Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Former National Post & Toronto Star columnist, past vice president of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. New posts: Mondays & Wednesdays.
SPOTLIGHT: Fixated on sexism and racism, we’re lost in the fog.
BIG PICTURE: In 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, Canadian psychology professor Jordan Peterson reminds us that the 20th century was “defined by the bottomless horrors of Hitler, Stalin, and Mao.” We all know about the six million who perished in Nazi concentration camps. Visitors to present-day Auschwitz find the scale of the evil perpetrated there overwhelming. The rows of prisoner barracks go on and on.
But the atrocities didn’t begin or end with the Nazis. During the 1930s, four to 10 million Ukrainians starved to death in a famine deliberately orchestrated by the Soviet government. Crops were confiscated, and peasants who scavenged in the fields were shot.
During his 30-year reign of terror, Joseph Stalin established a monstrous network of slave labour camps, known as the gulag. Families were shattered, existence was reduced to shivering misery, near-starvation, exhaustion, and fear. The Encyclopedia Britannica says the gulag claimed 15 to 30 million lives.
40 million additional deaths are attributed to China’s Great Famine of 1958-1962. Mao Zedong’s misguided economic policies and agricultural meddling produced mass starvation. But officially-sanctioned sadism was also unleashed. A 2010 New York Times article written by a researcher who’d gained access to government archives, reports that people were beaten, hung, drowned, and mutilated for not working hard enough. After a boy stole a handful of grain, his father was forced to bury him alive. Report after report, we’re told, reveals that “food was distributed by the spoonful according to merit and used to force people to obey the [Communist] party.”
Cambodia, too, went disastrously awry during the 1970s. After seizing power militarily, the Marxist Khmer Rouge forced the populace to abandon cities and return to an agrarian lifestyle. The goal was a utopian society. Four years later, the result was one to two million dead.
Peterson’s book raises a point that should make our blood run cold: “One of the primary architects of the horrors of the Khmer Rouge, Khieu Samphan, received a doctorate at the Sorbonne” before committing those atrocities.
Children in affluent Western nations are now taught that sexism, racism, and homophobia are defining moral issues. They’re taught that transexuality is a matter of national importance. Such are our preoccupations.
Meanwhile, we’ve collectively failed to learn some of the 20th century’s most important lessons. Barely aware of the above-listed horrors, we have no clue how to identify the warnings signs. We remain sublimely uninterested in whether the intellectual and political ideas that produced those mountains of corpses are still with us – smoldering and festering, wholly unchallenged, in the halls of Western academia. We’ve spent no time investigating whether a new generation of revolutionaries is being nurtured that is similarly eager to silence, coerce, and punish fellow citizens in the name of righting social wrongs.
The people in charge in the Soviet Union, China, and Cambodia weren’t garden-variety lunatics. They were political leftists intent on reorganizing and improving the world. The left considers itself caring and compassionate – but history reveals its dark side. Tens of millions died in vain if we decline to heed this lesson.
Peterson’s book is a stepping stone to a saner, safer world precisely because it grapples with the big picture. It strives to equip us with the moral framework to resist tyranny-in-the-name-of-social-justice. Since aimless souls are attracted by utopian promises that end in coercion and blood, it’s no coincidence that this book lays down a trail of bread crumbs conducive to healthy, productive lives.
TOP TAKEAWAY: We desperately need thinkers such as Peterson. While the rest of us are playing hopscotch, he’s battling humanity’s demons.
|12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos
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