COWEN: Why is it that so many dissidents came from the Soviet worlds of math and physics? There seems to be a correlation. What’s causing what?
GESSEN: I don’t know the answer. I can tell you my personal hypothesis. My hypothesis is that for people who are both trained and inclined to think in rigorously logical ways, it is particularly difficult to adapt to the Soviet system of doublethink. When we talk about this inclination now, I think we talk about people being spectrum-y or being neurologically different and, therefore, having difficulty with the illogical, irrational ways of life.
But I think we can retroactively diagnose a lot of dissonance with that because, basically, what we’re talking about is, there is the conditions of not just survival but of being reasonably comfortable while living in the Soviet Union were the conditions of doublethink. You had to be able to live inside untenable contradictions all the time. The opposite option was to confront those contradictions, but to basically be thrown out of society, to be in extreme discomfort.
Think about the type of person who would prefer the discomfort of being completely ostracized to the discomfort of living inside the tension. I think that that goes some way to explaining why so many people came from math and physics and the exact sciences.
These days, when I look at Greta Thunberg — I was actually, I’m pretty sure, the first American journalist to interview her — the now 16-year-old Swedish girl who went on school strike and has started this worldwide climate change movement.
She is diagnosed with autism, and she’s very, very clear about talking about how intolerable she finds life with the way that adults are not acting rationally in the face of climate change and how, for her, it is an absolute necessity to confront it. I really recognized that spirit of Soviet dissonance.
Friday, February 28, 2020
From Tyler Cowen's interview with Masha Gessen: