I was in Russia in 1998 and my impression was that everything worked, but just barely. It was run-down and ragged, but deliberately so. When Russians repaired things, their workmanship was so bad that it could only have been done purposefully. For the most part, they were grumpy, shiftless and unskilled and clearly felt that whatever it was that needed to be done, it was someone else's job. As an America, the whole thing was stunning. Second Hand Time fills in some of the gaps in my understanding.
P. J. O'Rourke has a good take on this in his comments about Big Ideas.
The 20th century was a test bed for big ideas—fascism, communism, the atomic bomb. Liberty was also a powerful abstraction in the 20th century. But liberty isn’t a big idea. It’s a lot of little ideas about what individuals want to say and do.In a nutshell, that's the cultural difference between Americans and Russians, circa the late 1990s. Socialism is a big idea. Saturated in it for 70 years, the Russian psyche had been warped into thinking about everything through the lens of their Big Idea - Socialism. Americans take charge and solve problems in their lives while the Russians talked and talked and talked, mistaking words for accomplishments.
The examples from the book are legion. There are a ton of them discussing how in Soviet households, there were plenty of kitchen discussions of abstract ideas, but with the advent of Capitalism, it turned out that abstract ideas buttered no bread. The loss of their dorm-room-bull-session-as-accomplishment metric for success caused them tremendous pain. "Everything is about money now! In the good old days, we may not have had goods to buy, but ideas mattered!"
This makes me think of my progressive / Social Justice Warrior friends. They're always going on about some big idea or another - the White Patriarchy, for example, but there are precious few posts about woodworking, rebuilding a car or cooking something exotic. Instead there's one Robert Reich video after another and lots of "Resist Trump" nonsense. It's all Big Ideas in place of personal action.
|Maybe that's why they'e having a hard time processing the ruins of Venezuela's socialism. It's too practical.|