Monday, September 12, 2022

Timothy Snyder's Talk on The Road to Unfreedom

I haven't read the book yet, but I stumbled on Timothy Snyder's talk about it from four years ago. Unfortunately, it's all still very relevant! 

"The things that are happening to us are not just bad but there's something weird, something unsettling going on."

He speaks of the politics of inevitability, that sense that things will run their course as they should, and how often that belief snaps and becomes implausible, like with the housing market crash in 2008. History isn't over, and there are always alternatives to our current path. Our ideas about which direction to take matter

Here's a bit of what he said on Trump's election, and much of it might apply to Poilievre too, who may have some connections with Gerald Chipeur, a lawyer with dual citizenship, tied to Stephen Harper and tight with Ted Cruz, and he may be benefiting from money on offer from the MAGA crowd: 

We made ourselves open to this. The space where Mr. Trump and Russians met was the open unregulated part of capitalism which existed, thanks to our politics of inevitability. Our crazy idea that the freer the capitalism, the better the democracy, is the kind of thing which leads to anonymous real estate deals, shell companies, banks doing business with clients who they can't name, all of which things were necessary steps in the creation and the promotion in the election of Mr. Trump. I spell out how in in the book. Our faith that technology was always going to be enlightening. Again our politics of inevitability opens us up to a moment where platforms like Facebook and Twitter can be used to bewilder and to confuse and to demotivate and to polarize, which also happens. Our crazy belief that we can let the market handle health care, which is one of the most barbaric ideas. I mean a hundred years ago people knew that wasn't true. A hundred years ago people were already talking about health care as a universal right. But that crazy idea opens us up to, for example, an opioid crisis, which we look away from. That has the interesting consequence that every single county in Pennsylvania that Trump flipped from Obama is an opioid crisis. Every county in Ohio except for one that he flipped from Obama is an opioid crisis. He does very well in counties where the life expectancy, especially of white males, is going down. In the places where there are deaths by despair, he wins. If you expect a lot more, if you're white males and you're particularly prey to the politics of inevitability because the American Dream is above all your dreams, that's what you think even if you wouldn't say it, you were then particularly vulnerable to getting hit when things don't go well, to being shocked into falling into cycles of seeing the same thing over and over and over again, of which by the way the opioid addiction is one. That's what opioid addiction is like - it's being in eternity, the same thing over and over again. So we open ourselves up to this in in in all of these different ways. 

Structurally, now I'll make a quick point about dark liberalization, part of the politics of inevitability is that we think globalization is America being projected on the rest of the world: We've got it right and everybody eventually is going to figure it out. Now, what if America, rather than being a liberal democracy projecting itself around the world, is actually becoming less democratic, which it is. What if certain things we take to be our own, like homegrown obscure specificities like gun ownership or the electoral college or racism, things that we think of as ours, what if those things from abroad look like obvious attack surfaces, which they are. If you were trying to use globalization to wreck the democracy or the rule of law of the United States, of course you make an alliance with the NRA, which Russia did; of course you sew discord around shooting attacks as Russia does; of course you concentrate your attention on crucial electoral college states like Michigan and Wisconsin, as Russia did, and of course you pitch a lot of your Facebook advertising along racial divides, as Russia did. You take advantage of the structural problems which are already present. So I think it's right to say that Mr. Trump is the payload of a Russian cyber weapon, but we, as the ones who were defeated by that weapon, have to ask why we were so easy to defeat....Russia is like the bad doctor who diagnoses you in order to make your ailments worse

We can use this as an opportunity to see where we are in history. Once we become aware of the situation and alternatives, that's the first step in a tidal change:

If you think about it, it's no longer unthinkable. And if it's not unthinkable, then it's not such a shock to us when it happens. We have to realize we're in a world of politics, like Germany in 1933, which can open an aperture of vulnerability to regime change. Once we know it could happen, then we start to prepare ourselves for it. Once we know it could happen, we don't have an excuse to be shocked anymore. The more that people realize that it's not going to be a shock, the less likely they're actually going to try it. ... We can see that there are moral alternatives. ...  The moment when you figure out where you're actually standing, is the moment you realize what you can and can't do, and it's at that point where you become responsible because you're no longer mystified by inevitability or eternity, which have the thing in common that they both do away with responsibility.

His conclusion:

We can't just wait for the Rule of Law. Rule of Law itself depends on the atmospherics that we create around it, our expectations that we really are in a Rule of Law society.

We have to accept where we're at and help to direct the change down a better path.

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