The Socialist Cure for Americans

I love the US. Great country, fantastic people, fun politics, beautiful nature, amazing education, and delightful shopping opportunities. If only it could get rid of intersectionality, anti-abortionists, anti-gay freaks, apocalyptic tendencies, safe spaces, self-pity as a national pastime and put a bit more enthusiasm and joy of living in their place, it would be downright perfect. 
And I know exactly what is needed to make that happen: a bit of Soviet experience. I don’t mean anything truly horrible like Stalinism, genocide, wars, or famine. What I wish Americans could experience is the gentlest form of stagnant socialism of, say, 1978 to 1983. Just 5 short years of being sent to sort rotting cabbage, getting up at 6 to queue for milk in the 10°F cold for 2 hours and have it run out in front of you, being #5987 in a line for a refrigerator, making do without contraception or hygienic products, having to do free physical labor on Saturdays, suffering persecution for growing your hair out or listening to rock music, having no access to anything you’d actually want to read, etc. In small doses, this is energizing like hell.

One year of this, and the use of anti-depressants will be halved. Five years, and people will go back to their super-harsh lives in the unforgiving capitalist hell bursting with enthusiasm and ready to move mountains. They’ll become resilient, resourceful and deeply non-apocayptic. Drug companies will collapse. Safe spaces will disappear. Trigger warnings will evoke nothing but horror. Of course, you shouldn’t overdo it. Subject people to 70 years of it, and you’ll get a bunch of mental invalids. Moderation is key, in this as in everything. 

You’re welcome. 


25 thoughts on “The Socialist Cure for Americans”

  1. I don’t know – we might be moving toward some of this, in which only the very rich can afford health care, contraceptives, and even food that was grown, rather than powdered and boxed.

    I didn’t grow up with any of what you described, but I did grow up in a house stricken with poverty and addiction. All that has motivated me to work as hard as I can. Most days I feel like I’m running a life-long marathon away from poverty. Meanwhile, my kids are — by my own fault — lazy, used to having a house keeper, and are unmotivated in the extreme. My own baggage from growing up always on the edge makes me compensate by giving them things that I never dreamed of having, and the results are pretty terrible. It would be better for them if we were either worse off financially or if we were less busy killing ourselves working so hard to outrun poverty and had time to teach them how to take care of themselves. 😦


    1. This is so, so true. I have no idea how to transmit my motivation, resilience and fire to Klara who will never know the kind of things I grew up with. I don’t know what the answer is, I really don’t.


      1. The only thing I can think of is to limit one’s conspicuous consumption. Living beneath one’s means, forsaking things that you can afford. Just a thought. I don’t know how practical that is.


        1. \ The only thing I can think of is to limit one’s conspicuous consumption. Living beneath one’s means, forsaking things that you can afford.

          It is important not to go overboard with it. I have always had numerous good, relatively costy (for middle class) clothes and shoes since birth, even when my family were poor immigrants to Israel, and I do not think having less clothes would’ve influenced my ambition either way. It’s not like my family would start mistreating me by dressing me up as if we were truly extremely poor.

          I am not for spoiling children by fulfilling every whim and buying the costiest stuff whether needed or not, but giving a child X when you are poor vs. giving the same X when you are rich won’t have the same effect on the child (because it’s not the same thing and children are not stupid).

          I think demanding good grades and doing certain age-appropriate chores around the house is good, but it also doesn’t guarantee everything. Remember Clarissa’s post about children who are full of promise?

          Clarissa, do you think your “motivation, resilience and fire” are something everybody can and will have, if brought up in a certain fashion? Is nothing genetic, in your opinion, depending on one’s inborn personality?


            1. Research suggests otherwise:

              One of the best predictors of children’s educational attainment is their parents’ educational level and in the past this association was thought to be environmental, rather than influenced by genes.

              Parents with higher levels of educational achievement, for example, are thought to access greater academic and social resources, enabling them to pass on better opportunities for their children than less educated parents.

              This new King’s study, published today in Psychological Science, is the first to find substantial genetic influence on children’s social mobility, which could have important implications for reducing educational inequality.

              Using a sample of more than 6,000 twin families from the Medical Research Council (MRC) funded Twins Early Development Study, the researchers measured genetic influence on four categories of social mobility:

              Downwardly mobile: children who did not complete A-Levels but were raised in families with a university-educated parent;
              Upwardly mobile: children who completed A-Levels but their parent did not attend university;
              Stably educated: children who completed A-levels and were raised in families with a university-educated parent
              Stably uneducated: children who did not complete A-Levels and whose parents did not attend university
              The researchers also used an alternative method to study genetic influences on social mobility that focuses on people’s DNA markers for educational achievement, so-called genome-wide polygenic scores (GPS).

              They found that children with higher polygenic scores completed A-levels, even if they had come from families where no parent had gone to university. The highest polygenic scores were found for families that were ‘stably educated’, the lowest scores for those who were ‘stably uneducated’, and results fell in the middle for downwardly and upwardly mobile families.



              1. Oh, absolutely, intelligence is about 70% genetic, that’s a fact. But what does it matter? I know tragically miserable people with amazing educational attainment and ha ppy people with next to know such attainment. The capacity to feel joy I’m talking about lies in an entirely different dimension. I used to think that brilliant people would be better at figuring out how much of their misery is painstakingly self-generated but it’s not true. As brilliant as they might be, they are as likely to be blind in this regard as somebody who is barely literate.


