MUSEUM PIECES

One deal I have with myself as a traveler is that I will partake of every opportunity to see something that advertises itself as a museum (I could stop the sentence there and it would be mostly true) of the cold war period. This has led me into some truly awful, abysmal, corn-ball shit (the "Spy Museum" in DC is among the funniest things I've seen that was not intended to be funny) and a few interesting places as well.

This will sound bad, but I don't go into such places to learn anything. I don't mean that I already know it all; it's more that I could get all the information I could ever want from any number of books, online sources, documentaries, and so on. So, and I suspect this is a big reason behind the Disneyfication of museums everywhere, they have to find an interesting way to tell the story.

Finding out that Prague has a "Museum of Communism" was a no-hesitation moment for me. Finding out once we arrived that it is located in a tourist-heavy area and thus would likely cater to American tastes was icing on the cake. This would be BAD.

On one count the place was legitimately good – everything was presented from a Czech perspective. That was refreshing. I feel like younger people (those who don't remember pre-1989) could learn a lot there. Points of reference as specific as addresses, small towns, and stories from normal people were used widely for context. I mean, I know that's not exactly rare in the museum world now but as shit as I was expecting the place to be, it was welcome.

The editorial perspective, though, was weird. It's always weird on this topic. It's clearly the "See? Communism failed! You are so lucky not to have to live in this failed system!" perspective, as every take on the Soviet bloc written after 1989 has used. Hooray! Capitalism won! Here's an enormous list of flaws with centrally planned government.

The genius of that framing is that it's impossible to refute in a vacuum. Clearly nobody really misses a system in which toilet paper was a rare commodity. It's indisputable that if you judge systems by their ability to churn out consumer products, there's no comparison. If you give people a choice between two systems that don't really work and one has ample, cheap Ass Paper, they're going to pick that one every time.

The irony, though, is that focusing attention exclusively on the failings of "Communism" is a great way to allow people of a certain mindset to walk out thinking, "See? Communism sucked!" without prompting any kind of reflection about the system we live in now. Because aside from the obvious gap in ability to make cheap shit to fill store shelves, every criticism in the entire museum was as applicable to modern capitalism as to Soviet-style communism.

Oh, under communism lots of people were imprisoned? People didn't feel free? Government was corrupt and unresponsive? Wow interesting tell me more. Through that lens even the line of argument that capitalism is awesome for consumption looks a little wobbly; "Most people couldn't get the things they wanted or needed" sounds an awful lot like "Most people can't afford the things they want or need" and the difference is semantic. I guess if the reason people end up under-provided for is the most important thing to you, that argument is worth having. In practice it isn't.

I liked all the photos and video of Wenceslas Square during the events of 1989. In that era it looked gray, dull, and absent any obvious symbols of affluence. Today it's crammed with equally sad, but in the sense that every available inch of space has been crammed full of foreign chain stores. The Jan Palach memorial is about 25 feet from a McDonald's. Across the square from that is a casino. It's gaudy and shitty and sad in a very affluent First World way that you can experience in just about any city on Earth.

It's not that the argument about a "failed system" is flawed. That doesn't bother me. What does bother me is the absence of recognition that it has been replaced with an equally flawed system. There was and is no "winner." People with power and money simply decided one set of flaws was more to their liking than another.

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55 thoughts on “MUSEUM PIECES”

  • HoosierPoli says:

    Almost all of the flaws of the communist system came from human frailties that are every bit as pernicious in capitalism. There is one exception, central planning, which is certainly a bad idea but is in no sense inherently "communist". There was no reason why markets and the price mechanism couldn't be deployed under communist regimes…hell, they still had money and prices and consumer goods, just stripped of the things that make them useful. And transitioning from communism to capitalism doesn't by itself really solve or change anything, as Russia never ceases to illustrate. So I wouldn't say changing from communism to capitalism is replacing one failed system with another. They're not really even different from each other.

    The DIFFERENCE comes when you change a society from closed to open. When you protect the right of free speech and political association, when you let people come and go more or less as they please, when governments can be removed with something other than force. THAT'S the change that mattered, and to say that this isn't a seismic shift for the better is…not correct.

