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Chapter Six - Schizophrenia 
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Post Chapter Six - Schizophrenia
In Chapter Six of The Master and Margarita, the poet Ivan has been confined to a lunatic asylum in response to his mad violent ravings about the devilish tourist who predicted the exact circumstances of the unusual tragic death of the editor Berlioz. The avuncular head of the asylum, a Dr Stravinsky, bids Ivan good morning soon after his 1.30 am admission to the facility, to which Ivan’s vicious loud response is “Hello, you quack”. Certainly looks crazy on the surface, except that those talking to him can easily see he is perfectly sane.

The line I find most interesting in this chapter is Ivan’s analysis of the poet Ryukhin who has accompanied him to the asylum. Ivan calls the poet “a kulak masquerading as a proletarian.” Here we see, recalling Ivan’s suggestion that the philosopher Kant deserved jail for his ideas, that Ivan imagines himself as a pure loyal Bolshevik, and is completely incensed and mystified by his unfortunate circumstances, falsely accused and condemned as a schizophrenic.

To understand the operation of the concept of the kulak, the rich peasant, in Soviet life, it is helpful to read in Stalin’s Foundations of Leninism, his essay on The Elimination of the Kulaks as a Class, available at http://www.marx2mao.com/Stalin/EKC30.html explaining how the peasants must be weaned off their capitalist notion of property ownership. In view of Stalin's explanation of how to think, it is hardly surprising that real inner kulaks, believers in personal property and freedom, will pretend to be communists, mouthing outwardly the lip service required by the new communal faith, while harbouring inner demons of greed, individuality and revanchism. As Orwell noted, such demons can readily be detected by the sensitive apparatchik. Bulgakov was even worse than an inner kulak, he was a propagandist for counter-revolution. No wonder he kept his book secret.

Bulgakov here presents an acute and painful satire of Soviet life. Ivan’s situation was sadly widespread, as any reading about Stalin’s Great Terror and the earlier purges will show. It was precisely the true Bolshies who put their own ideas above the communal will represented by Stalin, and who therefore had to be condemned to arbitrary arrest in order to explain to the masses that communism meant the complete loss of individuality, the totalitarian rule of what Rousseau had called the “general will”, which Robespierre had implemented with the innovative blade of Monsieur Guillotine, and which Stalin refined with such Genghisite lack of mercy or pity.

Communism is terror. The use of mental illness as a political diagnosis, aiming to terrorise and intimidate and suppress any thought of originality in the Soviet Union, is the object of Bulgakov’s satire in this chapter. This suppressive syndrome was a big contributor to the eventual collapse of the USSR. The society acquired a learned helplessness in response to the sclerotic top down incapacity to innovate or even think due to fear of denunciation. Now sadly with people wanting to send Trumpites off to the loony bin, this communist mentality is again a spectre stalking the world.


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Harry Marks
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Post Re: Chapter Six - Schizophrenia
Robert Tulip wrote:
Certainly looks crazy on the surface, except that those talking to him can easily see he is perfectly sane.
Well, yes and no. He is perfectly, obviously sane, but at the same time not clear on some aspects of reality. This suggests that the political judgment as to people's mental health is in the same category as sending them to the gulag for improper political views: arbitrary, yet somehow inevitably implied by the course chosen.

It reminds me very much of the good citizens in Zinn's history, who brutally suppress strikers for fighting back, feeling that the alternative is intolerable anarchy. They don't believe in brutality, but irrational fear makes them conclude it is inevitably required.

Robert Tulip wrote:
The line I find most interesting in this chapter is Ivan’s analysis of the poet Ryukhin who has accompanied him to the asylum. Ivan calls the poet “a kulak masquerading as a proletarian.”

