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On Lying by Peterson and Solzhenitsyn

“Live Not By Lies” by Solzhenitsyn

When violence bursts onto the peaceful human condition, its face is flush with self-assurance, it displays on its banner and proclaims: “I am Violence! Make way, step aside, I will crush you!” But violence ages swiftly, a few years pass—and it is no longer sure of itself. To prop itself up, to appear decent, it will without fail call forth its ally—Lies. For violence has nothing to cover itself with but lies, and lies can only persist through violence. And it is not every day and not on every shoulder that violence brings down its heavy hand: It demands of us only a submission to lies, a daily participation in deceit—and this suffices as our fealty.

And therein we find, neglected by us, the simplest, the most accessible key to our liberation: a personal nonparticipation in lies! Even if all is covered by lies, even if all is under their rule, let us resist in the smallest way: Let their rule hold not through me!

And this is the way to break out of the imaginary encirclement of our inertness, the easiest way for us and the most devastating for the lies. For when people renounce lies, lies simply cease to exist. Like parasites, they can only survive when attached to a person.

We are not called upon to step out onto the square and shout out the truth, to say out loud what we think—this is scary, we are not ready. But let us at least refuse to say what we do not think!

This is the way, then, the easiest and most accessible for us given our deep-seated organic cowardice, much easier than (it’s scary even to utter the words) civil disobedience à la Gandhi.

Our way must be: Never knowingly support lies! Having understood where the lies begin (and many see this line differently)—step back from that gangrenous edge! Let us not glue back the flaking scales of the Ideology, not gather back its crumbling bones, nor patch together its decomposing garb, and we will be amazed how swiftly and helplessly the lies will fall away, and that which is destined to be naked will be exposed as such to the world.

And thus, overcoming our temerity, let each man choose: Will he remain a witting servant of the lies (needless to say, not due to natural predisposition, but in order to provide a living for the family, to rear the children in the spirit of lies!), or has the time come for him to stand straight as an honest man, worthy of the respect of his children and contemporaries? And from that day onward he:

· Will not write, sign, nor publish in any way, a single line distorting, so far as he can see, the truth;

· Will not utter such a line in private or in public conversation, nor read it from a crib sheet, nor speak it in the role of educator, canvasser, teacher, actor;

· Will not in painting, sculpture, photograph, technology, or music depict, support, or broadcast a single false thought, a single distortion of the truth as he discerns it;

· Will not cite in writing or in speech a single “guiding” quote for gratification, insurance, for his success at work, unless he fully shares the cited thought and believes that it fits the context precisely;

· Will not be forced to a demonstration or a rally if it runs counter to his desire and his will; will not take up and raise a banner or slogan in which he does not fully believe;

· Will not raise a hand in vote for a proposal which he does not sincerely support; will not vote openly or in secret ballot for a candidate whom he deems dubious or unworthy;

· Will not be impelled to a meeting where a forced and distorted discussion is expected to take place;

· Will at once walk out from a session, meeting, lecture, play, or film as soon as he hears the speaker utter a lie, ideological drivel, or shameless propaganda;

· Will not subscribe to, nor buy in retail, a newspaper or journal that distorts or hides the underlying facts.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of the possible and necessary ways of evading lies. But he who begins to cleanse himself will, with a cleansed eye, easily discern yet other opportunities.

Note  by Edward E. Ericson, Jr. and Daniel J. Mahoney, The Solzhenitsyn Reader: Solzhenitsyn equates “lies” with ideology, the illusion that human nature and society can be reshaped to predetermined specifications. And his last word before leaving his homeland urges Soviet citizens as individuals to refrain from cooperating with the regime’s lies. Even the most timid can take this least demanding step toward spiritual independence. If many march together on this path of passive resistance, the whole inhuman system will totter and collapse.


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Casey Klahn December 9, 2022, 2:19 PM

    I guess by now most know that anything you try to lie about in your life is bound to come out. I have the gift of being really bad at telling lies. Not that I haven’t tried to! Lord help me. But mostly I try to not tell lies.

    Interesting post. Punish liars directly with our pocketbooks, our attention, and our voices. That kind of action can snowball and multiply through society. When I think about the media nowadays, I cannot tolerate even to hear the names of the sources. It reminds me of how Trump would call out CNN and the other media people on the media island at his rallies. Name another politician whose ever done this?

