Our Fear Society

Twenty years ago I marched into Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela, copy of Natan Sharansky’s “The Case for Democracy” under my arm, determined to be part of that epic fight of democracy vs. tyranny. Bush called it the “Freedom Agenda”. Sharansky’s was the book that Bush read to get him there. Sharansky was an extraordinary figure, a Russian Jew who spent time in the gulag, one of the famous “refuseniks” who was freed by Reagan and Gorbachev. He went on to become a cabinet official in the Israeli government.

“The Case for Democracy” is simple, in it Sharansky divides the world into “free societies” and “fear societies” with the litmus test being whether you can go onto the street corner and say pretty much whatever you please.

Venezuela was a fear society. During my four years fighting Chavez, I saw friends and contacts arrested (another wave of political prisoners), their offices raided, many expelled from their jobs for being “opposition”, many appearing on massive government lists for having signed a recall referendum to remove Chavez from power – lists which were spread around the country on an excel sheet, searchable, so that any government service (public medical care, notary services, pension, public school for their kids) was denied them. This, incidentally, was called first the Tascon List named for the evil congressman who prepared it, and later the Maisanta List (one of Venezuela’s liberators, dictatorships’ irony knows no bounds). People were tortured, duped, arrested and released and rearrested in a perverse game of cat and mouse. Many learned to keep their heads down – to not say that which they knew might get them in trouble, them or worse their families. And the fight goes on still today.

Fear societies. We have quietly built one, haven’t we? Or, maybe, not that quietly. The litmus test? I dare you, go out onto the street and say something in defense of traditional marriage. Announce loudly that hormone injections for children and that torture of adolescents to try and change their bodies is a crime that should probably be punished by jail time. Say that you don’t think the worst thing in this country is a lack of “equity and diversity”, that in fact we are quite diverse and had no problem with it until the left weaponized it. That there is no such thing as “original racism”, it is only something we learn, not something we are born with or inherit from somewhere in our misty past. That we have nothing to apologize for, except the sins we commit against our fellow man within a justice system which must be colorblind. See how well that goes.

“Oh, but look at you,” you might be tempted to say. “The fact you can write this is proof you are wrong.” Is it? I, who after giving over 15 years in service to my country – fighting Chavez and Al Qaida and ISIS and Joseph Kony and, yes, even Vladimir Putin – I who have been in ambushes and terrorist attacks and locked down and in car crashes and Ebola quarantined, who have fought for the cause of freedom all over the world in support of the defenseless, was passed over five times – FIVE TIMES – by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) for promotions (Where, incidentally, I no longer work. After 15 years, needing to return home, all they offered me was a part time job doing their paperwork). I, with more wins for my country than a room full of ambassadors or diplomats, don’t fit into their ‘diversity matrices’. And I am uncomfortable. “Oh, right, you, we don’t want you to vote,” my boss once told me during a review. It’s called discrimination, and it is alive and well at USAID; at the State Department; and across the institutions which are meant to protect us all equally but who now take sides and make excuses. Servants who are no longer public, but partisan.

Fear society? Yup, we’ve built one. Not in the Soviet sense, not yet – but in the Gramscian one. But it is, nevertheless, just as real. Just go out on the street corner – or worse, so much worse, your university campus, and say what you really think – and await the thunder. All that remains to be seen is if we respond now or wait for the physical gulag (the symbolic gulag already exists). We honor Natan Sharansky, or the Venezuelan kids I saw go to jail to be tortured in “the tomb”. We honor them, but if we don’t want to be them, best speak up now.

About Joel D. Hirst

Joel D. Hirst is a novelist and a playwright. His most recently released work is "Dreams of the Defeated: A Play in Two Acts" about a political prisoner in a dystopian regime. His novels include "I, Charles, From the Camps" about the life of a young man in the African camps and "Lords of Misrule" about the making and unmaking of a jihadist in the Sahara. "The Lieutenant of San Porfirio" and its sequel "The Burning of San Porfirio" are about the rise and fall of socialist Venezuela (with magic).
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3 Responses to Our Fear Society

  1. MARIO V ALBANO says:

    We are still Christians, thank you very much; amazing our kind tend to be victimized, yet we still maintain composure. I will avoid comments considered incendiary, supremacist, conspiratorial, racist, etc., till after Easter.


  2. Sue Katona says:

    Powerful, Truth.


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