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    Or a thread in which i can deposit my various trials, tribulations and amusements during my month in the bleak midwinter

    Yesterday, I ended up in someone's office drinking "soviet champagne" at the end of the work day. My department head invited me, because she had been invited by one of her friends who is the head of the civil engineering faculty (it;s a technical university, so the language department I'm in , is sort of an outlier). There were 4 of us there, two of whom didn't speak English and one of whom (yours truly) who doesn't speak Russian. The conversation was stilted and complex, but sort of enjoyable (lubricated in no small part by the "champagne"). One of the other visiting professors currently in situ here is a woman from Lithuania, who I've met a couple of times and who seems nice enough. She was working for one of the departments represented in the meeting and somehow the conversation ended up on her and in particular how much she hates Russia and the Soviet Union (a not unreasonable position for a Lithuanian of around 60 to take I'd say). They started talking about how they knew that the USSR had lots of problems but at least there was something that people believed in. There was a kind of "purpose" to things they argued. I tried to raise some of the major flaws (after all at the weekend, i had visited a gulag, which, you know, was not exactly what i would see as a representative of an idealistic society). But, in some small way I could see their point. There was something to believe in, there was an ideology there, however twisted it became, and perhaps (though I sort of doubt) that may people did feel that they were working for the common good . Whereas now, does anyone feel a sort of societal purpose, a feeling of belonging to something greater than just individual survival? I'm not really sure. Nobody, surely, thinks of capitalism as some kind of ideal to strive towards, it's normally presented as (at best) the most successful model we've yet to come up with. It's not a goal in itself. And what else is there? Liberal democracy? Again it's just a sort of "better than other stuff we've tried" system. (In management/organisation theory, motivation and engagement is linked closely to a sense of purpose. But beyond the organisation, into the level of society, nobody is trying to create or offer a sense of purpose. Are they?)

    Anyway, thoughts?

    #2
    I would say that there are definitely people who believe that capitalism is an ideal to strive towards, that's basically a capsule summary of Ayn Rand-style American libertarians.

    What was the "Soviet champagne" like? Was it actually sparkling wine? Some kind of treated vodka?

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      #3
      It wasn't bad at all. Yes, sparkling wine. I'm guessing probably from Georgia or Moldova

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        #4
        Originally posted by scratchmonkey View Post
        I would say that there are definitely people who believe that capitalism is an ideal to strive towards, that's basically a capsule summary of Ayn Rand-style American libertarians.
        I'm trying to get my head around this a bit. I sort of believe it, but I don't really understand it on any intellectual level. We have rampant "pure" capitalism and it is anti - societal. (it's OK I do really believe that Randists think if we go even further it will improve people's lives, but it seems so counter to every experience we've ever had)

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          #5
          Massive Heaven 17 earwom from the thread title.

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            #6
            Here's another little interesting thing. Karaganda, the city I'm in, basically grew up as a result of the existence of this vast "labour camp" part of the Gulag system. It was only founded in 1931, as a mining town, a few years before the camp was also created. But the growth in population came really as a result of the camp. As people were released, some settled here. As a result the city is seen as an intellectual, multicultural city (because most of the occupants of the camp were either intellectuals or members of different national groups - or both). My boss here was telling me about her father who is one of three brothers. One of her uncles married a German and now lives in Germany, one married a Jew and lives in St Petersburg, and her mother is a Tatar. And this is quite a typical story.

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              #7
              That last thing is interesting. I would have guessed that there would be a prejudice against a town that got settled with loads of ex-inmates of the prison system with people unwilling to discern the difference between criminals and the intellectual and multi-ethnic prisoners of the gulag system. It’s actually very pleasing to find out that this kind of prejudice doesn’t exist.