And later, in the part that I found most insightful, Ryukhin himself admits that his poetry is bad because he doesn't believe a word he writes. In Russian letters, the true heart seems to demand a certain unconventionality and eccentric vision. The man of letters is of a different character from the conventional family man of the benighted countryside. Thus the conformity imposed by the Party rule is shown to be truly devilish - my favorite explication of the theme is Vonnegut's "Harrison Bergeron."
Robert Tulip wrote:
Ivan imagines himself as a pure loyal Bolshevik, and is completely incensed and mystified by his unfortunate circumstances, falsely accused and condemned as a schizophrenic.
I see that Ivan is a dupe, and that his foolishness is seen in his adherence to particular facts (which he knows to be true) but lack of understanding of their meaning. With it I can now make sense of the symbolism of his bizarre flight through the streets of Moscow (I think it is Moscow) in response to the urgency of the events he has been party to, but utterly without regard for any of the issues which shape conventional behavior.

This is a good theme for an anti-Communist to explore, and raises important questions as to what role "the meaning of life" plays in grand political questions. Is life just about material conditions? Or do issues like honesty and loyalty "really" matter?

Robert Tulip wrote:
To understand the operation of the concept of the kulak, the rich peasant, in Soviet life, it is helpful to read ... how the peasants must be weaned off their capitalist notion of property ownership.
Zinn has many of the same contemptuous conclusions about principles (like democratic elections) which might compromise the absolute authority of social control. It is the scariest thing about totalitarian systems, and so it is appropriate to raise the topic in the middle of this arrival at the actual madhouse. Yet of course Bulgakov must tread lightly on the subject.

Yet I cannot help thinking that there is a vast middle ground between the absolutism of Stalin's rejection of private property and the absolutism of the Koch Brothers' apparent belief that government must allow unchecked accumulation due to the sanctity of property. Small property is clearly protection from others. Big property is more: it makes the owner into a leader and decider, a ruler of a sort. It is simply a fallacy to say one cannot restrict the freedom of big property without eliminating the protection of small property.

Robert Tulip wrote:
In view of Stalin's explanation of how to think, it is hardly surprising that real inner kulaks, believers in personal property and freedom, will pretend to be communists, mouthing outwardly the lip service required by the new communal faith, while harbouring inner demons of greed, individuality and revanchism. As Orwell noted, such demons can readily be detected by the sensitive apparatchik.
One has the feeling that Bulgakov is exploring, with this book, the cognitive dissonance between the social requirements run amuck in communism, on the one hand, and the inner requirements of fashioning art.

Robert Tulip wrote:
It was precisely the true Bolshies who put their own ideas above the communal will represented by Stalin, and who therefore had to be condemned to arbitrary arrest in order to explain to the masses that communism meant the complete loss of individuality, the totalitarian rule of what Rousseau had called the “general will”,
The dilemma is much broader than what was portrayed so starkly in Communist revolutions. A vision of transformation will necessarily be incomplete and not entirely consistent with other people's visions of transformation. There are few forced moves in the creation of a new order, and most choices will not be determinable by such forced moves. Yet unity of purpose and of action is almost by definition a forced move - because power structures of the old system will inevitably fight, the new system must force itself to unify. The Democrats are facing a mild variation on the theme in their current experiment with multicultural refashioning of society.

Robert Tulip wrote:
Communism is terror. The use of mental illness as a political diagnosis, aiming to terrorise and intimidate and suppress any thought of originality in the Soviet Union, is the object of Bulgakov’s satire in this chapter.
So far, Communism has been terror in every place where it has acquired state power. Yet communism of the Tolstoyan, Benedictine, kibbutznik, hippie variety, is anything but terror. Small, voluntary common property can be marvelous. Big, enforced common property seemingly must be horrible.

I think we are on to a pattern, here.

Robert Tulip wrote:
This suppressive syndrome was a big contributor to the eventual collapse of the USSR. The society acquired a learned helplessness in response to the sclerotic top down incapacity to innovate or even think due to fear of denunciation.
Yes, I think "learned helplessness" makes the point well. Party members could think, but they had to constantly monitor themselves to see that they weren't thinking things (or at least expressing ideas) that might threaten the power of the Party. The spirit of transformation and creation of the brave new world was killed by the law of power's imperatives.

