The Truth Shall Set You Free

We have long accepted the biblical quote “the truth shall set you free” as a truism. But I wonder how often we think about its opposite: Lies shall imprison you.

Propaganda, says the Encyclopedia Britannica, is a “systematic effort to manipulate” people. “Deliberateness,” it continues, “and a relatively heavy emphasis on manipulation distinguish propaganda from casual conversation or the free and easy exchange of ideas. … To maximize effect, [propagandists] may omit or distort pertinent facts or simply lie.”

Speaking of telling lies, I read an article this week about Vladimir Putin’s Russian regime. The writer defined tyranny as something more than just excessive use of physical power. Tyranny, he stated, is also denying people access to any alternative possibilities. Blocking them, in other words, from the truth.

Russia has imposed all kinds of strictures on freedom of speech and thought within its borders in order to support its “special operation.” (That’s the official sanitized expression for the invasion of Ukraine.) Any Russian citizen who calls it what it is – a war – risks up to 15 years of imprisonment. According to a Washington Post article, “even teachers who question the invasion are being reported to the authorities by their students.”

That’s pretty Nazi-like behaviour from a regime that justifies its thuggish actions by accusing Ukrainian President Zelensky of being a Nazi. And, they say, a drug-addicted Nazi, to boot.

Russian media parrot the state-invented lies because they’re run by the state. Any outlets that expressed doubts about the invasion, or even just questioned it, have been shut down. Russian authorities also blocked hundreds of Internet sites in March to keep Russian citizens from the truth. Effectively, erecting what the Washington Post dubs a “Digital Iron Curtain.”

But the same article tells the heartening story of people – millions of people in fact – tearing holes in that curtain by using VPNs – Virtual Private Networks. A VPN is an encrypted connection over the Internet that helps ensure that sensitive data (the truth, in this case) is safely transmitted. It prevents unauthorized people (such as the Russian government) from eavesdropping on the traffic.

Russia has approximately 100 million Internet users. The digital rights group The Internet Protection Society estimates that 30% of them are now using VPNs. “As of this week,” says the Washington Post, “downloads were continuing at a rate of nearly 300,000 a day.”

If justice and truth are vanquished, humanity will be shrouded in darkness. The only way to save our planet is to forge an ever-widening solidarity of those who champion the cause of good.

SGI President Daisaku Ikeda

When I was a kid, I had a male teacher for two years who was a terrible bully. But in addition to terrorising us, he gave me, and any other kid paying attention, a great gift. He taught us to question. Even the most banal facts, like 2 + 2 = 4. “Don’t just sit there like a stuffed cabbage!” he’d bark at us.

Happily, an estimated 30 million and counting people in Russia aren’t just sitting there in front of their TVs, soaking up the state-run lies. They’re seeking the truth. Only good can come of this.

The world might be stumbling towards freedom, but it is stumbling in the right direction.

My thanks for the photo by Mateus Campos Felipe on Unsplash

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