Sunday, April 6, 2008

All Those Wasted Years

All around that dull, gray world,
From Moscow to Berlin,
People storm the barricades
Walls go tumbling in.
The counter-revolution,
People smiling though their tears,
Who can give them back their lives?
And all those wasted years...

--Heresy, by Neil Peart

I have been accused of 'whining about totalitarianism.' A comment to the blog I wrote a few days ago said:

"All your whining about totalitarianism completely ignores the fact that objective government would have a clear check and balance: the facts."
Now, I have been known to whine now and then, as I am sure we all have.
To me, 'whining' implies having a little pity-party about some minor inconvenience. I see it as complaining about a triviality, something that is not very important, which is why it grates.

So I was somewhat surprised that the term 'whining' was used to avoid actually countering an argument I was making that suggested that equating religious education of one's own children with child abuse, and making it illegal was step in the direction of totalitarian rule. What I actually said was this:

"As for your poll-test, it sounds a good deal like the forced "political education" that friends and relatives who survived the Nazis and the Soviet Totalitarian State have told me about. I think I'll pass. They escaped to America (ed.sp.) for a reason, and I will not waste their sacrifices for my freedom."

Whining? That's something you do when you hit all the red lights on the way home from work on a hot August night, and the air conditioning in the car is not working well.

Mourning. Weeping. Gnashing of teeth. That is what you do when you are dealing with the loss of tens of millions of lives and the destruction and deformation of millions more.
Now I have no clue who the commenter is, nor do I know how old he is. But either he is ignorant of the bloody history of totalitarian states in the 20th century, or he has no respect for the lives that were lost, destroyed or deformed in those places in those times.

So just in case our commenter is ignorant of the cold, hard facts, I thought I'd present a few, selected ones here.
The Russian Revolution in 1917 resulted in a civil war between the Bolsheviks ('reds') and Mensheviks ('whites') that lasted until 1921. In that time, between 7 and 9 million people were killed, countless more suffered severe privation due to loss of property, interruption in the food supply, disease and injury. As we know, the Bolsheviks won this war, and began ruling a Marxist-Leninist state, the Soviet Union, which was totalitarian in nature.

Soviet rulerJosef Stalin is known to be one of the world's most ruthless dictators. In 1932, a famine (Holodomor) was engineered by Stalin and the Soviet government in order to forcibly collectivize the farms of the free-holding Ukranian peasants. The death toll alone is estimated to have been between 2.6 million and 3.5 million people. Many more people suffered terrible privation, loss of opportunities, and loss of home and property.

Also under Stalin, tens of millions of ordinary Soviet 'citizens' were arrested and either killed outright, or imprisoned in labor camps--the famous Gulag--where the liklihood of death was very great. These were the Stalin era "purges" intended to enforce political orthodoxy, and destroy the social networks of the old Bolshevik elite, engineers and scientists, and the social and religious communities of ordinary Russians and Kulaks (free-holding peasants).

Moving elsewhere in Europe, consider the genocide conducted by the Nazi government of Germany between 1933 and 1945. It is estimated that between 15 and 21 million civilians were murdered by the Nazi totalitarian state. This number includes the Jews murdered in the Holocaust. All told, it is estimated that between 40,000,000 and 72,000,000 people died as the result of World War II; a war brought about by a totalitarian regime.

I have not even gotten to the middle of the 20th century, and the numbers of deaths brought about by totalitarian is already beyond imagination. We could add the deaths in China during the Cultural Revolution (27 to 72 million), and there is also North Korea, and Laos, and even Cuba--all totalitarian regimes. If we consistently take the lowest estimates from only the murderous totalitarian government-sponsored events listed thus far, we get: at least 77 million deaths, not including the Stalin era purges.

The number is hard to fathom. Each of these deaths represents the precious and irreplacible life of a human being. Someone with hopes, dreams, and talents; someone with mother and father, siblings, cousins, and friends. Someone who could have contributed something to this world, but that his life was ripped away.

The number are so great that even a lifetime is not long enough to remember them, to meditate on what was lost to us all.

"Wherever I go, I hear footsteps:
My brother on the road, in swamps, in the forests,
Swept along in darkness, tembling from cold,
Fugitives from flames and terrors.

