Nazi Germany – a dark and shameful chapter in our not-so-distant past. We have written books about it, made movies and documentaries. Some of them attempt to answer the question we all ask ourselves: How was it allowed to happen? The best answer I’ve come across comes from Milton Mayer, a German – American professor and journalist, who in the early 1950s, when the wounds of war, the shame and regret were still healing, spent six months interviewing and befriending ten Nazis to answer that very question. What Mayer hadn’t told his ten Nazi friends was that he was Jewish. In 1955, his book – They thought they were free – composed of the testimonies and memories of these Nazis, was published. It was, in my opinion, not only the answer to the question that haunts us all, but also a warning that humanity is always one obedient step away from walking into the wired fence of a new regime.
This book should, in my opinion, snap anyone out of their daydream. It should be a wake-up call for those who are still under the illusion that we will soon get our lives back, our freedom back. This illusion, this fantasy that if we just keep our heads down, follow along, listen to the guidance, obey the rules and never ask any questions we will get back to normal. But just a few fragments from Mayer’s book, which I quoted below, show that this delusion is nothing new. You will see that all the justifications for your inaction and non-resistance to the restrictions have been made before. All excuses for the existence and necessity of these restrictions have been made before. All your thoughts have been thought before. All your reasons, yes, ALL of them, to passively follow the tyrant and allow him to take your freedoms away, little by little, have been reasoned before. All your arguments have been argued before. All your nightmares, dreams of heroic uprising and resistance have been dreamt (and crushed) before. And in the near future, in five or ten years, or six months, I will tell you that your shame, regret and embarrassment have been felt before. But then, just as it one day was in Nazi Germany, it will be too late.
I am aware that there are people who get offended when COVID restrictions and Nazi Germany are used in the same sentence. But the very reason that Nazi Germany has burdened, traumatised, terrorized and haunted every generation since and yet people who lived through it, participated in it or turned a blind eye to it said EXACTLY the same things we hear today, is why it needs to be talked about. The same obedience existed in Nazi Germany – a far greater horror than “getting paid to stay at home” – and the same obedience was reasoned and excused just the same as it is today. This is what is frightening – the fact that during much worse and clear enslavement people still did nothing. That is why comparing today’s inaction and submission to the state to that in Hitler’s Germany makes sense – because people still did nothing and people today, too, are doing nothing.
Non-resistance to the milder indulgences paves the way to the non-resistance to the deadlierMilton Mayer (They thought they were free)
Take Germany as a city cut off from the outside world by flood or fire advancing from every direction. The mayor proclaims martial law, suspending council debate. He mobilizes the populace, assigning each section its tasks. Half the citizens are at once engaged directly in the public business. Every private act - a telephone call, the use of an electric light, the service of a physician becomes a public act. Every private right - to take a walk, to attend a meeting, to operate a printing press becomes a public right. Every private institution - the hospital, the church, the club becomes a public institution. Here, although we never think to call it by any name but pressure of necessity, we have the whole formula of totalitarianism.
Please suspend for a minute your assumptions about the world you know today. Resist the urge to say that your government would never do this or that coronavirus is a different or real threat or that the measures are justified. Whether the powers that be indented or not, in the past year, they have followed the formula of totalitarianism almost to the letter. The author continues:
The individual surrenders his individuality without a murmur, without, indeed, a second thought and not just his individual hobbies and tastes, but his individual occupation, his individual family concerns, his individual needs. The primordial community, the tribe, re-emerges, its preservation the first function of all its members. Every normal personality of the day before becomes an "authoritarian personality." A few recalcitrants have to be disciplined (vigorously, under the circumstances) for neglect or betrayal of their duty. A few groups have to be watched or, if necessary, taken in hand - the antisocial elements, the liberty-howlers, the agitators among the poor, and the known criminal gangs. For the rest of the citizens, 95 per cent or so of the population, duty is now the central fact of life. They obey, at first awkwardly but, surprisingly soon, spontaneously.
Notice how this fragment describes the rise of tyranny without mentioning any atrocity, mass murder or prison camps. It just talks about an emergency.
Haven’t we all been asked, coerced and forced to abandon our individuality, our needs and interests for “the greater good”? Haven’t those who questioned it or refused to do so been disciplined, shamed, arrested, fined and censored? People who have preferred liberty over safety have been patronised and punished if they protested, while the majority have obeyed the rules (even admitting they made no sense), awkwardly at first, but then spontaneously, forming an orderly socially distanced queue and even turning on those who refused to get in line.
