Distance from Harvard

Barry Marshall once said that if he had gone to Harvard, he would have known that stomach ulcers were caused by stress, and wouldn’t even have considered the possibility that they might be caused by a bacterium.  There are a number of other important innovators that sure look as if they benefited from living as far as possible from  the sources of establishment opinion.  Back when continental drift was officially nonsense,  quite a few geologists in South Africa and Australia thought it must be correct – partly because there are local geological facts that are hard to explain any other way (like ancient glacial moraines in Australia whose rocks originated in South Africa) but also because physical distance translates into mental distance.

Of course this does not always work – distance is useful, but not sufficient..  Indonesia is pretty far from Harvard, but is a vast wasteland, intellectually.  Ideally, you want a country full of people drawn from the  populations that actually produce creative thinkers (Europeans, mostly) instead of the populations that ought to but don’t.  And it should be really, really far away.

With the Internet and cell phones and all that,  psychological isolation is harder to find. Once even California had some thoughts of its own, but that day is long past. If we want to keep progress from stalling out, we need people that don’t get sucked into to the usual crap – because they can’t.

The only real solution is interstellar colonization: the speed of light is your friend.  A generation ship might do the job –  even if it never arrived. It would be out there for hundreds of years, years in which the inhabitants could go their own way.  Some of the ships would be boring, some of them would go crazy – but at least they’d be different

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83 Responses to Distance from Harvard

  1. The first PC created by an offshoot that was deliberately set up away from IBM headquarters, Wallace working in isolation but coming to the same conclusions as Darwin, Einstein on his own in the patent office……. against that the apparent synergy of bright minds working together, a community of scholars…… when does the next spaceship blast off?

  2. JayMan says:

    My wife and I have some inside information into how the bullshit is made in academia. However, I like how she recently put it:

    “I may be a liberal, feminist Yankee, but I’m also a realist.”

  3. According to an analysis I did a few years ago – in which I created a combined metric of Nobel prizes, Fields medals, Lasker and Turing awards – the answer to the question: “What is the optimal distance from Harvard to optimize revolutionary science?”; may be ‘About-one-mile’:

    See Table 2.

    http://medicalhypotheses.blogspot.co.uk/2007/07/nflt-metric-for-revoutionary-science.html

    • dearieme says:

      What revolutionary scientific advance do you associate with Harvard, Bruce?

    • AS says:

      Good point.

      Also note that Jews tend to be concentrated in major cities and university towns, and they’re more overrepresented in science breakthroughs than people from the suburbs or the sticks.

    • dearieme says:

      OK, what revolutionary science does he associate with MIT? The rise of the American universities is largely a post-WWII phenomenon; Western revolutionary science was largely performed before then.

  4. jamesd127 says:

    Indonesia is not primarily a problem of low IQ people. It is a problem of Islam. You never get intellectuals or science under Islam – the supposed scientific accomplishments of Islam were the result of them conquering more scientifically inclined peoples, and taking a while to wring the science out of them.

    As the Cathedral requires more and more stupidity, by requiring ever greater acquiescence to ever more stupid beliefs, it is likely to have detrimental effects on science similar to that of Islam.

    • ironrailsironweights says:

      Plenty of non-Islamic Chinese in Indonesia, a classic market dominant minority. Why don’t they have much in the line of scientific accomplishments?

      Peter

    • Magus Janus says:

      this explains the enormous scientific powerhouse that is the Philippines.

    • gcochran9 says:

      You are mistaken: average Malay IQ is low.

    • feministx says:

      “Indonesia is not primarily a problem of low IQ people. It is a problem of Islam. You never get intellectuals or science under Islam”

      I think so too. Regarding the statement below-

      “Ideally, you want a country full of people drawn from the populations that actually produce creative thinkers (Europeans, mostly) instead of the populations that ought to but don’t. ”

      I think that statement wouldn’t have made much sense at any point prior to 500 BC. For most of the last 10,000 years, the Near East seemed ahead in producing lasting feats of intellectual creativity. Northern Europe looked comparatively primitive judging from artifacts I see in museums. Even until 1000AD, Europe didn’t seem far ahead of the Near East in intellectual creativity. It was only after the death grip of Islam took hold that the Near East fell far behind Europe in producing intellectual creativity.