Wherever I stand, I hear rattling:
My brothers in chains, in chambers of the stricken.
They pierce the walls and burst the silence.
Through the generations their echoes cry out,
In torture camps, in pits of the dead.

Wherever I lie, I hear voices:
My brothers, hearded to slaughter
Out of burning embers, out of ruins,
Out of cities and villages, altars for burnt offerings.
The groaning in their destruction haunts my nights.

My eyes will never stop seeing them
And my heart will never stop crying "outrage";
Every man will be called to account for their deaths.

The heavens will descend to mourn for them,
The world and all therein will be a monument on their graves."
--Shim Shalom

And that is only a partial toll of the dead.
Many more than we can count.
Murdered by totalitarian government.

There are those who survived, stunted. Lost. Sick and failing.

And there are those who lost everything. Lives. Families. Neighbors.
Precious keepsakes and ordinary, everyday utensils.
The things of life that say that a person exists here.

And there are those whose dreams were shattered and whose hopes were never realized.
Forbidden to get an education. Forbidden to work. Or made to work at slave labor for the benefit of nameless, faceless others. The opportunity costs are incalculable.

And then there are lost cities and irreplacible art. Monuments and temples. Mansions and small houses. Even the trees in the garden, the land, and the waters.

All of this and more destroyed at the behest of tyrants. Tyrants who had an objective plan to use the coercive force of the state to enforce their own ideas upon people who did not agree with them.

Whining? I don't think so.

Weeping. Wailing. Mourning losses that cannot be adequately mourned in a thousand years.

And this commenter, this one who called my objection to totalitarianism "whining" did not not make this statement in isolation.

He said: "...I consider religious education to be a serious form of child abuse."

"Therefore it should be expressly against the law to teach children a curriculum that so blatantly and directly contradicts science–even and especially in private."
"A case can also be made that to the extent home schooling attempts to undermine the principles of consensus should also be expressly prohibited."
"And I'd love to see all the creationist propaganda confiscated."

Since parents, even parents of schooled children, teach their kids their own values in their own homes, this is a program for the censorship of citizens in the private sphere. No matter how much one may disagree with what a parent might choose to teach a child in the home, one may not dictate to private citizens what they may speak in public or private. One may not force upon others one's own ideas, no matter how reasonable or "objective" they may appear. One may not do this in a free society, even should one be able to prove that this would be good for those people whose rights are being violated, and further prove how good it would be for society to violate those rights, one may not. For to do so, is to violate the Constitution and make the law discriminate among persons. A person who is a Christian, a person who wants to pass his religious beliefs to his children, a person who questions "consensus" in science, all would be treated differently under the law than others.

This commenter, on his own blog, has used the concept of a social contract. The social contract that citizens of the United States have is defined by the Constitution. The Constitution expressly limits the use of force by the servant government to that needed to protect the rights of the individual citizens. Everything that this person has said above (and much more) indicates that he is in favor of removing those rights from people who do not bow to his ideas about religion and science. Even scientists who do not accept the "consensus" of the government, but who wish to deal with the empirical evidence, would be censored.
In order to enforce all of this, a totalitarian state, one that spies on citizens in their private lives, and requires the use of informers, would be required. There would be no other way to make this "objective" Utopia happen.

And of course, those who disagree with this fascistic plan, as I do, are said to be "whining" and worse.

Whining about totalitarianism. The cause for more human deaths, more destruction of lives and property in the past century than can be enumerated.

I said at the beginning that this person must either be ignorant of those facts listed above, or he has no respect for the lives and property of the people he must trample over to get his way and "save our democracy" by using the force of law to coerce others into his "objective" Dystopia. Even if this particular Anointed One were educated in the public schools, it is hard to believe that he is ignorant of the bloody, destructive record of totalitarian states.

Reading between the lines of his comments, it is possible to surmise that he may believe that only theocracies are capable of such bloody terror. But if he claimed this directly, that would also be hard to believe, since the Soviet Union under Stalin, and the Chinese Cultural Revolution under Mao, were both militantly atheistic states.