The community is suddenly an organism, a single body and a single soul, consuming its members for its own purposes. For the duration of the emergency the city does not exist for the citizen but the citizen for the city. The harder the city is pressed, the harder its citizens work for it and the more productive and efficient they become in its interest. Civic pride becomes the highest pride, for the end purpose of all one's enormous efforts is the preservation of the city. Conscientiousness is the highest virtue now, the common good the highest good […]
What if the emergency persists, not for weeks, months, or even years, but for generations and for centuries? Unrelieved sacrifice requires compensation in the only specie available.
The author uses this analogy to show how easily regular people can obediently walk into the trap of a tyrant without even realising it, without even noticing the chains on their ankles. And still, no genocide has been mentioned. Just simple, blind and unsuspecting obedience.
But then it was too late
Men who did not know that they were slaves, do not know that they have been freedMilton Mayer (They thought they were free)
What no one seemed to notice[...] was the ever-widening gap, after 1933, between the government and the people. Just think how very wide this gap was to begin with, here in Germany, and it became always wider.
[...] What happened here was the gradual habituation of the people little by little to being governed by surprise, to receiving decisions deliberated in secret, to believing that the situation was so complicated that the government had to act on information which the people could not understand, or so dangerous that even if the people could understand it, it could not be released because of national security. And their sense of identification with Hitler, their trust in him made it easier to widen this gap and reassure those who would otherwise have worried about it.
Whether it’s deliberate or not, our government is using the same tactics, the same excuses to impose restrictions on us, create legislations and rules. They can’t trust the public to make their own decisions, can’t trust us with the information or can’t trust we would understand it. We are, after all, just ignorant peasants who need to be guided and ruled over. We are incapable of making our own decisions and choosing what’s best for us based on information available to us. We aren’t allowed to make mistakes or poor judgement – these belong in the free world. Those who adore the prime minister, will follow him even to their doom.
This separation of government from people, this widening of the gap took place so gradually and so insensibly, each step disguised - perhaps not even intentionally - as a temporary emergency measure or associated with true patriotic allegiance or with real social purposes. And all the crisis and reforms, real reforms too, so occupied the people that they did not see the slow-motion underneath of the whole process of government growing remoter and remoter.
“Temporary emergency measure” – sound familiar? Each rule, each legislation over the last year has been rushed and put in place before it had a chance to be voted on and before people had the chance to familiarise themselves with their rights and how they were being violated. Notice, too, the use of “little by little” and “gradual” – everything about the rise of tyranny was slow and patient.
One had no time to think, there was so much going on [..] the dictatorship and its whole process of its coming into being was above all diverting. It provided an excuse not to think for people who did not want to think anyway [...] Most of us did not want to think about the fundamental things and never had, there was no need to. Nazism gave us some dreadful fundamental things to think about and kept us so busy with continuous changes and crisis and fascinated, yes fascinated by the machinations of the national enemies without and within that we had no time to think about these dreadful things that were growing little by little all around us. Unconsciously, I suppose, we were grateful. Who wants to think? To live in this process it's absolutely not to be able to notice it [...] each step was so small, so inconsequential, so well explained or on occasion regretted that unless one were detached from the whole process from the beginning, unless one understood what the whole thing was in principle, what all these little measures that no patriotic German could resent must someday lead to, one no more saw it developing day to day than a farmer in his field sees the corn growing - one day it is over his head.
Because Nazi Germany is so terrifying to us today, it is even more important to read this man’s words and realise that he (and others in the book) didn’t just live through a questionable crisis or emergency. They were reflecting on what they by then knew had been the biggest crime against humanity. Yet they spoke so casually throughout this book as if all they had done was organising a few illegal gatherings during a pandemic.
Today, people, too, don’t like to think about their fundamental rights and freedoms. They never had to. Compared to safety and obedience, they are trivial and unnecessary to them. They don’t believe they were ever free. Now that they are enslaved they can’t even see the difference.
Notice too, that after the war and the Holocaust, these Germans were able to reflect on what had happened, what they had been blind to or obeyed willingly but had had no idea where all these small steps were taking them. You should, too, reflect on the last year and think on each of these small and inconsequential steps, often introduced as necessary, taken by the government, each small restriction and mandate, each promise and moved goalpost. Ask yourself: What if this is how it happens? What if this is how citizens lose their liberty, privacy and rights?
[...] 'resist the beginnings and consider the end', but one must foresee the end in order to resist or even see the beginnings; one must foresee the end clearly and certainly and how is this to be done?
Unlike the Germans in 1930’s, we CAN learn from history. We can recognise the beginnings and foresee the end. We would be foolish to think that a modern-day tyranny can’t emerge in our country. Later in the book, the author tells us how those very Germans, living in Nazi regime, were convinced that fascism would never happen in their country. They thought such regime was only possible in Russia or Italy. Isn’t this what we say? That dictatorships are a thing of savage past or savage lands?