      Islam tends to induce generations of cousin marriage which may depress IQ, and the middle easterners of today may have more african heritage than they did 1000 years ago. So, I am not sure that Near Easterners could produce intellectual creativity that rivaled Europeans now even if Islam were to suddenly disappear. It is sad that this once impressive source of innovation may be now physiologically destroyed.

  5. feministx says:

    Harvard seems to produce people who have extremely rigid and pedantic personalities these days. I am not sure if that’s a facet of who they accept or if it’s mainly developed during the college experience due to the culture. Harvard accepted one of the most incurious high IQ people from my high school. I recall asking her about Europe after she had returned from a group trip when she was 17, and all she she said was “Gross. It was so dirty.”

    MIT and other engineering schools tend not to have this problem. They are quite free thinking though they may not actually develop any interests in the social sciences. Perhaps that’s what saves them? Other than that, even the other ivies tend to produce less pedantic personalities than Havard. I would say the personalities I see that are comparable to the Harvard type come from Middlebury and Swarthmore these days.

    Anyway, I am South Indian and our community really values a prestigious education. I know 4 set of parents of Harvard grads and they now all vociferously warn others in our community- “don’t send your kid to Harvard!! It is not good for them. They will become so liberal you won’t even recognize them.”

    As for how far you have to be from Harvard- doesn’t matter. You just need to have enough interest to go on the internet and do your own research. Tahiti isn’t far if you ascribe to the Cathedral only, but Harvard square is worlds away if you are fair minded.

    • Don’t be so hard on your classmate. She was supposed to come back glowing about how much better Europeans were than Americans in virtually every way. At least, that was what was expected in the 1970’s. That she had her own observations and noticed anything else is to her credit. Superficial, perhaps, but at least her own.

      • feministx says:

        By 2000, it was way passe to go to Europe and come back fawning over their superior public services and ability to speak multiple languages. Europe is a hegemon, after all. It is full of cultural racism.

        By my time, you did your study abroad and went to Ghana or Laos or something similarly obscure. Then you came back freakishly close to fluent in the local language. And you sang praises of the ways of Ghanians and venerated random Ghanian activities you could label as ‘sustainable’ or ‘grassroots.’

    • Janon says:

      They will become so liberal you won’t even recognize them.

      Back when I was in school, that was said about Brown. My Brown alumni acquaintances were even more vociferously liberal than my Harvard alumni acquaintances.

  6. Jim says:

    It’s hard to know what people really believe when there are strong social pressures for or against a particular belief. To judge from what people said in East Germany after the fall of Communism nobody there had ever believed in the system. I remember seeing on television the same people applauding the execution of Ceausescu as had applauded him personally a few weeks before. I had no clue as to what they “really” believed.
    I think many people hardly even have a conception of a belief corresponding or not to objective reality. For many people the only thing that seems to matter is whether a belief is socially approved. Of course such an attitude is not conducive to the development and advance of science.

    • gcochran9 says:

      It’s possible that people would be more likely to expresses their real feelings when drunk. I’ve seen it work. Then again, torture is worth a try.

      • melendwyr says:

        I hope that was a joke. People are notoriously willing to say whatever they think might stop the torture. Intoxication combined with a trusted interrogator (and the enforced absence of any whiff of danger) would be a much better bet.

        • gcochran9 says:

          Torture can be used to effectively extract information. I can give you lots of examples from WWII. People often say that it’s ineffective, but they’re lying or deluded. Mind you, you have to use it carefully, but that’s true of satellite photography. Note: my saying that it works does not mean that I approve of it.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Please do give lots of examples.

        • gcochran9 says:

          Happened all the time. At the Battle of Midway, two American fliers, whose planes had been shot down near the Japanese carriers, were pulled out of the water and threatened with death unless they revealed the position of the American carriers. They did so, and were then promptly executed. Later, at Guadalcanal, the Japanese captured an American soldier who told them about a planned offensive – with that knowledge the Japanese withdrew from the area about to be attacked. I don’t why he talked [the guy didn’t survive] – maybe a Japanese interrogator spent a long time building a bond of trust with that Marine. But probably not. For one thing, time was short. I see people saying that building such a bond is in the long run more effective, but of course in war, time is often short.

          You could consider the various agents that the Germans inserted into England: the British captured almost every one of them, and gave them the choice of cooperation (which included active participation in British deception schemes) or execution. Most cooperated.

