Posts tagged totalitarianism

Hannah Arendt’s Totalitarianism vs. Animal Farm Literacy

I’m ensconced in my office with students’ files, papers, portfolios, exams, checklists, and scoring rubrics.  I’m familiarizing myself once again with the Excel spreadsheets in order to efficiently do my final grades for my four classes (about 60 students to account for).  I was interested by what C.S. Lewis wrote about Individualists and Totalitarian.  In our “western” institution of higher learning I’m struck with what we are required to do with our Central Asian students who have been taught by those former Soviet teachers who were under a totalitarian, communist form of government over 18 years ago.  It will take a generation or two to sift out the rigidity of one form of teaching to allow the students (and teachers) to breathe freely on the shallow academic air of freedom of expression and freedom of thought.

 

“When you find yourself wanting to turn your children, or pupils, or even your neighbours, into people exactly like yourself, remember that God probably never meant them to be that.  You and they are different organs, intended to do different things.  On the other hand, when you are tempted not to bother about someone else’s troubles because they are ‘no business of yours’, remember that though he is different from you he is part of the same organism as you.  If you forget that he belongs to the same organism as yourself you will become an Individualist.  If you forget that he is a different organ from you, if you want to suppress differences and make people all alike, you will become a Totalitarian.”  From Mere Christianity, Book IV, Ch. 6

 

In 1951 Hannah Arendt had published her seminal volume of “The Origins of Totalitarianism” coining the phrase which essentially means: A type of government that has total control over all aspects of its citizen’s lives.” From Answers.com.  Hannah was a Jew from Germany who was married to a Russian who had fled the Soviet Union’s form of totalitarianism.  She lived safely in New York where she could boldly write about her views of both forms of government, Soviet Union’s communists and the fascist Nazis.  Heavy stuff of which my Kazakh students have been writing about since the former regime of communism greatly affected their great grandparents and grandparents in the early days of collectivization in Kazakhstan and the subsequent call to arms to fight for the “Motherland” during the Great Patriotic War.

 

To stay on the lighter side, I’m reading Animal Farm and enjoying George Orwell’s view of the Soviet Union by taking a fictional spin around a farmyard once the animals had rebelled against Farmer Jones.  I’m guessing that Jones was the Russian tsar and that Major, the horse, was Marx and that the two pigs who don’t get along are Stalin and Trotsky. 

 

I had to laugh when I read the following about what Animal Farm’s rules were laid out for all the beasts of the newly emancipated farmyard.  This concerned their supposed reading and writing classes which were a seeming success:

 

“As for the pigs, they could already read and write perfectly.  The dogs learned to read fairly well, but were not interested in reading anything except the Seven Commandments.  Muriel, the goat, could read somewhat better than the dogs, and sometimes used to read to the others in the evenings from scraps of newspaper which she found on the rubbish heap.  Benjamin could read as well as any pig, but never exercised his faculty.  So far as he knew, he said, there was nothing worth reading.  Clover learnt the whole alphabet, but could not put words together.  Boxer could not get beyond the letter D.  He would trace out A, B, C, D in the dust with his great hoof, and then would stand staring at the letters with his ears back, sometimes shaking his forelock, trying with all his might to remember what came next and never succeeding.  On several occasions, indeed, he did learn E, F, G, H, but by the time he knew them it was always discovered that he had forgotten A, B, C and D.  Finally, he decided to be content with the first four letters, and used to write them out once or twice every day to refresh his memory.  Mollie refused to learn any but the five letters which spelt her own name.  She would form these very neatly out of pieces of twig, and would then decorate them with a flower or two and walk round them admiring them.” (p. 21).

 

May my students grasp the ideas I have presented them this semester with searching on the electronic research databases (Ebscohost, ProQuest, SAGE, InfoTrac, J-Stor) and NOT Googling for information or using Wiki-pedia.  May my students know how important a thesis statement is to help guide them to creating a manageable and readable essay.  May my students long remember to look up the intricacies of the APA formatting style on their own and know there are many other versions out there with their own picky rules (MLA, Turabian, Chicago, etc).  May my students enjoy writing as a way of expressing themselves.  May they always have a curiosity and love of learning and NOT do what everyone else is doing with cutting and pasting (better known as plagiarism).  May my students find out what information they need which is out there for them to synthesize and may they use their critical thinking skills to let others know just what smart students they really are!!!  After all, that is what education is all about, to find answers to life’s problems and find ways to solve questions for the betterment of mankind.

 

 

 

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Thankful for George Orwell’s “Animal Farm”

George Orwell wrote in a preface to his book Animal Farm in the Ukrainian translation the following quote.  His Ukrainian readers, who were trapped after WWII in Displaced Persons camps in Germany under the British and American administration, needed to know his background and why he wrote about Marxist theories from animals’ point of view.  These Ukrainians resisted returning to the USSR, knowing they would be killed back in their supposed “Motherland.”  The Ukrainians and others termed as “kulaks” had gone through so much BEFORE the war. (Think Holodomor of 1932-33).

 

November is the time of year when people in Ukraine honor those who died in this famine called a “genocide” perpetrated by Soviet policies as of 75 years ago. Many understand that other nationalities suffered as well, not just Ukrainians.  Unfortunately, not everyone will agree with the extent of how many people actually died and whether it was genocide or not.  For now it is interesting to read what George Orwell knew and when he knew it. (think sixty years ago).

 

Even if I had the power, I would not wish to interfere in Soviet domestic affairs: I would not condemn Stalin and his associates merely for their barbaric and undemocratic methods.  It is quite possible that, even with the best intentions, they could not have acted otherwise under the conditions prevailing there.

 

But on the other hand it was of the utmost importance to me that people in western Europe should see the Soviet regime for what it really was.  Since 1930 I had seen little evidence that the USSR was progressing towards anything that one could truly call Socialism.  On the contrary, I was struck by clear signs of its transformation into a hierarchical society, in which the rulers have no more reason to give up their power than any other ruling class.  Moreover, the workers and intelligentsia in a country like England cannot understand that the USSR of today is altogether different from what it was in 1917.  It is partly that they do not want to understand (i.e. they want to believe that, somewhere, a really Socialist country does actually exist), and partly that, being accustomed to comparative freedom and moderation in public life, totalitarianism is completely incomprehensible to them.

 

Yet one must remember that England is not completely democratic.  It is also a capitalist country with great class privileges and (even now, after a war that has tended to equalize everybody) with great differences in wealth.  But nevertheless it is a country in which people have lived together for several hundred years without major conflict, in which the laws are relatively just and official news and statistics can almost invariably be believed, and last but not least, in which to hold and to voice minority views does not involve any mortal danger.  In such an atmosphere the man in the street has no real understanding of things like concentration camps, mass deportations, arrests without trial, press censorship, etc.  Everything he reads about a country like the USSR is automatically translated into English terms, and he quite innocently accepts the lies of totalitarian propaganda.  Up to 1939, and even later, the majority of English people were incapable of assessing the true nature of the Nazi regime in Germany, and now, with the Soviet regime, they are still to a large extent under the same sort of illusion.

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