Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Those who forget the past…

... are condemning us all to repeat it.

Back in May we reported on the results of a recent poll of Swedish teenagers, whose high school education caused 40% of them to conclude that communism had somehow increased prosperity in the world. 90% of the teens didn't even know what the soviet concentration camps, the gulags, were.


You would think, that if anyone in the world would understand the evil of communism as it is actually practiced, compared to the fantasies promised in speeches, books and classrooms, it would be the people who had directly suffered, generation after generation, under its grinding yoke: the Russians.

You would think that, and yet according to a new poll released by the Yuri Levada Centre, you would be wrong.

When asked if Stalin was a wise leader, half of the 1,802 respondents, aged from 16 to 19, agreed he was. "Fifty-four percent agreed that Stalin did more good than bad," said Theodore Gerber, a sociologist from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "Forty-six percent disagreed with the statement that Stalin was a cruel tyrant."
...
"What we find troubling is that there is a substantial proportion of young people in Russia today who hold positive or ambivalent views on Stalin and his legacy," Gerber said. "We think it would probably be more appropriate if there was more condemnation of the Stalin era."
The poll showed 17 percent of the young people disagreed that Stalin was responsible for the imprisonment, torture and execution of millions of innocent people, while 40 percent thought his role in the repression had been exaggerated.

It shames me to admit it, but I used to be a proto-communist myself, many years ago. Thank God, I escaped its seductive charm, through a blessed combination of personal life experiences involving working closely with other people, and a lifelong fascination for studying history. There is such a stark disconnect between the glories that are promised under communism, and the awful nightmares that history reveal to be the inevitable realities of actually living under a communist system. Surely only a dishonest, or lazy, mind would fail to see this colossal disconnect, and continue to place faith in its promised utopias.

It's not "cool" to be stupid... is it?

In the case of Russia, the evils of communism unleashed nightmares statistically close to that of the two large-scale wars that ravaged the nation twice in the first half of the 20th century.
World War I: the carnage of trench warfare, the sinful arrogance of officers wasting untold lives by relying on outdated battlefield tactics in ignorance of modern military technology.
3,311,000 russians, soldiers as well as civilians, were killed in World War I; yet approx 8-9 million russians were killed during Lenin's rule following the war.
World War II: the nazis viewed the slavs as sub-human opponents, and their approach to warfare on the eastern front reflected that philosophy, causing the "great patriotic war" to become "generally accepted as being the most costly conflict in human history".
23,600,000 russians, soldiers as well as civilians, were killed in World War II; yet approx 20,000,000 russians were killed under Stalin's rule, up to and then after the war. (that number is averaged from several sources; totals are all over the map for deaths under Stalin. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, author of The Gulag Archipelago, as one example, claims a total of 60,000,000 killed!)

Maybe one of these days this kind of information can be taught in schools...

I wish it had been taught to me in my school.

10 comments:

John said...

One thing to keep in mind about those Russian kids: it is human nature, and ethically correct, to always begin from the assumption that an authority is legitimate, until proven otherwise. If we didn't believe that, if we somehow believed the Western morons who tell kids to question all authority, we'd all end up lost confused nihilists on prozac with no faith in anything.

So, if you are like most teenagers - ignorant about pretty much everything - I'd rather see the knee-jerk assumption that your country's leaders in the past were basically decent, than not. If you begin with the assumption that kids are historically ignorant, the answers they give about Stalin are on one level still the right answers to give. It's only the wrong answer when you actually know who Stalin was.

maccusgermanis said...

it is human nature, and ethically correct, to always begin from the assumption that an authority is legitimate, until proven otherwise.

No. In fact your belief that such assumption must be made belies your own nihilism. To always assume that an authority is legitimate is to be a useless human being. You hide, if you in fact have, any abilty to distinguish yourself from a Furby.
Legitimate authority does not need such baseless affirmation. Instead it is strengthened by the process of question asked, question answered. If an authority can not restate answers to already settled questions or provide a basis for inquiry into new problems, it is illegitimate.