          The Germans tortured members of the various underground groups in Europe – and some of them never broke. But some did. You may have heard of Jean Moulin not breaking under torture, even unto death: but the Gestapo caught him because Jean Multon did break. To avoid being tortured, Multon agreed to work for the Gestapo. Over the next few days he led his captors to more than 100 members of the Resistance in Marseilles. He then gave away more in Lyons. Some of those he betrayed themselves broke under torture by the Gestapo. Things snowballed, and the whole network was torn to pieces.

          People often argue that people under torture will say anything that their interrogators want to hear, and are thus useless as sources of information. There is something to that, but to a large degree that depends on what goals the interrogators actually have. For example, in the Iraq war, American higher-ups often didn’t want information – they wanted their fantasies confirmed. They knew that anti-American guerrillas couldn’t be motivated by nationalism or Islam – they had to be paid Baathist agents. Or there had to a connection between Saddam and Al-Qaeda. Whatever. Most told something close to the truth, but that wasn’t good enough, and so, torture. In much the same way, Stalin tortured until he got what he wanted – false confessions for show trials, rather than actual information about Trotskyist conspiracies (that didn’t even exist). Most people broke – I remember that a Chekist said, admiringly, that Lev Landau held out a long time – three broken ribs before giving in. The Japs at Midway wanted real info, not ammunition for their fantasies.

          If an interrogator wants valid information, he can see if the stories of several different prisoners agree. He can see if their story checks with other sources of information. etc. It’s like any other kind of intelligence.

          At least some of the arguments about the effectiveness of torture are obviously false, not even meant to make sense. For example, I have seen people argue that torture is pointless because the same information is always available by other means. Of course, since the products of various kinds of intelligence often overlap, you could use that argument to claim that any flavor of intelligence [ cryptanalysis, sigint, satellite recon, etc) is useless. But multiple leads build confidence. Sometimes, you can get information via torture available in no other way. If you are smart, and if information is what you really want.

      • aisaac says:

        I’m on my phone right now so it’s too much of a pits to Google things, but somewhere online you can read about how French paratroopers effectively used torture Algeria in the early sixties.

        The problem with torture is that people will say anything to stop it, but, at least in some cases, you can get a pretty good idea of whether they’re lying by comparing their statements with what you already know.

        For example, if you needed a password or a location of an item or location, you would pretty quickly know if you had been led astray. If you had two victims who had the same piece of information, if they hadn’t cooked up a common lie beforehand, you would know they were lying if their stories disagreed.

        If you had no source of independent verification whatsoever, you would have to assign low credibility to whatever they said, torture or no, because their own hostility to you is reason enough to bullshit you and lead you astray.

        The line that torture doesn’t work is obvious bullshit from people with moral standards opposing it who don’t think the moral argument would be enough to persuade people who saw a material advantage to it.

        And unlike Greg, I’ll go there- torture fuck yeah!!!!

      • melendwyr says:

        “I don’t know why he talked [the guy didn’t survive] ”
        Simple fear of death. Get someone scared enough that their delicate and easily disrupted executive functions don’t work right, and it doesn’t matter how implausible the hope of survival is, people will grasp at any straw. I’m sure there are situational and individual differences as well, possibly even an element of chance.

        But I don’t think this paradigm works well with the particular goal here: trying to learn what people really think. We’re presuming that people are disguising what they believe because of concern about others’ reactions. It’s not something very easily objectively verifiable, like a battle plan or a password. The subject is almost certainly going to expect the interrogator to be looking for what they want to find rather than the actual truth. So I’m pretty sure that torture will produce nothing but confessions of witchcraft; even when it produces the truth, it will be almost impossible to confirm that it’s the truth.

        At least in my case, it’s not a matter of moral objections as such but of more practical concerns.

  7. The fourth doorman of the apocalypse says:

    Of course this does not always work – distance is useful, but not sufficient.. Indonesia is pretty far from Harvard, but is a vast wasteland, intellectually.

    The problem is geography. See, Indonesia is oriented roughly East-West which is not conducive to intellectual achievement. Now, if they had had the luck to occupy a North-South oriented archipelago, they would be intellectual powerhouses …

    • Richard Sharpe says:

      How do you account for the Papuans? Jared Diamond tells us they are the smartest people in the world and PNG is oriented roughly East-West.