      2. On some level, there isn’t one. What helped for me was having to support myself with a crappy minimum wage job for a few years, don’t know how I would’ve turned out without that. But who knows if jobs like mine will even exist by the time she’s old enough to work.

        Other potentially helpful advice: don’t live in an area where everyone is rich. You’d rather have a daughter who realizes she’s pretty well off then one who pities herself for being slightly less well off than her classmates. Don’t try to shield her from all hardship, mistakes, and pain (my dad tried to do this, it was stifling.)


      3. I struggle with it, too. And it’s true that hardship motivates people, but not all people. My husband and I grew up in the same place, and I am far more ambitious and hungry for everything than he is. Of our kids, the oldest is laid back (I admit it drives me crazy) but the middle one seems to have the same fire I do, despite living a super comfortable life. I think the fire is there or it isn’t, and for people who are naturally inert it takes a lot of hardship to push them toward action; otherwise, passive plus sated spells trouble.


        1. \ And it’s true that hardship motivates people, but not all people.

          What about people who give up, like people in West Virginia? Thought about this post:

          \ otherwise, passive plus sated spells trouble.

          I think I am quite passive, but I want to have a normal sated (?) / middle class life, so I got education and am working on my career to ensure having the kind of middle class life I am used to. Would I work harder with higher pressure? Probably. But I am still working despite being naturally inert.

          It’s not either fire or nothing, hopefully. One’s children must understand that in order to have the kind of life they are accustomed to, they must do XYZ. Leading by personal example, demanding age-appropriate things and not over-spoiling seem common sense things to me. Beyond that I do not know.


          1. It’s the sense of wonder and enjoyment and of being capable of finding joy in things that I think matters most in life. But it seems to be a skill that people either develop or not. I read a book and it’s omg the pleasure is almost unbearable. I go on vacation and I’m loving it immensely. The hotel is perfect, the beach is phenomenal, the guests in the hotel are wonderful. And then there are people who wherever they go are not quite happy, always dissatisfied with some tiny little detail.

            There was a time when I lost my joy of life, and it was not good. Living like that always must be such an unnecessary drag.

            I remember when I first moved to Canada and separated from my husband, there was never any money, we couldn’t afford anything, lived in crappy little apartments, even buying a coffee at Tim Hortons was a splurge. But I was in ecstasy. Literally. So it’s not about what you really have or what the objective circumstances are. It’s something that comes from the inside and it’s the most important thing in life.

            By the way, I’m also very very inert in everything that isn’t the intellectual life.


            1. But I don’t know where this capacity to find joy in everything comes from. I know the source is inside but how does it open up? That’s what I want to find out.


              1. But if you had stayed with ex husband you’d probably be quite miserable still, correct? I think the people we surround ourselves with have the ability to completely break our spirit. Probably lift it, too, but not if we lack the capacity for joy.


      4. “I have no idea how to transmit my motivation, resilience and fire to Klara”

        Then back off and let her figure out her own motivation, resilience and fire to Klara, she’s not you and won’t be (just a reminder).


          1. Key to figuring it out is having the space to do so (and trusting that you’re setting a good example). I’m pretty unambitious (as long as I get to do certain things I want to) and would have been miserable with people prodding me to be more resilient and motivated and on fire.


            1. \ I’m pretty unambitious

              Reading college professors saying such things about themselves or other college profs is just killing me. I wish people who write that could for a moment see that through my eyes (and the eyes of other 99% 🙂 ).

              Hope I haven’t hurt anybody’s feelings, but it’s surreal to read such stuff.

              To become a professor one needs to be extremely smart, ambitious and hard-working.


              1. Honestly, there are way too many professors who haven’t read a book in a year or more. I wish we were all motivated and ambitious but many people are proud to stagnate.


            2. Of course, prodding is not a good idea. Do I look like a prodder? I just want to find something that will counterbalance the fashion of moaning and complaining.


  2. “I wish we were all motivated and ambitious but many people are proud to stagnate.”

    I would distinguish ambition from intellectual curiosity/development… some professors seem to use up their stock of both and are then content to run out the clock doing minimal work and stagnating.


    1. Yes, ambition is probably not the right word because after you get to Full Professor, there is literally no other position to aspire to unless you want to go into admin. So many people just vegetate, recycle the lectures from 15 years ago, give an occasional conference talk based on material from their pre-tenure times, and entertain themselves with endless Byzantine intrigues.


  3. Are you sure this would work? How many people besides you do you think benefitted from the soviet experience in this way? And, as you said, America’s doing pretty well overall – maybe the stuff that you don’t like is just a strange but necessary side of the things you do? And maybe in so far as you want to make a good life for Klara there, you can focus on what makes the locals work in ways you actually like?

    I know that casting one’s own personal history of suffering as necessary to you make the person you are today can be an immensely valuable thing to do, but I think it’s rather easy to go overboard with it. But, for me at least, sometimes the dizzying and crushing sensation that the suffering was in fact pointless, arbitrary, and you might’ve turned out just as well regardless can be just as useful and at least as true.


    1. Me, my sister, N, all of my acquaintances from my generation who emigrated definitely benefited from it in precisely this way and we are aware of it.

      I can’t say it’s aboyt suffering because it’s not like we really suffered in the USSR. We didn’t witness Stalinism or anything like that. But we are definitely more appreciative and excited about what we have here because we’ve seen the alternative. And we have a very different definition of hardship. When people know only opulence, the yardstick they use to measure the world becomes flawed. They can become crushed by minor inconveniences. It’s not a coincidence that the richest countries on earth have such high rates of depression and suicide.


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