There’s a reason why a taxi driver in Damascus ten years ago stiffened and fell silent when I jokingly said I preferred to put my seatbelt on, as “a good citizen,” despite ours being a very late-night ride to my hotel. That’s what authoritarian systems do to you. A quip like that could be a signal of something far more sinister. The walls may not have actual ears, but you hold your breath regardless.
But the goose step doesn’t start there. You don’t have to wait for the garish banners to unfurl and the cultish anthems to ring to see it happening. Totalitarianism begins when absolutely nothing that unsettles your loyalty to a program or thought is allowed in. When fantastic conspiracies of unthinkable impracticality are more readily believed than simple statements of individual and collective experience. When ordinary lives are expendable in the grander scheme you pledge your allegiance to, because your ends will justify anything and everything.
“It’s not true, but even if it were, it doesn’t matter, but even if it does, I don’t care, but even if I did, that’s how things are and always will be.”
That’s how you turn inhuman. And that’s how profound evil is made possible; one person at a time, systematically.