Pastor Muller said that 'when the Nazis attacked for the communists, he was a little uneasy, but after all he was not a communist, so he did nothing; and then they attacked the socialists and he was a little uneasier, but still he was not a socialist and he did nothing; and then the schools, the press, the Jews and so on and he was always uneasier but still he did nothing. And then they attacked the church, and he was a churchman, and he did something but then it was too late.
In other words, you may be comfortable now. You may have convinced yourself by now that what has been taken from you was never of any real value to you anyway. You may think that everyone should be forced to wear a mask, get injected and require proof of it to go into a nightclub. You may believe all that because you have no problem doing any of it. You may not believe in personal choice and freedom in this matter. But there will come a day when they come for you too. On that day, remember pastor Muller and his chilling realisation.
One doesn't see exactly where or how to move; each act, each occasion is worse than the last, but only a little worse, you wait for the next and the next, you wait for one great shocking occasion thinking that others, when such shocking comes, will join with you in resisting somehow. You don't want to act or even talk alone, you don't want to go out of your way to make trouble. Why not? Well you're not in a habit of doing it, and it is not just fear, fear of standing alone that restrains you, it is also a genuine uncertainty. Uncertainty is a very important factor and instead of decreasing as time goes on, it grows. Outside in the street, in the general community everyone is happy; one hears no protests and certainly sees none. In your own community you speak privately to your friends, some of whom certainly feel as you do, but what do they say? They say 'it's not so bad' or that you're seeing things or you're an alarmist. And you are an alarmist. You are saying that THIS must lead to THIS and you can't prove it; these are the beginnings, but how do you know for sure when you don't know the end and how do you know the end? On the one hand, your enemy - the regime, the party - intimidate you, on the other your friends poo poo you as pessimistic or even neurotic.
A few weeks ago, I attended the anti-lockdown protest in London. There were tens of thousands of people marching by my side. Last week, there was a round two and an even greater number of people marched through the streets of London, protesting vaccine passports and further restrictions. The mainstream media failed to report on such large and overwhelming gathering and when they did, they claimed there were just a few hundred protesters. Boris Johnson has not addressed any of it, even though we are his people, and we are clearly uneasy and anxious about something. This lack of response creates an illusion that there is no resistance, that everyone is happy and obedient.
And again, we are reminded of how small and insignificant the steps of the tyrant are. We are reminded that calling for resistance and mass disobedience grants you a label of an alarmist or a conspiracy theorist or a denier.
But the one great shocking occasion, when tens or hundreds of thousands will join you never comes. That’s the difficulty. If the last and worst act of the regime had come immediately after the first and smallest, thousands, yes millions would have been sufficiently shocked - if let us say, the gassing of the Jews in 1943 had come immediately after the “German firm” stickers on the windows of non-Jewish shops in 33. But of course this isn't the way it happens. In between come all the hundreds of little steps, some of them imperceptible, each of them preparing you not to be shocked by the next. Step C is not so much worse than step B, and if you didn't not make a stand at step B, why should you at step C? And so on to step D. And one day, too late, your principles, if you were ever sensible of them, all rush in upon you. The burden of self-deception has grown too heavy and a minor incident [...] collapses it all at once and you see that everything, EVERYTHING has changed and changed completely under your nose. [...] now you live in a world of hate and fear and the people who hate and fear do not even know it themselves. When everyone is transformed, no one is transformed. Now you live in a system that rules without responsibility even to God. The system itself could not have intended this in the beginning, but in order to sustain itself it was compelled to go all the way.
I think the above fragment speaks for itself. I will end on this, however: All ten Nazis interviewed in the book had trouble answering one simple question – what they thought they had done wrong. When trying to explain their actions and what was right and what was wrong, good or evil, they always answered with what had been legal or illegal, popular and unpopular. Think about it for a second – of course they were ashamed of their actions and couldn’t face the responsibility for that shame, so, instead, quoted the rules. Sound familiar? The rules dictated their morality. The law was their moral compass. They thought they were free. Do you think you are free?
When I started this blog, back in 2019, my plan was to write about a variety of subjects and express, what I hoped to be, thought-provoking opinions. It was never my intention to focus on a single issue. The pandemic, however, interrupted my attempt at exposing the world’s truths and life’s meaning. I also never thought that I would witness the collapse of human dignity, compassion and consciousness. I didn’t dare to think that I’d see our basic freedoms arrested and our fundamental rights crushed, and our very nature denied to us and debunked, our humanity ripped from our mother’s arms. But here we are – year 2021. It’s beginning to look a lot like Nineteen eighty-four.