Robert Tulip wrote:
Now sadly with people wanting to send Trumpites off to the loony bin, this communist mentality is again a spectre stalking the world.
Pshaw. Roy Moore and his ilk do not belong in a loony bin, but Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a real threat to social functioning, and it must be met with firmness. Interestingly, we have mainly military men holding back the excesses of 45's NPD. Firmness is their middle name.



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Post Re: Chapter Six - Schizophrenia
Harry Marks wrote:
Ryukhin himself admits that his poetry is bad because he doesn't believe a word he writes.
Bulgakov is saying that lack of sincerity and integrity destroy genuine artistic creativity. In a context where artists’ success depends on second-guessing the views of a narrow clique of political leaders, the admiration and reputation that come in response to genuine expression are stifled. The whole genre of Soviet Realism suffered from this syndrome of replacing the truth with a lie.
Harry Marks wrote:
In Russian letters, the true heart seems to demand a certain unconventionality and eccentric vision. The man of letters is of a different character from the conventional family man of the benighted countryside.
Somehow this makes me think of the famous opening line from Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” But the ironic inversion in Bulgakov is that he looks to see the Stalinist society as unhappy due to its conformity, with happiness reserved for those who retain a spirit of individuality.
Harry Marks wrote:
Thus the conformity imposed by the Party rule is shown to be truly devilish - my favorite explication of the theme is Vonnegut's "Harrison Bergeron."
Looks a good suggestion for a short story to discuss, just 2222 words. Vonnegut is also one of my favourite authors. “THE YEAR WAS 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren't only equal
before God and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter
than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was
stronger or quicker than anybody else. All this equality was due to the
211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing
vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General.”
Harry Marks wrote:
Ivan is a dupe… his foolishness is seen in his adherence to particular facts (which he knows to be true) but lack of understanding of their meaning. With it I can now make sense of the symbolism of his bizarre flight through the streets of Moscow (I think it is Moscow) in response to the urgency of the events he has been party to, but utterly without regard for any of the issues which shape conventional behavior.
Yes, Moscow, including the Moscow River and the Arbat. Who do you think dupes Ivan? It could be the Party, Satan, Berlioz or just himself. The most famous communist dupes were the useful idiots such as George Bernard Shaw, the confused and misguided sympathisers that the Soviet regime exploited for propaganda. With Ivan, his toughness and bravado in his earlier conversation with Satan are replaced by a wild-eyed sense that his own experience is so compelling to him that it must automatically be equally compelling to others as he explains it. I feel that Bulgakov is satirising a particularly cynical practice among communists, the public expression of high principle contrasted with private ruthlessness. Ivan experiences a version of communist ruthlessness taken to an absurd extreme, and his loss of innocence creates in him the false assumption that his own conversion will meet with empathy, when instead it just encounters incredulity and suspicion.
Harry Marks wrote:
This is a good theme for an anti-Communist to explore, and raises important questions as to what role "the meaning of life" plays in grand political questions.
Could you clarify what you see as this theme? It seems you are asking about the ‘end justifies the means’ hypocrisy of communism. The ruthless opportunism means that a loyal proletarian like Ivan will be tossed aside without compunction when he knows too much and asks awkward questions about principle.
Harry Marks wrote:
Is life just about material conditions? Or do issues like honesty and loyalty "really" matter?
These questions go to the heart of the relation between politics and economics. The implicit question is whether it is possible for a society to improve material conditions in ways that are dishonest and disloyal. Clearly it is possible in the short term, but I think the Soviet example is the signal lesson that absence of principle produces unsustainable systems. The Psalmist summarised it with the line that without vision the people perish (Prov 29:18). When a society collapses into mutual universal suspicion and mistrust, it cannot really function, since we need to assume basic conditions such as that people will keep promises and honour contracts. Communists saw tactical advantage in abrogating bourgeois values, but this destruction of civil society and the market economy imagined a role for the state that it could never fulfil. Traditional ideals of honour, nobility, integrity, honesty and loyalty are moral principles that are essential for social functioning.
Harry Marks wrote:
Robert Tulip wrote:
To understand the operation of the concept of the kulak, the rich peasant, in Soviet life, it is helpful to read ... how the peasants must be weaned off their capitalist notion of property ownership.
Zinn has many of the same contemptuous conclusions about principles (like democratic elections) which might compromise the absolute authority of social control. It is the scariest thing about totalitarian systems, and so it is appropriate to raise the topic in the middle of this arrival at the actual madhouse.
The edition of Stalin’s Works that I read in a library years ago translated Stalin’s essay title (under your …) as “On the Liquidation of the Kulaks as a Class”, whereas the Peking edition uses the term elimination. This term ‘liquidate’ has always filled me with horror, with its image of human beings turned to liquid. There is a certain euphemistic intellectual quality in Stalin’s treatment of policy, holding open the idea that liquidation might involve steps short of genocide, even though that was the actual meaning.
Harry Marks wrote:
Yet of course Bulgakov must tread lightly on the subject.
The glorious thing about The Master and Margarita is that Bulgakov’s total secrecy in writing the book gave it a cathartic liberating function for him, the opportunity to make statements that if found would give him a one way ticket. So when mad Ivan calls the apoetchik a kulak pretending to be a communist, he satirises the bitter tension of Soviet society, how kulak values of thrift and honour and dignity must be suppressed in favour of the bloodthirsty communist cult of equality.
Harry Marks wrote:
Yet I cannot help thinking that there is a vast middle ground between the absolutism of Stalin's rejection of private property and the absolutism of the Koch Brothers' apparent belief that government must allow unchecked accumulation due to the sanctity of property. Small property is clearly protection from others. Big property is more: it makes the owner into a leader and decider, a ruler of a sort. It is simply a fallacy to say one cannot restrict the freedom of big property without eliminating the protection of small property.
This reminds me of an earlier comment you made Harry about the nature of capitalism. The US dealt with this problem quite effectively in earlier times, as I understand it, through Trust Busting. What I really like about Hayek’s book The Constitution of Liberty is his emphasis on rule of law, the idea that an unregulated market is suboptimal, and that capitalism can only work with strong state regulation of the economy, extending beyond property ownership to also include standards. The ability of a state to prevent monopoly seems to be one of the most challenging policy questions, especially Trump’s demonstration of the power of monopoly to deceive. America’s descent into the maelstrom of plutocracy looks like a trajectory towards military dictatorship. Teddy’s Big Stick https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Presidenc ... regulation was actually wielded against Wall Street and Standard Oil.
Harry Marks wrote:
Bulgakov is exploring, with this book, the cognitive dissonance between the social requirements run amuck in communism, on the one hand, and the inner requirements of fashioning art.
Indeed he is. In his letters in Manuscripts Don’t Burn, Bulgakov’s views about the vacant despair of communism and the importance of traditional values comes through even more strongly. Communism gives the state a central dominating role in society, to the point of intruding into free association and expression in ways that are intensely intimidatory and destructive. In thinking of great artists who were communist, Brecht comes to mind, except that even his reputation is compromised by his dishonest corrupt idiocy, a condition endemic to communist thought. Art requires individual freedom of conscience, to listen to the voice of the spirit.
Harry Marks wrote:
The dilemma [of freedom] is much broader than what was portrayed so starkly in Communist revolutions. A vision of transformation will necessarily be incomplete and not entirely consistent with other people's visions of transformation. There are few forced moves in the creation of a new order, and most choices will not be determinable by such forced moves. Yet unity of purpose and of action is almost by definition a forced move - because power structures of the old system will inevitably fight, the new system must force itself to unify.
The French Revolution presented Liberty as its rallying cry, in rebellion against how the king had suppressed the freedom of the peasantry. The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen of 1789 defined liberty as “being able to do anything that does not harm others.” The problem is that in a situation of war, a government requires a military draft, kicking liberty out the window. This illustrates that revolutions inevitably copy the methods of reaction, by necessity since the reactionaries try to overthrow the revolution forcing creation of a united front of the popular forces. Unity comes at the cost of diversity and liberty.
Harry Marks wrote:
The Democrats are facing a mild variation on the theme in their current experiment with multicultural refashioning of society.
We have quite a lively debate at the moment in Australia about homosexual marriage, with concerns that the advocates of change are resorting to totalitarian methods.
Harry Marks wrote:
So far, Communism has been terror in every place where it has acquired state power. Yet communism of the Tolstoyan, Benedictine, kibbutznik, hippie variety, is anything but terror. Small, voluntary common property can be marvelous. Big, enforced common property seemingly must be horrible.
My view is that a sharing economy can only function in a context of high trust and high abundance, meaning that left wing values of equality can only be achieved in practice when they build upon right wing values of freedom. Monastic communes form an exception through the intense focus on ideology including the poverty vow, but the high levels of education and voluntarism required for such monkish institutions means they are risky and invalid models for broader social organisation.
Harry Marks wrote:
I think we are on to a pattern, here.
What do you mean?
Harry Marks wrote:
"learned helplessness" makes the point well. Party members could think, but they had to constantly monitor themselves to see that they weren't thinking things (or at least expressing ideas) that might threaten the power of the Party. The spirit of transformation and creation of the brave new world was killed by the law of power's imperatives.
Orwell invented the concept of Crimestop to describe this syndrome of mental self policing: “The first and simplest stage in the discipline, which can be taught even to young children, is called, in Newspeak, CRIMESTOP. CRIMESTOP means the faculty of stopping short, as though by instinct, at the threshold of any dangerous thought. It includes the power of not grasping analogies, of failing to perceive logical errors, of misunderstanding the simplest arguments if they are inimical to Ingsoc, and of being bored or repelled by any train of thought which is capable of leading in a heretical direction. CRIMESTOP, in short, means protective stupidity... orthodoxy in the full sense demands a control over one's own mental processes as complete as that of a contortionist over his body.”
Harry Marks wrote:
Robert Tulip wrote:
Now sadly with people wanting to send Trumpites off to the loony bin, this communist mentality is again a spectre stalking the world.
Pshaw. Roy Moore and his ilk do not belong in a loony bin, but Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a real threat to social functioning, and it must be met with firmness. Interestingly, we have mainly military men holding back the excesses of 45's NPD. Firmness is their middle name.
I had not heard of Roy Moore, and discovered that he has a very long and entertaining Wikipedia entry. My view is that his use of the Ten Commandments was a straightup code for racial, class and sexual prejudice, since Moses defined a person as a man who owns property. What I was getting at was that social polarisation has reached a highly deranged level. Bulgakov’s experience fighting for the White Russians against the Bolsheviks in the Civil War was a far more intense experience of division than anything happening today, and yet it provides worrying lessons for current trends.