    • Gerard Mason says:

      Hmm, that argument might be supported by Chile (though it currently seems to be spending its hard-earned social capital), but certainly not by Argentina.

  8. a very knowing American says:

    Russia is an interesting case. You’ve got a whole school of Russian linguists, with roots back in the Soviet era, who think they can reconstruct really ancient language families. American linguists (with a few exceptions — Joseph Greenberg) think they’re crazy. (I’m not competent to decide who’s right.) There’s also a tradition of Soviet/Russian sociologists, anthropologists, and archeologists doing old-fashioned investigations of ancient “ethnogenesis” of modern nationalities while Westerners have been busy convincing themselves that all this stuff is socially constructed and part of the “invention of tradition.” Peter Turchin is somebody who benefits from having a foot in the Russian camp (his dad was a dissident and his family got kicked out in the 1970s and he keeps up his ties with Russian researchers) and not worrying too much about marching in step with Western academic historians. And David Anthony’s work on Indo-European origins benefits a lot from him keeping up with former East Bloc archeology and archeologists and ignoring the “pots not people” Anglo-American orthodoxy.

    This seems like an argument for forcing graduate students to take a second language, and keep up with work outside English.

    • Toddy Cat says:

      I wonder if the field of linguistics didn’t attract a lot of first-rate intellects in the old USSR because it was considered “safe” – you could do real research without stepping on any Marxist toes, or being co-opted into military programs making ebolapox or some nightmare like that. Of course, under maniacs like Stalin, nothing was safe, but still…

      Also, insofar as DNA evidence can confirm linguistic theories, it looks like Greenberg was more right than wrong in most of his theories, despite the howels of people like Chomsky.

      • a very knowing American says:

        You can do linguistics, especially large-scale reconstruction, without a lot of funding. You mainly need a bunch of dictionaries and word lists. So in the Soviet Union the field attracted a lot of very bright independent scholars who didn’t want to get official social science jobs teaching Marxism-Leninism or whatever.

        Greenberg’s argument with Chomsky was about the nature of linguistic universals. Are they there on the surface (Greenberg)? Or do you need a full-blown Chomsky-style theory of syntax to get at the interesting ones (Chomsky)? As far as I know, Chomsky has had nothing much to say about language macrofamilies; most of the howling on that front has come from historical linguists, especially specialists in American Indian languages.

      • reiner Tor says:

        Stalin himself wrote (or had shadow-written for him) a very long (700 pages or more, I only know it was thick and heavy) monograph on linguistics. So I would think linguistics was as ideological as anything else.

    • Dave Pinsen says:

      I thought most PhD programs required knowledge of a second language for that reason.

      • Toddy Cat says:

        As I said, under a maniac like Stalin, everything was dangerous. Did kruscheve and Brehznev have similar linguistic interests? I don’t know, but if they did, I never heard of them.

  9. a very knowing American says:

    “The gold at the starbow’s end,” by the late Fred Pohl, makes Cochran’s argument about isolation, innovation, and interstellar flight in fictional form

  10. Maciano says:

    The non-conformist personality seems no longer encouraged (or even welcome) to express contrarian views. It almost seems like a recipe for socially enforced loneliness, rather than celebrated bravery.

  11. IC says:

    “physical distance translates into mental distance”
    It is one reason for me to choose vacation place far from my work. Just putting physical distance to your souce of stress creates psychological relief, very therapeutic.

    Run away from your problem literallly.

  12. Staffan says:

    It’s interesting to note that the last important genre in popular music was grunge in the 1990s. Before that the 1900s had seen the birth of country, R&B, punk, reggae and many others. All created by people of specific geographical, ethnic and social categories – American working class, African American, Jamaican and so forth until grunge, White middle class from the pacific North West. Then came the internet and connected us into this big hive and no more isolation – and no more genres.

    • georgesdelatour says:

      Grunge the most recent? What about Dubstep, Trap, Glitch Hop or Complextro?

    • engleberg says:

      Today’s top forty is pretty good. Take a mediocre white girl disco singer, add a mediocre black rapper= pretty good duet.

      Trevanian was right- genres are a crutch for bad artists.

      • Staffan says:

        Yeah, like Mozart. He will be forgotten any century now. But that white girl disco singer will live forerever in our hearts and minds ; )

      • engleberg says:

        What genre was Mozart in again? Besides ‘write whatever anyone who pays me wants.’

