Monday, February 13, 2012

Ties that bind

Alexandra Popoff, Sophia Tolstoy:
The Tolstoyan agricultural colonies were notorious for various incidents, which led to their breakup. Such colonies had sprung up in the 1880s, but none lasted longer than a year: people who fled convention were a disagreeable lot. Their attempts to live and work together were doomed -- quarrels were common, and since they rejected the law, there was no way of solving their disputes. They believed in the superiority of their moral principles but could not survive as a community. Commenting on what he perceived as a failure of their movement, Aylmer Maude would remark: "Again and again attempts have been made to cure social ills by persuading people to stand aside from the main stream of human life, and to save their souls by following an isolated course; but all paths of social improvement except the common highway trodden by the common man have proved to be blind alleys." Like Maude, Sophia [Tolstoy] met many idle and inefficient "wanderers" among the Tolstoyans. She was appalled by the scandals in the Tolstoy Colonies, which were widely known. In 1891, Nikolai Karonin, a populist writer, published "The Borskaya Colony," a story about intellectuals who founded a commune with the idea of helping peasants. Instead, they brought ruin: a peasant girl was raped and later committed suicide. The fact-based account appeared in the journal Russian Thought and produced a sensation, hurtful to Tolstoy's cause.
One needn't accept every assumption here to see that there is something to holding oneself in opposition to the "main stream of human life" which does not lend itself to anything better, and frequently contributes to some things that are worse.

I often give the example of abuses I have witnessed between people with the finest political pedigrees -- far worse in the damage they do than anything I have experienced coming from a boss.

Friday, February 10, 2012

The noise made by people

Anton Chekhov, Peasants:
During the summer and winter months there were hours and days when these people appeared to live worse than cattle, and life with them was really terrible. They were coarse, dishonest, filthy, drunk, always quarreling and arguing amongst themselves, with no respect for one another and living in mutual fear and suspicion. Who maintains the pubs and makes the peasant drunk? The peasant. Who embezzles the village, school and parish funds and spends it all on drink? The peasant. Who robs his neighbor, sets fire to his house and perjures himself in court for a bottle of vodka? Who is the first to revile the peasant at district council and similar meetings? The peasant. Yes, it was terrible living with these people; nevertheless they were still human beings, suffering and weeping like other people and there was nothing in their lives which did not provide some excuse: killing work which made bodies ache all over at night, harsh winters, poor harvests, overcrowding, without any help and nowhere to find it. The richer and stronger cannot help, since they themselves are coarse, dishonest and drunk, using the same foul language. The most insignificant little clerk or official treats peasants like tramps, even talking down to elders and churchwardens, as though this is their right. And after all, could one expect help or a good example from the mercenary, greedy, dissolute, lazy people who come to the village now and then just to insult, fleece and intimidate the peasants?
While greater in absolute terms, the treachery of having someone direct your productive activity through the course of a day's employment nevertheless becomes routine. Hey, something is expected of you, something is expected of them; this is how we all get through the day. It's a betrayal, but nothing personal. This is the good business model; it preempts disruption very well, in my view.

But the betrayals that come from others subordinated by the same set of circumstances; really, these are a marvel to behold! Perhaps the bosses, by virtue of their position, enjoy the luxury; or else they observe the advantage which derives from not making things too personal. Only the idiots risk their salaries for their subordinates. But what the contemporary serf wouldn't do to brandish his rank to the rank-and-file. Yes, it is terrible working with these people; nevertheless you know what they contend with on a daily basis, and there is little in their lives which does not provide some excuse ...