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Post Re: Chapter Six - Schizophrenia
Robert Tulip wrote:
Bulgakov is saying that lack of sincerity and integrity destroy genuine artistic creativity. In a context where artists’ success depends on second-guessing the views of a narrow clique of political leaders, the admiration and reputation that come in response to genuine expression are stifled.

I heard a bit of a BBC interview with Orhan Pamuk, who is in the position of having to censor himself on Islam and its relation to modernity. He was apparently in a sort of self-exile for a while, but considers it worse to be isolated from his proper milieu than to have to watch out what he expresses.

The matter of writing for oneself or for what other people want is a very complex one. In America we have people (Stephen King is an unembarrassed example, by his own account) who write for the market - for what other people want to read. Writers who steer their writing toward "something with more zip" rather than having something to say that matters to the grand philosophical and political conversations are "judged ordinary" and that in itself can shape the way writers pursue their craft, producing "wannabe's".

No wonder the books on writing advise both going into yourself and reflecting what is in the world accurately, with no sense of how to bridge that gap. My sense is that the gap, between exploration of inner life and understanding of the world, is integral to the spiritual nature of the human condition. The selection of what to reflect accurately in the objective world is based on "meaning," but the nature of the meaningful is deeply dependent on the way we construe our inner conflicts and frustrations. Writing is being touted these days as a substitute for religion as well as for psychotherapy, and there is something to that.