  • I'm going to put on my prescriptivist hat and argue that in place of "semantic" in paragraph 8, a better word is "trivial". I know popular usage is moving towards making the terms near-synonyms, but I think it's important to fight (even if it's a losing fight) for the sense of "semantic" as "pertaining to meaning", and meaning seems decidedly non-trivial.

    HoosierPoli:
    There was no reason why markets and the price mechanism couldn't be deployed under communist regimes

    We don't have a lot of information about either the Soviet or Chinese economy, but from the little I've seen (only in print, not on the web, even the academic web, surprise surprise) the Soviet economy actually did have price mechanism that western economists found about as efficient as capitalist price mechanisms.

    And transitioning from communism to capitalism doesn't by itself really solve or change anything, as Russia never ceases to illustrate.

    I dunno: Outside of Moscow, a lot of people think that Russia is worse off under (crony) capitalism. "Everything the Communists told us about communism was a lie. Unfortunately, everything they told us about capitalism was the truth."

  • Oh, and HoosierPoli,

    The DIFFERENCE comes when you change a society from closed to open. When you protect the right of free speech and political association, when you let people come and go more or less as they please, when governments can be removed with something other than force. THAT'S the change that mattered, and to say that this isn't a seismic shift for the better is…not correct.

    Did you not read the essay? The whole point is that our own government cannot be removed with something other than force. "Freedom of speech and political association" are just the circuses part of bread and circuses.

  • Your false equivalence is showing, Ed.

    Oh, under communism lots of people were imprisoned? People didn't feel free? Government was corrupt and unresponsive? Wow interesting tell me more.

    Vaclav Havel wasn't half as rude about his government as Gin and Tacos is, and he did several years in prison. For writing stage plays.

    Yes, capitalism as currently implemented in the USA is corrupt and crappy and only semi-democratic. It can be all of these things, and still be a lot better than Communism.

    Also, the USA is an outlier; most capitalist countries do not have the same degree of brutality. The Czech Republic has half the infant mortality of the USA (2.5 and 5.9 per 1000 respectively, in 2015), even though it's a much poorer country overall, because it gives at least half a shit about taking care of its citizens. https://stats.oecd.org/index.aspx?queryid=30116

  • Your false equivalence is showing, Ed.

    Oh, under communism lots of people were imprisoned? People didn't feel free? Government was corrupt and unresponsive? Wow interesting tell me more.

    Vaclav Havel wasn't half as rude about his government as Gin and Tacos is, and he did several years in prison. For writing stage plays.

    Yes, capitalism as currently implemented in the USA is corrupt and crappy and only semi-democratic. It can be all of these things, and still be a lot better than Communism.

    Also, the USA is an outlier; most capitalist countries do not have the same degree of brutality. The Czech Republic has less than half the infant mortality of the USA (2.5 and 5.9 per 1000 respectively, in 2015), even though it's a much poorer country overall, because it gives at least half a shit about taking care of its citizens. https://stats.oecd.org/index.aspx?queryid=30116

    (Corrected version. Ed, feel free to delete previous post, and FYI blockquote tags aren't working.)

  • Communism definitely failed as an economic system. I took a course from Domar on Soviet economics during the 1970s, and by that time the system was struggling. The USSR tried pricing and incentives, but it was bogged down by the same culture of corruption and peasant attitudes as during the days of the tsar. Peasants don't make particularly good workers or soldiers. Their main motivation is to get by and not get noticed. They KNOW they will never win. Their goal is to lose less badly. The tsar emancipated them after realizing how poorly they fought in the 19th century wars. Move these people into an industrialized state, and you get the Soviet Union.

    Capitalism is failing for a lot of the same reasons. We've had two generations of Americans who haven't seen their hard work pay off. Rising productivity and rising wages decoupled in the 1970s. How long does this go on before the big goal is lose less badly. Living standards have actually been declining since the 1970s, at least for most people. One of the reasons is centralized planning. Remember how we used to joke about stores in the USSR with names like Number 36 Bakery or Drugstore 252? How many bakeries or drugstores do you deal with that aren't just number 36 or 252 as part of some big chain run out of corporate central?

    The only difference is that in the USSR, the government owned all the centralized companies while in the US the centralized companies own the government. I'm willing to bet things are better in the Czech Republic and Slovakia nowadays, but I think it is as much about elite replacement as any inherent benefit of the capitalist system.

