Considering The Lives of Others

Image from The Lives of Others from theguardian.com

On Sunday evening, I joined several friends in watching the German film, The Lives of Others or, as it is called in German, Das Leben der Anderen.  The movie portrays life in East Germany, with a heavy focus on the activities of the Stasi, the secret police of East Germany. It is a bleak existence where anyone and everyone can be placed under surveillance without warrant or probable cause and unquestioned loyalty to the state and her leaders is demanded of all.

The Lives of Others serves as an important reminder of what happens when a people surrender their civil liberties in the name of security.  It isn’t hard to see the United States drifting in this direction with the creation of the TSA, warrantless wiretaps, unlimited detentions of terrorist suspects without trial, and related activities.  However, what I found particularly impactful was a personal connection.

In the film we meet a character named Albert Jerska.  Although a theatrical director, he fell out of favor with the party leaders for expressing anti-government opinions and thus was blacklisted, unable to continue to work in his field.  Looking back, for me my blacklisting likely began with my support of Karen Kwiatkowski in the 2012 Republican primary over Representative Bob Goodlatte.  Although Goodlatte hasn’t been a particularly principled legislator during his several decades in office, there is no doubt that he has amassed considerable power and influence, especially in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.

Unfortunately, over the years I’ve had several nasty run-ins with some of Goodlatte’s staffers.  One memorable example was in March of 2012.  Another took place in the fall of 2014 when I was harassed by one of his local goons who he later promoted to his Washington D.C. office.

I was surprised when I was expelled from the Harrisonburg GOP in early 2014.  However, what was even more surprising was that when I asked the local chairman why I was kicked out, he told me it was done at the request of Bob Goodlatte’s staff.  This revelation spawns several questions.  Why would Bob Goodlatte take such an interest in the affairs of a local unit and an activist such as myself?  Why would a local chairman kick out a member based upon the request or demand of a legislator?  Based upon this event, has Bob Goodlatte and his staff been working behind the scenes to blacklist me from future political employment as one local GOP leader seemed to hint?  And, does it concern anyone else that a member of Congress seems to wield enormous power over the lives of others in a fashion disturbingly reminiscent of a Stasi official?

In The Lives of Others, when Stasi Captain Wiesler discovers that a writer in East Germany is questioning the actions of the government, he is faced with a difficult choice.  Does he turn the writer in for subversive activities?  Or does he keep it secret because he realizes that both the Stasi and the government are corrupt and trample upon the liberty of the people, even though he knows revealing this truth puts his career, liberty, and even his very life at risk?

Bob Goodlatte speak at the Rockingham County Republican mass meeting
Bob Goodlatte speaking at the Rockingham County Republican mass meeting

Earlier this year Bob Goodlatte’s people attempted to install city and county party chairmen up and down the 6th district whose primary loyalty would be, not necessarily to Republican ideology, but to Goodlatte.  Surprisingly, they were largely unsuccessful.  Am I wrong in thinking that in a free society one should be judged according to his or her merits and not simply rewarded or punished based upon loyalty to party bosses?  Step by step I worry we are becoming more like the now defunct East German government, complete with their network of informants and secret police.

I wish that more people would stand up for principle rather than unquestioningly siding with a party or a political official, especially when they know that that person or group is engaging in morally questionable or hypocritical behavior.  Unfortunately, doing so is the riskier path that many avoid which is one big reason why the power of the government expands and political leaders grow more and more unresponsive and dictatorial.  The Lives of Others is a stark portrayal of what happens when the government and its officials stop viewing themselves as servants of the people and instead treat the public as their vassals.  If we wish to remain a free people, we must resist this kind of thinking at every turn and not be afraid to speak out boldly whenever we hear of it.

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