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  • Writer's pictureACTIVHISTorian

Silencing Humanists: Oppressive Regimes Know Their Targets

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Among the first to be arrested, imprisoned, even tortured and murdered when an oppressive regime comes to power are humanists, the writers and artists, those who continue to ask questions, create new ideas.

Sure, there may be other excuses: they call the leader Winnie the Pooh! They don't follow our (new) rules! They committed a Crime that we made a crime yesterday so we could arrest and dispose of That Person!

But it's because they are humanists, artists.

Some scientists and mathematicians do likewise but they don't tend to get into trouble with repressive regimes only due to their scientific or mathematical expertise. Regimes can make use of those skills.

Social scientists too can also prove useful when justifying how and why the newfound power works the way it does. Or who is useful for the right sort of society, the sort that supports an oppressive regime. We need data! And here are the questions you will ask and the answers we want!

Business leaders don't tend to suffer even as some scream about the threats of socialism or communism rather than noticing just now many huge companies are still doing well despite and because of their association with oppressive regimes. Chemicals, weapons, communications, food, chain-link fencing--name it. All can be put to use by oppressive regimes. Business interests so often couched as Apolitical, Amoral since capitalism and corporatism and wealth can be retooled, repurposed--or not retooled or repurposed at all--for the guard-that-has-changed.

History suggests that whatever language, religion, or spot on the map an oppressor comes to represent, artists and writers in particular become enemies. Those who align with humanists too become endangered.

Perhaps first the silencing is said to be done In the Name of the Children, who should not see or read their works. As if this is just a matter of age and not minds and asking questions and wondering if someone else's ideas might be. Wrong.

Humanists are silenced in the name of god, morality, constitutions, The Right Way, the Strength of a Nation, holy books and holy men (most always men). Their creations--books and artwork, tomes and texts, recordings and whatever is deemed dangerous or "degenerate"--are burned, destroyed--or at least sold for profit or hidden away so others can't have access but those in charge can wait out and earn perhaps an even greater profit later.

And if they will sell their own soul, if they will kill me, they will absolutely be able to kill you. And will. At the moment they decide you are dangerous or degenerate, even as you work so hard to sell your soul to be safe.

Plenty of humanists--writers, artists, musicians, film makers, historians, philosophers--have sold their souls to these regimes--written or rather, created--History-capital-H to tell the stories those now in charge want them to tell. Want to pass around as The Only Facts.

Don't start with a question. Start with the answers that we tell you are The Answers. Work your way back from there to the Appropriate Questions that only have One Answer.

The humanities and arts don't matter because they "add quality of life," even if they might. They matter because without them, our imaginations are stunted and we, individually and collectively, will get important things very wrong. Without the humanities and arts we continue to believe that only what we see in front of us, and our limited understanding of what we think we see, actually matter. Without the humanities and arts we will sell our soul.

But for most it's not that hard to sell one's soul, one's skills, one's ideas, one's family and friends, is it? Oppressive regimes know this and they use it.

What is harder is not to sell our soul, isn't it? And don't confuse knowing when to lie with selling your soul. Keeping your soul has often involved lying to those who are just fine with ending you.

What is harder is to ask questions that we don't yet know the answers to. To read something and be surprised because we are now changed. Because "I'd never thought of that before." Because it changes the course of our entire life. See an artwork and wonder what amazing, if merely human, could create something so unworldly? Read a book or poem and wonder what your life would have been like if you'd never read it.

These Regimes, the world in general, makes it difficult to tell truth, and not only to tell it, but seek it--to question, to read what someone says is bad for the Regime, doesn't align with what one Must Believe. Art that is "degenerate" because of who made it. Art and writing and other creations and ideas that raise questions that we don't yet have answers to.

Test the thesis written here. Pick a country, a time, a place, a political structure that has existed on the planet. Even your own. Notice how and if they have allowed for, accommodated, used or misused humanists. Are humanists--whether teaching in schools, exhibiting in galleries, or just having conversations with a neighbor viewed as threats? What would This Side or That Side have to say about them? Do they get to remain free? Are they encouraged? Or are they shut down? Controlled? Are laws created to Shut. Them. Up? Demean them? Told what to think and teach and do?

At least think about it.

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