A poignant piece on NPR this morning describing Oleg Dorman’s Russian tv documentary, “Translation,” in which a old woman describes her experiences in Soviet Russia beginning with the Stalin era. Lilianna Lungina was a daughter of a committed communist and emigrated to the USSR in 1934. What caught my ear this morning was Ms Lungina’s description of her wake-up call. Her teenage best friend with whom she was walking was picked up by authorities and disappeared–right before her eyes. The crime? Not tattling on her parents. She spoke out against arresting children at a meeting of her Communist Youth League, and was herself dropped as a member.
The freedom of speech and thought I had absorbed during my foreign childhood inoculated me against this Soviet way of behaving. You read a story, and everyone had to give the same analysis. There was one answer for everything. I saw things others didn’t see. From the start I could not but protest.
The echo chamber is not a particular evolutionary development of the Soviet state, or even of Communism in general. Indeed, this sort of groupthink is alive and well in certain inbred sections of the internet. Not a secret: it’s a human failing. It can happen anywhere.
I was thinking of my comments on a friend’s site a few days ago in which I agreed there were better candidates for the Nobel Peace Prize than the president, and that I thought he should decline the honor. Unfortunately, I refused to criticize Mr Obama, or to agree the award was a “farce.” (I actually think the award was given for his winning the election and getting the neocons dumped from power. Norway should realize that the GOP had imploded pretty well by 2008, and that most any serious candidate above a reptile on the evolutionary scale would have thrashed them anyway.) The upshoot of it was the usual criticism: Todd is arrogant. Todd is picking a fight. Todd is such a big person. Blah blah blah.
I’m in a fortunate place in that I can tweak certain sensibilities and not be worried about retribution. For some internet folks, the only difference between them and a Communist youth group is that they lack the power of the state to reinforce the echo. I have no doubt that some personalities would very much enjoy being the head of the KGB, and bury unwanted persons eight or ten stories underground. And that’s not for being in ideological disagreement–that’s for not agreeing to every jot and tittle of the manifesto.
What’s the point? Aside from a little provocation on this brisk Monday morning, I want to encourage you readers to reject the groupthink wherever you find it. You should never automatically accept what I have to say on this blog. If you have the inner sense of steam or an outer one of nonsense, you should call me on it. Likewise when you see other web sites present an all-too-easy take on the complex matters of life–call them on it. Don’t worry about them calling you a “big person” or “arrogant” or an “ass.” Laugh at them. Thank God they don’t exist as a mob in your neighborhood with rifles and clubs. All they have is electrons–which you can turn off whenever you need a break.
But make no mistake: people like this are deeply afraid of dissent. Catholics in particular use “dissent” as a word akin to an obscenity. If they had the guns and clubs, some of them would eagerly embrace the methods of the Communist Youth League. If they had the viruses and the smarts, they wouldn’t hesitate to cripple your web site. They are not beyond using the resources of the internet to go after your job, your livelihood, or anything important to you.