Finally given some of the confusion inherent in his comments, one could also posit that he made this grand statement about forbidding American citizens from religiously educating their children in private without consideration of the consequences that would likely devolve on every citizen with respect to their natural rights. From his comment I gleaned that:
1. He has a plan that should be followed but that he doesn't know how to solve the problem.
2. That he wants the government to forbid religious education of children and at the same time, he wants to strengthen the separation of church and state.
3. He respects the Constitution but he wants to have the government confiscate creationist literature--a clear violation of the First Amendment.

I would think this last assessment of his motives is most likely, except for the "whining about totalitarianism" remark. That indicates a callous disregard on the intellectual level (at least) for the lives, liberty, and property of millions of human beings. Their lives, their happiness appear to be only a means to his end of an "objective" state ruled by science.

I am a scientist. I am proud of the many and varied ways that science has brought to humanity greater understanding of the universe, and has also bettered human lives. And there are times when I have been deeply ashamed of the evil uses to which scientists have put their scientific expertise. This happens because we are prone to forgetting that science generates no ethics and no politics. It is simply an empirical examination of the physical world. Nature does not have morality and cannot do evil. Humans beings do and can. When scientists have forgotten this, and impose upon others their own desires in the name of science, and then use it to coerce others, they have done great and lasting harm. Think about the roles of scientists in the Nazi destruction of European Jewry, and in the manufacturing of drug-resistant anthrax for biological warfare during the Cold War...and the list continues.

Whining about totalitarianism?

All I can do is weep for all those wasted years.

"All around this great big world,
All the crap we had to take:
Bombs and basement fall-out shelters,
All our lives at stake.

The bloody revolution,
All the warheads in its wake,
All the fear and suffering,
All a big mistake.
All those wasted years,
All those precious wasted years,
Who will pay?"
--Heresy, by Neil Peart

Note: I have embedded a You-Tube Video called the Cold War, in which the song Heresy is used with stills of the major events of the cold war. There was quite a lot there that I remember, being somewhere around 30 years old when the Berlin Wall fell. You can also click here for the link.

Note: I have edited this piece for the following reasons:
1) to fix spelling typos
2) to change a mistake in reporting of numbers. The number of people estimated to have been killed in WWII is 40 - 72 million, not 40 - 72 thousand.
3) to change the capitalization on the word objective from upper case to lower case.
The claim made by the troll is for an "objective" government, not an "Objectivist" government. Objectivism (capital "O")is a philosophy that would repudiate the use of force by government to control the minds of citizens in any way. For more information, see Rational Jenn's note. She is an Objectivist and an expert on the issue. I am not.


Angela said...

Deeply moving post. I fear that for many, ethnocentrism has stiffled their humanity. It's not touching us directly, so they diminish the horror of it all. One cannot truly be actualized if they have stepped so far from their soul.
Wasted years, indeed.

Divided By Zer0 said...

Well done using subjects like totalitarian regimes and holocausts in order to appeal to emotion.

Next time try arguing your point.

Winkle said...

As a homeschooled student myself, I read a lot of things on the internet to get a broad picture.

I've been following both sides of this debate, and I've got to say, it doesn't sound like he's condoning a Nazi-esque state of education. Your argument certainly sounds a lot more emotionally charged than his.

I think you need to take a step back and reassess what you're actually standing for. It looks like you are standing for a position of ANYTHING can be taught.

PS If you delete this comment, you've already lost the debate. Where is my freedom of speech?

Amie said... appears some others don't see a connection between gov't dictating (even criminalizing) what can and cannot be taught and totalitarianism. Scary.

This post reminds me of a podcast we just listened to. It talked about how free enterprise is often viewed as "cruel" because it allows some people to fail. Then he went on to make the same point about how totalitarian government, historically, is by far the cruelest. Nothing will ever be "perfect", but freedom will always be the most compassionate.

Anonymous said...

Hi Elisheva,

Don't look now, but I think you've been "infiltrated". (I fell off this train a while ago, but couldn't resist.)

One of my college friends called himself an "Objectivist". One day he asked if I'd explain my "philosophy" (of life, I guess) to him, so that he could refute it point by point. Then I would know the Truth. Like he did. (He didn't count on me knowing about the emotion-driven machinations of some of the Objectivist "prophets". Heh, heh.)

I remember being of the age when comments like "Next time try arguing your point" and "you need to take a step back and reassess..." could be substituted for reason. And references to "freedom of speech". A nice concept, if you know what it means. Ah, the golden years...