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                #8
                Originally posted by ad hoc View Post
                They started talking about how they knew that the USSR had lots of problems but at least there was something that people believed in. There was a kind of "purpose" to things they argued. I tried to raise some of the major flaws (after all at the weekend, i had visited a gulag, which, you know, was not exactly what i would see as a representative of an idealistic society). But, in some small way I could see their point. There was something to believe in, there was an ideology there, however twisted it became, and perhaps (though I sort of doubt) that may people did feel that they were working for the common good .
                How about this, they're people of a certain age, who are nostalgic for aspects of their youth, and they're confusing the positive aspects of their youth, with the system under which they lived. It's not uncommon. The UK is leaving the european union in substantial part because nigel farage et al basically sold it to boomers as going back to the good old days of Benny Hill and on the buses. Back when you could drink during your lunch break, and grope the secretaries, and passports were blue. When labour took a swing to the left, did they move towards a proper functional modern form of social democracy like scandinavia? Did they Fuck. They went back to what was considered left wing in the context of the 1970's, and reheated a cargo cult form of Bennism, and their big ideas revolved around bringing back british rail and british mail. The tendency seems to be relatively independent of your political leanings, and is just one of those things that humans seems to have been doing since the start of society.

                But this nostalgia doesn't just effect people whose youth was played out under communism. When I shared a flat with two east germans, the youngest one who was maybe 4 years old when the wall fell, and he had a strong case of Ostalgie. (His parents were chemists and company directors under communism, so they likely had quite a benign experience) the one who was 14 when the wall fell kept telling him he was an idiot.

                Also whatever Karl Marx's original intention, Communism is a Utopian Grift. where people's unhappiness with the current system is sharpened to point of a spear, and they are promised pie in the sky before they die, and all they have to do is give these people absolute power to bring it about. You can see the problem inherent in such a set up. There's not a lot in Das Kapital about the need for an effective secret police to root out the enemies of the state. The lack of any mechanism to protect people from Sociopaths, psychopaths and monsters invariably means that those people are always going to be in charge. Also there is the built in unpleasantness, that If you're actually going to do it, the only way to convince people who own property to hand it over to the state, is to put a gun in their mouth, and if that doesn't convince them, them you've got to pull the trigger. It's not an ideology that can become twisted over time, it starts out that way.
                Last edited by The Awesome Berbaslug!!!; 25-11-2021, 23:50.

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                  #9
                  Originally posted by The Awesome Berbaslug!!! View Post

                  How about this, they're people of a certain age, who are nostalgic for aspects of their youth, and they're confusing the positive aspects of their youth, with the system under which they lived.
                  This is different (or at least in a different kind of level). I'm familiar with people in Romania, say, hankering after certain aspects of life under communism, and in some cases starting to remember only them, rather than everything else. These people weren't reminiscing about a lack of crime, or the certainty of employment at the tractor factory. They were specifically wondering aloud about the lack of any form of ideology or purpose driving society or people's connection to the wider good. They weren't even suggesting that the ideology had to be communism, merely that they felt that what was lacking on modern society (everywhere in the world) was any form of societal connection and purpose. And, to be honest, i can see where they are coming from. Now, largely because of communism, and things like the USSR, we tend to look at some kind of attempt to make people buy-in to a greater good as flawed (at best) or wholly evil (at worst).

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                    #10
                    They're clever people who are rationalizing their nostalgia? I mean that's what it sounds like. They are essentially reporting how they felt about wider society, as much as telling you anything about that society. It sounds different if you are broadly sympathetic to the story that they are telling, but if you swap the USSR for catholic ireland up to the seventies, you'd get some people saying the same thing, but you'd notice it more.because it would obviously sound weird to you.
                    Last edited by The Awesome Berbaslug!!!; Yesterday, 02:34.

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                      #11
                      Onwards, comrades, onwards. We must never wallow in the past, but forge ourselves anew in the white hot furnace of progress

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                        #12
                        I think hat TAB is being overly cynical (how unlike him).

                        If one spent one's entire academic career being trained in ideology (and did well enough in those courses to have achieved what they did), it doesn't seem that surprising that one can feel that something is missing in the current discourse, especially given that communitarianism is considered a fringe idea in the West and the Nordics don't really spend much effort on exporting their ideology, while the atomistic focus of neo-liberalism, libertarianism and the rest expressly reject the very idea of the greater good.

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                          #13
                          Originally posted by The Awesome Berbaslug!!! View Post
                          They're clever people who are rationalizing their nostalgia? I mean that's what it sounds like. They are essentially reporting how they felt about wider society, as much as telling you anything about that society. It sounds different if you are broadly sympathetic to the story that they are telling, but if you swap the USSR for catholic ireland up to the seventies, you'd get some people saying the same thing, but you'd notice it more.because it would obviously sound weird to you.
                          OK your edit makes some points worth discussing, and I'll think about it a bit and do so. (but I have to teach now)
                          Last edited by ad hoc; Yesterday, 04:45.

