RE: Iraq: Responses to Zimbardo

From: Eugene Matusov (
Date: Wed May 12 2004 - 08:37:11 PDT

Dear Alisa--

I did not mean any cultural phenomenon with regard not seeing the difference
between Truth and ideology but rather a totalitarian phenomenon (Victor, I
wonder if during the lecture you mentioned, the phenomenon was explained
from cultural versus political perspective or both). For example, my grandma
claimed that she did not know anything about Stalinist repressions until
Khrutsov revealed them at the end of 1950s. However, on another account she
told me that 16 neighbors "disappeared" from the communal apartment she
lived (in Moscow) at one night in 1937. I saw many times when older
generation completely suppressed their personal experiences and accepted
official propaganda in the Soviet Union (read Jim Wertsch's recent book on
remembering where he discusses this phenomenon). This suppression of the
truth by the official ideology/propaganda seemed a defensive mechanism to
cope with fear and to be caught by numerous spies that were around at that
terrible time (cf. Freud). Based on many stories of my Vietnamese friends
and literature about Vietnamese concentration camps, I have all suspicions
that Communist Vietnam was similar to Stalinist Soviet Union in this regard.
I was raised during Brezhnev's era of so-called "stagnation" when
repressions did not have mass character and were not so deadly, that is
probably why the phenomenon was not so strong in my generation...

What do you think?


> -----Original Message-----
> From: []
> Sent: Wednesday, May 12, 2004 11:02 AM
> To:
> Subject: RE: Iraq: Responses to Zimbardo
> Victor wrote:
> > > In the mid '60s I attended a lecture on Vietnamese social psychology
> by an
> > > American Anthropologist working either for the DOD or the CIA. It was
> > > pure
> > > nonsense; something about how the people of VN were incapable of
> knowing
> > > the
> > > difference between Truth (what really happened) and their ideology.
> Eugene replied:
> > The lecture might be stupid CIA and DOD propaganda, but the phenomenon
> it
> > focused on was not. When I was in college in mid 70s we had a lot of
> > Vietnamese students. I made a few friends among them and they told me a
> lot
> > of stories that make no much difference between Vietnamese and Soviet
> > totalitarian socialist systems. You can read Soviet and Czech dissidents
> > describing and analyzing this phenomenon. I have first hand account of
> it
> > because older generations raised under Stalin were very much like that.
> >
> > I think we should be very careful avoiding demonizing one side and
> > glorifying another side. The gold rule is that there are no gold rules.
> > Local historical circumstances are very important and should be
> considered
> > holistically.
> 1. there is no such thing as the one objective truth - this belief has
> mislead
> many scientists (especially social scientists) before Ernst Mach (1838-
> 1916),
> Einstein, Whorf et al. discovered relativity. As Pyenson, L. & Sheets-
> Pyenson,
> S. (1999) [Servants of nature: A history of scientific institutions,
> enterprises and sensibilities, London: W.W. Norton & Co.] wrote:
> "Relativism
> emerged rather suddenly at the end of the nineteenth century, when
> European
> thinkers had been seeking the grail of absolute truth. (.) Once it became
> apparent that truth had countless facets, speculative thinkers changed to
> focus on critical epistemology: if they could not say what was forever
> true,
> they could establish how current notions of nature had developed." (p.
> 428)
> 2. From what I personally know about Oriental (i.e. Asian) Culture "facts"
> are
> not necessarily considered something tangible or "scientific". E.g. in
> Indian
> etc. culture "Karma" is seen as a fact of life like birth, death etc. So
> it
> doesn't surprise me that Western scientist would define Eastern mentality
> as 'not knowing the difference between truth and ideology'.
> Alisa L.
> -------------------------------------------------
> This mail sent through IMP:

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Tue Nov 09 2004 - 12:05:48 PST