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No, Really. The Gulags Are Good For You

I'm back home now, having done a modicum of homework (as in, wrote 2/5s of a paper for journalism, typed up the "final final" draft of my Japanese speech, and tried to relax, although that was a failure.) I'm not entirely glad to be home; my parents are bugging me every few minutes to do something, it seems, when all I need to do is homework. Ah, life. Speaking of which, after this, I need to finish that journalism paper and get started on the history one.

But something happened Tuesday at college that absolutely appalls me. It disgusts me. I daresay it even insults me. In one of my history classes (not the one with the paper, that's the "good" history class, the one with Henry George and Milton Friedman), we're reading One Day In The Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn. We start discussing it, and our professor begins to talk about existentialism. "Did the gulags deprive them of everything," he says, "or did it give them something?" He clarifies by saying "After they take everything away from you, then you're free."


Yes, this professor got up in front of class and said that the gulags were liberating--in an existential way--because when they took everything away from you, there was nothing more they could take. Apparently you had no fear, no worries, no need to plan or think as everything was regulated, and thus you were "free." He said we all live in a prison in our minds, built by the stresses of work and school and needing to pay bills and etcera. Apparently, in the gulags, since you don't have that, you're "free." He even said, "Once one has read this book, can you not conclude that the gulags aren't that bad?" (Sure--but only when compared to Nazi death camps.)

This is looney tunes! That this idea is being taken seriously in American higher education is absolute batshit! A student asked him if he was defending the gulags, and he said "Well no, I'm not," but everything else that came out of his mouth put a positive spin on them. That goes beyond being just "provocative." That's abhorrent to a whole new level of abhorrence.

Why is this crap tolerated in American higher education? I'm not entirely sure why, but I think one reason is that, at least in the liberal arts and humanities, academics live in their own little world. They get so enveloped by post-modernist BS and "literary analysis" that their own thinking becomes twisted, to the point where they can justify massive political repression as existential freedom. If that's not malarkey, I don't know what is. Furthermore, the American public is paying for this crap, not only when they send their kids to college, but also in taxes that go to the state to prop up these institutions.

I don't think that this professor should be fired for having these views or saying these things. Being fired for a matter of opinion is wrong in my book, no matter how crazy the opinions are. But the public can definitely give these thoughts a lot less value in the marketplace of ideas. The good news is, the other students in the class didn't want to trade in his stock for more than a penny. The bad news is, overall, he's still trading at about $15 a share. And that's just dispicable.


( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Apr. 10th, 2009 05:54 pm (UTC)
True--I suppose that is a silver lining.

I'm not entirely sure what "moness" is, but he did speak a lot about "modernity," although he said it strangely. My argument against this isn't necessarily political, it's that this sort of crap is created by the academic environment that currently exists. Lots of stuff that comes out of the humanities is like Marshall McLuhan's Understanding Media: Utter bunk. Rhetorical masturbation trying to pass itself off as serious intellectual material. Much of what goes on in university humanities departments would never make it anywhere in the real world; although that isn't the real point of this Mises article, the author does mention similar ideas at the end.

My real complaint is that the US higher education system has become a breeding ground for stupidity and insanity, both because it is no longer accountable and because our culture has been force-fed the notion that an undergraduate degree--at least--is required to become an adult.
Apr. 10th, 2009 06:00 pm (UTC)
That leaves me wondering why this professor has a lawful job, presumably a living situation with bills to pay, etc. If he thinks imprisonment is freedom, he can always commit a crime then turn himself in to obtain that lifestyle for himself.

Are you sure the guy actually believes that? Any chance that he could be just throwing out an idea for the class to debate?
Apr. 11th, 2009 01:22 pm (UTC)
He said he was only throwing it out to debate, but frankly, he was saying this stuff with too much conviction. I think he's deluding himself.
Apr. 10th, 2009 10:11 pm (UTC)
This prof is a fine example of how mentally retarded and self deluded could someone become after plunging too deep and too long into theoretising. He should prol'ly see some fresh air.
Apr. 11th, 2009 01:23 pm (UTC)
He likes to talk about he goes on hikes and visited Africa with his wife, but I don't think its enough.
Apr. 11th, 2009 05:23 pm (UTC)
Hmmm....I wonder what Dostoyevsky, one of the forerunners to existentialism and who himself was once imprisoned and almost executed, would think of this analysis.
Apr. 11th, 2009 10:39 pm (UTC)
I'm pretty sure he would think this analysis would be garbage. Just saying.
Apr. 11th, 2009 06:02 pm (UTC)
I see his point in a very abstract way. Somewhat akin to Buddhist ideas that all suffering comes from desire. To eliminate suffering you eliminate desire. So don't want anything and you can be happy! Ha.

This is one part of Buddhism I don't agree with. I get the point but it's not practical for me.

In a gulag, yes you are "free" from a lot of things. When you die you are free from worry as well. Doesn't mean a lot of us want to die to experience this "freedom." I read a lot of Solzhenitsyn in high school. Reading his stuff made me sick to my stomach and depressed as hell. Solzhenitsyn lived a very tough life. I doubt his point was that living in a gulag was freedom, existentially.

In a university, the profs job, in my book, is to get you to think. Pissing you off or making you uncomfortable is one way to do it. This guy may be an intellectual masturbater and may have spent too much time in academia so he may have been pushing the 'wrong" point. At the same time, he really got under your skin. Got you to think enough to post about the class. If his job is to make you think for yourself, he did a good job. If his job is to make you see his point of view, not so much.
Apr. 11th, 2009 10:40 pm (UTC)
It's one thing to be provocative and get people to think. It's another thing entirely to be supporting the system of political repression and imprisonment that was created during the reign of Josef Stalin. That's not provocative. That's disturbing.
Apr. 12th, 2009 03:25 pm (UTC)
Oh I see. I wasn't clear on that. So he wasn't just trying to get you to think outside the box and illustrate existentialism, he was supporting the idea of gulag being a good thing?

That is disturbing!
Apr. 12th, 2009 10:31 pm (UTC)
Well, he said he was only being provocative, but it was clear from his tone and the subtext that he really seemed to believe in this existential excuse for the gulags. I mean, really? Since they take everything from you, strip you to nothingness, and therefore you're "free," the gulags aren't "that bad?" Man, that guy is off his rocker.
Apr. 13th, 2009 03:01 pm (UTC)
Sounds like he went overboard in his efforts to make a point. I do get the point that having a lot of stuff and responsibilities in some ways "enslaves us." Like gee, being in prison, you get 3 hots and a cot. Someone else tells you when to shit, when to eat and when to sleep. Freedom!

Maybe we should open up gulags across America for the homeless and downtrodden. having been relieved of their homes, their money and their retirement savings they are now truly FREE!

( 12 comments — Leave a comment )