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                            #14
                            Ok, so i think the catholic Ireland analogy is a fair one to make, and is perhaps similar in some (perhaps a lot of) respects. I know very little about deeply catholic (or indeed any religion based) societies, but if those societies are kind of held together by a shared belief system that defines how society itself operates then that would be similar. My limited understanding suggests that catholicism, (or islam or whatever) talks fairly little about how the members of a society can work together to improve everything for everyone - indeed it seems from my outside perspective that most religions focus on ways one can improve ones own afterlife more than the lives of ones neighbours (even if helping others or alms giving, or what have you, is one of the ways that you can up your chances of a better afterlife). Perhaps liberation theology is more along the lines of what I'm trying to get across here? Not sure.

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                              #15
                              Originally posted by ad hoc View Post
                              it seems from my outside perspective that most religions focus on ways one can improve ones own afterlife more than the lives of ones neighbours (even if helping others or alms giving, or what have you, is one of the ways that you can up your chances of a better afterlife).
                              Evangelical Christianity tries to make those two concerns (community and personal salvation) dependent on each other.

                              I hate utopianism for the reason TAB suggests (green light for sociopaths) and think people aren't really wired to care about or want what's best for millions of strangers as opposed to their immediate family and community, especially when multiculturalism is an ideal. Observing human behavior at large doesn't encourage them to feel otherwise. Scandinavia being the best example of successful communitarianism would seem to illustrate that you'd best start with a fairly small and manageable and homogeneous society. I would guess that a sense of connection to family and a smaller community is in general decline, as a dystopian effect of online communication. Finding like-minded people online is potentially great but has certainly balkanized discourse about reality in extremely counterproductive ways.

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                                #16
                                Originally posted by ursus arctos View Post
                                f one spent one's entire academic career being trained in ideology (and did well enough in those courses to have achieved what they did), it doesn't seem that surprising that one can feel that something is missing in the current discourse, especially given that communitarianism is considered a fringe idea in the West and the Nordics don't really spend much effort on exporting their ideology, while the atomistic focus of neo-liberalism, libertarianism and the rest expressly reject the very idea of the greater good.
                                Again this has its parallels in post catholic Ireland. See i think t's not really communitarianism or thinking of the common good, if its an instruction from on high, backed up with a gulag/mother and child home/ industrial school/exile if you don't obey. It's just a method for exercising control, that is using nice words to mask its controlling intent. Another part of this that doesn't necessarily ring true for me from an irish perspective is the idea that publicly expressed ideas of communitarianism, or social fairness, lead to better outcomes and a fairer society. This sort of language is what Irish people use to express their extreme self interest. You should see how the 'left wing' parties in ireland justify opposing a property tax. It would make a stone weep.

                                Originally posted by ad hoc View Post
                                Ok, so i think the catholic Ireland analogy is a fair one to make, and is perhaps similar in some (perhaps a lot of) respects. I know very little about deeply catholic (or indeed any religion based) societies, but if those societies are kind of held together by a shared belief system that defines how society itself operates then that would be similar. My limited understanding suggests that catholicism, (or islam or whatever) talks fairly little about how the members of a society can work together to improve everything for everyone - indeed it seems from my outside perspective that most religions focus on ways one can improve ones own afterlife more than the lives of ones neighbours (even if helping others or alms giving, or what have you, is one of the ways that you can up your chances of a better afterlife). Perhaps liberation theology is more along the lines of what I'm trying to get across here? Not sure.
                                Oh Ad hoc, you sweet sweet child of summer there is an entire world of terrible Catholic sociology for you to be horrified by. I can't imagine that Islam is any different. It's important though not to think of Communism, or catholicism or islam as being a coherent non changing belief system, but rather ones that vary widely based on the society that they are laid on top of. In the case of communism it's simply because they are usually a mirror image of the pre-existing society, with more efficient monsters in charge.

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                                  #17
                                  It's also an easy ethical option. To do the "right thing" you do what the ideology / holy book / person in charge / Party says you should do. That absolves you as an individual for any actions. It's why people will commit atrocities in the name of a god or an abstraction like "freedom" or "the People".

                                  People who hanker after the purpose provided in authoritarian structures are authoritarian followers - they don't want the challenge of making ethical decisions themselves or having to determine what is right or wrong or what they should do with their lives.

