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Live not by lies

Not long after the Russian dissident, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, published his memoir, Gulag Archipelago, in 1973 which described life in the Soviet Union’s prison camp system, revealing the full brutality of the government system, he was arrested again and deported to the West.



On the day of his arrest, 12 February 1974, he released an essay entitled, Live Not by Lies. The essay is a stirring call to his fellow country men and women to no longer allow themselves to be silent in the face of a system of government which rules by lies.

He calls them to regain some personal integrity and spiritual independence by refusing to comply with the evident lies they are being forced to embrace.

He describes how violence which enforces control over citizens will in time  turn to rely upon lies to maintain its system of control. He says,

But violence ages swiftly, a few years pass – and it is no longer sure of itself. To prop itself up, to appear decent, it will without fail call forth its ally – Lies. For violence has nothing to cover itself with but lies, and lies can only persist through lies.

With the underlying threat of violence people are required to submit to lies. Solzhenitsyn says, “It demands of us only a submission to lies, a daily participation in deceit – and this suffices as our fealty”. He notes that over time people will internalise the messages drummed into them and find themselves prepared to live them.

Such is the way of totalitarian regimes. It is the method of coercion imposed on the population.

His essay is a call to people to resist this control over their minds and hearts. People need to break out of the encirclement that deadens their conscience. He comments: “For when people renounce lies, lies simply cease to exist. Like parasites, they can only survive when attached to a person”.

He proposes a very basic stance to adopt: never knowingly support lies. This is the starting point – “they will not rule through me”.

The methods that the Soviets employed to have full dominion over people are now well known. We, in the West, have a system which is based in the rule of law and freedom of and respect for the rights of the individual. This is the system of government we have inherited, and we can be grateful to enjoy the levels of freedom that are available to us.

However, we are reminded that freedom can never be taken for granted and even within our own systems of democratic government efforts to curtail this freedom can and do occur.

Now in Australia there are cases where government policy is requiring people to live by lies. Perhaps the most publicly significant example concerns the transgender issue. Human biological sex is something that in the normal course of human development is fixed at conception, and is then recorded at birth on one’s birth certificate. It is a matter of biological fact. It is not assigned or chosen.

Yet governments in Australia, and around the world, have for a number of years allowed individuals to change the designation of sex on their birth certificate to reflect what the person believes is their current ‘sex’ identity. At the same time in many jurisdictions this has also been accompanied by a move away from the ‘sex’ category to that of ‘gender’, in an attempt to disconnect how we categorise human beings from their biology. This has been accompanied by a radicalisation of the accepted understanding of ‘gender’. From originally being the term that referred to the social expression of one’s biological sex, it is now understood by many to simply refer to one’s identity. With such an extreme change it would however seem to make such a category meaningless for a birth certificate or any legal document.

In 2019 Tasmania became the first state in Australia to allow its citizens to change the ‘gender’ listed on their birth certificate on the basis of self-identification so that an individual could have any gender listed on their birth certificate. Some online organisations list up to 81 possible genders!

A similar issue has now emerged in relation to the implementation of Voluntary Assisted Dying in Australia. Voluntary Assisted Dying (or VAD) involves a person requesting to be supplied with a lethal drug which will kill them. This is suicide. Yet during campaigns to change the law to allow such killing those advocating change have argued that VAD is different to suicide.

However, in November 2023 the Federal Court recognised in what is an important decision, that under the Commonwealth Criminal Code, VAD is considered to be suicide.  Despite all the efforts to disguise the reality, the Federal Court affirmed the true reality of the situation, that VAD is an act of suicide.

Yet even with this one positive development there remains many challenges. One of the very particular requirements of law has been the accurate description of the cause of death on a Death Certificate, among other things it enables accurate statistics on cause of death in a particular country. It is an important source for the development of health policy. However, in states where assisted suicide is legal doctors are now required not to record the deaths according to what actually took place. This is a lie.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn recognised from first-hand experience how a totalitarian government seeks to exercise complete control even over the thinking of its citizens. He was prepared to stand up against this control. He paid an enormous personal price. He knew that unless the populace took a stand against the evident lies that held up the system, then it would not change. Solzhenitsyn offers a sobering thought to those who want to remain quiet and anonymous:

And as for him who lacks the courage to defend even his own soul: Let him not brag of his progressive views, boast of his status as an academician or a recognized artist, a distinguished citizen or general. Let him say to himself plainly: I am cattle, I am a coward, I seek only warmth and to eat my fill.

While we in the West are not subject to such comprehensive processes of control, it is not to say that they do not exist. To preserve the precious gift of personal freedom we need to decide not to live by lies.


    One response to “Live not by lies”

    1. Frangipani says:

      Sobering piece and so compelling in its argumentation. That last quote by Solzhenitsyn was like a gut blow – sadly, too many seem so deeply fearful of the consequences living by truth, that have convinced themselves the lies are actually true. No wonder the mental health of society is disintegrating – the cognitive dissonance is in overdrive.

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