lördag 23 december 2017

Do not obey in advance

About the recent public outcry about a 1984-style ban on the terms vulnerable, entitlement, diversity, transgender, fetus, evidence-based, and science-based at the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It turns out, according to a Slate article a couple of days ago, that the ban came not from the Trump administration, but from within. From the Slate article:
    Anonymous sources at the Department of Health and Human Services told the National Review’s Yuval Levin this week that any language changes did not originate with political appointees, but instead came from career CDC officials who were strategizing how best to frame their upcoming budget request to Congress. What we’re seeing, his interviews suggest, is not a top-down effort to stamp out certain public-health initiatives, like those that aim to help the LGTBQ community, but, in fact, the opposite: a bottom-up attempt by lifers in the agency to reframe (and thus preserve) the very work they suspect may be in the greatest danger.
This does not make the case any less worrisome. It is a good example of what Timothy Snyder calls obedience in advance. The Trump administration didn't have to tell the CDC to suppress talk about diversity and transgender, because managers at the CDC are sufficiently sensitive to figure out for themselves what the politicians in Washington want. Their reasons, as explained in the Slate quote above, may be respectable, but still, obeying an authoritarian-leraning regime in advance in this way is a dangerous step. The first lesson in Snyder's important book On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century is entitled "Do not obey in advance", and here is his three-sentence summary of that lesson:
    Most of the power of authoritarianism is freely given. In times like these, individuals think ahead about what a more repressive government will want, and then offer themselves without being asked. A citizen who adapts in this way is teaching power what it can do.
Other lessons in Snyder's book with direct relevance to the CDC case are Lesson 5 ("Remember professional ethics") and Lesson 9 ("Be kind to our language").

I do not often reread books, but I've read Snyder's On Tyranny three times in 2017. My goal is to learn his lessons so well that when the time comes, my default reactions will be in line with his lessons.

(Note to my Swedish readers: Snyder's book is explicitly about present-day United States, but his lessons are important here too. We are not immune to authoritarianism. Do not let yourselves be fooled for a second into thinking that Grotesco's satirical account of the evening of our parliamentary election day in 2022 is the slightest bit implausible.)

1 kommentar:

  1. ”Useful idiots” are eager to match their attitudes in advance to what they think will be politically correct.