    —-

    I still go to museums. When I was in Chile, I hit the naval museum in Valparaiso. It was an interesting take on Chilean history starting with the rebellion against the Spanish during the Napoleonic War. The most recent section was quite chilling. It covered the Pinochet era. They had a typical police questioning center. I have never seen such a sinister typewriter. It was creepy in its banality and familiarity. For an bonus frisson, some if it was my tax dollars at work.

  • "Most people couldn't get the things they wanted or needed" sounds an awful lot like "Most people can't afford the things they want or need" and the difference is semantic.

    There's an important difference: in the second case, people can be convinced the whole situation is *their* fault.

  • Aardvark Cheeselog says:

    @Larry Hamelin on "semantic"
    I cannot concur more strongly. I hate the use of "semantic" as a synonym for "trivial difference in wording" as opposed to "fundamental meaning."

    @HoosierPoli
    I think you should look at some 1960s-70s friendly critiques of "capitalism" as it sort of exists in America. J.K. Galbraith would be a good place to look. While some of his ideas have not aged well, he's persuasive on the subject of "economic planning." Specifically he showed that planning is a feature of every modern industrial economy. The problem with Soviet planning is that bad planners plan badly (and also every pizza shop does not need a 5-year plan).

    @OP
    @Talisker correctly accuses you of false equivalency. "Lots of people in prison" is not the same as "nobody is safe from busybodies who want to settle a score." Which is not the same as claiming that everything is fine, and yes I know, if you dare to be a black person in America you're still not safe.

  • schmitt trigger says:

    Re: museums.
    I agree that the Disneyfication of many museums has corrupted them.

    But nothing, and I mean NOTHING has corrupted museums and historical places as much as Selfies. A relative visited the Louvre a couple of years ago and everyone was taking selfies with the Mona Lisa. No one was actually looking at, much less admiring, the painting itself.

    Ditto with people in Auschwitz, smiling and making gestures in front of the furnaces. Or anything else for that matter.

  • @schmitt trigger, Aardvark Cheeselog, Kaleberg, Talisker and Larry Hamelin:

    Allathatshit. Yes.

    I never really saw either brand of communism (Soviet or Chinese) as being anything but a figleaf for brutal totalitarianism. U.S. has much to answer for over the last 100+ years but it's never (AFAIA) been as bad as either of those.

  • I have to agree with the false equivalence crowd. I mean, their oppression was red, but ours is red, white, and motherfuckin' BLUE, baby! Murrica! Booyah! Yuuuuge difference!

    Hang on a second, I hear those ni… er… black people think they have snicker civil rights…

    … ok, back, looks like a real problem we'll have to sort out.

    (I kid! I kid! I'll be here all week! Tip your servers!)

    But seriously, it makes zero sense to say that we're "better" or "worse" than them.

    Reason the first: I'm going to go way out on a limb here, and guess that most people who have commented here so far are Americans (with maybe the odd Canadian or Western European) thrown in. We're used to the way things happen here; we're socialized to accept the ways in which we're oppressed and can prosper as "normal". From our perspective, different is worse just because we're not used to that way of being oppressed. (I remember Ron Radosh in Commies, diagnosing the ultimate evils of socialism when he couldn't get properly subservient service in a Cuban restaurant.)

    Reason the second: I'm going to even farther out on a limb and guess that everyone commenting here (myself included) is white, above median income, and doesn't literally punch a time clock. (And probably male.) Every system looks better the farther away you are from the bottom. It might have been pretty sweet to have been rich and white in Georgia in 1859 (maybe not so sweet a few years later), but that doesn't make it a good society.

    Reason the third: We have no fucking clue what life was like in the Soviet Union or Maoist China, especially for ordinary people. They were our mortal enemies for half a century, and we can no more trust American or American-friendly accounts of Soviet/Maoist life for ordinary people than we can trust Roman accounts of Carthage. Indeed, all us privileged white guys probably have just as little accurate information about anyone in our own country outside our circle of privileged white friends.

  • @ Larry Hamelin:

    I know people who grew up in Russia, Poland and other former communist countries. They do not, in general, wax nostalgic about their former lives in the various workers "Paradise" that they spent many years living in.

