- https://www.amazon.com/Mans-Search-Meaning-Viktor-Frankl/dp/...
 - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Logotherapy
I remember hearing that from some Czech artist -- he said it was very surprising to see that all the civilized culture we have can be wiped out in just two weeks. What's so bad in stealing, lying, raping, murdering for food?
He learned to respect that fragile balance of culture we built over animal human nature.
"There is only 1/2 a meal between mankind and anarchy"
Experiencing actual starvation, especially in your children, potentially even deaths of family members by starvation, now that is real hell. Such experiences change people permanently.
If a population experiences this, it is very commonly followed by war within their lifetimes. Without the hunger caused by hyperinflation in Germany in the early 20's, I serioulsy doubt that they would have followed Hitler.
It may even be that Hitler would never have become the monster he was without that period.
One of those doesn't seem conducive to obtaining food.
"5. I have understood the difference between the prison strengthening character and the camp depraving human soul"
I am an atheist and don't need religion to tell me it is wrong to kill another man, or so I've always believed.
This makes me think about the value of religion in our troubled history, and in shaping our culture.
Because would I still be moral if I hadn't eaten for 5 days? I'm not sure.
I claim that most atheist that think they know the answer to this question, base it on a naive understanding of their own underlying value system.
(PS. I'm also an atheist)
By all means, enlighten me. Why is it wrong to kill a man? My personal reason is that I am an empathic person.
Personally, I don't believe in any objective source of morality, but rather that morality is a superstructure on top of the more fundamental values of individuals in a given population/culture. If everyone followed their deepest values directly, it would lead to a chaotic society, so morality represents a compromize that we may be willing to follow if others also do so.
The degree to which we follow this morality, depends on the degree to which it promotes our deeper value systems. If our environment changes, our actions will (slowly or quickly) adapt.
At the most fundamental level, I think these values are expressions of selfish replicators (genes and memes), as well as some random elements. Unless a moral axiom is actually within this bottom level value system (which could be the case for religious values), we will be willing to break them, if the right situation occurs.
Generally, we are not fully aware of these fundamental values. It is only when we are experiencing extreme conditions that we meet our true selves in this way. When we do this, we are often surprised, and sometimes we refuse to even believe it, which can be a cause of PTSD.
Note that everything above is descriptive. This is my hypothesis, it does not hold any value judgement, and is not intended to.
From introspection, I don't think "do not kill" is part of my most fundamental values. I think the reason I have that value, is a result of how my deeper values interact with a western european society, and that it might change if I lived under very different circumstances. On the other hand, I think I have an appetite for (scientific) truth, even when brutal, that may very well be fundamental.
I suspect you really do have firmer grounding for your position, but haven't performed the introspection necessary to figure out the boundaries of your position, or how to articulate them. And that's fine. Many people have the luxury to never be tested.
If we take the reductive approach of only using empathy, we wind up doing whatever it is that the other wants. Such a system has no room for doing what we think is the right response to the situation, because it has no mechanism for determining responses beyond those considered by the other. It leaves no room for personal self-determination because it has no way to evaluate our wants against another's. And has no way to handle a situation where you empathize with two people holding conflicting desires. I know I'm unfairly stretching an idea past it's breaking point, but that's sort of my point...
There must be a higher-order decision making process.
Frankly, I consider the way people frequently speak of "empathy" as an attempt to hide that process. Hiding it from just me, the world, or maybe from themselves too.
For religous people, experiencing doubt is turn into a test of faith, and if you pass the test, you are seen as extra virtous.
For SJW, if you really feel hateful and resentful towards someone (ie the opposite of empathy), you can reclaim your virtue by showing even more empathy for the people that are seen as victimized or oppressed by the person or group they hate or resent.
Similarly, "empathy" can be used by fundamentalists to justify pretty much the same things that religious fundamentalists can justify by "faith".
- to display virtue, often with the intent to gain status
- to separate in-group from out-group (often with poor justification)
- to punish members of the out-group when they "transgress"
- dehumanize the outgroup. Sometimes to the extent that they do not deserve to be treated according to ethical rules.
- to deny or make taboo science that contradict their dogma (sociobiology, iq research)
- to classify certain positions as heretical or evil (if you believe X is a fact, even if it is a proven fact, you are a nazi, and must be neutralized)
- to promote ideas that contradict scientific facts when it promotes the "cause" (ie tabula rasa, ghost in the machine)
It is not wrong to kill a man. It is only wrong to murder a man
> My personal reason is that I am an empathic person.