  • ghostsniper December 9, 2022, 2:53 PM

    I don’t encounter lies in day to day life, or, if lying occurs it is so well done as to be not noticeable.
    Here on the web though lying seems to be standard and universal for the most part. Maybe that’s the way it supposed to be? Way back in 1988 when I first got on Compuserve it required me to have an ID and a password and it explained that having those 2 things would eliminate the possibility of someone perpetrating the real me. So I had to create a fake me. Otherwise known as a lie.

    This lie persists to this day though there have been brief periods when I exposed the real me to the fake web. Danger rears it’s head and I go scrambling back to my lyin’ assed fake me. I’m coming to the conclusion that being online now is much like it was back in the BBS days, strictly entertainment and not meant to be taken seriously and more than that, to be used sparingly. IOW, spend less time in the lie and more time in the truth. Don’t become that which you hang with.

  • Anonymous December 9, 2022, 3:55 PM

    “That wasn’t me that was my twin sister.”

    -to me, 1982, NYC

    • ThisIsNotNutella December 9, 2022, 6:06 PM

      Some people have all the luck!

  • Mike Austin December 9, 2022, 11:35 PM

    The American regime is based upon lies. They are its fuel and its sustenance. Take away the lies and the entire diseased edifice collapses. The members of the elites know this, and so the lies continue—and they will continue until the regime goes the way of Nineveh.

    Trying to get the government to stop lying is like trying to get a dog to use toilet paper.

    Our “rulers” lie to us; they lie to each other; they lie to themselves; they lie to foreigners. It does no good to expose their lies. They don’t care. They will lie about lying.

    Lying is how they came to power. Lying is how they stay in power. Lying is how they keep others away from power. Everyone who is not a Lotus Eater knows the election of 2020 was based on a mountain of lies, that the current regime is illegitimate, and that the true president is Donald Trump. The members of every court in the land, including the Supreme Court, certainly know this. And so? What will happen?

    Nothing. Now go back to eating lotus.

    • Steve (retired/recovering lawyer) December 11, 2022, 12:18 PM

      Lying is hardly new; what is new is the sheer volume of lies that are daily propagated by government, media, academicians, experts and our fellow citizens–or more accurately our fellow residents.

      In years gone by, I suppose there was probably the same amount of lying, but since there was no truly mass media or internet, most of the lies were simply not heard, so it was like the Zen koan about a tree falling in the forest with nobody around to hear it. Today, one simply can’t avoid hearing it.

      That was also the time when it was possible to take another person at their word without worrying excessively about the result. There was a presumption in favor of the other fellow being honest. Now, the presumption is always and everywhere to assume that the other person is dissembling, exaggerating, prevaricating, fluffing, or outright lying.

      Our formerly high-trust society is no more. We are becoming more like the third world, where it is not prudent to believe anyone outside one’s own family. And to double-check even them. Reagan once said of dealing with Gorbachev, “Trust, but verify.” Good times, good times.

  • Sancho December 11, 2022, 1:57 PM

    I think it’s worth reading the whole thing:

    (linked to in the above “Note”)

    Several things jumped out at me, but I’ll note just this one:
    “The natural thing would be simply not to reelect them, but there are no re-elections in our country.”

    Also, the term “samizdat” might sooner or later come to fruition in these parts.

    Ayn Rand came to mind, esp. the concept of Atlas shrugged. I tend to think of it in the direct physical action of Atlas shrugging off the weight of the world, letting it pass into oblivion. It occurs to me that it can also be the shrug of indifference. Solzhenitsyn’s idea of not giving voice to that which one does not believe seems to fit, if one thinks of it as indifference to the Lie that is the State’s official stance, and which they demand, as much as they can, the serfs parrot.

  • Ted December 11, 2022, 6:50 PM

    In opposition to all the virtue here, one should refer to the “Fable of the Bees” Published in 1714_by the philosopher Bernard Mandeville, describing the collapse of a rich and prosperous hive of bees when Jove grants them their wish for the virtue of honesty. Some lying is necessary for the lubrication of the economy. Not to say that any or all of the lies told us by our masters are justified, but the it looks to me that the odor of sanctity (sanctimony) pervades both sides of the debate.