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19 July, 2012

It Happens Overnight

If we choose to believe that well-being is more important than freedom, we pave the way for serfdom.

It happens overnight. Evil strikes suddenly. Like the kiss of death, it comes in many faces – as a promise of the restoration of the sense of pride, certainty, safety and security. It may come in the guise of pursuit of happiness. It may walk disguised as a romantic patriotism. As we have seen, it may assume the facet of an industrial faith in rationality and in the future of humanity.

It happens overnight. Mikhail Bulgakov described the coming of evil as a visit from the devil. It was enough to deny the validity of the keywords of humanity — such as truth, faith, loyalty, and conscience — and His Excellency the Devil would come up with a rich offer of power, prestige, sweeping change, and rationality, but at the expense of memory and daring to oppose power.

It happens overnight. Power comes in many faces. It may come as a major secular religion of the industrial world (just let us think about Marxism) or as a forgery of the mix of 1968 with its infatuations with and cravings for revolutionary change, sex, young beautiful bodies, lust for life and immortality (recall Michel Houellebecq’s The Possibility of an Island). Or it may come as a clown.

It happens overnight. Yes, it comes as a buffoon who starts as a popular entertainer, yet who ends up as a bloody dictator. Think about the sinister mixture of a nasty thug and a political buffoon – Alyaksandr Ryhoravich Lukashenka. He started the whole story as an ordinary guy with nothing to lose and as a seemingly good, though slightly simplistic pal, yet he ended up as a killer-trickster. This is not funny anymore, and it happened overnight. Evil comes laughing or making us laugh.

It happens overnight. Evil comes laughing or making us laugh. Just recall Bats’ka (Papa) telling an assembly of war veterans a moving and heart-breaking story about his early years as an orphan, as he lost his dear and beloved father during the Second World War. Veterans began choking, people tried hard to suppress the lump in the throat, yet it did not take long for journalists to figure out that Bats’ka was born in 1954.    

It happens overnight. Evil comes laughing or making us laugh. With sound reason, George Orwell chose wise and moving words of warning, solidarity and compassion in his Foreword for the Ukrainian Reader that he wrote for the Ukrainian edition of Animal Farm. He knew of indescribable sufferings of the Ukrainian people. Contrary to Lion Feuchtwanger, H. G. Wells, or André Gide, he was not naïve; or, should I say, he chose not to be so.

It happens overnight. Incidentally, when I bought this book in Pennsylvania, it was designed as an extremely beautiful volume. This created a strong contrast between its striking visual beauty and rather somber content. Yet I was struck by a most telling On one coloured plate I saw Stalin playing a trick – putting his thumb on his nose and smiling in an overt and nonchalant manner. Evil laughs and makes us laugh. By laughing at evil, we lose our vigilance. In doing so, we have fun.

It happens overnight, and the power speaks. Human beings change overnight. Friends betray one another blaming this on the conflict of loyalties or patriotic commitments. In fact, they are all hungry for power, money, and prestige. We learned all of this from The Master and Margarita as well as from other two dystopias or science-fiction novellas or immortal fables of the genius of Kyiv – The Fatal Eggs and The Heart of a Dog

It happens overnight. How can we lose our freedom? Unfortunately, it happens swiftly. Moreover, it happens in our naïve anticipation of the better to come yet without our fighting back or resisting. We inflict a defeatist theory on ourselves making ourselves believe that corrupt democrats have to be punished by turning them down and allowing tricksters, clowns, and buffoons to replace them.

It happens overnight. Nowadays, it is called a dilemma between competent and expert-like, though unpopular, policy makers and their theatrical rivals who expose themselves as masters of political acting, rather than fools and would-be dangerous autocrats. We have one more ready-made, deceiving, and misguided theory that we, instead of creating a sort of cordon sanitaire to contain sinister characters in politics, should let them get in office. As this theory goes, such a move would deal a blow to their reputation exposing their incompetence and foolishness.

It happens overnight. The trouble is that evil comes as a trickster but it never goes as one. It stays and attempts to change us into itself. Fear is a loyal sister to Evil – with sound reason, Mikhail Bulgakov despised fear as a major vice of humanity. Another sister of Evil is incurable naïveté that borders on stupidity. Once we choose to believe that there can be once-and-for-all good and bad individuals in politics, we pave the way for a dictatorship which will come overnight.

It happens overnight. A sincere belief that anything is so makes it so, as William Blake once put it. If we believe that wealth and efficiency absolve from corruption, and also from contempt for human life, dignity and worth, we lie to ourselves. If we choose to believe that well-being is more important than freedom, we pave the way for serfdom.

It happens overnight. If we prefer “stability” (as if there were something stable in democracy which always rests on doubt, competition, and critique, which deliberately creates a conflict to expose things and to show some hidden alternatives for the future) over uncertainty, lack of safety, and insecurity brought about by freedom, we cannot complain.

And then it will happen overnight.


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