Tuesday, 22 November 2016

The defeat of meaning

People need meaning to be able to live life meaningful, and thus being able to endure hardship, disappointment, even great suffering.

A fascinating review on the site of 'Dissent Magazine' explains why today so many Russians are nostalgic for the utterly despicable social experiment that was the Soviet Union.


Alexievich frequently speaks about how utopias have a tendency to end in bloodshed. Yet the testimonies of her interlocutors consistently show that little people need big ideas. This may help explain why the unspeakable hardships of the Soviet period were more bearable than the relatively more tolerable difficulties of post-Communist life. It is not death or suffering that her interviewees invariably fear most, but the absence of meaning. “Let us die as long as we know what we’re dying for,” a man tells her.

In Russia, some universal human processes were put into sharp focus through the tragedies of history and the insanity of utopianists. The article implicitly does also explain why so many people in the 'free, affluent' West are unhappy, depressed, prone to addictions - be it drugs, medicine, alcohol or compulsive shopping - while, in comparison to, for instance, life in the Soviet Union was so much more dramatic. The 20C 'death of the grand narratives': communism, socialism, capitalism etc., and the nihilism of what has been described as the 'postmodern condition' - anything goes and nothing is more than surface - left a void that cannot be filled with freedoms and affluence that have no meaning which can transcend the material level and appeal to man's spirit. But the Grand Narratives were empty as well, that is why they eventually failed to endure and be constructive and enduring, they were materialistic narratives, leaving-out the very element that can give meaning to life: culture, spirituality, an aspirational and ennobling vision of humanity, in spite of humanity's flaws. It was not painting, music and literature that created the gulags, the concentration camps and the blood-sucked battle fields, but materialistic 'ideals'.

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