Nima Arkani-Hamed, a top Western official in the Mao collider, sort of "courageously" says that if the tanks came to the Chinese streets again, he would probably join some local protests. His father had some "disagreement" with the Khomeini regime in Iran but Nima himself doesn't really get the evil of totalitarian systems, I think after many discussions with him. As Cheng nicely says about Nima's superficial response:And that question is easily used to dispose of the "incorrect" people. If you say rights matter more, you aren't dedicated enough, and if you say physics--don't complain. You are there to be used.
But his hypothesis, well-intentioned as it was, reveals a deeply simplistic, caricatured understanding of state oppression. True terror and totalitarian control come after the tanks have left the square, when blood is wiped off the streets, the history books, and the people’s collective consciousness, when a date becomes taboo, and when a simple question confirming the existence of the Party office exposes the Achilles’ heel of a grand project.Exactly. Totalitarianism isn't about some cool scenes with tanks and blood in the street – and Nima's cool but totally superficial and symbolic "no" to such spectacular events. The true muscles of the totalitarian machinery only start to act after the tanks and blood are removed from the sidewalks (the same is true for the German and Soviet tanks in Prague in 1939 and 1968, too). The employees are being ideologically filtered, fired, or arrested, the history is often being rewritten..
Many of my colleagues, Western or Chinese, asked me about my priorities and whether I cared more about physics or human rights, as if these pursuits are mutually exclusive.
(Lubos is Czech, and grew up under Communism.)