The Stasi comes to Stanford University
Purely Political, By James Buckley
If you have never seen “The Lives of Others” — a 2006 German film that won a Golden Globe and an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, you should try to obtain a copy.
None other than National Review founder, the late William F. Buckley, wrote in his nationally syndicated column that “The Lives of Others” was possibly the best movie he ever saw.
The film is set appropriately enough in George Orwell’s favorite year, 1984, in East Berlin. Directed by first-time director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, the movie was about life under what had become a surveillance state in East Germany under Soviet Communist rule. It’s a cautionary tale for those of us in the U.S. as 17 different “intelligence” agencies (and probably even more that function under the radar and that escape any kind of congressional scrutiny) operate within the United States, and whose putative mission is “protecting homeland security.”
We are in danger of falling into the same trap East German citizens found themselves living in before the Berlin Wall fell in 1989.
The Ministry for State Security (Stasi) was the name of the East German secret police in charge of monitoring the movements of its citizens.
All its citizens.
All the time.
Listening in on private conversations were everyday affairs for Stasi officers and were important methods of gathering “intelligence.” Even more important was the wide web of civilian snoops who’d regularly report on friends, neighbors, strangers and/or acquaintances.
Because so many fellow residents regularly reported to Stasi, it had become nearly impossible to ascertain who was a friend and who was not. Everyone and anyone could be an informant. Even one’s “best friend” or lover could be a collaborator.
Political opinions voiced during private conversations were offered cautiously if at all, in fear that someone may be listening … and reporting.
Turns out also that one could not be too cautious, for as soon as someone — anyone — hinted that you may harbor conspiratorial or anti-regime thoughts, Stasi was on it. Every room in your apartment could and would be bugged, including your bathroom, your bedroom, even your outdoor patio if you were lucky enough to have one.
The plot of “The Lives of Others” revolves around an internationally renowned playwright named Georg Dreyman, who publicly avows his solidly communist views but who secretly despises everything about the East German government. He has been communicating with Western sympathizers hoping to expose the evils of communism.
Unbeknownst to him, his apartment has come under surveillance by members of a Stasi team who’ve set themselves up in the top floor of his apartment building and are conducting around-the-clock listening details. The writer’s girlfriend has been compromised by a relationship with the high-ranking East German minister of culture, the man who has ordered the initial surveillance.
THE PLOT THICKENS
After a friend who had been betrayed and blacklisted by those he believed were friends commits suicide, his death is not reported as such, and Dreyman publishes an anonymous article in Der Spiegel, a West German weekly. The article accuses East Germany of hiding statistics on the country’s startlingly high suicide rates. Embarrassed by the article, the Ministry of Culture is determined to track down and punish the author.
East German law requires every typewriter to be registered, but after Stasi receives a copy of the manuscript, it is unable to determine its source and could not match the typeface to any of its registered devices. Dreyman wrote his article on a secretly supplied typewriter from Der Spiegel designed to escape detection.
Dreyman, of course, has to hide his typewriter and does so — under a floorboard in an interior doorway of his apartment — and the only other person who knew its whereabouts was his compromised girlfriend.
I won’t reveal any more of the movie’s plot, but I did want to compare life under Stasi to life as a student at Stanford University.
Along with more “administrators” than it knows what to do with, the campus features an Anonymous Bias Reporting System, under which students are advised as freshmen that they could and should report any perceived incidence of bias, prejudice, hate speech, intolerance, or other anti-social speech or behavior they witness or are privy to.
Recently, Federal Appellate Judge Kyle Duncan (a Trump appointee) had been invited by a branch of the Heritage Foundation to speak to students at Stanford Law School. His subject: “Guns, COVID Mandates and Twitter.” For his troubles, he was shouted down, denounced as “scum” by various peace-loving law students and then castigated by Tirien Steinbach, Stanford associate dean of Diversity! Equity! and Inclusion! for the “harm” his work had caused.
After delivering a six-minute tirade, Ms. Steinbach invited any students “who felt threatened” by the judge’s presence and/or his undelivered statements, to leave if they wanted. On cue, many did just that.
On its website, Stanford claims its bias reporting system is meant “to address incidents where a community member experiences harm because of who they are and how they show up in the world.” A caller reporting any such “incident” is not required to identify himself or herself, and no evidence is required to lodge a complaint.
A “Protected Identity Harm Incident” claim can be made about any “conduct or incident that adversely and unfairly targets an individual or group on the basis of one or more of these actual or perceived characteristics: race, color, national or ethnic origin, sex, age, viability, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, veteran status, marital status or any other characteristic protected by applicable law.”
The Stanford bias reporting system has been in place for two years. The company that designed the program — Maxient — boasts that more than 1,300 other colleges and universities have signed up with the system.
In the 2021-22 school year, 457 “acts of intolerance or hate” involving “gestures, taunts, mockery, unwanted jokes or teasing and derogatory or disparaging comments of a biased nature” were reported within the UC system alone.
The good news is that colleges in Michigan, Texas and Florida have dismantled similar programs after a series of successful lawsuits successfully challenged their constitutionality.
Any high school student or parent should be aware that programs encouraging students to secretly inform on fellow students and professors are in place in many colleges and universities throughout the U.S., particularly in the Ivy League, where free speech goes to die.
Until all and any such “bias reporting systems” are dismantled and thrown on the ash heap of history, potential college students should analyze and reconsider — if required — where to spend their money on those most important years of their lives. It certainly should not be in an institution that encourages such activity.James Buckley is a longtime Montecito resident. He welcomes questions or comments at email@example.com. Readers are invited to visit jimb.substack.com, where Jim’s Journals are on file. He also invites people to subscribe to Jim’s Journal.