    I'm white, I'm old, I'm not degreed and never had a job that paid all that much. I am also keenly aware of the racism, white male privilege and other factors that have made me ashamed to be a U.S. citizen, at times*.

    At no time, afaia, did the U.S. government undertake a program of depopulating various parts of the U.S. that were already cleared of the original inhabitants so that they could move in OTHER white people. It is said that Hitler based his program of racial purification in europe on the techniques used by General's Sherman and Crook to clear the American West and Southwest of native americans. And the U.S. government never simply murdered millions of people. What they did was often heinous but it never approached the savagery of the Russian or Chinese communists "agrarian reform".

    Not excusing any of it. Just saying it was NOT the same.

    * Kind of ESPECIALLY right now.

  • We did a bike tour from Prague to Vienna last summer and our guides were both young Czechs, one in his early 30's, the other in her late 20's. Neither was old enough to remember life in a Soviet bloc state but their parents and older friends and relatives did. They told us stories of family friends and relatives who tried to escape (an uncle who escaped in an ultralight was the most thrilling. He made it to the other side of the border but ultimately came back because his fiancé's escape failed) but also about people they knew who missed the order and stability of communist rule. They told us to watch the people on the street in Prague. There are lots of people in their late 40's and older, they said, who had decent lives before 1989 who have just been beaten down by the pressures of life in a democratic, capitalist state. Walking around the city, there were definitely people who seemed to fit that description. That said, neither of our guides expressed any desire to go back to the way things were. Not to being a Soviet bloc state, not even to being merged with Slovakia.

  • The difference between ‘get’ and ‘afford’ is greater mere semantics as suggested here. I know where I’d rather live.

  • @CloacaShaman:

    "
    "I need to make a correction. I have never pretended that I intend to do anything but comment on the absurdity of the progressive delusion. Hence, I don’t think I have ever attempted or proffered solutions."

    So you admit to being nothing but a fucking troll.

    A little unintentional birthday gift to me @ 9:55 AM on 10/25/17.

    Thanks, for being clear. And just so I'm clear. I intend to put that bit in quotations, and only that, as a reply to any comment you make on any thread.

    Now, fuck off, troll."

    @ Safety Man!:

    Randroid disciple you're talking to will simply become very socialistic when his own money/insurance runs out.

    You can't spell "Lying fuckbag" without L-I-B-E-R-T-R-U-M-P-L-I-B-A-G-G-E-R*.

    Well, maybe you could, but how much fun would that be?

  • Aardvark Cheeselog says:

    @Larry Hamelin:

    I have to agree with the false equivalence crowd. I mean, their oppression was red, but ours is red, white, and motherfuckin' BLUE, baby! Murrica! Booyah! Yuuuuge difference!

    Hang on a second, I hear those ni… er… black people think they have snicker civil rights…

    Look, I recently was reading an account of the lynching of some guy in GA or AL back before WWII, and it was horrific. For that victim, there was nothing to prefer about death in the US versus death in the Lubyanka at the hands of the Cheka, or death in some basement in Bavaria under the tender mercies of the Gestapo. Are you saying that this literally makes America the same as Nazi Germany? Because if that's what you're saying I need to figure out some way to ignore your trolling.

    As for "We have no fucking clue what life was like…", speak for yourself. Follow that line of reasoning far enough and your realize that you have no fucking clue about anything that happens outside your own head, if indeed your head exists at all.

    Thank you for your contribution to the discussion.

  • "Vaclav Havel wasn't half as rude about his government as Gin and Tacos is, and he did several years in prison. For writing stage plays."

    Right-o, my good sir! And here in CAPITALISM, we sentence people to several years in prison (or even the death penalty) for crossing the street, applying for asylum, looking at a cop funny, driving while black, being 12 and walking in a park, etc. Clearly a big improvement! Meanwhile, the US national leader leads chants of "lock her up!" about his political opponents on a weekly basis. So different!

    There is no difference at all between get and afford. Not even a trivial one. Not even a semantic one. Obviously if there was one roll of toilet paper in the country, and you were rich, you could get it. Because you could afford it. Soviet communism would almost certainly be more durable today because the basic mechanism that makes American capitalism even vaguely tolerable for the bulk of the population is "cheap goods from Asia", and that would work just as well to make Soviet communism tolerable. Walmart and Amazon would be happy to manage the Soviet supply chain and make sure everyone got just-in-time shipments of cabbages and gruel.

