Monday, January 30, 2012

Le Monde 100: The Gulag Archipelago

I am convinced that the Soviet Union suffered from a national case of dermatillomania.

Dermatillomania is a mental disorder that causes the sufferer to continually pick at their skin. He or she will obsess over their skin and tear, rip, peel, and scratch at themselves to the point of causing harm all over their body. The root of the problem is impulse control brought on by anxiety.

In reading The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, one can see the same symptoms of dermatillomania. Observe, if you will, the body of the dermatillomaniac, riddled with scabs and scratches, peppered with a constellation of his shame and paranoia:

Now, observe another picture of the Soviet Union:

The dots you see on the map are labor camps, which are the scabs of the Soviet shame and paranoia.
The Soviet system was responsible for more than double the deaths of the Nazi Holocaust. But, the worst thing about the Gulag and the compulsive imprisonment of the Soviet citizens, was not it's nefarious plan to do away with it's citizens like Hitler did, but rather the spiraling of a bureaucracy into a machine gone wrong. In reading Solzhenitsyn's account of the government's relationship with its people, I am struck by the notion that if a government is like a computer program, acting out the policies and laws that form it, then the Soviet Union behaved like it had a virus.

For example, to speak against the Soviet system would earn you a label under Article 58 of the Soviet law. Being rewarded for turning in those who spoke against the government and punished for sedition caused the public to look askew at everyone of their fellow men.  Once, at a public conference, everyone in attendance was called to to applause in tribute to Comrade Stalin. Solzhenitsyn writes:

"For three minutes, four minutes, five minutes, the 'stormy applause' rising to an ovation,' continued. But, palms were getting sore and raised arms were already aching . . . It was becoming insufferably silly even to those who really loved Stalin. However, who would dare to be the first to stop? . . .The applause went on. Six minutes, seven minutes, eight minutes! They were done for! . . . Nine minutes! Ten! . . . After eleven minutes, the director of the paper factory assumed a businesslike expression and sat down in his seat. And, oh, a miracle took place. To a man, every else stopped dead and sat down.

"That same night the factory director was arrested. They easily pasted ten years on him on the pretext of something quite different. But after he had signed Form 206, the final document of interrogation, his interrogator reminded him.
         'Don't ever be the first to stop applauding!"

It seems like the entire Soviet Union applauded right down to the falling of the Berlin wall.
The failure of the Soviet Union was the ultimate failure to recognize the individual as a sovereign of his or her personhood in the context of the State. The Soviets hamhandedly esteemed the State over the individual. Thus, erasing humanity as a virtue in light of the machine of government.

Some scientists feel that dermatillomania comes from repressed rage at authoritarian parents and that overbearing parenting can cause this obsessive form of control over one's self. Was the Soviet Union working out its issues with coming from monarchy and Tsardom? Perhaps. But, like abusive parents, abused children can become abusive and pass down abusiveness to their children over and over until someone becomes self-aware and breaks the cycle. Is Russia aware now? One would have to assume with the wealth of information available to everyone. What about other dictatorships like North Korea? They seem to be in the same place as the Soviet Union once was as can be attested by the forced mourning at Kim Jong-Il's death. Whatever the case, the Gulag Archipelago is definitely a handbook for conscientious dictators.

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