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                                    #18
                                    I think I haven't explained well what I think they were getting at. That they felt they were helping in some way in striving for a greater good (or at least, the sense that this was possible, that there was something over and above the self or the family) and that feeling a sense of loyalty or connection to this sense of service (I guess would be the best word) was actually something that could draw society together and create a positive movement. They are all heads of department in a university, so they're not idiots, and were and are not blind to the failings of the system that they experienced this in. But that the overriding idea of working towards a better society for everyone was something that they thought had merit (and something they felt was lacking now)
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                                      #19
                                      Originally posted by Patrick Thistle View Post
                                      People who hanker after the purpose provided in authoritarian structures are authoritarian followers - they don't want the challenge of making ethical decisions themselves or having to determine what is right or wrong or what they should do with their lives.
                                      This for example seems a million miles away from what I'm trying (and clearly failing) to get across

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                                        #20
                                        It's needed in the abstract and lacking now, but in practice it didn't have merit in their case.

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                                          #21
                                          Originally posted by ad hoc View Post
                                          I think I haven't explained well what I think they were getting at. That they felt they were helping in some way in striving for a greater good (or at least, the sense that this was possible, that there was something over and above the self or the family) and that feeling a sense of loyalty or connection to this sense of service (I guess would be the best word) was actually something that could draw society together and create a positive movement.
                                          Well what's to stop them from picking something and making that their mission?

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                                            #22
                                            It might not be an all-encompassing cause like the Soviet Dream (or a fundamentalist religion) but that's probably a good thing.

                                            Comment


                                              #23
                                              Originally posted by ad hoc View Post
                                              I think I haven't explained well what I think they were getting at. That they felt they were helping in some way in striving for a greater good (or at least, the sense that this was possible, that there was something over and above the self or the family) and that feeling a sense of loyalty or connection to this sense of service (I guess would be the best word) was actually something that could draw society together and create a positive movement. They are all heads of department in a university, so they're not idiots, and were and are not blind to the failings of the system that they experienced this in. But that the overriding idea of working towards a better society for everyone was something that they thought had merit (and something they felt was lacking now)
                                              This reminds me of the concept of "cultural catholics". You can have rejected all the teachings of catholicism at an early age, but you're not going to grow up through that system without the wider underlying culture affecting you and your thinking. If you grow up surrounded by collectivist propaganda, that's going to have a major effect on how you construct the world, even if you reject the underlying political philosophy it seeks to support.

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                                                #24
                                                I went to the USSR in March 1990, and it was enough to put me off communism for life. It was a historically interesting time to be there (not that we were aware of this at the time), the Berlin Wall had gone a few months earlier and the McDonalds in the Moscow had opened a few weeks earlier. I remember being on a coach driving through the city and seeing the queue snaking right the way round the building. We went to the GUM department store there one day. In the electrical section, they had these TV sets straight out of the 1960s, black and white sets with a dial to change channels. I turned one of them out of idle curiosity and it came off in my hand. A lot of the store was just shelves of small cardboard boxes with bits of ribbon and buttons in them. The city had underground stations that looked like opera houses, but it felt... miserable, like all the joy in life had been sucked out of it.

                                                In St Petersburg, meanwhile, there were market stalls selling polyester trousers with a denim print on them, and people from our school had people coming up to them in the streets and trying to get them to swap their jeans or whatever they were wearing for what they were wearing. One guy dropped his trousers in front of a girl, and there was very nearly an incident. And while this probably sounds like me being a daft western consumerist, it was pretty clear that in a broad sense the quality of life at ground level there wasn't great. We were staying in what I think were fairly fancy hotels, and the food was abysmal. The vegetarians in our party didn't eat much more than bread and cheese with salad or plates of boiled vegetables for a week. I came back from it thinking, 'Well, communism is done, and how it falls and what might replace it is a bit scary.

                                                I find tankies to be among the most fascinating people on the internet, but I don't mean that in a complimentary sense.

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                                                  #25
                                                  This is a fascinating thread with some great contributions.

                                                  I don't have much time to add to it other than to briefly address AH's central point and to wonder why the local academics don't believe that educating the young, discussing ideas and adding the fruits of their research to the intellectual fund of the nation isn't all helping to contribute to the overall betterment of society and is a hugely motivational cause in and of itself.

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