One of the perennial features of those novels and memoirs was a situation involving a person with clear vision of how insane things had become, but who nevertheless held his tongue for fear of being, well, forcibly re-educated.
[Free association here]: Last night I heard Rachel Maddow make fun of right-wing organizations that had recently applied for healthcare funding--from a bill they actively opposed. She said, "You can't do that!," and I remembered how party members always got access to service first in the Soviet Union. I thought to myself, what a rotten point, Maddow: if I'm an anti-theft lobbyist, and then I get mugged by Robin Hood, who then takes all of my money and dumps it in the town-center, do I really undermine my position by scrambling to seize back whatever stolen money I can salvage?
A recent exchange with a virtual friend [meaning I've never met him in "real" life] included this from my friend, who was speaking about a kind of interpersonal duty to speak up during disagreements, if only to root out smugness in those shouting ill-gotten opinions:
...the persistently silent person is like the yes-man in the corner who won’t tell the guy in the ring he’s losing....all this acquiescing in/by silence produces a sorry army of storefront martial artists who never spar. That is, in silence, we REFUSE to, as we say, ‘keep them honest’, by at least an intellectual jab or two. And then we charge them with intellectual dishonesty, and secretly laugh at their penchant for sloppy haymakers? Does not the finger we (silently) point at them start to curve back to us?
But in those Soviet memoirs and novels, the silent person was silent only for fear. Often, the silent person recognized perfectly well that Jesus (for example) would have spoken the truth despite the treat of "re-education" (or a gulag) -- but they didn't have the courage of Jesus. They had a family, a humble livelihood, a routine.
Our conversation started over my "complaint" that I work in an environment that is not conducive to me speaking truthfully about my politics. I've justified the situation to myself by imagining tenure as a solution to the problem (maybe then I'll be able to speak!), but in fact even that seems to involve such a dynamic that speaking up then will not get me fired, but it might lose me the respect of my colleagues: "You mean you 'infiltrated' our campus by remaining silent and deflecting direct questions and agreeing where you could with us? That's insane." And it almost would be insane, wouldn't it?
It can't be true that academia is like Soviet Russia (except in the means of disincentives), can it? Or even if it is, I can blame myself for purposely, half-consciously identifying that structure and choosing opinions meant to bring that structure into contrast--to make it visible. I've wanted to be an outsider.
...[cricket, cricket]... anybody still reading this? :)