October 27, 2004

“In the Beginning was the Word, and the Word was God”

Great quote for writers to remember, huh? Gives us delusions of grandeur.

But there is great power in words-even in just one work. In his book Creativity, author Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi talks about how just asking the question is incredibly useful. HitchHiker’s Guide taught us that. “Are you sure you’re asking the right question?” Finding a new way of looking at a problem can get you a lot closer to solving it.

And this morning I found a word I’d been looking for:

This is a twisted and long thread of thought. Bear with me.

Funny I didn’t think of it earlier. This is the presidential election season, after all. Kerry is busy talking about how he has a plan, and President Bush is talking about how people in the Middle East are now free and not under tyranny.

Tyranny is a nicely flexible word. It can refer to a whole country, or it can refer to just one person.

You know, my professor of classical literature told us that the original meaning for tyranny was just a King. It is a Greek word, and it was the real name for Oedipus Rex (Rex being pushed in later, because Tyrant had a bad name). I’ve written about Oedipus before, actually. This just adds to the soup of what I’ve been thinking about.

The Founding Fathers, those instigators, knew that Tyranny was a cooperative endeavor. ‘Tax our tea, will ya? I don’t THINK so…’
Over the side it goes, and those new world colonists showed they were not going to cooperate with the percieved tyranny of England’s taxes. The American Revolutionaries pulled in their powers and refused to cooperate with tyranny.

It’s kind of funny, because the things they were complaining about seem so insignificant when we take a look around at the sorts of tyranny we’ve become used to now. Too much taxes! Give me a break! How does that even get on the same page as getting stoned to death on the streets for flashing an elbow?

And yet, these things start small.

That’s the problem. They start small. Some leader, some person given the power to rule over people, makes a small move that’s not right, and people accomodate.


They go along to get along. I mean really, you can’t argue over everything. What’s a little tax? What’s a little religious zealousness? It’s for the greater good.

Until it takes over. And then you have tyranny.

The founding fathers were big readers. They were into the whole enlightenment, Thomas Paine, Plato’s Republic, humanism and all that.

They came to an understanding of how politics work. They were attuned to it, so that they weren’t letting the ol’ monarch get away with anything. Nope, not even a little tax. And they thought and conversed and read and argued and came up with a GENIUS bunch of documents that were meant to protect our freedom.

And the big basis of this protection was that the power was distributed. They wanted people to be able to hold on to their power and not be compelled to cooperate with tyranny. The message was, ‘if you fall into tyranny, it’s your own fault! The keys to your freedom are in your own hands.’

And this is so much a part of who americans are, that we don’t even think about it. We have had this policy, don’t get involved in other people’s business. Other countries can hold a revolution if they want change. We did. The keys to their freedom are in their own hands.

Sometimes we get impatience, and the CIA plays dirty. They ‘assist’ the revolutionaries of a country with overthrowing a government they don’t like. But we do believe that it’s up to the people to take the reins for their own government.

That’s why we like democratic governments. Democracy for everyone!

But not everyone comes to democracy from the same angle.

Let’s go back to a more recent revolution. The Russian one, less than one hundred years ago, had a whole different philosophy. Communism, which I’ve also written about before.

The communists, of whom the US of A became terrified , had a desire for democracy and a very strong emphasis on being ‘for the people’. But they took it another way.

There were a set of smarty-pants, well-read, rich, idealistic and politically active men who started the whole thing and foisted it upon everyone else. Just like America so far.

But they really clung to the ideology. It was all about the ideology. This particular political philosophy happened after the advent of psychology. It was kind of an organized “power of positive thinking” in some ways.

Their idea was that if they could just educate the masses in the principles of this great ideology of equality and wonderfulness.

And maybe that’s where it went wrong. It got kind of messy when people tried to guide…FORCE…other people into actions for their own good.

The 20th century was a lot about that. A lot about ideological movements. There was the Russian revolution. Early in the 20th century. That happened during world war 1, which had it’s own sets of ideological movements on all sides. I have been thinking about that one a lot, too.

Then world war 2 happened. There was the National Socialist movement…Also known as the Nazis…Boy, they were a set of idealists. Scary scary. And ever after, we use them as examples of the ultimate bad dudes. But it was ideas that gave them power. All those people in the concentration camps were there because of a large cooperation of tyranny. The force of all the collective people going along to get along, going along because of the greater good was crushing.

Did the word holocaust exists before world war two? Maybe it had a meaning like Tyrant had during Oedipus’s time. No real meaning. The Nazis filled out the word like no one else.