        And grunge is the reason today’s Top Forty looks good.

      • Staffan says:

        Mozart was in the Viennese School with Haydn and Beethoven. You can learn these things on Wikipedia. But what do I know, I’m only a cyber shill.

        MeiMei: Skrillex isn’t on the radar compared to those major recording artists that I metioned earlier. Not in terms of sales or earnings or any other measure that I can think of.

  13. IC says:

    Unfortunately today, most scientists need research funding for the work. The process of grant application is very much controlled by panel of peers. Yeah, peer pressure is very much like that of high school. You have to sell your soul to get funded. The physical distance can create different group of peer reviewers.

    In good old days, Galton, Darwin, used their own money to do whatever they were interested without much of peer control. Financial independence is the key to be intellectually independent.

    Private research funds owned by odd ball wealthies who do not conform with contemporaies are only hope for truely independent scientists. This is only the second best thing to owning your own research money.

  14. Richard Sharpe says:

    Some claim that you need to go to Mexico:

    http://www.wired.com/business/2013/10/free-thinkers/

  15. Jim says:

    In vino veritas.

  16. Gerard Mason says:

    I’ve long thought that the only way to counter the deeply entrenched intellectual corruption of the modern, socialist West, given that revolution is probably out of the question, is to get away from it, and the ‘High Frontier’ is clearly the only one left. It also has the singular advantage that in reality space is vast, and if you *could* find anywhere to go to you’d probably be safe there for a very long time. That said, it’s enormously expensive to get there and to do so efficiently with enough human resources to make an instant-gro society possible you’d need very good bio-engineering and probably advanced AI too. The recent entry of sci-fi literate computer industry billionaires into this field is thus highly encouraging.

    • ghazi-less says:

      Anyone who had to spend any long period of time in space would no doubt find that it sucks. The best moments here on Earth–fluffy white clouds scudding across a blue sky, light filtering through green leaves, birds singing–will only be available virtually in space. In space, everything good will be fake, and anyone with a soul will begin to feel like Holden Caulfield struggling with phoniness. Space is only for robots.

  17. agnostic says:

    Distance from the Sorbonne. Most of the clever-silly Frogs were corrupted by Paris. The ones whose works you could read without feeling dishonored worked primarily in farther-out areas like Bordeaux (Montaigne, Montesquieu, Durkheim) or Geneva (Rousseau, Saussure). Descartes worked mostly in the Dutch Republic, and Fermat was a lawyer in Toulouse.

    Distance from Oxford/Cambridge? The Scottish Enlightenment. The Glasgow School of art and design. Rock and pop exported from Liverpool and Manchester rather than London.

    The more abstract / less human the field of study, the lesser the effect. Perhaps even reversing sign, with so many STEM achievements coming out of MIT and Cambridge. But for areas that touch more on people than things, the conformity of the capital is stifling.

    Unless, of course, you wish to study conformity itself — a la Solomon Asch at Yale or Philip Zimbardo at Stanford. Just look out the window. Somehow I think researchers would’ve had more difficulty finding such striking results at, say, St. Mary of the Plains College in Dodge City, Kansas.

  18. Rudolf Winestock says:

    Tom Wolfe wrote on how Robert Noyce and his classmates were studying digital circuits in Grinnell College in Iowa before MIT had heard of the invention. Wolfe’s whole essay, “The Tinkerings of Robert Noyce,” is built on the theme that much of what made Silicon Valley innovative came from attitudes nurtured in the American Heartland.

  19. Jim says:

    Regarding torture I remember reading somewhere about somebody arrested in the Stalinist purges by the secret police in the Soviet Union. They wanted him to denounce his boss as a German spy or whatever. He refused at first so they beat the bejesus out of him until he agreed to sign a confession implicating his boss. They told him that if he agreed to sign the confession he would only be sent to the Gulag and not shot. But then Stalin changed his mind and decided to spare this guy’s boss. So the secret police went back to the cell of the prisoner and told him to retract his “confession”. He refused thinking it was a trick to give them an excuse to shoot him. So the day after this guy had been tortured into signing his “confession”, the very same interrogators beat the bejesus out of him until he retracted it.
    But I agree that these interrogators didn’t have the slightest interest in whether this guy’s boss really was a German spy. If torture didn’t work it wouldn’t be so widely used today as well as throughout human histoty.

