“It’s not the way that you say it
When you do those things to me
It’s more the way that you mean it
When you tell me what will be” — Justin Hayward
My wife watched a play this week chronicling some of the goings on under Pol Pot in Cambodia. The play mixed in music in a creative way of telling the story. It essentially, followed a man who was in a rock band before the revolution and what had happened to him.
Like most productions it included plenty of literary devices we teach our students. In this case, it including foreshadowing when the band was discussing what they would do if the worst occurred. Some discussed fleeing Cambodia. Others discussed hiding in the countryside. One essentially said he was in favor of Cambodia and would fly whatever flag or do whatever was asked to get by.
As you might have predicted, he ended up doing horrible things so he could stay on the “right” side. It was a singular moment in an otherwise poignant play about a very dark time in history. It is these stand alone moments that seem to grab my attention more than anything.
One of the principle characters in the play was a math teacher and family man before he turned into the administrator of a prison camp. The prison camp ended up being more of a death camp than a prison camp. Naturally, the character justified himself by saying that he did not personally beat or kill any prisoners. The guards had done that.
Fascism never begins with the horrible. Decent people never do the horrible at the outset. They convince themselves they are for the state. They love the state. Their belief system gets coopted with the state where we start calling it “Christian nationalism” as if that’s even a thing. You either for the state or against the state, so we should be for the state.
That’s of course until the state begins to do terrible things. By then it’s too late. Decent people have begun to do very indecent things because the country demanded it. The signs were all there. Some out in the wilderness even said it was coming, but they didn’t listen. They allowed their focus to be on the team instead of the ideals that team was supposed to represent.
Orthodoxy in all of its forms is a dangerous thing. It requires strict adherence that is all-consuming until it is too late. The band mate that became a tool of the state really wasn’t a bad guy at heart. The math teacher turned monster wasn’t a bad guy to begin with. Yet, they became the very worst version of themselves. If we pay close enough attention it could be a cautionary tale for all of us.