Wednesday, January 30, 2013

When people are not allowed to run their own lives - a cautionary tale

Health warning: this post defends Christianity in places but contains no nuts, gluten or proselytizing. If allergic, just move on to the next post.


 Haiku sent a Smithsonian story on the discovery, in the wilds of Russia, of the Lykov family.


 The family had been isolated behind snow walls and so on in Siberia for hundreds of years until "discovered" by a team of geologists:
Thus it was in the remote south of the forest in the summer of 1978. A helicopter sent to find a safe spot to land a party of geologists was skimming the treeline a hundred or so miles from the Mongolian border when it dropped into the thickly wooded valley of an unnamed tributary of the Abakan, a seething ribbon of water rushing through dangerous terrain.

It goes into the family members and how far each was amenable to new ideas, i.e. old ideas were seen as bad by the geologists and amenability to new ideas, any new ideas, unfiltered, untested, was seen as reactionary and therefore bad. You'd expect such a biased narrative from the High Rationalist [Pseudo-Science is God] Smithsonian in their description of the first meeting:
The daughters spoke a language distorted by a lifetime of isolation. "When the sisters talked to each other, it sounded like a slow, blurred cooing."
No, you idiots, not "distorted" but "original". It was their original dialect but you have to badmouth it because it's not yours - typical PCist reaction. Now we get to the power of the word to distort and falsely convey, in a paragraph summarizing a lifetime of experiences by the various family members:
Slowly, over several visits, the full story of the family emerged. The old man's name was Karp Lykov, and he was an Old Believer—a member of a fundamentalist Russian Orthodox sect, worshiping in a style unchanged since the 17th century. Old Believers had been persecuted since the days of Peter the Great, and Lykov talked about it as though it had happened only yesterday; for him, Peter was a personal enemy and "the anti-Christ in human form"—a point he insisted had been amply proved by Tsar's campaign to modernize Russia by forcibly "chopping off the beards of Christians."
And of course, grievances become "hatreds" in the Smithsonian authors' eyes and naturally, these "hatreds" are laid at the door of Christianity:
But these centuries-old hatreds were conflated with more recent grievances; Karp was prone to complain in the same breath about a merchant who had refused to make a gift of 26 poods [940 pounds] of potatoes to the Old Believers sometime around 1900.
The reference to 1900 has a clear intention in the passage and those reading the Smithsonian account already have an a priori bias and will hardly question the tone of the narrative.

 What I was flabbergasted by was the way any sort of adherence to "Old Ways" is cast as evil and any sort of amenability to "New" ideas like global warming, cramming people into housing blocks, food devastation orchestrated by Monsanto et all, is seen as good.

 Some years back, in Russia, I was speaking with a group of people who heavily defended the soviet days and through the filter of my own prejudice against communism and its evils, I couldn't accept anything they said. However, it became apparent that they weren't viewing it in political terms at all - they were referring to the delicate fabric of family life in a harsh climate, which followed a social code the Soviets had tried to break down but the old family system vehemently held onto, if only for reasons of survival.

 The one with the best English told me it was the recent flood of the worst from the West which was destroying things. Not the scientific discoveries, not the necessary advances but the hooking up of the youth of Russia [the most vulnerable to outside filth] which was getting a steady diet of the worst the West had to offer and with it, the corrosive and destabilizing effect the new godless values had on society over time. In other words, this was cultural assassination and it was clear who was pushing it.

 Ten years later, the effect was complete and Russians, having been decimated during Stalin's era and starved to death during the Cold War were now getting the full-on Western sleaze. It had become a standing joke that "white goods" families were those who'd rejected communist privation for a New God - not the Old God revisited but the New God of white goods and other appliances.

 And with undoubted technical advances in the home, had also come the disintegration of the society. Now why? Why should technical advances be accompanied by the "decadence"? That's a post in itself and has to do with the source of funding, i.e. Them. The destruction of the Kyrov family was even commented on, with bewilderment, by the geologists:
Perhaps the saddest aspect of the Lykovs' strange story was the rapidity with which the family went into decline after they re-established contact with the outside world. In the fall of 1981, three of the four children followed their mother to the grave within a few days of one another. 
According to Peskov, their deaths were not, as might have been expected, the result of exposure to diseases to which they had no immunity. Both Savin and Natalia suffered from kidney failure, most likely a result of their harsh diet. But Dmitry died of pneumonia, which might have begun as an infection he acquired from his new friends.
In that one quote lies the overweening arrogance of the West and its Themist perspective, without the slightest sense of guilt about collateral damage and side-effects or of having brought their own diseased minds into a functioning community and destroying that community.

 The narrative says two died as a result of their harsh diet. BS. They'd managed for years on that harsh diet but suddenly, after meeting outsiders, they did die? Cue one wildly prejudiced Rationalist commenter below the article:
Once again religion shows it's ability to completely overpower rational thought and make a total mess of peoples lives. A truly sad story. Posted by raymond on January 29,2013
Naturally, I felt moved to respond at the Smithsonian:
What a very silly comment by Raymond, what a false conclusion based on the given evidence. "Perhaps the saddest aspect of the Lykovs' strange story was the rapidity with which the family went into decline after they re-established contact with the outside world." The critical word here is "after", i.e. when exposed to the likes of Raymond and Co. It was their religiously defined code which had sustained them and kept them functioning as a family. Now it was destroyed and as night follows day, so was the family.

 So how should the geologists have acted? Well, for a start, with respect for that which had sustained that family for so long on so little. If they had been a team of anthropologists and biologists, rather than geologists, the write-up at least, if not the fate of the family, might have been different.

 The anthropologists and biologists would have noted the way faith can sustain, how people committed to something and it doesn't have to be a religion - it can be a cause or field of activity - can have some of the best health in the world and live a long time.

There is most certainly an element in the human brain which defied science - call it the metaphysical, call it the spiritual element but it does have an effect on human sustainability and scientists are therefore duty-bound to explore its whys and wherefores, rather than poo-pooing it from a priori first premises. Just how many documented cases do you need?

 And how should the family have reacted to new technology? Well, as they'd begun to - by degrees, a little bit here, a little bit there. And what of their reactionary Old Faith? None of the damn business of any of those geologists or the Smithsonian or anyone else. "Leave them alone," is what I want to say to those outsiders.

Let them find their own way in a world they've discovered exists. Going back to the man in that group of Russians I was speaking with - he said that what the others were saying is that they were happier in those days. The local community was more closeknit, with the events in Moscow some foreign thing a thousand miles away. The kids would gather in the yards and play guitar, they'd all go for walks and collect mushrooms in October and so on - they'd bottle food for winter and so they did not in the least starve and in the words of my friend - there were always potatoes and cabbages - those things never disappeared off the shelves.

 It's the arrogance of us in the West that our way was better in ALL respects which is the most galling. Sure, embrace new technology but there's a saying, is there not, about not throwing out the baby with the bathwater?


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  This post will run at NO, OoL and Old NO. I'll do this only rarely from now on and if it's something appropriate for those sites.

1 comment:

Peter MacFarlane said...


A similar story, but obviously with a much older timeline, pops up in "The Gulag Archipelago".

In that version, the discoverers were surveying the site of a planned new logging camp (what else?) and the discovered were a whole community, not just one family. Who were then, of course, immediately arrested and sent off somewhere else (that bit I can certainly believe).

Urban legend, anyone? Though I do appreciate that Siberia is easily large enough for both versions to be true, and for many more undiscovered communities still to be out there somewhere.