Robert Tulip wrote:
The whole genre of Soviet Realism suffered from this syndrome of replacing the truth with a lie.
In principle art could be done anyway. Leni Riefenstahl seems to have been mainly interested in the technical aspects of her film-making and largely ignored or even repudiated its effect of glorifying Nazism. I have had the experience myself of being asked to do an artistic project which only appealed for its difficulty, but there is a certain exhilaration from such a challenge.

Robert Tulip wrote:
Harry Marks wrote:
In Russian letters, the true heart seems to demand a certain unconventionality and eccentric vision. The man of letters is of a different character from the conventional family man of the benighted countryside.
Somehow this makes me think of the famous opening line from Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” But the ironic inversion in Bulgakov is that he looks to see the Stalinist society as unhappy due to its conformity, with happiness reserved for those who retain a spirit of individuality.

It is actually an old trope (Faust, Dostoevsky, and more) that the Devil appeals to our near-term desires, and if we aren't careful we are led to betray the long-term priorities (our soul). Bulgakov is doing a very interesting variation on this. The actions of Satan (and the Cat) have to do with launching apparent impossibilities into conventionality, conformity, and (in the new order) iron compulsion. Satan's temptations have to do with interpretation and denial of metaphysical realities, rather than with power, glory, money or sex appeal.

I'm not sure I would go so far as to conclude that the conformists are meant to be seen as unhappy, though losing themselves in materialist trivia or in vodka could be seen that way.

It seems possible to me that he is suggesting that the element of diabolical compulsion (which is not coming from His Satanic Majesty but the new, wholly materialistic world order) turns those who would normally be clear-headed and rational into people who can't credit what they have seen with their own eyes, opting for some conspiracy by masked outsiders instead. The most original thinkers have been converted into the most pedestrian of paranoid plodders.
Robert Tulip wrote:
Harry Marks wrote:
Ivan is a dupe… his foolishness is seen in his adherence to particular facts (which he knows to be true) but lack of understanding of their meaning.
Who do you think dupes Ivan? It could be the Party, Satan, Berlioz or just himself.
I guess I think it is meant to be his insistence on materialism that misleads him most thoroughly. Bulgakov could very well have thought this to be true of Shaw, Bertrand Russell and other determined materialists.
Robert Tulip wrote:
With Ivan, his toughness and bravado in his earlier conversation with Satan are replaced by a wild-eyed sense that his own experience is so compelling to him that it must automatically be equally compelling to others as he explains it. I feel that Bulgakov is satirising a particularly cynical practice among communists, the public expression of high principle contrasted with private ruthlessness. Ivan experiences a version of communist ruthlessness taken to an absurd extreme, and his loss of innocence creates in him the false assumption that his own conversion will meet with empathy, when instead it just encounters incredulity and suspicion.
That's really interesting. It is a kind of blindness, or perhaps madness, that comes from interpreting "high principle" in terms of one's own power. An extreme case, perhaps, of the sports principle that "winners always want the ball": personal power is completely identified with whatever motivations the person thinks they are propelled by.
I'm not immediately persuaded by your interpretation of Ivan's blithe expectation of being believed, but it would fit with the blindness you pointed out.
Robert Tulip wrote:
Harry Marks wrote:
This is a good theme for an anti-Communist to explore, and raises important questions as to what role "the meaning of life" plays in grand political questions.
Could you clarify what you see as this theme? It seems you are asking about the ‘end justifies the means’ hypocrisy of communism.
I had in mind the contrast between facts and interpretation, and the materialist's rigid preference for "proper" interpretation despite more natural and obvious interpretations. The shallowness of not seeing deeper forces goes with the rigidity of insisting on materialism when something else is afoot.

