Guest post: Make sure it’s not you

Originally a comment by Bjarte Foshaug on When politics becomes identity.

Re. communist China, on of the main lessons I learned from Jung Chang’s biography of Chairman Mao was that the endless purges and show-trials were not even meant to smoke out any real dissenters. At least that wasn’t their main function. The real purpose was conveying the following message: “Someone is going to get it during the next purge whether they are in fact guilty or not. Make sure it’s not you!”. And of course the way to make sure it wasn’t you was by making sure it was somebody else. In other words, it wasn’t enough to be “innocent” of any heretical tendencies. In fact, you didn’t even have to be suspected of any heresy. Insufficient eagerness to inform on others was enough to get in trouble yourself. It didn’t matter how actively complicit you were in pursuing heretics and thought criminals if most of your neighbors were even more complicit. That way everyone was forced to compete to stay out of trouble, and someone was inevitably going to lose. There was no way to be safe.

Another point that too often gets overlooked is this: Terror was seen as desirable not just for its effects on the victims, but just as much for its effects on the perpetrators. Making people get their hands dirty was a means to get them under Mao’s control. The perpetrators were supposed to deduce for themselves “If the chairman goes down, his enemies are going to come after me as one of his accomplices, therefore I have a stake in keeping the Chairman in power for ever”. Another advantage of making people actively complicit in the crimes of the regime was to encourage them to rationalize their behavior and get a justification spiral going: “Only a spineless, despicable coward with no integrity or principles would persecute innocent people on behalf of a psychopatic tyrant to save his own skin. But I’m not a spineless, despicable coward, and I did persecute those those people, therefore it had to be the right thing to do.”

I think all of this applies to wokism to some degree. The endless purity spirals basically force everyone to compete to stay out of trouble, and there is no such thing as “where the line goes”, no way to be safe. Getting people actively engaged in attacking and vilifying others as bigots, haters, TERFs, transphobes, or even Nazis advocating murder and genocide, creates a stake – psychologically as well as strategically – in helping the TRAs win whether or not it’s “right” or “wrong”.

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