is and that it must be properly upheld. If even we are fragmented, torn over matters both of theory and of practice, where is courage to be found? The Internet is both an instrument of unification, bringing together like-minded individuals who would otherwise never have known anything about each other, and of division, encouraging us endlessly to talk and debate until something goes wrong.
We should use the unifying power of the Web and resist, to the best of our ability, its tendency to separate natural friends and true allies. We have enough enemies closing that circle around us. If we are to live by truth and not by lies, we will need all the friends we can get.