In my last post I wrote a little about both Andrei Sakharov and Dmitri Shostakovich. The more I wrote, the more I realized there were things I wanted to make more explicit and that is where this post comes in. Perhaps I just need better revision/editing techniques, but fuck it. This is technically a blog and no one reads it anyways. So, without further ado, here are my thoughts on Andrei Sakharov’s essay, “Progress, Coexistence and Intellectual Freedom.”
1. Sakharov does not write the essay for himself.
This is something I can’t help but bring up because, far too often, groups or individuals who seem to attempt acts of altruism are doing it for some form of benefit like status or ego boost. The benefits come in many forms but all have something in common: self-interest.
Sakharov has clear objectives for writing his essay, but personal benefit is not one of them. He already has notoriety from previous achievements in mathematics and physics, but his past successes are not reasons for avoiding personal gain.
2. Sakharov’s essay demonstrates how to be nationalistic without demonizing other ideologies.
In outlining his theses, two lines of the first assertion exhibit this idea better than my words ever could:
“Only universal cooperation under conditions of intellectual freedom and the lofty moral ideals of socialism and labor, accompanied by the elimination of dogmatism and pressures of the concealed interests of ruling classes, will preserve civilization.
The reader will understand that ideological collaboration cannot apply to those fanatical, sectarian, and extremist ideologies that reject all possibility of rapprochement, discussion, and compromise, for
example, the ideologies of fascist, racist, militaristic, and Maoist demagogy.”
The US spent many years attempting to combat the spread of communism, sometimes under false pretenses. Today, communist is a loaded term used to put a person in the opposition. They are against us and we must battle them. It doesn’t matter if there are merits to communism. And even if Sakharov is a supporter of Socialism, not communism, it doesn’t matter because they’re the same thing, right?
3. Sakharov’s essay is balanced, articulate, and well-thought-out, which is awesome, but this also hinders its ability to invoke social change.
You go to the machine shop every day and stand in steel-toed boots for 12 hours on a concrete floor. In the winter you use a little space heater to keep your hands warm while at the work bench, and in the summer you have a box fan to circulate the shop’s ninety degree heat. You wear gloves and safety-glasses, but with the amount of time you work you can’t avoid a few instances where a welding bead will fall into the collar of your shirt or an errant metal shaving will spring into your forearm.
After these long days, when you go home, you eat dinner and relax by watching the news. Now, maybe you know this isn’t the best way to learn about the world, but it is one of the easiest. Everything that’s news has been digested into segments up to a couple minutes long with some added commentary and/or analysis. Perhaps you’re too tired, or don’t care enough to be bothered, but whatever the reason, you don’t seek out essays to gain insight or knowledge.
I don’t wish to pass judgment on those who live blue-collar lives, nor do I condemn those who access the news in a less-than-optimal way. I can understand this mentality, regardless of whether I agree with it, but I maintain my stance that this leads to a skewed, oversimplified understanding of the world. And this myopic understanding of the world has the potential to be exploited by groups/individuals attempting to establish power or push an agenda.
4. Sakharov’s intentions have been ignored, and his essay re-framed in order to better serve an American agenda.
This is related to #3. When I first learned about Sakharov, he was another example of a person overcoming the restrictions placed on Soviet civil liberties. While that feat is impressive, it discredits the content of Sakharov’s writing.
After spending a semester in China I learned to question most ideas I learned growing up. For example, as children we are taught how America overcame the greatest empire in the world to gain its independence. In Great Britain, students are taught that Americans were just trying to avoid paying taxes. On top of that, the achievement of independence is discredited because Britain didn’t take the Colonial revolt seriously and sent convicts and slouches to maintain their stronghold on the colonies. Each country’s version of the Revolutionary War falls somewhere between perception and reality, but, when combined, our understanding approaches objectivity.
This directly relates to Sakharov’s argument that it is necessary for ideas of differing cultures to mix in order to assimilate the good, discard the bad, and improve the world we live in. But this point is forgotten for those consuming the “news bite” summary of “Progress…” and replaced with some version of, “Sakharov, Soviet Revolutionary, fights communism by circumventing USSR’s Civil Liberty restrictions.”
Forget that Sakharov actually supported Socialist ideals, we only care that he went against the establishment in the name of freedom of speech. You’re either for or against us, and we decide that according to whatever helps our cause.
Read the essay yourself here.