In fact it is an assumption that all authority is legitimate that causes the oft mentioned "left dhimmi fascist" to resign the oppressed forever to islam.

When an authority presents itself, ask questions, just do not pretend that there are no answers.

John said...

Sure you should ask questions. But why bother unless you assume that the person who will answer them is more or less in a legitimate position to answer them. Either we give our government leaders the benefit of the doubt, until we are shown they don't deserve it, or we are lost (or in Orwellian hell). By beginning with faith that our leaders have a reasonable answer, given the forces they are balancing, we show our faith that legitimate government is or should be the norm in human affairs. If we know the government is truly corrupt, and against us, we don't dare ask questions, except in the oblique way of the court jester, which is itself a way of subversively saying that the government should be legitimate unlike what it is now.

maccusgermanis said...

A question is sometimes asked to see if a pretender can substantiate their claims. I often ask questions to this effect, such as, Do you really think Orwell's point was that authorities should always be extended the benefit of doubt?

For a free person to mindlessly give over freedoms of their conscience to an assumed authority is to volunteer to slavery. -becoming, both despised as slaver, and pitied as slave- a miserable creature-

That "power is derived by the consent of the governed" does rely on the governed being thoughtful in their consent. Otherwise truely is an Orwelian nightmare. Even a prince that oppreses a thoughtful people does face his own destruction. But a populist tyrant can spread injustices so long as he is given the benifit of the doubt.

The true and universal benefit of doubt is that those that can't answer are dismissed while those that can are elevated. Authority should never be assumed but rather should more naturally evolve from a history of rewarded trust. In large part, we in the West have such a history. Russia does not.

john said...

Do you really think Orwell's point was that authorities should always be extended the benefit of doubt?

-I'm not sure Orwell was trying to make the point I am; but for starters, keep in mind that he cared enough about truth to write his books; that implies, it seems to me, a certain good faith that humanity can and ultimately must orient itself towards the truth and this orientation can only begin with a certain faith that cannot be reduced to a purely rational calculus. You have to trust other people, at the start, without firm guarantees that they are trustworthy, at least until they prove themselves untrustworthy.

As I was trying to say I have nothing against doubt, just against radical doubt, wholesale skepticism. If, as a defense mechanism - so that you never get burned - you never believe or trust anyone, you may not get burned but you will never be able to engage the other person usefully in some shared endeavor. Your life will be empty.

What do we have to lose about accepting as a default position that we believe our responsible and informed leaders, UNTIL they prove themselves untrustworthy? We don't lose anything because we can still ask questions and when that asking leads us to see the truth more clearly than our leaders' professions, we can then re-orient ourselves to that greater truth and treat our leaders accordingly. But if we always begin with radical skepticism then we never get anywhere down that road to figuring out greater truths and engaging our leaders in a conversation about them.

maccusgermanis said...

The statement, "You have to trust other people, at the start, without firm guarantees that they are trustworthy, at least until they prove themselves untrustworthy." is more an arguement against blind trust in leadership than for it. If I extend my trust broadly to other people, then what need is there to concentrate trust in an assumed authority? The doubt of authority is in fact the trust in people more broadly. It is the recognition that even though all men are not angels, such decentralized authority has less ability to do harm than a, trust invested, few.

It is possible to extend a token of trust, even universally to all people, without singularly trusting an authority. That small model of trust (not true trust) is rewarded either favorablly or not. The decision to grant more trust is based upon such experiment. What reason does a Russian youth have to trust in Stalin? How did he repay the trust loaned to him? How can a Russian youth know, but to study rather than assume Stalin's trustworthiness? If first your head, then "Your life will be empty."

Thankfully, in USA, our leaders did not even believe in such foolishness, as unproven trust. That is why their initial model was dectralized. It was later centralized because of certian failures of the decentral powers. It was, even then, made central only to the degree that such decentral powers were willing to accede their powers for common reward. The assumption mustn't be that an assumed authority has innate trust, but rather that the governed have a profound responsibility to be circumspect with their consent.

john said...