Lots of things can override empathy. Anger, jealousy, ambition etc. 'Do whatever you feel like' does not sound like much of a moral framework to me
Does the statement hold under all conditions?
For instance, say that a single man legally controls all food in an isolated village, and he is not willing to share. Maybe he is a disgusting man that nobody likes, and your children are about to starve to death.
Is it ok to kill that man, in order to prevent your children from starving to death, by taking his food?
Whether the answer is yes or no, what id the reasoning behind the answer?
Regardless of the answer, I don't judge. I consider both answers valid. Extreme situations like this, just like the gulags, cuts away all moral superstructures and pretences, and reveals your true values.
For one person "not murdering" can be fundamental, for another "ensure the survival of your childeren" can be more important.
Within in-groups, though, empathy is very useful if not overdone. You can have too much, though. My wife is pretty much unable to rinse the wounds when the children hurt themself, because of the short term pain an antiseptic causes when applied.
A rule based ethics can, at least in some cases, be more resilient to these issues.
Of course, rule based ethics can be of the type "sodomites shall be stoned".
And below all that: What values do we use when evaluating what ethical systems are better, and where do THOSE values come from?
What you describe about in-groups and out-groups happens all the time with religious communities. Even people sharing the same religion suddenly become "unworthy".
> And below all that: What values do we use when evaluating what ethical systems are better, and where do THOSE values come from?
Precisely. If you don't believe in any gods, where do you suppose religious value systems come from? :)
However, if we look at different societies, some work better than others. I think most people on HN live in societies that actually work quite well.
To think that you can somehow reason your way to anything better, from first principles (which have to be values, not rules), is very optimistic, in my opinion. First of all, you have to be very certain that you have the correct first principles. (I think this is a much harder problem in itself than most people realize), but even if you do, creating a full ethical system that maximizes those values, is computationally impossible.
To my knowledge, most attempts to introduce radical changes in this manner, has lead to societies that function worse, not better.
I think this problem is very closely related to defining a utility function to a superhuman AI, that you can trust to lead to good outcomes.
How atheists behave can also be observed now, regardless of how young the "society": some commit crimes, some don't. Some follow strict value systems, some don't. Some are empathic, some aren't. Some are monsters, some are heroes. Some are flawed, common people.
Just like religious people ;)
There are some exceptions, though, such as Stalin's USSR, Hitler's Germany and Mao's China. They each killed many, many millions. All three thought they could create a utopia by turning traditional morality upside down.
It is unlikely that the murder rate will ever reach absoulte 0 (unless we have an extremely totalitarian state, such as a chip operated into every individual to monitor their actions), but it is much better to have murder rates of below 10 per 100k than to have them in the 100s or 1000s per 100k, like we had through much of history.
I happen to think that in many ways, the western world has actually moved in the right direction under christianity. You present the existence of theft and murder as a boolean yes/no situation.
I think such argument are misleading. For these statistics, it only makes sense to present the RATES of theft and murder for each system.
As an athetist myself, I'm very aware of the urge to try to construct an utopia from first principles by revolutionary means. But I happen to think that this is very, very dangerous. It can easily take murder rates to less than 10 per 100k to killing a significant percentage of the population, as seen many times during last century.
It is not that I think that religion is very different from other cultural sources of value. I happen to consider relgion to actually BE part of culture. But just because the epistemology of religion is likely wrong, from a scientific point of view, I think the cultures that we live in, including much of a christian baggage has proved that it can sustain a fairly good society.
As an analogy, linux is not perfect, but if random people start modifying code in the kernel more at less at random and without deep understanding, the stability is likely to suffer.
Society is like the social operating system, and if it breaks down, everything breaks down.
EDIT: If you didn't notice, the argument above is pretty much the argument for atheistic liberal-conservativism.
EDIT: "Chesterton's Fence" comes to mind.
So in practice, I think we are left to make incremental attempts at improvements, while trying to make changes both small and reversible.
In computer science terms, this is gradient decent. It may not allow us to reach all global minima, but it is much more likely to lead to a good place than large semi-random changes.
Sorry, I simply don't see where anyone is talking about revolutionary utopias here, or first principles, or totalitarian anything. If you want to argue that non-religious value systems inevitably lead to genocide, feel free to do that -- and good luck with that, I'm uninterested in that argument.
