While I was taking a bit of a blogging hiatus last year, I doubled down on reading and for a time I was rally focused on the Russians, reading Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky and Solzhenitsyn in a 3-4 month stretch last spring.
So I was interested to tune into a discussion of Gulag Archipelago on the Great Books podcast on my drive into and home from work today. I also read an abridged version based on repeated mentions of the work by Jordan Peterson when I was still actively consuming almost everything he put out. As an aside, that time has past, but I would still book time to watch / listen to his next bible series should he ever get back to that.
They recounted a story from GA that stuck with me from my reading, that of the endless clapping. It goes that there was some gathering of minor party officials and local business folk in some out of the way people’s hall. The leader at this event called for an ovation for Stalin at which point everyone started clapping. The problem was that no one wanted to stop for fear of being singled out by the secret police as not patriotic enough. After 11 minutes of enthusiastic praise a local business man sat down and was followed by everyone else. He was later arrested and sent to the gulag.
Humans are heard animals by default with incentive to stay with the group. Add in a little justifies paranoia and you have a recipe for unreasonable actions that everyone knows are unreasonable but no one can seem to stop.
This is an important book still because I can see myself in too many of the stories. Would I be brave enough to sit down and stop clapping? I’d love to delude myself into thinking I would. But when I’m most honest I know the truth.
I see this happening today between many groups: left / right, urban / rural, rich / poor. We all get caught up in story lines and don’t ask questions. We’re all afraid of stepping out of line and loosing the protection of our tribe. Solzhenitsyn makes us all think about what we would go to a Gulag for. Reading even an abridged version isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but at least take a listen.