A Sense of Purpose

In 2011-12, Russian economy was doing great, the middle class was growing, people were improving their economic well-being. But Putin’s approval ratings were lower than ever. People were protesting in the streets, ridiculing Putin online, and it was fashionable among the cultural elites to despise Putin. 

Then, the oil prices started to drop, and the economy entered into a deep recession. In response, Putin invaded Ukraine and attached the narrative of “We are defending our fellow Russian-speakers and sticking it to Americans” to the invasion. The economy collapsed, the middle-class is in the toilet, everybody became poorer. But Putin’s approval ratings are sky-high, and the very people who used to mock him are now sincere and active Putinoids.

Moral of the story: people value a sense of purpose and of being part of something grand a lot more than they value their economic well-being. 


I want to answer the comment I got in one of the threads about the reason why I have such a lackadaisical approach to grades.

My father taught college back in Ukraine. He would come to class on the first day and say, “Everybody gets an A. Now, all who want to leave can go.” And then he’d teach those who remained. To me, hat’s what real teaching is. It’s not about control and authority, punishment and reward, policing and disciplining. It’s about working together with students on approaching truth and appreciating beauty.

Unfortunately, I can’t teach this way because the whole thing is too bureaucratized. But I can’t care enough about grades where I’d see them as sacred. I find it beyond bizarre when teachers worship at the altar of grades and do insane things like saying, “No, you got 79%, and that’s a C. I’ll never pretend it’s 80% and give you a B.” Or, “I said to hand in the essay before 4:59 pm, and you sent it in at 5:40 pm. I will not accept it! (Or lower the grade.)” There are also very strange people who see tardiness as disrespect towards themselves, as if students are not a lot more likely to have a million things going on in their lives that are not about this bizarre teacher.

If a student tells me, “My life will be ruined if I fail this course,” I don’t see the reason to test this assumption and fail them. The real tragedy is not a grade, whatever it is. It’s the reluctance of people to cultivate an interest in truth and beauty. And that can’t be remedied with any grade.