The ordinary world
Six O Four
Malbork, Poland, 2002. I am fifteen. It’s a warm Summer afternoon. My friends and I have just been playing football and we are now hanging out at our favourite spot – the bench under the rowan tree by the road leading to our estate. As we sit here, minding our business and causing no trouble, a police van pulls over and two bulky, bald police officers step out. They can’t be a lot older than us. Early 20s, I think. They come up to us and start asking questions. They demand that we give them our details, starting with our full name, date and place of birth, and full names of our parents. They look like they’re enjoying themselves. They talk to us like we’re guilty of some crime they’re investigating, but we haven’t done anything wrong. In fact, we are just a bunch of losers and everyone knows this. Girls want nothing to do with us, cool kids don’t want to shake our hands in school and to top it off, there is this one guy, probably around the age of Bulk and Skull over here, who always kicks our ball away when it ends up anywhere near him and his friends – the real troublemakers of our estate. They smoke and do drugs, while all we want to do is play football and sit on a bench looking at nice cars and girls who are out of our league. One of the cops orders me to take my hands out of my pockets. I know it’s disrespectful, but he hasn’t earned my respect. It is clear that they are trying to intimidate us. They must hold some kind of grudge against guys like us or perhaps they used to be bullies themselves and they’ve never grown out of it. Proud of themselves, they now get back into their van and drive off. We take a note of the number, it’s 604. It happens a few more times this Summer. It’s always the same scenario and the same oversized idiots with shaved heads, trying to teach us respect through intimidation. We’re never guilty of anything, but just in case, whenever we see a police van approaching and whenever we see the number 604 on the side of it, we try to move along to avoid another humiliating encounter with the law. By the time we see the number, however, it is usually too late.
It’s my fifteenth year in the UK. My experience with the British police has been drastically different. Not only that, but I’ve also never felt threatened or intimidated by a police officer. This has been the case until lockdowns began twelve months ago. Sometime in April of last year, my respect and admiration for the British uniform started to fade.
Great Britain – the country that gave us democracy, the country that many Eastern Europeans like me escaped to in search of a better tomorrow – had begun to turn into the authoritarian regime and police state many of us ran away from. I know, as a foreigner, I should probably not speak negatively of the country I’ve settled in, but whatever was once Great about Britain, has died of COVID, I think. And I mean this about the police who forgot their oath, government officials who seem to have turned into tyrants who do things to us instead of for us anymore and think we are their property, as well as people of Britain, who have exposed their true nature of spineless cowards who play dead on the battlefield.
I sat on a bench today, just outside the library and the Town Hall which has been turned into COVID19 vaccination centre. I sat there for about an hour waiting for my wife and our three-month-old son to finish at the doctor’s. He was having his blood taken as part of the ongoing investigation into his hearing loss. I’ve attended a couple of initial appointments when we were given the diagnose and crucial information. Then, both because of their One Parent Because of COVID19 policy and my lack of challenging it when the appointments were no longer scary but routine, I just waited outside or took a walk.
Today, I decided to sit on the bench instead of waiting outside. I felt like such an outlaw. For the past few months, doing such a thing has been unthinkable. Sitting on a bench has been viewed as a dangerous crime and health hazard. I sat there and listened to Edward Snowden’s Permanent Record on Audible. As I listened to Snowden’s confession what led him to expose the US government’s betrayal of their citizens, I was looking at groups of college kids laughing, talking, hugging and chatting, eating takeaways as they walked to town or back to college. If it weren’t for the fact that the majority of them wore masks, I’d have thought it was just an ordinary day in an ordinary world where COVID19 never existed.
I used to sit on this particular bench a lot when I first came to the UK fifteen years ago. I would look at the people, couples holding hands, young guys and girls getting out of taxis and refusing to wear coats (presumably to avoid leaving them behind in the nightclub), runners, guys with gym bags drinking protein shakes, you know, all these ordinary things happening every day in the ordinary world. A world where I, sitting on that bench, could afford to struggle with my own identity as I measured the behaviour of the herd. I could afford to sit there as long as it took me to collect my thoughts, write poetry and dream. Back in the ordinary world. Back when I had my whole life ahead of me and I took it for granted. Back when I could sit there until my skin shivered or until I found the missing piece of the puzzle. What burden was I carrying? What mystery of my mind was I trying to solve? How unaware was I of what was being plotted behind the scenes? How blind was I to the strings attached to all of our shoulders? Perhaps, as I sat there unaware, ignorant and small, handshakes were being exchanged, signatures given, funds transferred, things arranged, alibi prepared, consent manufactured – all to one day take away every dream I had dreamt on that bench, crush every plan I had thought of, dispose of everything I had held dear and precious.
Today, I don’t have that luxury, that freedom. Doing such an ordinary thing belongs in the past. “The rules” say so. As I sat there, a lone police officer emerged from the underground passage. When I saw him, I had a familiar feeling. The feeling a man only gets to feel a few times in his lifetime. When he sees the love of his life, the most beautiful woman, object of his love songs and poetry walk in the room and he has to tell her how he feels. And when his great nemesis or his army charge at him and he has to fight. It’s about fear and conquering that fear. It’s a quick, sharp excitement and anxiety in his chest that make him focused yet paralysed, ready to fight and ready to hide.