Marx brilliantly saw the arrangement of interpretations (the "superstructure" of culture) as inevitably dominated by the class structure determined by ownership of the means of production (violence, then land, then capital - buildings and machines). When the bourgeoisie emerge as an important force, something like Calvinism will emerge to justify it, "droit de seigneur" will give way, and aristocracy will eventually be replaced by "bourgeois democracy." Cromwell (or something like him) is inevitable, and Robespierre. Note that he avoided arguing that socialism is "right" and instead substituted "inevitable." Marx had attempted to banish the spiritual force of what is right by turning instead to analysis purporting to show socialism as inevitable (we still haven't heard the last word on the decline in the return on capital, by the way.) Right and wrong are empty conventions, while material circumstances are determinative.

Thus the Marxist/Leninists turned to justifying horrible means with noble ends, a continuation of the rule of violence of the old, pre-democratic regimes, by arguing that they were the clear-eyed ones (shades of Talleyrand). They banished issues of meaning and worthiness of goals by arguing necessity instead. While I am not yet impressed by Bulgakov's choice of symbols for the hidden world of the spirit, I am willing to grant its dismissal a central role in the disaster that was communism.
Robert Tulip wrote:
Harry Marks wrote:
Is life just about material conditions? Or do issues like honesty and loyalty "really" matter?
These questions go to the heart of the relation between politics and economics. The implicit question is whether it is possible for a society to improve material conditions in ways that are dishonest and disloyal. Clearly it is possible in the short term, but I think the Soviet example is the signal lesson that absence of principle produces unsustainable systems.
I don't think there is any question that material improvements can happen by means that fatally compromise honesty and virtue. Zinn's book is an extended proof. What did the American promises and treaties with the First Peoples mean? Something between diddly and squat. Honesty? Don't make me laugh.
Robert Tulip wrote:
The Psalmist summarised it with the line that without vision the people perish (Prov 29:18). When a society collapses into mutual universal suspicion and mistrust, it cannot really function, since we need to assume basic conditions such as that people will keep promises and honour contracts. Communists saw tactical advantage in abrogating bourgeois values, but this destruction of civil society and the market economy imagined a role for the state that it could never fulfil. Traditional ideals of honour, nobility, integrity, honesty and loyalty are moral principles that are essential for social functioning.

If you were to put it as baldly as a claim that five-year plans and a much higher rate of economic growth could justify the discrediting of honour, integrity and loyalty, I would say that is the question at the heart of the experiment. A similar experiment took place in China, with the one-child policy. The party was not too concerned with how the persuasion took place, and much barbarity ensued. Yet the gains in standard of living, and thus in material well-being, were enormous (and still continuing). After the creation of a scientific method and the acquisition by farming Europe of hunter-gatherer North America, it was probably the single most materially elevating development in modern history.

Was it worth it? Given the dominance in human decision-making of urgent material need over longer-run spiritual priorities, I would tend to say yes. The former choice of larger families was neither noble nor visionary. But the enormous cost of the policy should never be forgotten, and the people who were imposed upon should have a certain shame at not choosing the right road for themselves, without state control.

But you raise a more narrowly focused question: suspicion and mistrust. Leaving aside the crimes which actually do have a material justification for society, the question of whether a society needs to have a sense of honour in order to rely on each other is also important. And I think Bulgakov may be suggesting that the bargain with the devil which was the embracing of materialism may have ripped apart mutual loyalty. As we await some understanding of the shooting in Las Vegas, I am inclined to wonder whether the same thing is happening in the West.