  • @democommie

    I know people who grew up in Russia, Poland and other former communist countries. They do not, in general, wax nostalgic about their former lives in the various workers "Paradise" that they spent many years living in.

    So do I. But the plural of anecdote is not data. There's the issue of selection bias: most of the people who leave a society are those who don't like it.

    Check the OP and my own comments again. At no point do Ed or I argue that the USSR or PRC were paradises compared to the suckitude of the USA. The argument is that all of them were/are pretty sucky places for a lot of people, albeit sucky in different ways.

    "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

    At no time, afaia, did the U.S. government undertake a program of depopulating various parts of the U.S. that were already cleared of the original inhabitants so that they could move in OTHER white people.

    You're splitting a pretty fine hair here. Surprisingly enough the USSR is not exactly like the PRC, and neither are exactly like the USA. I don't think this question is in dispute.

    One underlying meta-argument (and just hit Ben Garrison's website to see it made explicit) is that this thing (single-payer healthcare, job guarantee, UBI, higher minimum wage, government stimulus) is closer to the USSR than the USA, the USSR sucked worse than the USA, therefore this thing is bad.

    Another meta-argument is that suckitude is guaranteed; our only choice is which kind of suckitude we must endure. So any attempt to change things is just going to exchange the suckitude we're used to and have learned to endure, ignore, or work around for a brand new suckitude that we're going to have to relearn how to adapt to, and who has the time for that? Worse yet, the new suckitude might affect me personally, which is completely unacceptable.

    I will repeat: I never argued that the cold-war era communist countries were great. They were different, for a lot of reasons, some of them because communism, and some for reasons of culture, history, local politics, international politics, etc. Trying to compare them on a "better" or "worse" scale is an exercise in not just futility but quietude towards our own problems.

    @Aardvark Cheeselog

    Are you saying that this literally makes America the same as Nazi Germany?

    If that's what I were saying, I would have actually, you know, said that. English is my first language, and I have a bit of edumacation. Sarcasm, metaphor, context: learn them, make them your friends.

    you have no fucking clue about anything that happens outside your own head, if indeed your head exists at all.

    Love you too, Aardvark. Call me! Let's do lunch! wink, kiss kiss

  • "There is no difference at all between get and afford. Not even a trivial one. Not even a semantic one. Obviously if there was one roll of toilet paper in the country, and you were rich, you could get it. Because you could afford it."

    Bullshit.

    I just had an emergency appendectomy. I have NO insurance except Medicare/Medicaid. I am also on the VA's rolls (contrary to many people's notion–it is not "insurance"–it is healthcare that is meansblind if you ain't got no means.).

    @ Larry Hamelin:

    Okay, I'll play.

    "…the plural of anecdote is not data."

    And yet you used "anecdata" to make the original comment?

    "There's the issue of selection bias: most of the people who leave a society are those who don't like it."

    All champagnes are wine. Not all wines are champagne. Millions of people who apparently did NOT really like totalitarianism in Russia, China and elsewhere couldn't leave without amassing a pile of cash to bribe people, the intervention/connivance of authorities and/or other advantages not available to the masses.

    Oh, this:

    "and just hit Ben Garrison's website"

    Thanks. No discussion. You're a fucking teabaggist p.o.s.

    Fuck off, troll.

  • @democommie

    "and just hit Ben Garrison's website"

    Thanks. No discussion. You're a fucking teabaggist p.o.s.

    It seems clear from the context that I am not endorsing Garrison, but bringing him in as an example of a stupid person who is explicitly making a bad argument.

    Don't apologize for insulting me because of your epic reading comprehension fail. First, you didn't offend me, and second, I don't bother to accept apologies from ignorant, self-righteous, douchebags.

  • I have an uncle who worked in a lab at IIT on the south side of Chicago – and for his work made a trip to the USSR – and his favorite story to tell was that his guide stopped the car and got in line to procure bananas. And that communism was definitely a failure because of that.

    I am certain that he completely ignored that the folks a few miles from his lab in Lawndale probably couldn't afford bananas, and even if they could they were 2 bus rides away. But at least they wouldn't have to stand in line.