All I'm saying, is that the western culture we have inherited, has proven to be pretty good at providing a good life for most people.
As we discover that the foundation of the religous belief system is wrong, we need be careful about how we dispense with the rules that have been justified in religous dogma up until now.
I think it can go wrong in two ways:
1. The far right atheists can argue that without Jesus, there is no objective reason for universal empathy, which we can use to justify extreme selfishness, eugenics, racism, etc.
2. Left wingers, on the other hand, can argue that ONLY empathy and happiness matters when we dispense with the supernatural soul. Because the religous reasons for free will are wrong, we should not treat individuals as moral agents, but instead treat all unwanted behaviour or unwanted outcomes as health problems or something caused by unfair treatment by society.
In small doses, I don't see either view as a big problem. But there have been cases where they have been taken to the extreme, and that went blody on both sides.
Scientifically, I think both views are simplifications to the point of being just wrong. In order to function as a society and as individuals, we need a balance between individual responsibility and empathy where it is due.
I think it is possible to reach this conclusion through science and philosophy, but that this is extremely difficult, and even more difficult to communicate to the electorate.
Which is why I argue that we should not change our moral rules too quickly, even if the traditional justification for them fall away.
Btw, it may very well be that we more or less agree on this. The discussion started further up, in response to the claim that moral behaviour (not killing) was a consequence of "being an empathic person", and nothing else.
Indeed, it may be that we agree. The problem is that the discussion got so sidetracked it's hard to see what we're talking about anymore.
As an example of how we're talking past each other, I wasn't responding that empathy is or should be the only restraint. I was specifically arguing against this assertion further up:
> I think that's a good point that lots of things can override empathy. It would require something much stronger [...] Religion with a belief in immortality and eternal justice with eternal possibility of happiness gives a very strong reason [...]
This is demonstrably, patently false: religion gets overridden and fails ALL the time. It should be noted that, traditionally, the argument goes "atheists forget religion and therefore have no value systems; what prevents murder when there is no god?", yadda yadda yadda.
To clarify, things I am arguing:
- Religion is not enough or better than empathy or other secular/atheist moral value systems. It works (sometimes), but it's not better or the only way. Arguments that start with "but without religion...!" are therefore wrong.
Things I'm NOT arguing:
- Religion always fails.
- Empathy is enough.
- Atheists never commit crimes.
Things I'm NOT interested in debating, because they're wrongheaded, red herrings, appeals to ignorance and/or "not even wrong":
- "But atheist societies aren't old enough!"
- Software development as an analogy to moral value systems.
- Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Patton, Torquemada, the French Revolution, etc.
The difference seems to be on emphasis:
- You seem more concerned about religiously inspired fallacies. (I agree that they are fallacies, but I don't take them very seriously any more).
- I am more concerned with preventing gulags. (Which you are not interested in dicussing).
I suspect the difference in emphasis may come from us living in different countries (I live in Norway, which is more or less atheist socialist in its value system)
Btw, the original article was: "Things I learned in the Gulag"
Yes, lots of things can override empathy in some people. Likewise, lots of things can override religious beliefs in some people, making them kill another person. So what's the conclusion?
There's almost no moral framework that cannot be overridden for some people under certain circumstances. I've seen no evidence religion is a stronger foundation for principles.
That they are both very useful in restraining murder ?
Having empathy for others is not the same as doing "whatever you feel like", by the way.
> Plenty of irreligious mass murderers out there by the way
Yes, there are irreligious murderers. Also plenty of religious murderers, and lots of nasty actions have been committed in the name of religion. So what conclusion can we draw from it, other than "both religious and irreligious value systems have been shown to be not enough to prevent murder"?
You single out empathy, but in fact every value system fails.
To explain where I'm coming from: one typical argument made by some religious people (not all!) is that atheists will inevitably degenerate into criminality, since -- the argument goes -- if you don't have religion to tell you something is immoral, and there are no consequences in the afterlife, what's the point of behaving well to others?
But is that a result of your cultural upbringing, or something innate. I would argue the former, in which case culture and religion actually do matter more than we think.
Would you be an emphatic person if you grew up in a different time and place.
