Unspeakable Truths

Some Truths They Won’t Let You Share

Long ago (before most of you were born), in a galaxy far, far away (yet to be completely conquered by Boeing and McDonalds), when I was still a newbie, not recognizing Briar Rabbit, my employers tossed me into Earth’s briar patch.

They paid me (YES, PAID ME!) to wander around Egypt and Taiwan and Singapore and Australia, culturally and geographically exotic places for an American. They thought I was working, and I was, when I wasn’t exploring.

I did my job, and never needed rescue or bail, so when they needed someone to live in a place even more exotic, they may have felt confident that I’d:

1) Agree to go

and:

2) Survive

Once they popped the question, I said yes, immediately, and heard what might have been a sigh of relief on the other end of the phone, and went to look up Kalimantan Timur.

Looking things up wasn’t as easy then as it is today. The internet was almost a thing, but Tim Berners-Lee had yet to invent the World Wide Web. Back then we went to the library.

On the library’s big globe Kalimantan Timur was a patch of green on the island of Borneo. The encyclopedia said it was inhabited primarily by Dayak headhunters…yes, headhunters were a thing before Indiana Jones.

A Dayak with his loot

Pre-Google, information wasn’t just more scarce, it wasn’t updated instantly. What we read was usually out of date by the time we read it. By the time I’d consulted that encyclopedia, a full generation of Dayaks had sworn off headhunting…unless they were pissed off.

Unfortunately, by the time I got there they were pissed off.

When the Dutch left Borneo in ’49 (that would be 1949 for Millennials), the Javanese took over, and named Kalimantan Timur an Indonesian province. Unlike most lands claimed by Indonesia, Kalimantan was sparsely populated, so successive presidents, first Sukarno, then Suharto, solved Indonesia’s overpopulation problem by jamming people from crowded islands into leaky wooden ferries, ferrying them away and dropping them off in Kalimantan, and telling them to watch out for the Dayaks.

Suharto and the Javanese emigrants I lived and worked with called it “Transmigrasi”. Today we’d use a different word no-one in Indonesia dared speak then — genocide. The Javanese/Madurese immigrants’ genocide against the Dayaks was true, but never spoken publicly.

It was an unspeakable truth.

Had we not seen the genocide ourselves, we’d have known it was true anyway because those who spoke about it disappeared. (Indonesia had unspeakable truths long before I arrived. Watch “The Year of Living Dangerously” to see how Indonesia’s dictators treated their subjects.)

While Suharto was (technically) not corrupt, his wife, Madam Tien was. In the darkest corners of Indonesian bars, carelessly drunk patrons referred to Madam Tien as Madam Tien Percent, since that’s what it took anyone to get permits to do anything in Suharto’s democratic kingdom. Did “Madam Tien Percent” ever appear in The Jakarta Post, or any other Indonesian paper? No, Indonesian editors knew Suharto’s corruption was an unspeakable truth, and if they, or anyone else spoke it, they would be disappeared, Like Billy Kwan.

Singapore was my first unspeakable dictatorship. You know you’re living in a dictatorship if you can’t say so without going to jail. Singaporeans can’t say so or they go to jail, so they don’t. Singapore’s only resource is its people, yet it prospers. It’s an authoritarian iconoclast. I can only guess the authoritarians who run it are so competent, their propensity to jail people doesn’t matter; the place runs like a clock anyway, an authoritarian clock.

Indonesia was different, both naturally beautiful and polluted, minerals-rich, and poverty-stricken. It was a political and physical mess the resident expat community agreed was the second most corrupt country in the world. The world’s most corrupt country, they all agreed, was Nigeria.

I had to go.

Maryam and Sani Abacha

When I first got there, Sani Abacha was running Nigeria, which is minerals-rich, and overpopulated, like Indonesia. Nigeria’s got lots of oil and natural gas, and people, lots of people. Were Nigeria’s oil wealth divided equally among its 200 million people, they would still be among the poorest on earth.

Of course, it’s not — divided equally.

Something less than ten percent of Nigeria’s oil revenues goes to the large international companies that first get the oil out of the ground, then process and ship it. The rest of the revenue goes to the Nigerian government, wherein much of it disappears. So much so, that when General-in-charge Abacha died, under mysterious circumstances, his widow, Maryam was caught attempting to smuggle $750 million in US $100 bills out of the country.

International estimates of the Abacha family’s ill-gotten wealth exceeded $5 billion (not counting Mrs. Abacha’s confiscated steamer trunks full of cash). The scale of Abacha’s corruption shocked even jaded Nigerians, who’d learned early on to keep their suspicions to themselves. Not only did anyone foolish enough to accuse Abacha of corruption disappear, so did his family, and sometimes his entire village. Nigerians learned not to complain about their government. Hundreds of machine gunned corpses worked wonderfully as deterrents to free speech.

To most Nigerians the fact of Abacha’s corruption was an accepted truth never to be spoken. For Nigerians it was an unspeakable truth.

I’ve since explored lots of other countries with unspeakable truths, Equatorial Guinea, Vietnam, Russia, Cuba, Venezuela, all countries with authoritarian governments and truths unspeakable because of what befell or would befall anyone who spoke them. I survived them all, mainly by watching, asking and listening, but not speaking, and eventually, after decades of wandering the world, ended up back in the land of my birth, which had changed.

When I grew up in America, there was nothing I was afraid to say, nothing one could not say, and very little that went unsaid. It was popular to say “Don’t trust anyone over thirty.” and we didn’t. We didn’t trust anyone over thirty, anyone who occupied a political office, anyone who worked for a giant corporation, not even anyone who read the news. Back then there were no unspeakable truths because there was no-one who could disappear us.

The disappeared.

They disappeared JFK and RFK and MLK, and tried to stop us from talking about it or them, but they couldn’t. For decades we’ve been able to question and talk about everything, because no matter how much the powers that be wanted to disappear us all, they couldn’t, the media wouldn’t let them do it.

The rest of us, they couldn’t disappear.

Now they can, because today’s powers that be aren’t shady people, hiding behind government cloaks. No, today the media themselves are the powers that be. Say something the authoritarians don’t like now, and you won’t end up with a bullet in the head, but you will disappear. Speak an unspeakable truth, and YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, most print and almost all broadcast media, even Medium will disappear you, digitally.

What are today’s unspeakable truths?

Just as in Indonesia and Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea and Venezuela and Vietnam and Russia and Cuba, you can tell which are important truths by what happens to the people who say them. All those things you can’t say today without being instantly banished from social media…Take it from someone who’s been here and seen this before, many times over…it’s a safe bet, whatever gets you instantly banned from social media is 100% true, or those in power wouldn’t mind if you said them.

Medium cares nothing if I say the Earth is flat, or if I claim the sun rotates around the Earth, or the Freemasons run the world. None of them will get me disappeared. You know what will, things you think are laughable conspiracy theories, things you’ve been told are laughable conspiracy theories, they aren’t, they’re truth. the unspeakable truths the authoritarians who run your lives don’t want you to hear.

And who are the authoritarians ruling you today? You know who they are — you just can’t say so without being disappeared, digitally.

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Penseur Rodinson

Penseur Rodinson

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