On being free or having free stuff 1

Karl Popper and Friedrich Hayek were two great 20th century thinkers who argued for freedom. They differed on one point: Popper held freedom to be in itself the highest value; Hayek thought freedom is valuable, indeed essential, because it enables innovation.

Innovation comes from the minds of individuals. A government controlled society in which the individual’s only – and enforced – duty is to serve the collective, does not allow origination. The organized mass is sterile. It cannot invent. That’s why it’s wrong to call socialism, communism, any shade of leftism,”progressive”. A socialist society cannot advance. It can only stagnate.

That’s why Communist China has had to steal new ideas and devices from countries in which free thought and its expression are permitted.

What many people who live in countries that are still comparatively free find attractive about socialism is that it promises “free stuff”. Vote the socialists into power and you will get free school, free health care, free housing, free strawberries with free cream. Well, okay, maybe not the cream. And maybe also not the strawberries. And maybe you will have to share a house. And the health panel will decide whether you may live or must die. And what you’ll be taught will be adherence to doctrine not search for truth. But still – it will all be free. At the time it is dispensed to you, whatever it is, you will not have to pay for it. The rest of your time you’ll be working for it.

Natan Sharansky was born in Soviet Russia and lived the first decades of his life there. He eventually escaped to live in freedom in Israel.

He writes about the torture of the mind in the prison of Communism:

My father, a journalist named Boris Shcharansky, was born in 1904 in Odessa, the cultural and economic center of the Pale of Settlement, where the Russian empire stuck most Jews. He studied in the Jewish Commercial Gymnasium, because most other gymnasiums accepted very few Jews, if any. By the time he was 16, he had already lived through the Czarist Regime with its anti-Semitic restrictions, the “February” Socialist Revolution, the “October” Bolshevik Revolution, and the years of civil war when power in Odessa seesawed back and forth from faction to faction, as hunger, pogroms, and destruction decimated the population.

When the Soviets finally emerged from the chaos, therefore, my father was hopeful. The Communists promised that a new life of full equality was dawning, without Pales of Settlement, without education restrictions, and, most important, with equal opportunities for all. Who wouldn’t want that? … [He]  was excited about building a world of social justice and equality closer to his home. …

Lucky for him, Odessa was emerging as a center for a new cultural medium—cinema. As silent Charlie Chaplin-type movies started evolving into more scripted sketches, my father put his storytelling talents to work. …

Of course, to succeed in his career as a screenwriter, he had to follow certain rules. His scripts, like every other work of art, had to follow the script of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, seeing the world through the lens of class struggle and class exploitation. As Karl Marx argued, and the Bolsheviks now decreed, “the history of all hitherto-existing societies is the history of class struggles. Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight”.

Thankfully, in its final stage of class struggle, following Karl Marx’s teaching, the proletariat had seized power from its masters, establishing a dictatorship of the proletariat who would build a classless society of equals. So-called bourgeois freedoms, minor matters like civil liberties and human rights, were nothing more than facades for exploiting others. The old world and its retrograde values had to be destroyed in order to bring forth social justice. Today, such a singular vision might be called Critical Class Theory—or maybe The 1917 Project.

Everything had to serve Communist ideology: every institution, every medium, every art form. Lenin particularly appreciated the propaganda potential of movies, declaring, “Cinema for us is the most important of the arts.” So while all creative artists had to subordinate plot, character, and complexity to advancing the Bolshevik political agenda, movie-makers endured extra scrutiny. The term “politically-correct“, which is popular today, emerged in the late 1920s, to describe the need to correct certain deviants’ thought to fit the Communist Party Line. Any positive characters with bourgeois origins had to eventually check their privilege, condemn their past as oppressors, and publicly take responsibility for their sins.