That’s what I felt that moment I laid my eyes on the policeman. The sharp feeling in my chest was gone before I knew it, yet it expressed so many things all at once. ‘Is this the time I get confronted?’, it asked, exposing my lack or preparedness for the confrontation I had been anticipating and rehearsing for months. More importantly, it reminded me of the time I last felt it about the police. That summer I was harassed by 604’s Bulk and Skull. It also made me realise that as a thirty – four-year-old father, husband, legally employed and a law-abiding citizen I should never feel this about the police. After all, they are not my enemy and I’m not guilty of anything. My body should not turn on and prepare to flee or confront them. But because of how many of them have behaved over the last year, I now feel like a fugitive, who must always be ready to run, resist and sees them not as public servants, but as the enemy. Enemy of human nature, freedom and dignity.
Luckily, the cop wasn’t interested in my suspicious activity. It was just me and Edward again.
Malbork, Poland, 2002. Finally, they get what they wanted. They’ve created a monster. My friend, Adrian, isn’t a member of our group, but he hangs out with us occasionally. Part of the reason is that he lives in a tower block in a different part of town, and he prefers homework than sitting on a bench. Not all of us have mobile phones, so there are only two ways for us to all get together. We either specify time and place of assembly when at school or we pick everyone one by one by calling at their address until everyone is accounted for. Since Adrian goes to a different school and lives so far for us to get him, we simply don’t bother most of the time. When we do, however, we make his neighbours’ life a living hell. The lifts in those buildings are old, nothing like you might be imagining. The doors aren’t automatic. You have to pull or push them to open. Once the floor number is pressed and the door shut, you’re on your way. Our favourite thing to do is getting in the lift on the ground floor, pressing the button and holding the door slightly open for the next person who walks into the building. It’s often someone old. We stand there, holding the door, showing we’re waiting for them. We never hold the door wide open. Instead, we leave the smallest gap and that’s crucial to our prank. They always look very grateful as they show their appreciation and perform their mini jog to get in the lift with us. At the last second, when they are about to grab the handle on the other side, we release the door and watch their gratitude turn into disappointment as we fill the inside of the lift with mocking, knee - slapping laughter. We’ve done it countless times, but today, we’ve done it to the wrong man. He’s just chased us out of the building and as we’re in a safe distance, I extend my right arm and show him the middle finger. We are still laughing at the look on his face when his hope to get in the lift turned into embarrassment, when he appears out of nowhere and grabs me by the arm. Huffing and puffing from under his thick, unkept moustache, he looks particularly angry with me for giving him the finger. He’s not even mad about the lift thing. It’s the middle finger that bothers him. My friends abandon me, accepting that I have taken it too far and am now on my own. ‘Where do you live?’, he asks. ‘Just around the corner’, I lie, thinking he will let me go. Instead, he squeezes my arm tighter and demands I take him to my parents. ‘I’m lying, I don’t live around here’, again thinking he lets me go. I try to release myself, but my teenage strength is no match for his manly grip. His friend approaches on his bike and together they come to the conclusion that it’s best to call the police. I tell them both to fuck off, which gives the friend the permission to suggest that they “rough me up a little” before cops arrive. He does nothing. I struggle, but his hand doesn’t let go. The old man must be producing his whole strength from his front porch, I think. The police arrive and Moustache releases his sausage fingers from my arm. His grip made my coat all wrinkly. He lies to the officers, saying I “threatened him with violence”. The friend nods and confirms. I can’t see my face, but I feel angry and as I make my way to the back of the car, I call him a fucking liar and demand my version to be heard. They don’t wanna to know. It’s a short ride home in the backseat. What crime have I committed that I am being taken home for it? We drive past the rowan tree bench and it’s occupied by my friends who were quick to abandon me. Few minutes later I am being dragged upstairs and for the first time in the last half an hour, I feel anxious. I didn’t care about Moustache and his fat, sweaty hand. Not even about his courageous friend who threatened to beat me up. Hell, I didn’t even care about them calling the police. It is my mom who I am really afraid of. The police do the talking, I am just silent and embarrassed.