For the cultural aspect, there are two interpretations:
1) Humans (non psychopaths) are born to feel empathy, and you only take that away if you inflict harm on the person
2) Humans (non psychopaths) are born with some latent capacity to develop empathy, but it must be actively taught in order to develop
From my experience as a father, it seems like empathy develops without much actual teaching. Maybe teaching it can boost it, but at least for my children that has not been needed so far.
But empathy is very definitive limits. It is much easier to feel it towards smaller children, cute pets, etc, and not very easy for children to feel empathy towards authority figures, scary/ugly animals. Also, when hungry, sleepy, scared or angry empathy seems to vanish.
I think this is typical. Nobody feels empathy for everyone all the time.
And it is when dealing with people that you DON'T feel empathy for, that you are most likely to break ethical rules or convensions.
And with (my) children, teaching them to behave morally when not feeling empathy, that requires dedicated effort from the parent.
Plus it causes distress in family and friends of that man. Which I also wouldn't like for myself.
And it also destroys the trust in the community around you if everybody could/is actively killing other people. Which is an evolutionary disadvantage.
In other societies, the conditions can be the opposite. In societies without an effective police force, the norm is that an honor culture develops, where avenging a murder with another murder is not only a right but in fact a duty.
In such societies, the first murder can actually be considered heroic, if there is no effective retribution, and the second murder is essentially always heroic.
Morality is much more dependant on our society than many think. If anarchist actually get their way, an honor society will emerge from the chaos fairly quickly.
(Examples: Current clan societies, such as northern Pakistan, Afghanistan, histoircal clan societies (vikings etc), hunter-gatherers, criminal gangs, etc,etc).
If you know the number of games, or it is the last game, always-defect is the Nash Equillibrium.
Depending on social circumstances (such as in a Gulag), murder can be the Nash equillibrium strategy if you optimize for survival.
It's just that such circumstances are outside of the experience of most people, and most people today cannot even imagine it.
"Why" implies to me that there is or should be a rationale. Our culture stores a lot of behavior and spreads it by the means appropriate. Some need rationale most do not.
Killing feels evil and is considered morally wrong. But in reality mankind, like many species, decided at some point, that killing its own should generally be avoided and is therefore allowed only under very specific circumstances.
nah it's not the point / goal of religion here it has nothing to do here with killing someone else or not. It's the fact of believing in "something else" outside of this world which gives you a reason to stay human (in a way that can include but not limited to 'not killing someone'). Basically if there's only "here and now" there's no point to be a good person or keep your animal instincts leashed. if there's "something else outside or after" there's a "superstitious" point to self-preserve your humanity ('for later')...
You do - but religion can be non-theistic. As an atheist, you nevertheless strive towards ideals that have ultimately no reason but your belief in them... That is religion - it is personal and it does not require supernatural beings.
It's a pretty big claim that ethics has "no reason but your belief in it". There are plenty of logical reasons why one would want to behave ethically, even self interest, beyond you simply believing it.
There are also some moral principles that follow directly from factual matters, provided some very basic first assumptions are made. Theories of just resource distribution and social justice are of that kind. The principles that get things going are very basic, e.g. reciprocity, generality of moral statements, and fairness in the sense of trade/bargaining/exchange fairness get you very far.
It is a myth that religion provides values, as it can be shown very easily by historical comparison that it never has. The values defended by major religions such as Christianity and Islam have changed over the centuries again and again. Modern Christian values, for instance, mostly come from the enlightenment movement and were not endorsed at all earlier. (Christianity is just an example, AFAIK this is true for all religions.)
Churches and 'holy men' have always had a vested interest in selling their values as a product of their religion, though, and they are very good at selling this false story to the public.
Also, for the final paragraph: Your theory of religion seems to be based on intelligent design. I think it is more accurate (and less prone to conspiracy theories) to think of the evolution of religious memes in darwinist terms of "natural" selection.
Not necessarily: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moral_rationalism
This really isn’t hard. Morality is just goal-based behavior. Paths that lead to a goal are called good; paths that lead away from a goal are called bad. Whether or not a goal is itself good or bad depends on where it lies on a larger path.
So, what are the ultimate natural goals? Easy. One is life, which is the prequisite for being able to make choices; the other is death, where no more choices are possible. Certainly, you can switch between these goals, but the key point is that nature gives no clue which you should choose. Therefore, all natural ethics is based on personal taste.
N.B. In Christianity, something outside of nature steps in and says, “choose life.” That’s why atheists can act morally (search heuristics can end up being similar).