My son was a homeschooled student. From his research on the internet, he learned that the destruction of the World Trade Center was an "inside" job, done for insurance purposes. Also that astronauts never landed on the moon. He didn't become a holocaust denier, possibly because he knew that one of his grandfathers had visited Europe after WWII for the purpose of reconnecting with relatives, and found Not One (Left Behind).

"It looks like you are standing for a position of ANYTHING can be taught." Excellent, excellent.


p.s. Actually, we're unschoolers. We don't "teach" anything.

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Hello, everyone:

Angela:I really appreciate that you took the time to read the post and comment. I think it is not ethnocentrism so much as the frustrated desire to be in control of the lives of others.I mean, if these guys really had any power, they would not be playing this game on the internet. Thank goodness they don't have such power!
You are the kind of person I wrote this post for, not them.
And I totally agree with you, that if people refuse to look at the impact of their policies on the lives of ordinary people, then they have indeed stepped away from their souls.

Divided by Zero:
Yes, I react emotionally, intellectually and spiritually to destruction of millions of lives. I am not ashamed of feeling a sense of loss at the terrible things that happen to people when their rights are violated and their lives are torn asunder for the purpose of some third party's ascent to power. Emotions are an important part of the human being, and often tell us at a visceral level what we refuse to see at the intellectual level. A person operating only at the intellectual level in all areas of life is often quite unhappy in their day-to-day interactions with others, and they are also often the ones that do not survive dangerous situations. For example, during the bloody revolution, a relative of mine knew several people who supported the communist regime's removal of any Rule of Law and did not recognize the naked emotional desire for power among the "survivors" of the power struggle among the Bolsheviks. They ended up being duped by the more powerful among the Stalinists, whom they supported, and were, as they say, "first against the wall when the revolution came." My relative reminds me that the regime could not even let Trotsky live in exile, but murdered him in Mexico.

As for your right to freedom of speech--that is a constitutional definition that protects you from the government. Only the government can censor, by definition. This is one of the rights that your friends would like removed from whole classes of people in order to establish "objectivity."
This is a private blog, and I can and do sometimes edit comments. When I do, I put up a notice to the effect explaining what I removed and why. I have done so only twice in the history of this blog.Your comment is as safe as the technology allows.

Winkle: Did you read the original blog? This man has advocated the outlawing of homeschooling based on his assertion (not a fact) that most homeschoolers are "religiously oriented" and he has also equated religious education with child abuse, and says that the government should forbid it as well. This would be a clear violation of the Constitution, and would remove rights from certain classes of people. This is exactly what totalitarian regimes of all persuasions do. What will you do when the "consensus" becomes something that you do not agree with and the coercive power of the state is used to make you comply?

As far as my argument goes, I did not say and I have never said that anything can be taught anywhere. I have said that I am limited by the Constitution as to what I can do about parents passing on their values to their children in their own homes. I am just as limited in my ability to control your desire or not to carefully read and understand my arguments as I have have made them. If you really want to discuss this intellectually, then you will go back and read what I said carefully--in all posts and all comments. Otherwise this becomes a 'gotcha' game that sheds more heat than light, and it becomes quite wearisome besides.

This post was made for those who might be confused by the motives of people who advocate illegal and unconstitutional measures to get their own way when they cannot persuade people on a civil level.
If you do not like parents telling their children the creation story, then you are perfectly free to try to persuade them to tell their kids something else. You may or may not be successful. But you may not use the coercive power of the state to force them.
In the public schools, evolution is taught according to the state standards and norms, and I have argued elsewhere that this is proper, as people are paying to be taught science and not religion. This is not a perfect solution, as we know, from the introduction of Intelligent Design, which continues the fight. But there will probably be controversy as long as there are public schools.
I would rather live with controversy and imperfect solutions, than to advocate for totalitarian solutions in order to force my will and my ideas on others. We can cleary see from history that that way lead to death and destruction on an unimaginable scale.

Amie, thanks so much for your support. I really, really mean that. I think that to these others, this is simply an exercise in winning at all costs, and has little to do with a real desire to discuss and refine ideas.