    • md says:

      Torture obviously works. Almost without a fail, it gets what torturer wants. Including the cases when truth is the very last thing the torturer wants.

  20. In Uruguay under the military dictatorship, torture seemed to work in that under torture captured people named their confederates. Then they were sent to prison, and the file was sent to the prison with them, to be kept under strict security by the prison guards. The latter read the contents, the better to taunt the inmates, so the extent of confession became known to all prisoners. The few that had not confessed were accorded higher status by inmates, and also to some extent by warders. However, that status depended on maintaining political interests and participating in political discussion. If you dropped that, even out of boredom, you were considered to have lost your convictions, and were consigned to the status of the broken men who had betrayed comrades under torture.

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  23. Groupthink prevents innovation.

    (Hence why i’m optimistic that some big stuff will come out of China – regardless of anyone’s view on the whole inventiveness argument – as there’s simply so much low-hanging fruit that is deliberately being prevented from being picked in the west because of the gulag universities.)

    • If it’s true that groupthink prevents innovation then if the academic world globalizes before humans have space colonies then it’s probably all over – stagnation and decline. Space colonies would likely guarantee there couldn’t be just one groupthink holding everyone back.

  24. Torture makes the relatives of the people you tortured hate you with a blind, undying fury – and they make sure their children and grand-children hate you just as much.

    If you take that into account i think the only time torture has a net benefit (regardless of the moral question or how effective it is at extracting reliable information) is where the aim is *immediate* tactical information during a full-scale war. Extensive use of torture during say a counter-insurgency may seem to work in that the scale of attacks might die down for a while but you’re guaranteeing that it will start up again because of the depth of hatred created.

    • Toddy Cat says:

      That’s why Americans absolutely refuse to buy Japanese cars, why the Germans and the French don’t work together in the EU, and Russia would never dream of putting an ex-KGB man in any position of authority. That generational hatred only exists if someone is stoking it. It’s remarkable how quickly people can forget when they want to.

      • Percentages. What percentage of Americans have a relative who was tortured by the Japanese and what percentage of those who do *will* absolutely refuse to buy a Japanese car? I think you’ll find the first percentage is very low and the second percentage is very high.

        You’re right though that the total effect is the percentage times the amount of active stoking.

  25. Konkvistador says:

    A comment on this article from elsewhere http://lesswrong.com/lw/iuc/link_distance_from_harvard/9wy1

    “All this an no mention of the benefits of many minds working together on a common pile of information and hypotheses? There is a human intellectual bias to notice some secondary effect and completely miss the dominant effect.

    Further, those who pushed continental drift were not COMPLETELY isolated from Harvard at all! They knew the theories and the data. They were more exposed to the data in their own back yards, and may or may not have benefited from not being so close to the sphere of influence of Harvard’s authority. But even this is a weak hypothesis, is there some reason to think that if Harvard had set up a remote campus in South Africa that it would not have been a Harvard geologist who revived continental drift?

    As a counterexample to this all, consider the BIg Bang. Before the Big Bang, the common belief among astronomers was a steady state universe that went on and on. Was the big bang theory thrown over by astronomers remote? No, it was thrown over by astronomers and physicists at Princeton and Bell Labs,, neither of which could be imagined as anything but central and authoritative in the fields in which they participated.

    We have PLENTY of people that don’t get sucked into the usual crap. In fact many of them, like the Indonesians as described in the OP, don’t get sucked into the good stuff either! In my opinion, we need to encourage more people to work hard to LEARN the ‘usual crap’ more fully before thinking they have much of use to add by being independent.”

    I found this interesting:
    “is there some reason to think that if Harvard had set up a remote campus in South Africa that it would not have been a Harvard geologist who revived continental drift?”

    So how do we know this isn’t the case? And what is misleading about the astronomy example?

  26. Jim says:

    Greying Wanderer – regarding the psychological effects of brutal oppression consider the case of Molotov and Stalin. Stalin send Molotov’s wife to the Gulag for the completely ridiculous charge of being some sort of “Zionist agent”. Molotov was allowed no communication with her while she was imprisoned. She was released after Stalin’s death. Despite this when Khrushchev initiated his campaign of de-Stalinization Molotov was one of the staunchest opponents of this policy and never ceased to defend Stalin’s record even in retirement after Molotov had been expelled from the Communist party.
    The psychology of this baffles me but there it is.