Direct pursuit of the ultimate goals is not efficient, both because it is computationally impossible to calculate what action is most efficient in any situation, and also because direct pursuit will lead to a lot of conflict.
As a solution to this problem, one or more levels of heuristic rules have developed that solve this problem in a social environment, and that form some kind of low-level social contract that we will follow if others follow it. Part of "signing" this social contract (ie be perceived as cooperative), is to bind yourself to the commonly accepted morality. Part of this is that you have to convince yourself that you hold the rules sacret.
Of couse, if you experience radical changes to the environment, it is likely that your fundamental goals will be in conflict with those additional layers, and your behaviour will change accordingly. Most people are surprised of themselves when this happens.
For some interesting points about how these aren't the same I'd refer you to Richard Holloway. An ex-Bishop he has refered to himself as a recovering Christian and writes extensively on ethics. He realised that people could make perfectly good ethically arguments without any reference to religion when he sat on various national advisory commitees whilst Bishop of Edinburgh.
even without a deep belief, the routine itself can keep you going: this can be compared to accounts from prisoner camp survivors; it's often mentioned 'falling into the routine' as part of holding up and moving forward.
I’m curious which religions were represented, and what he meant by “sectarians”. Christianity at least would seem to be implied (by “priests”) and the fact that this was a Soviet gulag — Christians in particular were strongly persecuted under the USSR. (Perhaps at least partly because they resisted ideological assimilation more strongly than any other groups — even to death and martyrdom in many cases.)
It’s also very interesting that military and party members were the first to lose it. No wonder communists feared and/or hated religion — they knew their own ideology couldn’t strengthen people or hold them in its grip anywhere near as well.
Not sure about that - there were "priests" in Ancient Egypt, too.
Sounds like start up culture. Move fast and break things. Better to do than to ask permission.
"Better to do than ask permission" long predates startup culture and often holds just as true in large corporations. Especially true in fact, often there's a lot of red tape that people won't bother to enforce if you can present a working solution in the correct manner.
"Move fast and break things" largely means "grow quickly enough that you're breaking stuff", which may or may not be a positive.
Contrast that to choosing to steal another inmate's food instead of asking, because it would be too humiliating to ask or trade. All that's going to do is make you enemies, and reveals an underlying character weakness that will probably hurt you in other ways.
This is incredibly consistent with my observations.
Possibly an explanation for the nature of the Founding Fathers.
Here is a translation of the lyrics:
The clouds float by, the clouds,
Without hurrying, like in a film.
I'm eating chicken tabaka,
And I've sunk a load of cognac.
The clouds float off to Abakan [a Gulag area].
Unhurried they float.
They're warm, I bet, those clouds,
But I've been frozen through forever!
Like a horseshoe I froze into the sleigh tracks,
Into the ice I was chipping with my pick!
After all, not for nothing
I blew away 20 years in those camps.
I still have that snow crust before my eyes!
I still have the din of frisking in my ears!
Hey, bring me a pineapple
And another 200 g. of cognac!
The clouds float by, the clouds,
Floating to Kolyma [a work camp] that dear old place,
And they don't need a lawyer,
An amnesty's neither here nor there.
Me too, I live a first-rate life!
Twenty years I swapped for one day!
And I sit in this bar like a lord,
I've even got some teeth left!
The clouds float off to the east,
They've no pension, no worries.
Me, on the fourth, I get a money order,
And another on the 23rd.
And on those days, just like me.
Half the country sits in the bars!
And in our memory off to those places
Float the clouds, the clouds.
It's the story of a UK business man who got caught with a small amount of hashish in his pocket at Moscow airport and ended up spending 4 years in a prison camp.
It makes for a pretty interesting -if grim at times - read.
This, to me is the point of religion. We need religion when things are hard and unpredictable. In a world where most things are certain and predictable, religion has no value.
Likhatchev deathbed words to his crying wife were "don't get so upset, it's just the matter changing its state".
Not much is predictable in your life.
1. Clean water
2. Roof over the head and the sense of safety that comes with it.
3. Basic food.
A sense of community and friendship is probably the only basic human necessity that is not certain in the developed world.
Now imagine a world where none of this is can be taken for granted. You live under a constant threat from various sources (disease, wild animals, other humans out there to steal, loot from you etc) , there's not enough food, water and on top of that you're lonely. Religion is one driving force that helps people through these.