Just follow the rules
You can’t torture an animal forever without it lashing outJordan Peterson
If you are reading this, I’m sure I don’t have to explain in great detail what my feelings toward the police are based on. I suspect, what brought you here is the same resentment I feel after having watched hours of social media clips of police abusing their power, enforcing COVID rules. If you’re like me, these videos make you feel sick, angry and upset. They wake within you the unfamiliar rage and fury you had no idea you were capable of feeling. Maybe it even frightens you what you might do if these feelings are left unchecked. You imagine yourself punching, kicking and spitting your way out of the unlawful arrest while simultaneously knowing this would never end well for you. But it helps, doesn’t it? It feels so good seeing your fists land on their faces, making their surgical masks turn red. It feels good visualising, even for a minute, defeating the bad guys, serving justice and coming out as the hero. I know it works for me. It silences this desperation burning within me as I see people being tackled to the ground in their own homes for the crime of having dinner with their family. If you’re anything like me, this sense of injustice overwhelms you because you know these bastards get away with it every time and only their consciousness will ever be their judge and their executioner.
A few weeks ago, the government requested every concerned citizen to express in their own words the negative effects lockdown had on various aspects of their life, including mental health. I don’t know what I was hoping it would achieve, but I decided to submit my evidence, in which I say:
I imagine myself being dragged into a van after attending a protest in the near future. Then put in a cell and the rage, I am not supposed to feel as a father, returns. I shouldn’t feel like this. These emotions have come out of nowhere. In the first lockdown, I was fine. I was reading a lot, I was outside a lot. Now I feel like a ticking time bomb. These negative emotions – anger mixed with desperation, anxiety, heartbreak, rejection, bitterness – they don’t even have an outlet…
I described myself as a ticking timebomb. Probably not the wisest choice of words in a letter to the government, but I didn’t care. Perhaps I even wanted them to come for me. Take me into a room and play good cop and bad cop, asking me what I meant, who I worked for. What did I mean? This next fragment explains it well:
I should be the happiest I’ve ever been, but recently, I find myself feeling emotions I’ve never felt before. I feel anger, resentment and hopelessness. I feel powerless and desperate to the point where I want to cry or break something and who knows what I will do if I’m caught off guard? These negative feelings aren’t directed at my family. But this anger turns into rage within me, and I never knew it was there. This desperation I feel inside makes me so depressed sometimes and I feel I have no control over what happens to my life
The only time I ever feel anything close to how I’ve felt for the last few months is whenever I see a movie where the character is being kept hostage, tortured, isolated and made do things against his will by his tyrannical captors. When I see the scenes of this injustice, I boil inside, crave revenge and imagine what I would do to them if I managed to set myself free. In my mind, I do unspeakable things.
I see the same injustice when I watch a video of police attacking protesters, mothers with children, friends having coffee together and families in their homes. People often say that to avoid being fined or arrested, all we have to do is just “follow the rules”. Just follow the rules, they say. Never mind that the rules intrude and trespass on our rights, ruin our freedoms, criminalise choice and oppress people’s needs and interests. These cowards who welcome this invasion with open arms often defend their submission by pointing out various laws that they claim already take away our freedom. Their best example is usually something to do with speed limits (because of course, given the freedom to do so, everyone wants to drive like a maniac).
These people don’t understand the meaning of personal rights, where they come from and why no other person, no matter their position, can take these rights away. They don’t understand the concept of personal responsibility and that they themselves are the only ones who they should rely on to stay safe, not just from COVID19, but from any threat.
Another thing they love to say, especially to me since I am a foreigner, is something along the lines of, “go back to Poland, if you don’t like the rules of this country”. This easily translates to: if you want your freedom; if you don’t want to live in an authoritarian regime; if you don’t agree that police should have such powers; if you want to have rights then go to a country that provides them. They love to ridicule and belittle you for valuing freedom over safety and individual rights over collective duty. “Grow up!”, they often tell me. As if holding these values is immature and childlike, while theirs are morally superior and wise.
“Without rules there is only chaos”, they also say, which of course is a fallacy. It implies that people would just go crazy if the rules weren’t written down. But laws, at least the criminal laws, exist mainly to discourage and punish criminals. Most people are not criminals. Laws might be printed by man, but man’s morality is the ink. Most people not only recognise that murder is wrong but are unable to even picture themselves killing anyone. The law against murder, then, exists to discourage and punish the very few who are able to commit such an act. These men, who are a small fraction of the population, who don’t share the morals of the rest of us, who don’t value another man’s life, who aren’t scared of pulling the trigger are the reason why laws are written down. I would argue even in absence of certain laws, most people would have no desire to murder, rob and rape. Most men, as an example, find the idea of rape repulsive (widely available porn only confirms that) and that’s why they don’t do it, not because they are afraid of getting caught.
Most people simply want to live and let live without causing any harm to another person and his property. Other laws exist merely as reminders how to live in the community, guidance for businesses and protection of individual rights. Furthermore, laws and morality don’t always go hand in hand. For example, in some countries, prostitution is illegal, but it’s not immoral. Lying to your friend or cheating in your relationship are immoral, but they are not illegal. Not paying your debt is not a criminal offence, but it may be considered immoral. I would argue that forbidding lovers see each other for months on end is immoral and criminalising it is unlawful. Yet here we are.
