One of the most powerful scenes in HBO’s Chernobyl, a miniseries written by Craig Mazin, is the last episode, when Valery Legasov, the deputy director of the Kurchatov Institute, testifies about what really happened at the nuclear power plant on April 26, 1986. When Legasov stuns the courtroom with the truth, that the power plant had a design flaw, Judge Milan Kadnikov warns him about potential treason: “Professor Legasov, if you mean to suggest the Soviet State is somehow responsible for what happened, then I must warn you, you are treading on dangerous ground.” Legazov’s response and concluding narration are riveting, not only because they address the lies of Chernobyl, but they are so relevant today. In short, Chernobyl is a metaphor for the modern world. When you read Legazov’s response, think of the cost of lies of politicians, world leaders, religious leaders, business leaders, etc. at the center of all the major scandals in the news over the past few years. In every one of those situations, leaders have buried the truth in their headlong pursuit of greed and power rather than pursuing the greatest good for the greatest number of people, which should be the highest aspiration of true leadership:
Valery Legasov : I’ve already trod on dangerous ground. We’re on dangerous ground right now, because of our secrets and our lies. They are practically what define us. When the truth offends, we lie and lie until we can no longer remember it is even there, but it is still there. Every lie we tell incurs a debt to the truth. Sooner or later, that debt is paid. That is how an RBMK reactor core explodes. Lies…
To be a scientist is to be naive. We are so focused on our search for the truth we fail to consider how few actually want us to find it. But it is always there whether we see it or not, whether we choose to or not. The truth doesn’t care about our needs or wants, it doesn’t care about our governments, our ideologies, our religions. It will lie in wait for all time. And this, at last, is the gift of Chernobyl. Where I once would fear the cost of truth, now I only ask: What is the cost of lies?
For a fascinating discussion of the central issue of personal responsibility watch Oliver Thorn’s fascinating video titled “Chernobyl and Personal Responsibility” on his YouTube channel Philosophy Tube. Thorn, a philosopher and actor, began teaching philosophy in 2012 in response to the British government raising university fees 300%. In this particular video, Thorn examines the key philosophical issues involved in HBO’s Chernobyl and how the filmmakers used poetic license to reinforce certain themes. One of the most interesting discussions is the contrast between personal responsibility and intergenerational collective responsibility.
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