- True, man is mortal, but that is itself only half the evil. The trouble is that man is sometimes suddenly mortal, that's the tricky part! Basically, he can never say what will happen to him this evening.
'What an idiotic way of putting it...” thought Berlioz, and objected:
- Certainly, that is an exaggeration. I know more or less exactly what will happen this evening. Of course, if a brick falls on my head on Bronnaya...
- Bricks are out of the question, - the stranger broke him off sharply, - not a single brick will ever fall on anybody's head. Under no circumstances, I assure you, does this constitute a threat. You will die a different death.
- And perhaps you know just which? - inquired Berlioz with the most natural irony, he had clearly been drawn into some kind of absurd conversation, - and can tell me?
- Certainly, - responded the stranger. He measured Berlioz with his gaze, as if he were sewing him a suit, and mumbled through his teeth, something like: 'One, two... Mercury in the second house... the moon is down... six - misfortune... evening - seven...” - then he loudly and delightedly proclaimed: - You'll have your head cut off!”
- The Master and Margarita. Mikhail Bulgakov.
While someone poor would probably end up being unable to pay for his painkillers and dying while praying to his relatives so that someone killed him not to endure his death.
So no, rich people do have a better ability to hedge their risks.
Not to mention that the result is the same anyway.
>live in acceptable conditions before he passes.
And no, this is not as simple as you are trying to picture. Sometimes - yes, you can deal with it this way, in many other scenarios painkillers and other shit is not enough and the only way to stop the suffering is either forced coma or suicide.
That's a quantifiable claim, especially in response to an article about a gulag system that killed and tortured many white people, many of whom you may have called privileged before they were imprisoned.
I would love to see your justification. Seeing a scatter plots with whiteness and privilege on the horizontal axis and predictability on the vertical would seem persuasive, though I'm not sure how you'd quantify the variables.
Can you cite a source?
Those who were privileged in the Soviet Union have always had a better hand. Don't have a job? Here's a job for you. Your brother's got cancer? We'll find the best doctors for him. Can't find a TV set for your nice flat? Here's a guy you could call. Your idiot child has been speeding and killed someone walking down the street? Well, we may speak to those policemen so that his life would not be destroyed by such a small mistake.
I understand why you picked on the phrase "white and privileged", but it has nothing to do with the substance of my statements.
Look at someone speaking about cancer over there: the guy's clearly missing the point that if you're rich and you die from cancer - then you're probably still going to be better off than if you're poor and die from cancer.
"Though of a similar nature and sharing the same subject matter (Auschwitz and the Holocaust), Frankl’s book is one of the most uplifting reads I’ve ever experienced. Victor Frankl more than just physically survived the war; Primo Levi on the other hand felt like a different story. Put simply: Levi is the darkness to Frankl’s light."
And they still send people to frozen shitholes to fuck them over. ref: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oleg_Sentsov
Hitler himself ranks third behind those two, at 17 million civilians killed.
It feels like maybe your issue with communist regimes is that they’re not theocratic enough for your tastes. Because of course theocracies offer such an excellent quality of life. If you really want to make a difference, stop selling arms to the worst regimes, like Saudi Arabia. Leave women’s reproductive rights alone.
But I named the issue in the US that I truly feel the most consternation about.
That’s the nerve.
I wouldn't limit it to ideologues. Look at Mobutu, Suharto, and many other plain old right-wing authoritarians.
What does this mean?
 In some sense, at least; see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/101st_kilometre
If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere
insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate
them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and
evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to
destroy a piece of his own heart?
During the life of any heart this line keeps changing place; sometimes it
is squeezed one way by exuberant evil and sometimes it shifts to allow
enough space for good to flourish. One and the same human being is, at
various ages, under various circumstances, a totally different human being.
At times he is close to being a devil, at times to sainthood. But his name
doesn't change, and to that name we ascribe the whole lot, good and evil.
It's true that there's some dry and boring material, but I can hardly blame the author for that: he's the last living source for so many of these stories. I can picture him sitting at his typewriter, trying in vain to resurrect the final, fading memories of the countless missing people who touched his life—nameless and nearly faceless, probably buried in some unmarked grave—while waiting for the KGB to burst in any minute and destroy his decade of work. How much more painful must the process of editing be when the things you cut are fragments of human lives that might as well have never existed once they leave the page?
