Somehow it seemed only fitting that Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn should breathe his last just as the celebration of technical wizardry was to reach its crescendo in Beijing; if the 21st century has any unifying allegiance, it is to the Diocese of Technology, and indirectly, to its Major Sponsor, the Church of Globalization. Both command a degree of reverence and blind worship amongst the elites of the world rivaled, if at all, only by the religious fanaticism of sanscullotes up and down the Hindu Kush.
Solzhenitsyn left not a moment too soon. Quite apart from his age, he was a moral misfit in the New World Order. He reposed his faith in Man and God, not Consumer and Conglomerate. If other men like Arther Koestler were disillusioned by what befell their Brave New World of the 1920’s, Solzhenitsyn, to mix metaphors this Olympic season, was destined to win a Triple Crown in Heartbreak: disgusted by the Soviet Union, disappointed by the West, and dismayed by what replaced Communist rule: the Reign of Fool and Knave, aka the Gorbachev-Yeltsin Kleptofest. An Olympic Games with the theme One World, One Dream — an apt coup de grace for one whose most famous speech was titled, A World Split Apart.
I should begin by confessing not having read a single one of Solzhenitsyn’s books. It was quite by accident last year that I came across his Harvard Speech, and was struck by its scorching prescience. Delivered in 1978, it could still harpoon the conscience even as yesterday’s opening ceremonies in Beijing riveted the eye.
If all else is forgotten about Solzhenitsyn, two things will be remembered. First, that he went to jail (concentration camp, actually) for professing his beliefs, a fate practically unknown amongst intellectuals in our day. Then there is his aphoristic message to the Russian people as he was being thrown out of Russia. “Live Not By Lies”. The deadly truth of his words was to become evident to the Soviet Union in a few short years.
Others in our own time, like Cindy Sheehan and Kathy Kelly, have tried to give a similar message to America — with their words falling on equally deaf ears. True, unlike Solzhenitsyn, they and her ilk have not been consigned to some faraway gulag, but what does it say about us and our free press that they doesn’t need to be (see Silence of the Lambs)?
We live in a world of knitted brows, besotted with technology and wedded to fear; hopeful, if not wholly convinced, that the one can obviate the other. The few with smiles are those who have known all along that marrying fear to technology is the philosopher’s stone of our times. They are the proverbial ones laughing all the way to the bank.
It is of this imminent future that Naomi Klein has written a chilling piece (China’s All Seeing Eye) in Rolling Stone Magazine: how the Beijing Olympics are really the first test case for the technology underlying National Security State 2.0, cameras everywhere with every face photographed and matched in real time. Shorter but entirely brilliant is Fred Reed’s one page “Don’t Sweat the TSA” in the current issue of American Conservative on the enormous erosion of privacy in our time, and the complete equanimity with which we have countenanced it.
At the Opening Ceremony, you saw Bush, launcher of two foreign wars, chatting pleasantly with Putin, who had just that day launched his first! Both sat enjoying an Olympics gala whose theme, remember, was…. “One World, One Dream”. Elsewhere the Anthrax Lie was already being covered up even as it was being exposed, and Edward(s) the Confessor sat for a bare-all interview seeking to mitigate past two-timing with current good timing: to be aired while the world was still being dazzled by the Olympic extravaganza.
Live not by lies, said Solzhenitsyn.
There is an old RK Laxman cartoon: The day after an Indian election, when every wall has been plastered with posters several times over, a conscientious party worker returns to scrape them off. Strangely, the landlord rushes out…not to scold him for sticking posters without permission, but to stop him taking them down. “Don’t, don’t, don’t” he yells anxiously, “without the posters the building will fall”.
Live not by lies? And face the moral choices that would result? Not for us, thanks. Time to Sprint.
NIRANJAN RAMAKRISHNAN is a writer living on the West Coast. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.