Robert Tulip wrote:
This term ‘liquidate’ has always filled me with horror, with its image of human beings turned to liquid.
Well, it may have no more behind it than the liquidation of corporations, in which their physical assets are sold for liquidity, quite literally.
Robert Tulip wrote:
So when mad Ivan calls the apoetchik a kulak pretending to be a communist, he satirises the bitter tension of Soviet society, how kulak values of thrift and honour and dignity must be suppressed in favour of the bloodthirsty communist cult of equality.
Yes, I think that is a central image, and one that I am happy you underlined. I read right past it, myself. The middle class has always been dismissed as a bunch of "strivers" and so they (we) are. Yet all the more reason why they (we) need a code of honour.
Robert Tulip wrote:
Harry Marks wrote:
Small property is clearly protection from others. Big property is more: it makes the owner into a leader and decider, a ruler of a sort. It is simply a fallacy to say one cannot restrict the freedom of big property without eliminating the protection of small property.
This reminds me of an earlier comment you made Harry about the nature of capitalism. The US dealt with this problem quite effectively in earlier times, as I understand it, through Trust Busting. What I really like about Hayek’s book The Constitution of Liberty is his emphasis on rule of law, the idea that an unregulated market is suboptimal, and that capitalism can only work with strong state regulation of the economy, extending beyond property ownership to also include standards.
I haven't read "Constitution of Liberty" but probably should. I think trust busting was necessary but not sufficient. It took a constitutional amendment to introduce an income tax, due to the dominance of the courts by the propertied class. It took the near revolutionary desperation of the Great Depression to raise the graduated rates significantly and make taxation on high incomes substantial. And now we are living with Citizens United, in which the Supreme Court bizarrely threw out limitations on the support that corporations and the rich (including foreigners!) could extend to political candidates, thus turning the Republican party into something straight out of Bulgakov. Apparatchiks every one.

Robert Tulip wrote:
Harry Marks wrote:
Small, voluntary common property can be marvelous. Big, enforced common property seemingly must be horrible.
My view is that a sharing economy can only function in a context of high trust and high abundance, meaning that left wing values of equality can only be achieved in practice when they build upon right wing values of freedom. Monastic communes form an exception through the intense focus on ideology including the poverty vow, but the high levels of education and voluntarism required for such monkish institutions means they are risky and invalid models for broader social organisation.

Robert Tulip wrote:
Harry Marks wrote:
I think we are on to a pattern, here.
What do you mean?

I meant to reference the comparison between the benevolence of small property and the benevolence of small communism, by contrast with the abuses which tend to arise with big business with big communism. I appreciate your foray into analysis of the conditions at work. I am turning the idea over for a possible essay, and I think you have identified important issues.
Robert Tulip wrote:
I had not heard of Roy Moore, and discovered that he has a very long and entertaining Wikipedia entry. My view is that his use of the Ten Commandments was a straightup code for racial, class and sexual prejudice, since Moses defined a person as a man who owns property.
Since I know this sort of person in real life, I would say only to an extent. It is a code for religion, which in the South means "respectability." The alternative is the Sportin' Life (although if you are white you can move back and forth across the boundary, with or without dramatic displays of remorse.)

The Ten Commandments are a code for "doin' like you was raised to do." This may include lynching blacks (though rarely these days, and the real nutjobs go in more for militias and church burnings) and brewing moonshine in the hills, but it most certainly includes a "code of trust and loyalty" among the ordinary white folks. No rape, or even insulting women, speaking respectfully to your elders, sticking to your word, taking responsibility for your own ups and downs, and no shacking up or cheating on your spouse.

These people honestly believe that taking prayer out of schools was a turn down the road to perdition, and burning the flag is the equivalent of calling a man a lying no-good cheat to his face. (Expect trouble, because you asked for it.) Many are heavily invested in evangelical Protestant religion and believe in the Rapture, Hell and seven-day Creation as necessary badges of respectability.
Robert Tulip wrote:
What I was getting at was that social polarisation has reached a highly deranged level.
Maybe, but what you don't seem to get is that 45 actually is deranged. By that I mean he is disconnected from any reality of moral principles, most especially including any obligation to actually tell the truth, and he has a moderate case of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (which normally implies moral incapacity). His divisiveness has been elevated to power by the desperation of people who are heavily invested in social division. They are not actually deranged, in my view. They are like Roy Moore - locked into a combative but fundamentally innocent view of the way the world works.
Robert Tulip wrote:
Art requires individual freedom of conscience, to listen to the voice of the spirit.
Very true, very quotable.



The following user would like to thank Harry Marks for this post:
Robert Tulip
Fri Oct 06, 2017 9:13 am
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