I agree with your preference for decentralized government. But no matter how decentralized, there will always be various ceters of decision making and these will always work to acquire intelligence and to do diplomacy that will not be immediately evident to anyone else, especially when a national government is dealing with foreign powers. So, for example, the question is whether once you decide that your president told you something false about the situation in the Middle East, you are going forever to doubt everything your president says about his intelligence and diplomacy on the Middle East. Of course he will be wrong again, but you will lose a lot as a nation, needing to come together and find resolve from time to time, if you radically doubt everything your president ever says.

What reason does a Russian youth have to trust in Stalin? How did he repay the trust loaned to him? How can a Russian youth know, but to study rather than assume Stalin's trustworthiness?

- I never said that Russian kids shouldn't learn who Stalin really was. Of course they should. But, simply to play devil's advocate a bit, I was posing a choice between two evils and asking which was the lesser. I'm not sure. Is it worse to have kids with a knee-jerk trust in their leaders, so that they will ignorantly defend a historical figure like Stalin about whom they know nothing? Or is it worse to have radically skeptical and cynical kids who don't believe in anything but, say, skateboarding, hip hop, and getting high? If the question is the survival or reproduction of the nation, which is a more promising, least awful, starting point? It's really not clear to me.

maccusgermanis said...

... you are going forever to doubt everything your president says about his intelligence and diplomacy on the Middle East.

No. In fact, I doubt seriously my President's understanding of the problem, and yet support many of his innitiatives. This is not blind trust, nor should it be confused as trust at all. -a blind hog finds an acorn occaisionally- My understanding of things is not contigent on any hero worship, nor any worship of an anti-hero. My consent to be governed is an informed decision.

I was posing a choice between two evils and asking which was the lesser. I'm not sure.

Actually you'd said, "...it is human nature, and ethically correct, to always begin from the assumption that an authority is legitimate, until proven otherwise."

But I understand if you now wish to retract that statement.

I'd opt for apathy over either following. The largest trouble we have isn't with the truly apathetic, but rather with the late coming, uninformed, knee-jerk trusting of leftists that have assumed authority.

The solution is not the same unexamined trust into more traditional leaders, but honest doubt. Some traditions reveal a greater history of rewarding trust than others.

John said...

Actually you'd said, "...it is human nature, and ethically correct, to always begin from the assumption that an authority is legitimate, until proven otherwise."

- I don't like the "human nature" bit, since that's all too imprecise, but I'll stick with the ethical part. But I don't think we're disagreeing too much. I am basically condemning radical skepticism, and you are defending a tempered skepticism. Let's look at it from the Russian perspective, under communism. My question is basically this: should the Russian, under totalitarianism, just give up on the ethical idea that we should have trust in something sacred at the centre of our society? Or, when he grows up and realizes that he is living in a horribly corrupt society and that speaking out will get him killed, should he, instead of giving up on belief, just quietly, subversively, keep focussing on what is true and beautiful and trying to show it to others as a kind of ultimate authority? If he does the latter, he is implying that what is normal for humans is to put faith in something. I still say we must begin with that and that a serious questioning of our leaders can only flow from a primary faith in human systems and the hope that they may be legitimately represented.

maccusgermanis said...

And so the amended statement should read "...it is ethically correct to always begin from the assumption that an authority is legitimate, until proven otherwise."

Perhaps even, you'd intended to say that it is ethically correct to assume a model of authority, to which a pretender can be measured. To my model, Stalin fails. I believe many Russians also recognise Stalin's failure. Should I lend credibilty to the uninformed youth? No, they are fools that desprately need an education more than they need any understanding from a Western audience. For us to expect a Russian youth to assume the validity of Stalin, is too assume said youth is a dumbass. Extending human trust more broadly, I expect them to learn better.

Quiet subversion does certianly have its rightful place under a totalitarian authority, but it does at least suggest a rejection of said authority's legitimacy.