Listening time: under 9 minutes. Sadly, some things in the state of the world are driving me to spend more time thinking about how simple citizens can remain resistent to brain-washing by whatever brand of ideology.
My main gripe is against the ideological mindset, rather than any particular component ideas of one or another package. By that I mean its frequent crushing of free, clear, rigorous and evolving thought, including healthy mechanisms of self-correction in light of new insights, context, or facts. And people’s willingness to hand over their minds to an allegedly greater wisdom often seems, considering some evidence from history, a disaster as much for society as for individuals. A few years ago, I had the bright idea that our education should include an additional form of ‘IT’, namely Imagination Training. To that I’d now add Independent Thought.
The detailed description which follows therefore struck me. It refers to a specific ideology, namely communism, but if the writer’s conclusions hold true, then I believe they apply to pretty much any other flavour in the ideological ice-cream parlour.
György Faludy was a poet with a robust mind, spirit and even body, having survived torturous interrogations and three years in a labour camp in Hungary in the 1950s; one of only 20 to emerge from a peak population of 1700. The quotation shared with you here is from his superb memoir with the captivating title, My Happy Days in Hell.
Faludy’s staggering erudition is matched by a dispassionately penetrating intellect even when relating to the woman he was in love with and would later marry, Suzanne. His detached assessment of her motivations for joining the communist party demonstrate how hell can be engendered by the good intentions of good people, something Vasily Grossman underscores in his own comments on the dangers of big ideologies no matter how well meaning.
Suzanne had been driven into the communist party by her indignation against social injustice, by her father’s richness, by her rebellion against her parents, by her benevolence, her humanity and her historical and philosophical ignorance. Like everyone who joined the party for moral reasons, she gave up moral scruples as soon as she had joined. It was obvious that those moral scruples, silenced for a while, would sooner or later kill her faith in communism and would bring order to the emotional chaos which that faith had engendered in her. I was afraid, however, that this would take a long time.
But more interesting in general terms are what he posits as a bulwark against brain-washing and other words beginning with ‘b’ (‘balderdash’ comes to mind, ‘blather’, another, and I leave you to posit more). I have always regretted not having been made to learn Latin at school (given the mental maturity of my teens, it would probably have had to be compulsory) and have a Latin course lined up for when I’ve mastered three of its living offspring. Now I have another incentive to do so, as Faludy explains his belief that Suzanne would take a long time to emerge from her brain-washing.
Strangely enough I came to this conclusion from the fact that Suzanne had never studied Greek and had taken Latin only for a short time, as a non-compulsory subject. In the course of the last few years I had noticed that knowledge of classical tongues and of the humanities existed in an inverse ratio with the penetration of communist ideas, which may have been why communists hastened to abolish the teaching of Latin in the grammar schools. Not one of my forty classmates had remained communists; those who had joined were disappointed within a few weeks or months. The most devoted, stubborn and biased supporters of the régime were middle-class people or intellectuals who had not studied Latin, while most of the communist writers or journalists occupying key positions had gone to technical schools, like Bandi Havas.
I felt that it was the things I had learned in the Latin, Greek and history classes of my school that formed the stumbling-block on which communism foundered. Whenever I read the works or listened to the speeches of the ideologists or politicians of the régime, the precise rules of Latin grammar and style warned me that the subjects did not correspond to the predicates, that the tenses were incorrectly used and that the text was impure. Not only formally impure, but also in its essence, because the writer, or speaker, was lying – lying consciously – and was in addition bored with his own lies. The little I had learned in logic, correct and incorrect deduction, immunized me against the arguments, slogans, promises, predictions and statistics of the communists. The entire Graeco-Roman world rose up against their pompous, dull and bilious life, from their nurseries hung with Stalin’s portraits to their colourless and profane funerals, at which their corpses served merely as a pretext for the party secretary to attack Harry Truman in the funeral oration – all through their days steeped in intrigue, wasted in joylessness, in reckless hysteria or neurotic sham calm, without sincerity, sensuousness, walks, revelry and freedom.
Was Suzanne really brain-washed? I would suggest, judging by an anecdote Faludy cites, that she was. When her communist mentor asked her what she would be willing to do for the party, she thought a bit and said she’d be willing to die for it. His chilling response should have been enough to rouse a healthy scepticism if not downright disillusion in his student and catapult her out of her love of the party, at least in private. He said it wasn’t enough to be willing to die, you must be willing to kill.
Source: György Faludy, My Happy Days in Hell, trans. by Kathleen Szasz (London: Penguin Classics, 2010 (1962)), pp. 326-27
Photo credit: morhamedufmg at pixabay