At first, True Believers who championed the Revolution’s noble aims easily accepted these restrictions. But as the Red Terror grew … the number of True Believers kept shrinking …

I was born … in 1948. My father had fought as a soldier in the Red Army in World War II for four years, and had returned a hero. … (Our] family which had lost so many friends and relatives in the Holocaust, then watched so many friends suffer during Josef Stalin’s political and anti-Semitic purges …

Every day, my father went to work [as a journalist] …  seeking interesting stories. But, when it came to writing them up, his imagination had to shrink, his mouth had to be wired shut, his hand had to clamp tight, as he produced what the Party required. He knew the handicapped journalism he created was not true journalism, the art that resulted was not true art, the thoughts triggered were not real thoughts and the conversations surrounding it all were not real conversations. Yet my father remained a storyteller at heart—and now he had an audience—my older brother by two years and me.

When my father came home from work, he could leave the suffocating grey false universe he helped to create behind, and welcome his beloved family into a full-color world. From the time we were very young, he would tell us stories on three levels—explaining to us what the author said, what the author wished to say, and what the author could not say. When we started, from a very young age, our ritual of weekly outings to the movies, he would recreate the movie for us on the way home, filling in what the screenwriter probably wanted to write, and explain what he could not write. …

No [professional writer] was ever quite sure what would be permitted or not, what red line they might cross tomorrow; what “macro-aggression” or “micro-aggression” they might suddenly be found guilty of committing. To be a man of letters in a sea of fear was to worry about drowning constantly. …

Looking back at the history of Soviet literature, it’s hard to find any of the thousands of writers [who conformed] … who wrote anything worth reading or remembering. Their books, published on a massive scale—often selling millions—simply disappeared. … Eventually, their lies consumed both the characters and their authors, leaving nothing behind.

By contrast, the works that lasted defied Stalinist orthodoxies in the service of truths, both immediate and internal. Stalin killed some of these honest writers, like the poet Osip Mandelstam. Some killed themselves, like the poet Marina Tsvetaeva. Some lived daily with the fear of arrest, or under the shadow of purges, like Anna Akhmatova. Some, like the novelist Mikhail Bulgakov, accepted the fact that their books would go unpublished in Russia—his classic The Master and Margarita didn’t see the light of day for decades. Others, like Boris Pasternak, who smuggled Dr. Zhivago to the West, sought readers elsewhere and paid the price back home ….

By my generation there were few True Believers left. Your field of vision had to be very narrow indeed to still see the crumbling society around us as some kind of Communist paradise.

I spent my high school years as an academic grind, drowning in problem sets, working around the clock to amass five out of fives in mathematics and physics. Because I knew that I had to follow a very specific script to get the character reference I needed from the local Komsomol authorities, I also spouted the right slogans, participated in the right youth activities, and sang the right songs. Yet even after I fulfilled my young dreams and made it to MFTI—Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, the Soviet equivalent of MIT—the scrutiny continued. We math and science students had to keep paying lip service to the Soviet gods, like everyone else. We kept taking tests on Marxist doctrine every semester, even when studying at the postdoctoral level. …

Our professors subtly encouraged us to brush such annoyances aside. We were the elite, they kept telling us, racing toward a golden future. It was all worth it. I was luxuriating in the sanctuary of science, an asylum protected from the daily insanity the Soviets imposed on nearly everyone else. I decided that the deeper I was into my scientific career, the less stressful this double life would be.

It was a comforting illusion—until I read Andrei Sakharov’s manifesto.

Sakharov was our role model, the number one Soviet scientist sitting at the peak of the pyramid each of us was trying to climb so single-mindedly. In May 1968, this celebrity scientist circulated a ten-thousand-word manifesto that unleashed a wrecking ball which smashed my complacent life. “Intellectual freedom is essential to human society,” Sakharov declared. Bravely denouncing Soviet thought-control, he mocked “the ossified dogmatism of a bureaucratic oligarchy and its favorite weapon, ideological censorship.”

Sakharov warned that Soviet science was imperiled without “the search for truth”. … At the time, there were few who could understand the depths of this critique. The Soviet Union wasn’t just relying on its scientific wizards to develop nuclear weapons; we now know that the research ran in tandem with an elaborate spying operation that stole as many of America’s atomic secrets as it could.

The message was clear for us. Sakharov helped us realize that the Soviet restrictions on free thought ran deep. You not only have to control your political opinions, but every interaction with your colleagues, every new insight, has to be checked and rechecked, for fear of ideological implications that could destroy a career in this world where even entire fields of inquiry were cancelled for being politically incorrect. Soviet scientists spent so much time looking over their shoulders and in their rear-view mirrors that they could not plunge ahead and catch up with their Western peers.