Alright. But the Nazis burned out, basically. After world war 2, we were left with only the communists to fear. The communists, starting their political will to power in Russia…Which oozed over into places that had not been Russia…The Ukraine, Belarus, Estonia, Roumania. They were not Russia, but they were assimilated into the blank sweep of map known as the USSR.

And the communists were not done. There was Eastern Europe. They began licking their lips and swallowing chunks of Europe like cake. Germany, Poland, Chekoslovakia.

It was scary scary. I could go on with all kinds of examples, but history is not my forte, and I’ll probably be inaccurate.

The thing I am remembering, thinking about now is Milan Kundera. He wrote the Unbearable Lightness of Being, which I’ve talked about before.

I just recently finished another of his books, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting. This blows me up, just like the last one.

He’s talking about how his country was taken over by the Communists. He’s talkign about Czechoslovakia, and what people choose to remember. How political powers, whichever one was in power, would revise the history, erase people from photos and memories.

I remember another book that was about American revisionist history. I don’t know if anyone else would see it that way, but I did. It deals with America’s bugaboos, race, slavery and class status. And all the people in the story seem to remember things differently. The hero is left trying to sort out what ‘really’ happened.

What the heck happened? That’s the question Kundera was dealing with. What the heck happened to my beautiful ideas? what the heck happened to my beautiful country? When did this tyranny take over? How did we allow it?

And wasn’t Oedipus also thinking this? What the heck happened? How did this horror come to pass?

We never meant for this. And at last we get to the heart of this:

I also walk with my head in my hands. What the heck happened here?

I am trying to write a memoir. It is the story of how my life was when I was 18 and 19. It is a story of


Religious tyranny. It’s a story of how certain people were given power and control, and how other people cooperated. It’s a story of how I struggled to break free.

It’s also a story of how I went to Russia, landing in Yakutsk, on the same day that the Soviet Union dissolved.

So, these are two parallel stories. Me, breaking free of American religious tyranny, and Russia, breaking free of Communist Soviet tyranny.

Now that I have the word, tyranny, I feel like I can better express the story.

I understand Kundera, with his grief and his confusion, ‘What happened?’ He struggled with his country, he struggled with the fate of his country. I struggle too. I have spent my life wondering ‘What happened? How did my family, my church, come to this?’

It is not simple. It is not normal. Tyranny is not a phase of life. There were things that happened that should not have happened. And I, as a teenager, was left grasping at straws and struggling with the why.

I looked high and low for something to explain what happened. Why did my parents make the choices they did? Why did the pastor do the things he did?

How did my brother come to the conclusion that he was could no longer make his own decisions, but always had to go to the pastor for direction in everything?

What was that about?

My first word for it was “spiritual abuse” This made sense.

But it was bigger than that. I kept looking. After time I found another word:
Mind Control

More and more, the behaviors I had seen were coming into focus. And researching mind control led directly into a new field:

And that word, cult, has satisfied me for a very long time. As I thought about it, sifting through my experiences and memories, it fits.

And as I gained courage to talk more about it with others, I began to see that these methods, these patterns, were far more universal than I thought.

And eventually, I looked over to my right and saw some nasty methods and patterns coming from the man I was married to.

It’s not that uncommon, I guess. I hate to think of myself as a victim demographic, but it’s common for abuse to go on and not be identified by the person recieving it.

It’s little things. ‘He couldn’t have meant to do that.’ But nothing wins an argument like slamming your opponent against the wall. And he probably felt a lot more in control, a lot smarter when he told me that I didn’t know anything.

It wasn’t until I began to understand how spiritual abuse, mind control and cults work that I could at last recognize what was happening at home, and be empowered to leave. Boy, it was not easy, let me tell you that!

But those three words didn’t cover what was happening in my home. They call it wife beating, emotional abuse. But it was so much of a piece with all the others.

And none of those words covered what was happening in Russia, under the communists. I thought of Totalitarianism. Yeah…

And then came the taliban, who chilled my bones. That’s back to spiritual abuse and totalitarianism.

Until today, when I finally found the word, the oldest word of them all.

Tyranny. That covers all the bases. It even covers things not in my listed experiences. It doesn’t take two to do this tango. There are ways that one person can be a tyrant to themself.

We already know that tyranny requires cooperation.

I do not have many answers. I’m thrilled today, just to have a question. Here’s the question:
What does it take to resist tyranny? How do we not cooperate with the forces of evil (cue George W. here) or the forces of misguided good intentions that push us into the arms of tyranny?

I don’t know exactly how. I think that having a strong sense of right and wrong, and an attitude of mercy is the only place I know to start.

Tyranny is bad anywhere you find it. It must be resisted.

And I still don’t have full answers. But I have to keep trying.

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