    "Under capitalism, man exploits man. Under communism, it's just the opposite."
    ~ John Kenneth Galbraith

  • @ Loozer Hammerhead:

    I won't be reading any of your comments past the end of the first sentence.

    First rule of dealing with asswipe Trumpliguturdz?

    Type the following:

    "Fuck off, troll."

    Second rule of dealing with asswipe Trumpliguturdz?

    See the first rule; it's really the only rule.

    Now, honey; you just run along; go play with Carrstunned, he's always looking for likemindlessed folks like you to hang with.

  • @ Loozer Hammerhead:

    See, thing is, you want to appear to be taking the high road, yet you don't bother refuting anything I actually said.

    Fucking troll being a fucking troll.

    Fuck off, troll.

    P.S.

    For a guy who doesn't mind being insulted your spending all of your time talking about being insulted?

  • @democommie

    …you don't bother refuting anything I actually said.

    First, ending a post with "Fuck off, troll," does not seem to me like an invitation to polite rational discussion.

    Second, you haven't actually said anything worth refuting. From your post where you told me to fuck off:

    And yet you used "anecdata" to make the original comment?

    I have no idea what you're talking about. If you're going to criticize what I write, it's helpful to be specific about what I said and what you find objectionable.

    All champagnes are wine. Not all wines are champagne. …

    I have no idea what point you're trying to make, or what point of mine you're trying to criticize. I don't see an argument that even addresses my point, which is that there is a selection bias when evaluating a society only by those who choose to leave it.

    Third and finally, you have clearly demonstrated a complete lack of reading comprehension above the fourth-grade level. It's not really possible for me to refute the voices in your head that speak when my written words appear before your eyes.

  • Y'know what's interesting is when trollz think that they're making a point when they continue flapping their jaws to someone who's already told them that their a fucking idiot.

    I see your only sentence, it's nothing to do with any defense of your idiocy.

    Fuck off, troll.

  • Robert V Walker-Smith says:

    Years ago, my husband and I visited Washington DC with our young son. Our trip to the Spy Museum sticks in my memory; I had never before realized just what a fcuked up thing being a spy was. From my perspective, it's like deliberately inducing mental illness in a volunteer and then weaponizing it. Reading "The Spy Who Came In From The Cold" afterwards was almost nauseating. As George Smiley might have put it, how far can you go to defend your way of life before it ceases to be something worth defending?

    Regarding socialism, it occurs to me – my father was career USPS, my eldest brother was an English teacher in a public college, another brother went from career USAF to being a contract specialist for DoD, and I worked my entire career in the local VA's prosthetics department. Not a lot of private sector work in my family.

  • Forget the troll war above: there are some interesting arguments here but I can only agree with the poster who said "we have no f*****g clue." I only would like to add something to give you a bit of a clue.
    On the internet nobody knows you're a dog, so you'll have to trust me (and forgive the deliberately vague details). For work reasons, I'm now in a small mountain town on the Czech-Polish border. Most US readers know a bit about the Unabomber namesake in PL; fewer know that the current Czech president is a former Communist and the PM a former secret police agent. And it should not require too great expertise in social sciences to realize that emigrants will often differ markedly from those who stayed… BUT:
    The level of support for the old regime everywhere outside the capital cities is shocking if your previous informants were from the educated middle class. It's not, however simply nostalgia, but instead loathing of the post-1989 Open Society liberal capitalist order. And it has two reasons. One is the rise of the precarious economy, the shift from the self- conception of "entrepreneur" to the reality of "precariat." The second is far more sinister: "the communists kept us safe and white, unlike Western Europe where the streets are not lined with gold but severed heads cut off by the jihadis of Eurabia". Russian-sponsored fake news mills here are producing truly Stachanovite volumes of xenophobic lies, to frightening effect.

  • @ Torpefeju:

    Granting all that you say is true. The only ones who miss communism are the ones who actually benefitted from it. That eastern europe is well larded with
    xenophobes and racists–and has been for centuries–is not in dispute. Crimea just saw a massacere of Rom, yesterday by the neonazis or whatever the fuck they're calling themselves.

