The Casual Blog

Tag: resistance

Dragonflies, On Tyranny, and the strange reverence for Putin


A dragonfly at Apex Community Park

On Saturday morning I had to drive out to Apex for a haircut with Ann, who’s been cutting my hair ever since we lived there.  I asked Sally if she had any good ideas for nearby places to hike and look for dragonflies, and she suggested the reservoir at Apex Community Park.  I spent an hour and a half there before my haircut, and took these pictures.  It was quite hot and muggy, and with my 180 mm lens and tripod, I managed to work up a considerable sweat, as Ann noted.  


This week I read On Tyranny, Timothy Snyder’s latest book.  Snyder, a history professor at Yale, has  a deep knowledge of the authoritarian regimes of the twentieth century, and perspectives on how they bring civic life to an end.  He points up that these developments have been the product of many individual choices, including choices to quietly compromise, let go of moral principles, obey orders,  and submit.  His book is short and unsystematic, but full of sparky insights and practical advice on opposing authoritarianism.

Do we need such advice?  Yes.  I’d been starting to think once again that Trump was more a disturbed clownish bumbler than a genuine threat to our democracy.  But even after several months of failures, embarrassments, and scandals, he’s still popular with conservative Republicans (90 percent of them approve, according to one poll last week), which is making me wonder.  

I felt a cold chill when I read in the NY Times yesterday that there’s a prominent branch of conservative Republicans that are aligned with  Trump in admiring Vladimir Putin.  The Times cited several high-profile ideologues like Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin, Rudy Giuliani, and Pat Buchanan as viewing Putin as the kind of leader it would be nice to have here.  Apparently they admire his “Christian” values (such as criminalizing homosexuality) and manly aura, and aren’t much bothered by his murdering of opponents, military invasions of neighbors, looting of his own country, or his subverting of elections here and elsewhere.  I somehow had missed that this point of view existed, and found it shocking.  

Snyder’s book shows how the personal is related to the political:  authoritarian systems invade the personal realm and then undermine it.  Accordingly, there is a political aspect to maintaining personal integrity and ordinary human relationships.  Eye contact, smiles, and small talk have a deeper meaning  and value when the government is unleashing attacks on minorities or suppressing dissent.  Part of resisting is maintaining human contact.  

Snyder observes that constant grandiose lying is a common thread of the successful authoritarian regimes in Germany, Russia, and elsewhere.  But we now have a related problem never seen before:  the internet echo chamber, filled with bots, which create and amplify illusions, and make it hard to distinguish true from false.  The very concept of truth is at risk.  For some, facts seem to be irrelevant.  It is both ironic and scary that Trump and his minions have repurposed the term “fake news” to mean news they dislike.   Part of resisting is serious reading, evaluating evidence, and applying reason.  

Of course, it’s still possible that our institutions will work as intended and our traditional liberties will survive without permanent damage.  The recent demonstrations of the weaknesses in our systems could teach us some lessons, and we might even emerge stronger and wiser.  But it’s a good idea to do some contingency planning and worst case modeling.  We may  need all of our courage.

Resisting the torrent of lies

Lake Mattamuskeet

Lake Mattamuskeet

This has been a Black Mirror week, starting as seeming comedy and then becoming terrifying.  It’s been discombobulating to hear a President of the United States issue a nonstop barrage of falsehoods and shameless lies. It’s hard to know how to react to the proliferating falsehoods with no connection to reality, and lies so transparent they hardly seem intended to deceive.  

It’s not that I’m a truth and honesty absolutist.  The border areas of truth are sometimes fuzzy,  and most of us sometimes bend it about a bit.  But most of us recognize honesty as a core value, and truth as a meaningful ideal.  People known to show no concern for truth or to intentionally deceive with lies are not ordinarily given positions of trust and authority.  They are regarded with suspicion and contempt.  

So we’re in unknown territory, and it’s hard to get your bearings.  Do some people actually believe the Administration’s outrageous falsehoods? Perhaps supporters regard them more  as pleasing and harmless works of fiction.  This would be understandable, but unwise.  As pleasant as it may be to disconnect from reality, there are life and death problems that must be addressed.

a great egret

A great egret

Part of what’s frightening here is the sheer quantity of the falsehoods and lies. They’ve been coming in a torrent.  Before we’ve processed one, there’s another, and then another.  You’d hope that such constant lying would lead quickly to a loss of credibility and effectiveness.

But the torrent is exhausting.  Trying to unpack all the lies takes too much time. There is no craft in these lies, no careful calculation of how to conceal reality, so they can be generated very quickly.  It takes much longer to fact check them than to make them.  So we can’t catch up.  And it’s exhausting to try.  The effort takes lots of brainpower, and leaves us with not enough time or energy to think deeply about real problems.  It gets harder to think critically.  Our brains get muddled.

It could be a brilliantly evil strategy to subjugate us, though more likely, there is no strategy.  Either way, it’s dangerous.  We could easily find ourselves losing our bearings, more and more confused, less and less sure of our facts and our values, depleted, disheartened, and unable to resist.

Tundra swans

Tundra swans

So, we’ll need  fortification as we prepare for the resistance.  I’m trying to stay healthy and looking out for old and new sources of strength and wisdom.  For me, friends, books, and music help. In these dark times, I particularly treasure encounters with generous spirits.  

Apropos, this week I listened to an interview of Maria Popova on the podcast On Being hosted by Christa Tippett.  Popova (pronounced pa-POE-va) is the creator of BrainPickings,  where she shares thoughts on her wide-ranging reading.  I don’t find all of her subjects equally interesting, but she’s amazingly curious, creative, and thoughtful —  full of ideas and reflections.  She also seemed like a person with a really good heart.    

This week I’m departing from my usual custom of posting my favorite photographs from the previous week.  Instead, these are ones I took a couple of weeks ago iat Lake Mattamuskeet and nearby areas in eastern N.C.  As I’ve learned more about how to make  a digital image sing with Lightroom and Photoshop, my standards for considering an image adequately finished have risen, and it takes more time to get there.  

If you enjoy nature photography, you might like  It’s a site where professional photographers and skilled enthusiasts use the site to share  amazing images from all over the planet.  I’ve been spending more time there lately just looking, quietly absorbed and getting inspired.