Live Not By Lies by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

In this revolt the greengrocer steps out of living within the lie. He rejects the ritual and breaks the rules of the game. He discovers once more his suppressed identity and dignity. He gives his freedom a concrete significance. His revolt is an attempt to live within the truth.

— Václav Havel, The Power of Powerless

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One of the things I like about this essay is the acknowledgment of “cowardice” and “timidity.” Solzhenitsyn doesn’t only criticize those of us who tend to lean in that direction, he offers a solution.

I have been one in my lifetime to follow the rules. I wear a seatbelt, pay my taxes, obey road signs and if a placard says to “Stay off the Grass,” I stay the hell off the grass. I’ve never been arrested, never been investigated by the IRS, rarely miss paying my bills on time and when I have, it bothers me. I don’t like to cause trouble; I want to be left alone. I don’t like the limelight, big parties or crowded sidewalks.

When the mask mandates came out, I wore a mask. I wasn’t happy about it, but my thinking (rationalization) at the time was these are private companies and if I want to use their services I need to obey their rules and if not I can go elsewhere. When I saw people not wearing masks, it made me wish I had the courage to join them…but I didn’t.

Even my son stopped wearing a mask. That was humiliating. I was supposed to be the example and my son would leave the house in his MAGA hat and no mask.

Finally, I decided to stop wearing a mask. It was not easy for me to break that rule, to walk past a sign that read, “Masks Required.” It felt wrong. It made me feel very self-conscious. I attended Liberty Baptist College (now Liberty University) in 70s, for those of you who don’t know, that was the school started by Dr. Jerry Falwell. It had lots of rules, some I didn’t agree with, but I followed each one. I chose to go to their school and if I didn’t like the rules I could leave.

But we were all (well, most of us) following the rules at Liberty (pun intended). I didn’t stand out. In the grocery store I would often be the only one not wearing a mask. Initially that was extremely uncomfortable. I really wasn’t sure what I would do if confronted, but I never was until an employee at Costco stopped me before entering. I engaged her in conversation to try to convince her to let me in maskless. She wouldn’t, so I complied.

After that I decided I would no longer comply, but I was never asked to put a mask on after that. Eventually, not wearing the mask was liberating. I liked the feeling.

What is Solzhenitsyn’s solution for those of us who may feel incapable of marching in the streets or crying out in the marketplace or not wearing a mask when they tell us to? It’s quite simple:

…let us refuse to say that which we do not think.

This is our path, the easiest and most accessible one, which takes into account our inherent cowardice, already well rooted.

Expanding on it he writes

…So in our timidity, let each of us make a choice…to shrug off the lies and become an honest man worthy of respect both by one’s children and contemporaries.

He preceded these statements with the sad state of things. It makes me think of the medical professionals, politicians, journalists and yes, our friends and family who are not willing to speak out against the current bullshit:

We have been so hopelessly dehumanized that for today’s modest ration of food we are willing to abandon all our principles, our souls, and all the efforts of our predecessors and all the opportunities for our descendants–but just don’t disturb our fragile existence. We lack staunchness, pride and enthusiasm….We just fear acts of civil courage.

Solzhenitsyn lays out a kind of manifesto, the practical things that one can do to fight back, what he calls “Personal non-participation in lies.” They are:

  • Do not “write, sign, or print in any way a single phrase which…distorts the truth.”
  • Do not utter phrases that distort the truth under any circumstances.
  • Do not “depict, foster or broadcast a single idea” that is false or distorts the truth “whether it be a painting, sculpture, photography, technical science or music.”
  • Do not cite anything for personal gain, to please someone or for financial success unless you completely agree with and believe to be true what you are saying.
  • Don’t attend demonstrations or meetings with which you do not agree.
  • Don’t vote for those you do not agree with.
  • Don’t allow yourself to go to a “meeting where there can be expected a forced or distorted discussion of a question.”
  • Walk out of any meeting, sermon, lecture, movie or play that espouses lies and propaganda.
  • Don’t buy magazines or newspapers that distort the truth.

Solzhenitsyn makes it clear that this will still be difficult. Those who proceed this way may lose their jobs, their reputations and it may complicate their lives.

It will not be an easy choice for the body, but it is the only one for the soul.[emphasis mine]

This seems to me an easier first step and maybe a better one to build a necessary foundation to fight against the tyranny we’re now facing. Václav Havel and Mattias Desmet also write about this idea that truth matters, not because of our audience or the effect it has on them, but because truth effects the truthbearer.

So what do we do in our current situation? We’ll all have to determine that for ourselves and it won’t be the same for everyone. Adding specifics to the above I would say:

  • Don’t wear a mask ever again.
  • If you’ve gotten the jab, don’t get another one.
  • If schools will not relent on mandatory vaccinations or masks, pull your children out of school.
  • If your employer requires vaccination, don’t do it and make them fire you.
  • Speak up on social media, if you get banned, so what?
  • Engage your friends, family and work colleagues. Don’t let false statements that require a response slip by in texts, emails or in conversation.

Don’t live a lie. At the very least just speak out. I’m extrapolating here, but it seems to me that starting is the important thing. Once we start with a small rebellion, for example, just disagreeing with a relative about ivermectin, it will become easier. Our courage will grow.

What we cannot be are people waiting around for others to be courageous. Henry David Thoreau writes in “Civil Disobedience”:

They hesitate; and they regret, and sometimes they petition; but they do nothing in earnest and with effect. They will wait, well disposed, for others to remedy the evil, that they may no longer have it to regret.

It might be important to feel as if you are solely responsible for “saving the world.” Consider the idea that if it doesn’t happen through you, it is not going to happen. Is that the reality? No. But what would you do if that truly were the case? If the burden of gaining back our freedoms fell solely on your shoulders, what would you do? Maybe millions and millions of us thinking this way, with a heightened sense of urgency, would result in something never seen before. I don’t know. Sigh. Sometimes I think I’m just a wishful idiot.

But this much is true: only if millions and millions of us fight back will this work. If those millions and millions sit around waiting for everyone else to get involved, we are lost. Solzhenitsyn again:

This path will be easier and shorter for all of us if we take it by mutual efforts and in close rank. If there are thousands of us, they will not be able to do anything with us. If there are tens of thousands of us, then we would not even recognize our country.


You can listen to “Live Not By Lies” below after a brief introduction.

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