    • reiner Tor says:

      The charges against Polina Zhemchuzhina weren’t completely ridiculous, because in fact, she was Zionist, although most certainly she was not an “agent”. Although she never talked about things like that before, when Israel opened its embassy in Moscow, she immediately befriended the ambassador, Golda Meyerson (later Israeli prime minister under the name of Golda Meir). It was reported (no doubt Stalin also heard about it) that Mrs. Molotov started weeping when she first met Meyerson, and when Meyerson asked her what’s wrong, she told her “Ich bin e yiddishe tochter”. She was also a very active supporter of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, and was friends with its leader Solomon Mikhaels, who was later killed by Stalin.

      In other words, she was suspected by Stalin of having other loyalties, which was reason for Stalin to deport hundreds of thousands of Poles, Koreans, etc. in the 1930s, he most certainly could not tolerate such dual loyalties in his innermost circles. (Molotov also started lobbying for a Jewish autonomous soviet socialist republic in the recently emptied Crimea at the end of the war, but the proposal, never widely supported in the party leadership, was killed by Stalin.) Stalin didn’t suffer anybody loyal to anybody or anything else but to his person and to Marxism-Leninism. Being a spy or agent or whatever was only a kind of cultural code: instead of “You are loyal to somebody or something else, so I send you to prison for five years.” they said “You are an agent of somebody or something else, so I send you to prison for five years.”

      As to Molotov’s support for Stalin, Molotov actually thought something happened to Stalin’s mental abilities by the last years of his life. (Most biographers doubt that, he was abnormal enough already in the 1930s.) So he actually defended Stalin’s record until his last years (and most of the very few things he did from 1948 up until his death), he didn’t actually defend Stalin sending his wife to forced labor. The other aspect of this is that both he and Polina blamed other people in Stalin’s entourage for sending her to prison.

      Still another (and perhaps the most important) aspect is that since Molotov was Stalin’s closest coworker in the 1930s, any criticism of Stalin was also a criticism of Molotov as well. So by defending Stalin’s record he was just defending himself. He couldn’t accept that the execution of Bukharin was wrong, because he also signed a lot of papers enabling this, he couldn’t accept that dekulakisation as wrong, because he was largely responsible for it, he couldn’t say anything against the mass starvation, etc., because he was involved in all of these policies.

      And finally, Molotov actually seems to have liked Stalin in the 1930s, and after his death in 1953 he seems to have forgiven him his last years. Apparently he was the only person in the Politburo who actually was grieving at Stalin’s funeral. From Molotov’s perspective, after all, Stalin was like a very good uncle who helped Molotov’s career to the very top, until in later age he went a bit crazy and did some nasty things, but on balance he was still a nice man (to Molotov), helping to transform him from a grey nobody into one of the most powerful people in the country (and even in the world), who was warm and friendly with Molotov while being callous and cruel to most other people.

    • reiner Tor says:

      I’m not sure if my longer comment got lost, but the short answer is that Molotov essentially defended his own record. As the closest ally of the dictator, he himself was personally involved in and thus responsible for the policies resulting in the death of millions or even tens of millions, so he was defending himself when defending his late boss.

  27. Jim says:

    Yes, Molotov had the motive that he himself was one of the targets of de-Stalinization but his defense of Stalin continued to his death long after he had been expelled from the party and sent into retirement. After he had been removed from power but not shot he must have eventually realized that his person was safe. Khrushchev was satisfied to remove his opponents from power and did not have an obsession with destroying them physically. But Molotov continued to defend Stalin even after he had nothing to gain from such a defense. I agree with your points but I still find it hard to fathom. Molotov was like Job and Stalin was like God whose afflictions simply must be accepted without any loss of faith. I agree that Molotov probably redirected his natural feelings of hatred toward Beria. But after Stalin’s defense it was Beria who immediately arranged for the release of Molotov’s wife.

    • reiner Tor says:

      Well, I guess Molotov had in the physical sense neither anything to lose nor anything to gain from defending his own record. But psychologically, I mean, how could one bear the responsibility for this: “I participated in the bloodthirstiest mass murders mankind has ever known. This was totally senseless, many of the people we killed weren’t even opposed to our regime, which just often killed for killings sake. It made absolutely zero point zero sense even from our own point of view, because it weakened our military and industry right before the Second World War. So we are probably also responsible for a huge portion of the twenty-something million of our citizens killed in that war either.”