Long before most others, Sakharov saw in the Soviet scientific community the equivalent of the literary mediocrity we all saw in Soviet Realism. … Life in a dictatorship offers two choices: either you overcome your fear and stand for truth, or you remain a slave to fear, no matter how fancy your titles, no matter how big your dacha.

Natan Sharansky made the decision to stand for truth.

He applied to emigrate to Israel.

As a result of both decisions, he was jailed for nine years.

Once I had done it, once I was no longer afraid, I realized what it was to be free …

And that was why, during nine years in prison, when the KGB would try tempting me to restore my freedom and even my life by returning to the life I once had, it was easy to say “no”. …

Over the last three decades in freedom, I have noticed that … the feeling of release from the fear … is universal across cultures. This understanding prompted the Town Square Test I use to distinguish between free societies and fear societies: Can you express your individual views loudly, in public, without fear of being punished legally, formally, in any way? If yes, you live in a free society; if not, you’re in a fear society.

[Today] nearly two-thirds of Americans report self-censoring about politics at least occasionally … despite the magnificent constitutional protections for free thought and expression enshrined in the Bill of Rights

To preserve our integrity and our souls, the quality of our political debate and the creativity so essential to our cultural life, we need … a test [that] asks: In the democratic society in which you live, can you express your individual views loudly, in public and in private, on social media and at rallies, without fear of being shamed, excommunicated, or cancelled?

A lot of American voters – even if not as many as the socialist Democratic Party claimed in order to seize power –  recently voted against freedom. They voted for the political party that promised free stuff. And already masters of the social media, most of them politically correct social justice warriors, refuse to let opinions they disagree with be expressed on their forums. Free speech is deeply unpopular with the Leftists now in power in America. Freedom itself is not valued. Those “magnificent constitutional protections for free thought and expression enshrined in the Bill of Rights” are being swept aside.

You will not be free – and the stuff you get from government won’t be free either.

Anything that costs you your freedom, costs too much.

He said he said 0

The pointless Israeli-Palestinian talks proceed. Or maybe not.

Tuesday the Palestinian Authority’s Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad, stormed out of a meeting with Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon. The cause of his fury? He proposed that there should be a Palestinian state in which only Arabs and no Jews would be allowed to live, and a second Palestinian state  – where the State of Israel with its mixed population of Jews and Arabs now exists – in which Jews would be allowed to go on living. At least some Jews. For a time. Perhaps.

Ayalon rejected the proposal.

So if the talks that were started without any remote chance of bringing any result whatsoever break down despite all Obama’s pressure to keep them up, it will be Israel’s fault.

It’s always Israel’s fault when the dear old talks break down.

Bill Clinton now blames Natan Sharansky for the failure of the Israeli-Palestinian talks held under his auspices at Camp David in 2000, when Prime Minister Barak made an extremely generous offer to Arafat, which Arafat turned down.

[Foreign Policy magazine] claimed that Clinton talked about a conversation that he had with Natan Sharansky, who, according to Clinton, was the only Israeli minister to reject the comprehensive peace agreement Clinton proposed at the Camp David Summit in 2000.

“I said, ‘Natan, what is the deal [about not supporting the peace deal],'” Clinton was quoted as saying. “He said, ‘I can’t vote for this, I’m Russian… I come from one of the biggest countries in the world to one of the smallest. You want me to cut it in half. No, thank you.'”

Sharansky … denied Wednesday that the alleged conversation ever took place. “A report of President Clinton’s comments has been brought to my attention which I hope is inaccurate.”

“However, as to the basic facts, I was never at Camp David and never had the opportunity to discuss the negotiations there with President Clinton,” said Sharansky.

I suppose it depends on what “said” means. If Sharansky “said” no in Clinton’s imagination, does that mean Clinton is lying?

Good grief! Would Bill Clinton lie?

Posted under Israel, News, Palestinians by Jillian Becker on Thursday, September 23, 2010

Tagged with , , , , ,

This post has 0 comments.

Permalink