In the giveaway bin of the Library's used-book sale not long ago I discovered a copy of Andrei Amalrik's Will the Soviet Union Survive Until 1984? (Harper & Row, 1970). This is an insightful book that I read ca. 1980 and occasionally have thought about in the years since then. Tucked inside the newly-found copy, yellowing the pages around it with its acidic paper, was an artifact of the times: a newspaper clipping from the Washington Evening Star of 22 May 1970, an article titled "Soviet Writer Andrei Amalrik Arrested by Secret Police".

Amalrik was, of course, both wrong and right. The Soviet Union survived well past 1984, and it didn't collapse as he had predicted, via war with China plus an internal explosion of nationalism on the part of non-Russian ethnic groups. Economics, perhaps, plus education and communication played a more significant rôle in the government's demise.

But still relevant today is Amalrik's diagnosis of "the most destructive aspect of Russian psychology" --- an aspect which applies to many other cultures. Amalrik saw around him the common thirst for what was called "justice", by which people really meant "... the desire that 'nobody should live better than I do' ... motivated by hatred of everything that is outstanding ...." As Amalrik also observed, "... many peasants find someone else's success more painful than their own failure. In general, when the average Russian sees that he is living less well than his neighbor, he will concentrate not on trying to do better for himself but rather on trying to bring his neighbor down to his own level."

We don't do that ... most of us, most of the time, mostly. But we have our own national neuroses. We spend a lot of money on lottery tickets, and a lot of time standing in line for a chance to gawk at the rich and famous as they perform in sports, music, movies, etc. We buy many less-than-essential things in order to emulate our idols.

But perhaps envy and waste is somewhat healthier than hatred?

(see ProverbsRulesBureaucracies re "The Peasant Mentality", etc.)

TopicSociety - TopicJustice


(correlates: PeasantWishes, PleasantSurprises, DavidCopperfieldInLove, ...)