Monday, October 21, 2013

Marci on Obama and the NSA dragnet; Stalin -- and Primo Levi on atheism

I gather a good deal of the Left needs to protect what remains of their belief in Obama.. Here's a quote from Marci Wheeler, whose invaluable blog, Emptywheel, is as critical and skeptical as it gets. Yet she's persuaded that Obama is basically a good guy getting bad advice – this time on the NSA dragnet. Marci writes: 

I suspect Obama, having been convinced by partial briefings the dragnet is great for America, also believes he can persuade the rest of us (who aren’t stuck in his partial briefing bubble) to love it too. - See more at:

Reminds me of what loyal Party victims said of Stalin as they were marched off to be shot in the back of the head.

If only Uncle Joe knew.

And Stalin reminds me of a passage from  the brilliant Primo Levi  who wrote that he entered Auschwitz  -- the Lager --  as an atheist, and he left a year later with the same belief. 

In discussing his atheism, Levi mentions one passing moment when he briefly considered saying a prayer to god when it seemed not unlikely that he would be chosen for the gas chambers. Levi writes that he quickly returned to his atheism, explaining:  One does not change the rules of the game at the end of the match, not when you are losing..

And then he goes on to explain why believers may have had an easier time in the Lager.

Not only during the crucial moments of the selection or the aerial bombings but also in the grind of everyday life, the believers lived better…It was completely unimportant what their religious or political faith might be…all held in common the saving force of their faith. Their universe was vaster than ours, more extended in space and time, above all more comprehensible: they had a key and a point of leverage, a millennial tomorrow so that there might be a sense to sacrificing themselves, a place in heaven or on earth where justice and compassion had won, or would win in a perhaps remote but certain future: Moscow or the celestial or terrestrial Jerusalem.

Their hunger was different from ours. It was a divine punishment or expiation, or votive offering, or the fruit of capitalist putrefaction. Sorrow in them or around them, was decipherable and therefore did not overflow into despair. They looked at us with commiseration, at times with contempt; some of them, in the  intervals of our labor, tried to evangelize us.

As an example of the power of faith, Levi  writes that  not long after the Soviet forces brought them freedom, he  made some banal—as he calls them—comments to a fellow former inmate who was giving him a haircut. Were we not fortunate, Levi  asked, to have survived our ordeal?  The  barber, astonished at such an attitude,  replied in French: “Mais, Joseph [Stalin] était là!  [But Stalin was always there to save us!]

I guess the moral is: We all  believe what we need to believe.  And by  providing us with meaning, our belief can enable our survival. And our beliefs can give meaning to our deaths and hope for our lives. And sometimes enable our survival.

And our beliefs can give meaning to our deaths, and hope for our lives. And sometimes, enable our survival.


Ronald said...

BB wrote:
Thanks for this, Ronald. Marci's tone and point are right on -- very helpful politically, critical
but not strident or simplistic. Suggests what we need to do rather than such
complain bitterly.

Ronald said...

SB wrote:

I like the part about Obama being persuaded by "partial briefings" about the NSA. We have a better perspective.
Thanks Ronald,