Monday, June 11, 2018

180611 Readings & Comments

George Orwell
When you have Masha Gessen quoting and discussing George Orwell and Hannah Arendt, you can be sure of receiving some keen and sobering insights. And so it is in this article in which Gessen examines Orwell's conjectures about literature in totalitarian regimes. In the U.S., we don't have a totalitarian regime, but the attack on facts, on truth, is increasing and it begins with the current occupant of the White House. Read this and be forewarned. 

Orwell was right. The totalitarian regime rests on lies because they are lies. The subject of the totalitarian regime must accept them not as truth—must not, in fact, believe them—but accept them both as lies and as the only available reality. She must believe nothing. Just as Orwell predicted, over time the totalitarian regime destroys the very concept, the very possibility of truth. Hannah Arendt identified this as one of the effects of totalitarian propaganda: it makes everything conceivable because “nothing is true.”

Paul Scofield as Thomas More

And here is an excellent complementary article by Michael Shermer writing in Quillette about free speech (which is not exactly the same as our rights under the First Amendment, but that's for another occasion).  The article is a defense of free speech. Note that free speech isn't "free" in the sense of without cost--not at all! Allowing free expression of beliefs and opinions and statements of supposed facts means that error--the un-truth--whether intentional or the result of mere fallibility, will abound. We pay the price for free speech, and the only justification is that the suppression of free speech costs more than its allowance. Shermer argues the point well. And to close, this quote that Shermer includes from Robert Bolt's play about (St.) Thomas More, "A Man for All Seasons." It's a piece that I first encountered as an undergraduate assignment. This particular quote struck me even before I became a lawyer. It's something every lawyer ought to have at hand when someone complains about someone getting off because of "legal technicalities," the Ropers of our current age. Shermer writes:

In the play, a dialogue unfolds over the changing of the law between More and his future son-in-law Roper, who urges him to arrest a man whose testimony could condemn More to death, even though no laws were broken. “And go he should, if he were the Devil himself, until he broke the law!” More entices.
Roper: So now you’d give the Devil benefit of law!
More: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
Roper: I’d cut down every law in England to do that.
More: Oh? And when the law was down, and the Devil turned round on you—where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws from coast to coast…and if you cut them down…do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.
A great insight. 

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