The Soviet Way

The Soviet Way, by Theodore Dalrymple.

In the literal sense, the West triumphed in the Cold War. Nevertheless, a kind of creeping sovietization has overtaken it as if in revenge. … In what sense, then, are we being sovietized? …

I came to the conclusion when I traveled in what was then the Eastern Bloc that the ubiquitous propaganda was not intended to persuade, much less to inform, but to humiliate; for citizens … had not merely to avoid contradicting it in public, but actually to agree with it in public. Therefore, from the point of view of the ruling power, the less true and more outrageously false the propaganda was, the better. For to force people to assent to propositions that are outrageously false, on pain of losing their livelihoods or worse, was to crush them morally and psychologically, and thus make them docile, easily manipulated, and complicit in their own enslavement.

Doesn’t that describe PC today? Actively agree or … disapproval, exclusion, maybe lose your job.

Increasingly in our daily lives we find ourselves in analogous situations, especially if we have the misfortune to work for bureaucracies, whether governmental, quasi-governmental, supposedly independent, or commercial. We must not only keep silent about propositions that we find not only false but ridiculous, but assent to them, to show willingness and demonstrate that we are (to use a vile modern locution, redolent of a tyranny exercised over us) on message. The message must never be of our own devising, or indeed attributable to anyone in particular. It must be absurd and unassailable at the same time. …

The bureaucracy are complicit:

The kind of person who succeeded in the Soviet Union was the kind of person I met who succeeded in the British bureaucracies with which I had to deal in my work. They were either without ability, in which case they resembled the talentless hacks whom Dovlatov met in the Soviet literary world: “They made up for the absence of talent by perfect loyalty to power.”

Or, if they had ability and intelligence, they suppressed its exercise for the sake of a quiet and comfortable life. Describing an editor who himself had once been a man of talent, but suppressed it, Dovlatov writes, “A remarkable ability to adapt and a thirst for comfort had changed him into a model functionary.” This man was by no means a fool: “He had no illusions about what he was doing. He knew what he was doing. One saw him suffer as he took his decisions [to comply].” And Dovlatov adds: “There is no greater tragedy for a man than totally to lack character.”

This is what I encountered every day, when the bureaucrats with whom I had to deal could not look me in the eye. Theirs was a kind of suffering, endured for the sake of a pension.

hat-tip Stephen Neil, Matthew