    I lay most of what's going on squarely on the GOP. From at least 1968 the reactionaries within the GOP's ranks have done everything possible to gin up fear and sow disorder. That many countries were "freed" of the communist yoke and then saw their countries taken over by new predators is not surprising. Neither Reagan nor any of his foreign policy experts did a fucking thing to help most of eastern europe–unlike what happened in western europe after WWII.

    It's a fucking mess, but I certainly have a clue about how it got that way.

  • Democommie, it's far too narrow to blame just the US Republicans, or even conservatism in general. What I (and many social scientists of higher reputation than an anonymous commentator) have observed is that the present rollback of the 1990s idea of the open society is tragically logical once the fantasies about capitaliam were disproven. Since it did not mean "everyone will have Cadillacs and swimming pools" but instead the gnawing uncertainty of precarity, a sharp inequality between capitol cities and everywhere else, and general disappointment, the very idea of liberal openness was left discredited – because the two were presented as inseparable. Actually, if you want to assign blame for the 90s, it should go much more to Blairite-Clintonite "third way" liberalism that genuinely believed it formed the end to all human history.

  • @ Torpefeju

    Can't complain about the quality of your observation, I have seen the same phenomenon in quite a few countries, from 1st to 3rd world, in which I've lived and worked.

    It's the 'bird in the hand, two in the bush syndrome' and whereas I'm full of understanding for people, snugly cradled in Mommy-State's arms, who yearn for what they remember rather than making an effort to learn to cope with the shock that progress brings, but we can't really let that archaic attitude restrict how we currently live our lives, can we?

    I thought we were over the Luddite phase; somebody should tell the mislabeled 'progressives', though.

  • Torpefeju:

    Oh, okay, BernGarJillbrobudz of the world unite!

    You want to let the GOP off the hook, fine. You want to blame Clinton and Blair, fine.

    WTF are YOU doing? Tell me who your candidates are for the mid-terms.

    @ KKKlownStain:

    "I need to make a correction. I have never pretended that I intend to do anything but comment on the absurdity of the progressive delusion. Hence, I don’t think I have ever attempted or proffered solutions."

    So you admit to being nothing but a fucking troll.

    A little unintentional birthday gift to me @ 9:55 AM on 10/25/17.

    Thanks, for being clear. And just so I'm clear. I intend to put that bit in quotations, and only that, as a reply to any comment you make on any thread.

    Now, fuck off, troll.

    Dear Ed:

    Once again, the mechanics of the system seem to have taken a day off. I now get to fill in all of the crap at the bottom of the comment box, EVERY time I make a comment.

  • @carrstone

    It's the 'bird in the hand, two in the bush syndrome' and whereas I'm full of understanding for people, snugly cradled in Mommy-State's arms, who yearn for what they remember rather than making an effort to learn to cope with the shock that progress brings, but we can't really let that archaic attitude restrict how we currently live our lives, can we?

    I think it might be useful to unpack this statement a bit.

    First, precisely what do you mean by "snugly cradled in Mommy-State's arms"? This is obviously emotive, but descriptively vague.

    Are claiming there's a mutually exclusive and exhaustive distinction (i.e. a partition) between the principle that people should "mak[e] an effort to learn to cope with the shock that progress brings" rather than be "snugly cradled in Mommy-State's arms"? If you don't think this is a partition, then I would be interested to hear what you think might constitute a middle ground or choice outside the alternatives.

    Are you endorsing a universal or a contingent principle here? Do you endorse the former as always preferable? Even if you think it's almost always true, what are the exceptions? How are they justified?

    Are you endorsing your preference on moral grounds or pragmatic grounds (or perhaps both or neither)?

  • @democommie

    Oh, okay, BernGarJillbrobudz of the world unite!

    You want to let the GOP off the hook, fine. You want to blame Clinton and Blair, fine.

    WTF are YOU doing? Tell me who your candidates are for the mid-terms.

    I think you're presuming a dichotomy between Democrat and Republican that is more exhaustive than it needs to be: that either one supports the Democratic party wholeheartedly, or one is on the side of the Republicans. I don't think this is accurate.

    The blame that most progressives put on the "centrist" democratic candidates is that they don't fight the GOP hard enough, and make too many unnecessary or strategically harmful concessions in both policy and framing. This criticism might or might not be accurate, but I don't think it is in any sense disloyal or counterproductive to raise: if it is false, the centrist path should be defensible.