Unfortunately, there's now a contingent of the Russian population that denounces Solzhenitsyn for reasons of pure nationalism. It makes me so sad when I see Solzhenitsyn mentioned in the Runet, because it's almost always extremely vitriolic...
Obviously, this is to a large degree a matter of taste, but I am far from the only Russian speaker finding Solzhenitsyn's language highly stilted and artificial. The English translation you're quoting is much better.
Interestingly, same is very often said about Vonnegut's translations into Russian.
I am, however, listening to an audiobook version, so maybe it's different on the page.
'Invented words' is what made me think of it, I don't think it's much in evidence in GULAG but it definitely pop up in his fiction. In Voinovich's parodic telling, it's due to an excessive reliance on the 19th century 'Dahl's Explanatory Dictionary'. It's a perfectly pointed barb.
I think where GULAG succeeds is in exactly what he puts on the front page "an experiment in literary investigation". Everything from 'В круге первом' through 'Как нам обустроить Россию' and later gets progressively weirder and, well, to put it politely, not better.
"если первая крохотная капля правды разорвалась как психологическая бомба - что же будет в нашей стране, когда Правда обрушится водопадами?
А -- обрушится, ведь не миновать."
I thought the reading was superb, even though the quality was a bit scratchy.
Is what I'm replying to. It's a very narrow slice of a much bigger thing.
Life after (or even before) Stalin was not free from such abuses.
I'm not sure why you think I said anything of the sort.
As to 'figured out', no, of course they didn't have a sudden epiphany while taking a shower one morning. The paranoid nutcase that ruled them died.
The thing that I was getting at, really, is that there is a fairly common but mistaken notion that the Soviet system was all about overt repression; that it depended, throughout its entire lifespan on the direct and immediate threat of deadly state violence. It didn't and that's, in many ways, a more interesting and disturbing thing to consider.
This isn't a particularly original or new thought - if you've run across, say, Masha Gessen's recent writing, it's often reiterated (as a kind of starting point) there as well.
Ah, exactly - I don't think that's why it continued to work. Consider, for example, how quickly and effectively the system replicated itself all over Eastern Europe. Those places had their bloody coups and brief periods of Stalinist terror but nothing of the Soviet scale and duration. Many avoided outright forced collectivization, a few didn't even require a permanent occupying Soviet army. And it still worked.
Even if we can't agree how or why, it's on us to always think about it in the hope it might in some small way prevent it from happening again. In the places that we left or the places we came to.
And because you didn't have the Big Terror to the same extent, life in Eastern Europe was quite a bit better than in the USSR. When we visited a friend in Prague in 1985, he had a collection of "anti-soviet" literature (including Kolyma Stories that would be enough to send anyone in USSR reliving Shalamov's experience. And he didn't even hide it...
Not everybody was living in a prison camp in USSR, not even a majority of the population. This kind of literature was funded and promoted by the West because it supports the western society discourse.
Person who judges life in USSR by these kind of books will have a very skewed opinion.
I mean, I'd agree that the material is a thin slice of the society, but come on. These are real personal narratives of people who lived through these experiences. The implication that "the West" is why these books exist, not just why we're able to read them, is absurd.
Can you think of some that weren't, I dunno, 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' or Huck Finn? The notion that a survivor's memoir like Shalamov's is some kind of Western plot was absurd in its time and plainly disgusting now.
No no no no no no. How do you jump from one to the other? That's like saying Anne Frank's diary's credibility is tainted by the injustice of the internment of US citizens of Japanese ancestry.
I think the parent comment is reductive in a the-opposite-of-insightful way but no, that literature was not "funded and promoted by the West because it supports the western society discourse."
7. I saw that the only group of people able to preserve a
minimum of humanity in conditions of starvation and abuse
were the religious believers, the sectarians (almost all of
them), and most priests.
29. Russians’ uncontrollable urge to denounce and complain.
What? What of the revolutions in China, Cambodia, Laos et al not to mention the forced but successful reduction+ of shinto?
+ I wanted to use the term "degradation" but that has acquired a non-technical connotation -- I really do mean its diminution in status
It's more helpful to think of Communism as just another kind of religion.
People who ran Soviet Union had very little to do with leading people on the streets. They did had few squabbles with loyalists after they began their purge campaigns, but their extend is also exaggerated.
