After reading Putin Country by Anne Garrels, I was most captivated by how Russians saw themselves. It would appear that part of the integral Russian identity is rooted in this idea of “suffering, pride, and controversy” (Garrels 28). It is a notion that being Russian means to persevere through pain and be tough. In other words only the strong survive and succeed. I find it very interesting how many soldiers mention that they detest the abuse in the military, but regardless would willingly give their life for service. A student mentions how she dislikes rigged elections but “we can’t do anything to change it” (Garrels 108). It’s almost as if pain and unfairness is an expected and accepted part of life. If this is the case in Eastern Europe and Russia, I wonder if it’s justified for America and NATO to interfere? Is it wrong to judge other people’s ways and seek to impose your own so called better values on them?
The merits of consumerism
While reading chapter 9 of Mazower’s Dark Continent, the idea of consumerism caught my attention. It would seem that consumerism has encouraged an individualistic perspective throughout Western Europe. “Goods, not gods were what people wanted” (Mazower 302). In other words, people sought to climb the social hierarchy as measured by material wealth. Individual ambitions were placed above any collective group goal. Yet, in adopting a consumerist and individualist agenda, Western European countries are now among the largest economies in the world. Certainly having a better standard of material living than many collectivist countries in Asia and Africa. Some food for thought, is individualism better than collectivism? Or perhaps they are simply different and neither is better than the other.
The concept of the “other”
Upon reading the introduction of The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir, the concept of the other caught my attention. It would appear that when we “other” (de Beauvoir 6) something, we are essentially distinguishing it. That which is designated as the “other” (de Beauvoir 6) is set apart from what is correct, and often considered a deviation from the norm. Othering has a wide spectrum of severity, and can take many different forms. On the extreme end, it can be anti-semitics looking at Jewish people as sub-human. On the lighter end, it can be natives to a particular country who view foreigners as being strange. I wonder, why do we as humans like to “other” people so much? Why do we always like to set people apart as being odd, strange, deviants, or in the worse cases inferior? There seems to be a theme of always designating a certain demographic to be correct or the best.
Justice and Revenge Post WW2
Before reading chapter 7 of Mazower’s Dark Continent, I always thought everything was perfectly harmonious after World War 2 in Europe. However, I was most certainly wrong in my preconceptions. It turns that after World War 2, there were millions of displaced people in Europe. Furthermore, there was a “popular demand for revenge” (Mazower 230) among Europeans against collaborators of fascism. These collaborators would often be executed in very violent manners. Can revenge in this manner ever be morally legitimate? I mean certainly causing wanton harm to anyone is morally inappropriate. But what about the fascist collaborators that helped the Nazis seek out Jewish people? The Nazi soldiers who conducted mass exterminations? The very basic principle of Justice stipulates that people get what they deserve, just action; in other words fairness. I wonder, can revenge ever be the same as justice? Is revenge ever morally legitimate?
Idealism as a survival tool?
Life in a Nazi concentration camp is very dismal. Long work hours, lack of food, filthy facilities, and constant threat of abuse from guards. Facing the reality of such a situation is detrimental towards the wellbeing of a person. There is little motivation to go on and the desire of living is greatly diminished. But perhaps choosing to circumnavigate the harsh reality will do us well. Perhaps it is best to delude ourselves into wishful thinking. Primo Levi certainly engages in this in chapter 3. Levi knows that the water in the washroom is full of filth. Bathing in it definitely isn’t cleanly. Yet Levi states that washing isn’t important for “cleanliness and health” (40) but rather as “an instrument of moral survival” (40). Levi chooses to bathe in the filth because of how it shows strong moral character; doing something of your own volition. Practicality is being replaced with some form of abstract idealism. It’s not practical to bathe in dirty water. Does idealistic thinking take precedent over being a realist? All the time, sometime, or maybe never?
Capitalism = greed?
Mazower’s fourth chapter in dark continent certainly brings up some very interesting points. Debatable and controversial points that’s for sure. Capitalism is definitely useful, as it helped many European countries rebuild their economy after World War 1. The mixture of government banks and private enterprise is very effective in achieving economic stimulus. Strategic government planned financing coupled with the ingenuity of private ownership is a recipe for success. But it would seem that capitalism is not all that perfect. In the global economy many countries were “more concerned with sheltering their own producers” (Mazower 110) than promoting fair trade. Self gain was the number one goal. This begs the question does capitalism and private ownership make us greedy? A contentious point without a doubt.
Insane Berlin Traffic and Department Stores
Reading the various observations of Joseph Roth, during The Weimar Republic era of Germany was very intriguing to me. I was particularly interested in chapters 14 and 18. Chapter 14 discussed the chaotic nature of Berlin traffic. It would seem that police officers serve little purpose in controlling traffic flow and that roads would need repair everyday. Additionally, motorists and pedestrians seemed to exercise such hostility towards one another. Chapter 18 discusses the ostentatious nature of department stores in Germany. Department stores would be up to fifteen stories high. It is mentioned that “people who dreamed of very large department stores” (Roth 119) only wanted to life themselves above others. I am curious, is the desire for large department stores perhaps people’s longing for a powerful autocracy like the German Empire formally was before 1918? Is the chaotic traffic a representation for how German people feel lost without an autocratic leader? Were the German people looking for a Hitler figure to lead them and show strength post World War 1?
Social Inequality and Money
Throughout the first chapter of Virginia Woolf’s novel, we can clearly see the prevalence of social inequality. In early 20th Century Europe, Men were afforded many more privileges than women. This can be seen many times throughout chapter one. First the narrator is told by a Beadle, that she cannot be relaxing on the grass. This is only allowed for university scholars who were all men. Additionally, the narrator is not allowed to enter the university library without being accompanied by a man. This inequality is paired with the concept of hampering women’s creativity in writing fiction. As they are constantly told by men what to do. Later in the chapter, the narrator mentions Mary Seton, and how learning “the great art of making money” (Woolf 21), could have allowed them to live a much more comfortable life. Money would emulate the lifestyle of Oxbridge University, the school only for males. Additionally, money is required for physical infrastructure, and it is mentioned that women require “a room of one’s own” (Woolf 5) for creativity. Is money the ultimate equalizer in a world of social stratification?
The Success of Radical Extremism
After reading In The Shadow of Revolution: Life Stories of Russian Women, I’ve had a rather interesting realization. It would seem that extremist views are most effective in instituting change within a society. People rally behind extremist views with such zeal and enthusiasm. Unfortunately, moderation fails to capture people’s attention. This can be seen with The Bolsheviks and The Mensheviks. The Bolsheviks were extremist and radical, they wanted “to fight the Bourgeoisies to the end” (Fitzpatrick and Slezkine 53). On the other hand The Mensheviks were much less radical and moderate, they wanted to bring about progressive change whilst working with the Bourgeoisies. However, The Mensheviks captured a much smaller followership than The Bolsheviks. Extremism can be very dangerous as it lacks tolerance and often resolves to violence. My question for thought is this: Is extremist views more effective than moderate views for recruiting followers and advocating for change? Is extremism better?