    An analogy might be McClellan's leadership of the Union Army: the Civil War is still 100 percent the fault of the South, but McClellan was justly criticized as failing to effectively prosecute the war.

    Remember, the Democratic party is an institution, one that is minimally accountable to those who (usually) vote Democratic. Indeed, the Democratic party is directly accountable to the voters only at the ballot box, and completely accountable only in general elections; by design, the party leadership has a big thumb on the scale in primary elections, especially at the state and local level.

  • "snugly cradled in Mommy-State's arms, who yearn for what they remember rather than making an effort to learn to cope with the shock that progress brings"

    I thought that was the Make America Great Again people who long for the days when you could go work at "the mill" or the "the factory" right out of high school while your June Cleaver wife stayed at home.

    Oh, and "those people" knew their place.

  • "At the end of a century that has seen the evils of communism, Nazism and other modern tyrannies, the impulse to centralize power remains amazingly persistent." ~ Joseph Sobran

  • @Ed M

    "At the end of a century that has seen the evils of communism, Nazism and other modern tyrannies, the impulse to centralize power remains amazingly persistent."

    I think this apposition is too simplistic. It seems to imply that the centralization of power (or the impulse to centralize) is the one and only cause of "tyranny" (which is too often used as "government I don't like"). Menken is perhaps more correct than he knew: "Explanations exist; they have existed for all time; there is always a well-known solution to every human problem — neat, plausible, and wrong."

    I'm not saying I'm all for the unconditional centralization (whatever that means) of power (whatever that means). I'm saying that I'm skeptical of "neat, plausible" answers, because they're often wrong, and, precisely because they are neat and plausible, it's sometimes difficult to see the wrongness.

    Because some states and some empires were able to "centralize power" in some sense were more economically successful (and military success comes from economic success) than those that were not able to do so, and any student of Marx (especially the sociologists and anthropologists) will at least give some credence to the idea that morality and economics are dialectically related. IOW, there is not this idea floating around the Geist, "it is good to centralize power," that lands willy-nilly in someone's head, and then boom! tyranny. Regimes centralize power because that's how they're choosing to solve problems; even if it might turn out bad in the long run, in the long run we're all dead, and the problems are not going to just go away.

  • For thT to be true one also has to pretend that Scandinavia doesn’t exist. Last time I was in Copenhagen I don’t recall seeing any gulags or KGB running around.

  • @democommie: Stalin rejected the Marshall Plan for eastern Europe. So if you want to blame anybody, blame him.

  • @ anori:

    I'm talking about the OTHER chance around 1988 or so; that time when we let the Balkans and other places find their own way in their attempt to set up democracies.

    @ Major Kong:

    What could you know about the real world? You have oneathem cushy airplane sleeping gigs!

  • When I was in what, at the time, was Czechoslovakia, in the bad old days*, I went to the museum at Austerlitz. Interesting enough, but the Stalinists didn't miss the chance to inject some propaganda into it. In one exhibit, there was a sign that said that Napoleon's rise to power happened because he was a tool of the bourgeoisie. Yeah, right.
    * Yes, Ed, they were bad. I was there to see for myself.

  • My take-away from the Museum of Communism was "for 180CZK(=$9), you'd think they could could hire somebody to clean up all this DUST!" (sneezes repeatedly). There's still Czech oldsters who vote Communist, about 10 to 15% in any given election, and then its mostly about increased pension benefits. Mostly, nobody has anything good to say about the Totality(as they call it) but then I lived in Prague the whole time in the CR, and I gather that some folks out in the hinterlands may feel differently, especially in the old mining and industrial centers that didn't transition so well to capitalism as others.

  • @DMC:

    I spent most of 4 years in Germany.

    I was on a USAF base in Wiesbaden and I NEVER met anyone who wanted to go live in any of the various worker's paradises that abutted them. Never. I suspect that despite the crushing burden of taxation and being under the bootheel of the oligarchs was preferable to a one-timer in Lubyanka or its provincial surrogates over something as trivial as having a transistor radio hidden in a shed behind the house.

    OT AGAIN:

    This is fucking ridiculous. I switched threadfs and it made me sign in again. Is there some valid reason for this level of idiocy occurring?

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