Ones who were the true loosers were the people who hid under the bed and thought that things will sort out (no civil war ever "sorted out" - one side loses, another wins.) And even bigger ones were those spend the civil war wailing and moaning for moderation and trying to dissuade others from even thinking who is right and who is wrong. Bolsheviks repaid those types with a lot of gratitude, those fools were first to walk in front of firing squads after a token expression of gratitude.
Very misinformed statement, don't even know where to begin. Red Terror was Lenin's invention. The whole leadership was a band of thugs. Lenin developed an entire philosophical theory of terror. These 60 millions were not killed overnight, true. The "night" lasted from 1917 to 1953.
After all, don't most revolutions involve a denouncement of the previous culture? For example, most Americans were British in culture, but they then shrugged off the trappings of that culture, choosing to rule themselves rather than to accept norms set by the rightful king and parliament.
Denouncement of religion isn't new either -- for how many countless centuries have religions (and sects of religions) been denouncing each other? Regarding tolerance, anti-religious secularists are the same as fundamentalists, except that they deny one additional religion. Probably even better morally, because they rarely call for killing those who disagree.
The majority of men love themselves while women love others. Men will sacrifice for themselves. Women will sacrifice for others.
Why? Is it global culture teaching a woman from birth her life is about others? A husband and kids? While teaching men that their value is in their work, their job, their income, their power?
I know nowadays, especially in the tech scene, it is frowned upon to suggest intrinsic differences between the sexes and to imply those differences can affect behavior at a statistical level, but with this fascinating historical context, it's an interesting thought.
In tournament species it is the observed strategy of males to devote as little as possible on offspring and to maximize impregnate as many females as possible, while the female strategy is to maximize the gene quality as that is the only contribution to the success that the male gives to the offspring (and the continuation of her genes if one view natural selection to be about the continuation of genes). Males tend to be large then females, and usually evolve disadvantaging traits for survival in favor of traits that increase competitiveness against other males. A typical example would be Elephant seals. Common traits among tournament species is a large difference life expectancy among male and females, and only a short portion of the male population that successfully reproduce.
Pair-bonding species create a balance where both the male and female spend approximation the same amount of energy (resources) on offspring. A big benefit is the extra insurance that two parents provide, and there is a directly associated chance for twins in pair-bonding species. A typical example is most birds who spend approximating similar amount building nest, brooding, collecting food and feeding the offspring. Many people think when they see a bird sitting on eggs that it must be the female, or when one is carrying nest material that it must be the male, but that is just us projecting our culture onto nature.
And to answer the question on where humans fit in this categorization, the answer is somewhere in the middle and it is unclear why we have not settled on a single strategy.
There is generally two types of reproductive method;
A) what we do. Get a few children and then invest a lot of resources, including self-sacrifice, to bring them up
B) birth as many children as you possibly can, then invest little to no resources in them, whoever survives may reproduce.
What is this based on? Militaries have always had far more men than women. Men sacrifice for their families and children all the time - many less privileged men work lifetimes at jobs they hate to support their families.
"These wives had to resign themselves both to the cold and to the constant torment of following their husbands, who were transferred periodically from place to place. The wife would have to abandon the job she had found with such difficulty and move to an area where it was dangerous for a woman to travel alone, where she might be subject to rape, robbery, mockery…" see more on p. 206 https://www.scribd.com/document/367793028/Kolyma-Tales
Most people eventually did understand, of course.
This is catchall phrase that means essentially nothing. He was publicly critical of Stalin and his father was a priest, which sounds more like real reason.
> I have been following some leftist stuff and saw this article recently by Trotsky.
so Trotsky has a better reputation than most leadership from the early USSR; he didn't last long in power.
It's worth studying the USSR as an example of how a revolution can simultaneously fail and succeed; how leftists fail, sort of, how ordinary people survive.
A lot of blinders were on people in the early years of the USSR - much of what was said positive was wrong; much of what was said negative later on wasn't really too right either. Again, blinders. What's incontrovertible is that the violence was endemic to the system for decades; Stalin's time was really bad. How that affected people... that's debated.
I've read some about the USSR and Russian history; there's libraries written on it by now. Recent scholarship seems to be better IMO; less emotionally charged and tainted by Cold War attitudes.
I thought these authors' work was well done - it captures a lot of the pre-1937 mode of the USSR in a relatively humorous way.