I always thought that the question of how people hid dissent from oppressive regimes was interesting. A lot of human cost, but interesting. So there is bit around materials, for example, Samizdat in Soviet Russia, or DVDs and TV shows in North Korea. And there is the discussion of ideas under a thought policing regime. I have thought about it from the point of view of spies, of people resisting against an adversarial government.
New Yorker had this short post on the double life of the San Bernardino couple, which goes on to discuss the way the white supremacists try to avoid drawing attention to themselves. It is not very intricate stuff – don’t get into arguments, hide obvious signs of affiliation, grit your teeth and blend in. Be NORMAL.
Well, it is pretty much the same strategy that would be followed by most people who deviate from social norms – so atheists in a very religious place like India or Bangladesh (given what has happened to people who write about atheism). Of course, when the point of view that they espouse becomes the new normal, they can be more honest.
And it can flow both ways. A change of political climate where it is fair to denigrate a particular section, will allow the so far silent sectarian to come out of their closet, while someone who finds it distasteful may let sectarian comments pass without speaking out.
I am a person without deep moral courage. I do not know how I would behave if some such flip were to happen.
Which reminds me of this story from QI (end Season G, Episode 8: Germany):
I leave you with this story about the Bloomsbury group writer, Lytton Strachey, who was – emm -how should I put it, a confirmed bachelor and aesthete, also a conscientious objector and a pacifist. He appeared before the conscientious objection board, and they were obviously going to quiz him on whether or not he was truly a conscientious objector, or a coward trying to get out serving.
They said, “Mr Strachey, are you married?”
“Well, no”, he said.
“But, do you have a sister”, they said.
He said, “Yes, I do.”
They said “Well, suppose a German soldier came and tried to rape her. What would you do?”
He said, “In that case, I would endeavor to place myself between them.”
Edit: 2016-01-09 11:05
From the 2014 profile of Angela Merkel from The New Yorker:
Merkel studied physics at Leipzig University and earned a doctorate in quantum chemistry in Berlin. She was allowed to pursue graduate studies, in no small part because she never ran afoul of the ruling party. Ulrich Schoeneich, who became Templin’s mayor after reunification, expressed bitterness to me that Merkel hasn’t been challenged much on her accommodation with the East German system. Schoeneich’s father, Harro, was also a Protestant minister, but, unlike Kasner, he openly dissented from the state. Ulrich Schoeneich refused to join the Free German Youth, the blue-shirted “fighting reserve” of the ruling party which the vast majority of East German teen-agers joined, including Angela Kasner, who participated well into adulthood. “Not just as a dead person in the files but as the officer responsible for agitation and propaganda,” Schoeneich told me, referring to a revelation in a controversial recent biography, “The First Life of Angela M.” He added, “I’m convinced that she could get her doctorate only because she was active in the Free German Youth, even in her postgraduate days. Most people say it was forced, but I demonstrated that you didn’t have to join it.” Merkel herself once admitted that her participation in the Free German Youth was “seventy per cent opportunism.”
Schoeneich wasn’t permitted to finish high school, and he spent much of his early life in the shadow cast by his family’s principled opposition. Angela Kasner had other ideas for her future, and became, at most, a passive opponent of the regime. Evelyn Roll, one of Merkel’s biographers, discovered a Stasi document, dated 1984, that was based on information provided by a friend of Merkel’s. It described Merkel as “very critical toward our state,” and went on, “Since its foundation, she was thrilled by the demands and actions of Solidarity in Poland. Although Angela views the leading role of the Soviet Union as that of a dictatorship which all other socialist countries obey, she is fascinated by the Russian language and the culture of the Soviet Union.”
Rainer Eppelmann, a courageous dissident clergyman under Communism, who got to know Merkel soon after the fall of the Wall, refuses to criticize her. “I don’t judge the ninety-five per cent,” he told me. “Most of them were whisperers. They never said what they thought, what they felt, what they were afraid of. Even today, we’re not completely aware what this did to people.” He added, “In order to be true to your hopes, your ambitions, your beliefs, your dreams, you had to be a hero twenty-four hours a day. And nobody can do this.”
After 1989, when the chance came to participate in democratic politics, these same qualities became useful to Merkel, in a new way. Eppelmann explained, “The whisperer might find it easier to learn in this new life, to wait and see, and not just burst out at once—to think things over before speaking. The whisperer thinks, How can I say this without damaging myself? The whisperer is somebody who might be compared to a chess player. And I have the impression that she thinks things over more carefully and is always a few moves ahead of her competitor.”
The Angela Merkel story – because of the question of participation and the fallout on the family of the choices of one – also reminded me of Ye family in The Three Body Problem.