      I think it’s easy to understand that instead Molotov said something like the following (and probably at least partly believed in it, too, it’s always easiest to deceive oneself): “I became a high-ranking official after the revolution. Those were hard times, and we were forced to make some tough, incredibly tough decisions. We never murdered anyone, though. There was no mass starvation of Soviet citizens – that was and is still just enemy propaganda. We never executed anybody without good reasons – we knew, the state prosecutor knew, the judge knew, even the defense attorneys and the defendants themselves knew that they were guilty. We had plenty of evidence and a large number of witnesses, even the defendants themselves confessed, and the confessions all pointed in one direction, that of a huge Fascist-Trotskist conspiracy against the young Soviet state. Even Khrushchev knew that at the time! Of course we would never have executed anyone without good evidence against them. As to the allegations of supposed ‘torture’ against the defendants, that’s not true either. Pure fantasy. The defendants would have told the defense attorneys, who would have objected. Moreover, the local party secretaries must have known about it! Why wouldn’t they do nothing about it? It’s impossible. It did not happen. It could not happen. Also why would we have murdered anybody? We were revolutionaries, working day and night for the people, why would we have wanted to murder innocent peasants, workers, party members?”

      You see, it’s easier to say the second. You have a coherent explanation of what you did. In Hungary, there was the son of one of the highest communist leaders in the early 1950s (the leader was something like third in the chain of command, although he was arrested later and served several years in prison under the same regime), who served in the secret police, personally torturing people. After his father was arrested, he still was a committed communist for some time. After the failed 1956 revolution he was given a comfortable, but not very well-paying job (I think as a librarian or something like that), and he was left alone. Most people around him knew about his past, so he was widely despised by his neighbors, co-workers, etc. Now around 1989 he wrote a book about his past, where he essentially apologized for having committed cruel crimes. He doesn’t even use the lame defense “I believed that torturing people served a higher good.” (although he obviously did), he just took responsibility for the many wrongs he did. As far as I know, in Hungary, he is the only former communist, who ever said sorry in public.

      There were many others – there’s a former minister of the post-1956 government, who was among those responsible for the executions after 1956, but he is still unapologetic. I’m sure it’s easier for him: he says he never influenced court proceedings, so there must have been enough evidence. And of course, shooting a few counter-revolutionaries never hurts. But it was all highly legal.

  28. Jim says:

    Molotov was initially opposed to the collectivization of agriculture although he supported it after Stalin had made a decision to proceed. I recall reading somewhere that there are memoranda written by Molotov showing that he was quite aware of the cannibalism in the Ukraine. Molotov was perfectly aware that torture was used on a massive scale. Stalin gave explicit written approval for torture to be used on high-ranking officials. Molotov as well as the rest of the Soviet elite knew quite well that the official charges against defendants in the purges were totally preposterous. Had everybody accussed of being a German spy actually been one the German economy would probably have collapsed under the strain of making payments to them.

    • reiner Tor says:

      Collectivization was originally a Trotskist position (the “Left Opposition”), and not only Molotov but also Stalin opposed it. Until the Left Opposition was crushed and Stalin started implemented the policies proposed by them. Molotov of course was well aware of what was going on (along with many others, including Khrushchev), but so what? He could still insist in the 1960s or 70s that everything was perfectly legal, and nobody was ever killed. Who could have proved otherwise, when all the documents were still top secret? And with good reason, Khrushchev himself was just as complicit in these crimes as Molotov, although Molotov was higher in the hierarchy. At the very least he probably believed that what they did was the right thing to do, that without the mass starvation or mass shootings they wouldn’t have won the Great Patriotic War (highly questionable), and things like that.

  29. bjdubbs says:

    Stanley Rosen: “The current generation of Ivy League professors never reads the books of the previous generation.”

  30. Neil Craig says:

    Darwin did all his good work in the Beagle isolated from the world. When he came home he spent most of his life doing nothing because he thought polite society would frown on the truth.

    On the other hand Nicolas Tesla achieved only enough to be noticed in the Balkans and flowered in Edison’s invention factory, which was pretty much the crowded centre of the world for inventors.

    A certain lack of simple answers here.

  31. Pingback: Hacking Technological Determinism for Fun and Profit | More Right

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