It’s also interesting to see how many people simply needed new rules to be written down to completely abandon their empathy for another person. They just needed a rule to exist to see a normal, harmless activity as a crime for which someone should be put to death. They turn into totalitarian boot lickers happy to snitch on their neighbours for having guests for dinner. This tells a lot about people in this country.
a few bad apples
Just as people needed new policies and rules to turn on their neighbours and fellow citizens, to a number of police officers they were simply an excuse to become tyrants they always had been. Perhaps the surgical mask they now have to wear provides them with anonymity they needed to disconnect from their actions towards other men and women.
They may be in a small minority, but it doesn’t change the fact that the rest of them just follow along and turn the other way. That small minority is enough for there to be hundreds of videos exposing their abuse of power during lockdown. It has been happening here in the UK and all over the Western World. In Australia, a woman was arrested in her own home, in front of her children for organising a protest on Facebook. Another man had his front door kicked in for the same reason. A video from Poland shows officers tackling a man to the ground for refusing to wear a mask and threatening his friend with a gun for attempting to intervene. Just the other day, I saw a footage from a grocery store in Netherlands, where the security man not only attempts to forcibly remove an unmasked shopper from the store but gets assistance from a man wearing a mask like a good boy. There are many more examples, way too many to list them here. In Germany, the country that should know better, the police are seen using water to disperse the crowd of protesters. Not only that, but their government also introduced the concept of quarantine camps – places for people who refuse to self–isolate after testing positive or returning from abroad. Funnily enough, a number of people in the UK fully support the idea and think it doesn’t go far enough. They think people like me should be put in prison.
What really makes these people betray their integrity and commitment to others? Is it the moral superiority of doing the right thing? What about the men in uniform? What triggers in them the brainless, unconscious and detached android mode, incapable of own thought, compassion and reasoning?
You know, I’ve been writing this for a few weeks now and I feel like I still have a long way to go. It seems like every week there is another story in the press, another video on Twitter, showing police officers intruding people’s lives and disturbing their peace. There was a video a while ago, in the Midlands I believe. A man got called an idiot by the officer and thrown in the back of the police car. The reason? The cop didn’t believe the man’s trip was essential. He didn’t believe him when he said he lived around there so he arrested him in a very disrespectful manner. If the man were a suspect of a crime, it would have been a different story, but he was only stopped, grabbed and harassed for the officer’s assumptions and misunderstanding of the law and his powers. This is not the only video I’ve seen where the police officer acts disrespectfully, threatening and patronising towards a member of the public who is just going about their daily life. And this is the crucial part – going about your business is not a crime, no matter how they put it. If you’re exercising your freedoms (in this case, the freedom of movement) and there is a law that forbids it, it is an unjust law, and your duty is to break it and resist those who come after you to enforce it. As Nelson Mandela famously said:
When a man is denied the right to live the life he believes in, he has no choice but to become an outlaw.Nelson Mandela
In other words, if the government tells a man he can’t see his loved ones, can’t start a relationship, sit in the field and listen to the voice of nature he has no other option but to defy the government for they have no business telling him how to live his private life. And I don’t buy that “what you do is affecting others because you’re spreading the virus” nonsense. Everyone is responsible for their own destiny. We are all independent human beings and need to take responsibility for our life and ownership of our choices. We don’t exist to ensure others never fall ill, go hungry or homeless. We don’t exist so others can live. We aren’t on this planet to fulfil other people’s needs. That is at the heart of freedom – it gives each individual the right and more importantly, the power to take necessary steps to protect himself from harm, because he can’t control others. In freedom, everyone gets to make choices to live the best, happiest and healthiest life available to them. The moment you let go of that freedom, hand it over to the state, who then believe they have to take everyone’s freedoms for their safety, you end up with no responsibility for yourself and no ownership of your life. Your safety and your health, your very survival depend on what others do or don’t do. What if, one day, people simply choose not to follow the rules anymore? You will have no choice but to rely on yourself. You must understand that you wash your hands for yourself. Imagine, if you lived your life always counting on others washing theirs and relying on them doing it properly.
And now we have muzzled police turned against the public. They patrol our streets, they “hide in the shadows” and sneak up on us in parks like we’re all criminals. They stalk us, flying drones over our heads if we dare to take too long of a walk. They demand we tell them where we are going and why. They are rude, dishonest and brutal.
The grip never relaxes
People cringe when I use the word tyranny to describe our current situation. They hear the word regime and imagine Germany in 1943, when Nazism was already well established. They never think to look beyond the dates they know from history books. They forget that tyranny comes about gradually and introduces itself in small, careful steps. The tyrant pushes the people to their limit or very close to their limit. He lets them settle, get used to the “new normal” and then pushes them further, lets them settle again and repeats.
