~ Alexei Navalny ~

Scale of justice with uneven balances representing the fight against tyranny


One of the most potent messages I absorbed as a young person was the evils of dictatorship. WWII and the Holocaust, Stalin and the Soviets, Pol Pot - As someone for whom numbers were especially significant, the orders of magnitude of such scourges on humanity affected me profoundly. The message I received was:

Be careful, we are all capable of complicity in a genocidal regime.

For me this message was a generational echo, I was only 8 when the Berlin wall fell, and a world away from it, but stories like William Golding's 'Lord of the Flies' or Todd Strasser's 'The Wave' (part of my high-school curriculum) and the folk-loric experiments of Stanley Milgram and Phillip Zimbardo permiated my coming of age, reinforcing the idea of our fundamental corruptable nature. The message has been recontextualised recently with the concept of Moloch, who represents a negative-sum system where the constituents are complicit in their own subjugation.

Illustration of Moloch, representing negative-sum systems and complicity in subjugation


The lesson seemed to be that the only way to avoid sliding into tyranny was opposition, early, absolutely and with a disregard for consequences. Personally, I resolved, if ever faced with evident tyranny, to be first in line to oppose it unequivocally - knowing that that would probably end in death.

Now, this may seem grandiose and people who know me may doubt my capacity for this - given my general mild-manner. And who knows? Perhaps, even knowing all that has come before, when tested, I too might fall victim to group-think, self-preservation instincts and conformity. But we know some of us have the capacity for this sort of courage.


I am writing this on the morning the world is learning of Alexei Navalny's death in captivity. The inevitablity of this event did nothing to soften the blow for me at least. Navalny was not a perfect person, but there is no doubt he was one of the bravest souls on earth and his death shakes my conviction that anyone of us can make a difference. The message seems to be, the world moves and its inhabitants are moved haplessly along with it - large forces dictate the motion of individual components.

Navalny leaves behind a wife and two children.

An embrace symbolizing support and mourning for Navalny's family

I don't usually comment on current events, but some events transcend their present relevance and point to something perennial. I have trouble knowing what to do with this old message renewed but I do hope that, by continuing to do what little good we can as individuals, we can and will collectively push back against oppression.


What can one person do? To be honest, I don't know, it will be difficult even to measure the impact of Navalny's actions, let alone those of us who are not on the front lines. I am interested to hear what you think on this dark day. I will continue to explore the many ways in which people can come together to achieve non-zero-sum games, as that is ultimately the way to make meaningful change, but today I wanted to reflect on courage, conviction and sacrifice, and appreciate someone who gave their life in the service of those values.