In my professional life, papers submitted for publication are vetted quite thoroughly and critiqued. One has to answer the reviewer's questions (yay or nay) and one is not allowed to continually shift the argument or set up straw men. (Well, you can, but the paper will not be published). This results in the paper being refined and the ideas being refined to contribute to the scientific discipline under discussion.

I enjoy that kind of give and take as much as I do not enjoy this wearisome demand to defend what I have not actually said. To paraphrase a Catholic friend, there must be a special place in heaven for people who can do this daily.

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Hi, Deborah,

Thanks for the heads up! These people are far less able to carry out a civil discussion than our friend Josh. He, for the most part, responded to what was actually said, and not something he made up.

But I wanted to say what I said in this post and have wanted to, for a very long time. Not for these Objectivist goons, who are clearly not at all interested in ideas or objective thought, but rather, for those who might not have the historical background or experience to undertand where government without regard to the rights and lives of others actually leads.

We also unschool--in that N. tells me what he wants to learn and together we devise a way to accomplish his goals. I do teach some things--like algebra--but more as a guide on the side, helping him to understand concepts and operations that he has asked about.

Again, thanks for the support here and elsewhere. I enjoy your comments and hope you will return.
Now I have to figure out what to do about all these wasted bytes!

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

FYI: I have removed a comment that appears to be one of Black Sun's aliases.

It was put through before I enabled comment moderation. I deleted it because of the tone and the baseless accusations contained therein.

It was SSDD.

Rational Jenn said...

Hi there! I'm coming into this conversation super late due to being behind on reading my favorite blogs (of which yours is one).

I consider myself an Objectivist, as you know, and have studied Ayn Rand for about 19 years. What your commenter said about using the force of government to prohibit teaching evolution or even to restrict homeschooling to the extent that homeschoolers hold those beliefs--well, he's wrong. I posted some Ayn Rand quotations on my blog in response to your questions, but one of them was to the effect that the state cannot impinge on a parent's right to pass on their intellectual beliefs.

Specifically, she said in an interview, "The government has no right to interfere in the upbringing of the child, which is entirely the responsibility and the right of the parent." This is, of course, outside of evidence of physical abuse.

I completely agree. It is my First Amendment right to teach my kids my beliefs (including my atheism) and it is yours to teach your kids your beliefs. So long as we are not infringing on each other's rights. Because we hold differing ideas, we must disagree (respectfully, I hope) on certain philosophical matters--but disagreement itself is not an infringement on individual rights.

I must support the protection of these rights on your behalf and those of others I may disagree with if I am to expect my very same rights to be protected. If I disagree, then in a free society (which I'd like to think I'll see one day), I must counter your arguments with my own. It is not appropriate to use the force of government to prevent you from saying what you wish to your own children.

Especially if I wish to have my same right protected. :o)

More to say, but I hope this offers a different perspective. As I said, I haven't followed all of the posts closely and when I get a second I will sit down and try to read them through in a logical fashion.

Also, I think it's true to state that Objectivists (and Ayn Rand) A) support free speech and B) despise totalitarianism.

Anonymous said...

oops...I meant "great-grandfathers".


Elisheva Hannah Levin said...


I have not yet figured out how to edit comments. Just call me technologically challenged!

I have misused the term "Objectivist" in a comment I made above. Objectivism is a philosophy, founded by Ayn Rand, herself a refugee from totalitarian Soviet Russia. Objectivism does not advocate government censorship or control of the upbringing of children. Objectivism does recognize the Rule of Law. Whatever the philosophies that areespoused the Black Sun and his aliases and allies, Objectivism is not one of them.

Please note the correction. Thanks.

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

FYI to Readers:

Today, May 4, 2008, I refused an anonymous comment at this post. I believe it was probably from BS (what an interesting and appropriate moniker) or one of his ilk.

I refused it because:
1) The tone was condescending and insulting to me.

2)The commenter has not bothered to state my position correctly, nor has s/he bothered to read other posts that would clarify it.

3)Refusing rational argument, the commenter argues from an all-or-nothing fallacy, insisting that because I defend the free speech of parents in their own homes, I therefore reject the evidence for the theory of evolution by natural selection. This commentor also assumes (with no evidence) that I accept Intelligent Design as science.
Neither assumption is true.
The argument is a non-sequitor in that the second and third assumptions do not automatically follow from the premise.