Similarly, when you look back at the past year, you’ll see that the restrictions have been piling up on top of each other and we never, even after the first lockdown, went back to the pre – lockdown state. The government claimed almost full control of our lives and gave back very little of it. Then did it again and again, giving us back just scraps of the life we used to know. This is in essence how tyrants rise. They rise from the ashes of our humanity and they thrive in the flames of our desperation, fear and blind obedience. They take and very rarely give back.
We’ve created a system which pushes us further into becoming passive spectators and not active participants in social affairs and one that creates an illusion of having control of our lives. We have done it without asking questions, without looking back and without resisting. In this system, we aren’t taught how to lead, but how to follow. We have become a nation of sheep who are convinced they need a shepherd; we have convinced ourselves that we can’t make rational decisions for ourselves; we trust neither ourselves nor other individuals in the herd but will follow the majority led by the shepherd into our doom and slaughter.
Boris Johnson and his fellowship of the virus, put us in lockdown in March last year, taking almost full control of our lives, making them masters of our daily rituals and activities. They served us with a strict list of things we were and weren’t allowed to do. They pushed us to our limit by taking from us as much as they could. They then returned some of our freedoms, but their boot remained in the door. We were allowed to go back to work, but still lived very limited and restricted lives.
They then intimidated, threatened and coerced people into cancelling their Christmas plans. They trapped students in their student accommodations, miles away from home, set up police checkpoints outside towns on Christmas Eve to make sure people weren’t seeing their families. They terrorized our minds, intimidated us with bullies hoping we would not find a way and strength to nourish our relationships and do what we felt was right anyway. And many of us did.
The tyrant, very much like Mr. Unkept Moustache who captured me all these years ago, once he grabs you, never relaxes his grip.
We have the luxury now, to go back in time, browse through history, listen to the testimony of the survivor reliving her horrors and we can look the tyrant in the eyes. We can witness him rise from the ashes of people’s defeated courage and thrive in their desperation. We can follow his steps from his first day as the ruler to the brutal end. We swear we would have done something, that we would have refused, rebelled and stopped him. We are baffled why nobody did. Today, as we find ourselves in the midst of tyranny, we welcome the tyrant and baffle future historians with our inaction.
Run, fat boy, run!
Malbork, Poland, 2004 A knock on the door wakes me up. I roll over on my mattress, which is all I have to sleep on, and check the time. It’s just gone seven o’clock. I don’t need to be up for another hour to go to school. After last night, however, I am surprised I even slept at all, to be honest. Times like these I wish I had a mobile phone to check on my mates and see if they’re alright. See if they all got away too. My mom gets the door. I can hear a man’s voice, but I don’t recognise it. It could be a neighbour or a postman, I don’t know. We’ve just moved here. Is it possible, though? Could it be…? I can hear my mom’s footsteps. They’re fast, they’re angry and loud. She storms into my room and kicks my mattress, sending my pillow across the room. ‘The police are here for you! Get up! Get the fuck up and get dressed right now!’, she screams through her tears. I pretend I have no idea what this is all about, but it’s a lie. The promise I made to her last time I was brought home by the cops is broken. I swore that was the last time. I am taken back to that evening we were chased by the police outside the church and I almost got away. Almost. The cop caught up with me outside the kindergarten. ‘Wait here while I run after your friend’, he said. Of course I didn’t wait. I’m not stupid. I ran. I ran only to be caught again by the other cop. Next thing I know, the one who caught me first is dragging Andrew by his collar, which kind of made me – the fat one of the group – feel better cause he is the group’s athlete. ‘I thought I told you to wait there!’, he looked at me with disbelief and anger as I shrugged my shoulders and looked at him amazed that he really thought I was just going to wait there for him. What an idiot. This was months ago now and we weren't even doing anything wrong. We were just fooling around and ran when we saw them. But for her it is still a fresh wound, a broken promise. ‘Hurry up!’, she brings me right back to the present and says I have five minutes to get ready. The men are waiting and will drive me to the station. I’m only seventeen, what’s the worst that can happen? Oh who am I kidding? I am shitting myself.
Seventeen years later, I expect a knock on the door and prepare for it to be kicked in. The amount of times I tweeted at Metropolitan Police calling them fascists and pathetic is more than I can remember. In the country where people get charged for things they say online, for offending others, I wouldn’t be surprised if that happens one day. Who will be the men at my door? Just some good men, men who joined the force to protect the innocent, defend our rights? Maybe. Or maybe it will be one or two tyrants who love their newfound powers? Or maybe it will just be some ordinary officers who are just following orders, right? Just doing their job. Just taking me away from my family for having an opinion or for spreading misinformation. Have you seen V for Vendetta? Asking for a friend…