Chekhov – The Master of Concealment

From the April 6, 2023 New York Review of Books:

How straightforward Chekhov stories seem, and yet how strangely moving. Like the soul as he understood it, they appear simple but are profoundly mysterious. In her splendid book Reading Chekhov (2001), Janet Malcolm stresses how, for him, each person’s soul harbors a secret accessible to no one else. She quotes the passage in his best-known story, “The Lady with the Dog,” in which the hero, Gurov, pondering the secret love affair that constitutes his real life, imagines that one person never understands another because it is always what cannot be seen that truly matters. Everyone, he reflects, has

his real, most interesting life under the cover of secrecy…. All personal life rested on secrecy, and possibly it was partly on that account that civilized man was so nervously anxious that personal privacy should be respected…

Even when Chekhov characters wish to reveal their deepest secret, they usually find it cannot be put into words. The hero of “The Kiss” tries to tell his fellow officers about the chance event that changed his life but cannot convey what made it so transformative:

“He began describing very minutely the incident of the kiss, and a moment later relapsed into silence…. In the course of that moment he had told everything, and it surprised him dreadfully to find how short a time it took him to tell it. He had imagined that he could have been telling the story of the kiss till next morning.”

No one understands, and the hero vows “never to confide again.”

…One letter Chekhov received in March 1886 changed his view of himself. The veteran writer Dmitry Grigorovich offered his unsolicited opinion that Chekhov was a major literary talent and urged him to take his work more seriously. Chekhov, Grigorovich asserted, should not write so hurriedly and instead make each story the work of genius it could be. “I am convinced…you will be guilty of a great moral sin if you do not live up to these hopes,” he enthused. “All that is needed is esteem for the talent which so rarely falls to one’s lot.”

…“On the Road,” in which a man, Likharev, and a woman, Ilovaisky, are trapped in an inn during a Christmas Eve storm. Likharev recounts his life of total commitment to one ideology after another, a life he describes as typically Russian. “This faculty is present in Russians in its highest degree,” he comments.

Russian life presents us with an uninterrupted succession of convictions and aspirations, and if you care to know, it has not yet the faintest notion of lack of faith or scepticism. If a Russian [intellectual] does not believe in God, it means he believes in something else.

Likharev has never experienced either disillusionment or skepticism because whenever he abandoned one belief system, he immediately adopted another. At first fanatically devoted to “science,” Likharev abandoned it for nihilism and then for populism: “I loved the Russian people with poignant intensity; I loved their God and believed in Him.”

Likharev’s enthusiasm is infectious, especially to women…Likharev and Ilovaisky listen with pleasure to a crowd singing a popular ditty:

Hi, you Little Russian lad,
Bring your sharp knife,
We will kill the Jew, we will kill him,
The son of tribulation…

Why did Chekhov include these terrible verses? …that these verses are appalling is the whole point. Likharev enjoys them, “looking feelingly at the singers and tapping his feet in time,” because of his populist sympathies. However appealing and inspiring, ideology, to which the Russian intelligentsia was so susceptible, can lead to horror. In 1881 the populist People’s Will assassinated Tsar Alexander II, and Russia witnessed murderous pogroms, perhaps provoked by the fact that a Jewish woman had played a prominent part in the plot. The People’s Will cynically decided to exploit anti-Jewish sentiment to unleash popular rebellion. Two decades later it was the government that inspired pogroms, but in the early 1880s it was populist revolutionaries. On August 30, 1881, the Executive Committee of the People’s Will issued a manifesto, written in Ukrainian and addressed to “good people and all honest folk in the Ukraine.” It began:

“It is from the Jews that the Ukrainian folk suffer most of all. Who has gobbled up all the lands and forests? Who runs every tavern? Jews!… Whatever you do, wherever you turn, you run into the Jew. It is he who bosses and cheats you, he who drinks the peasant’s blood.”

As Chekhov writes the story, readers, like the heroine, first sense the attractiveness of Likharev and his enthusiasms. But the story turns and, without explicitly saying so, exposes the horror that Likharev’s charismatic idealism may entail.

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LA Marathon Finish

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Oxytocin Is Pretty Racist (3-19-23)

01:00 Maybe the sheep know something?
05:00 Trump is king
08:00 Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect,
18:40 Why do people seek out pain? For meaning, connection and identity,
25:00 What People Still Don’t Get About Bailouts,
34:00 Narcissism & Holidays,
39:50 The case for cognitive empathy
42:00 Extending empathy for people who have the power to blow up the world
44:40 Elliott Blatt joins
45:00 Extroverts are usually happier and more effective than introverts
55:00 The unwarranted confidence of podcasters
1:01:00 James Lindsay and love bombing
1:08:00 NYT: A Landlord Got a Low Appraisal. He Is Black, and So Are His Tenants.,
1:10:00 Our America: Lowballed

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Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect

Here are some highlights from this 2013 book:

* Oxytocin appears to alter the dopaminergic response of mammals to their own infants, tipping the balance from avoidance to approach.
It has been suggested that oxytocin is a love drug or a trust hormone, but I prefer to think of oxytocin as the nurse neuropeptide.

* Oxytocin turns the rest of us from zeros to heroes when it comes to caring for our own children. Nurses do it for everyone every day.
In animals, prosocial sentiments toward one’s offspring have been associated with higher levels of oxytocin modulating reward responses in the ventral striatum and ventral tegmental areas of the brain—both part of the reward system. One account suggests that oxytocin released in the ventral tegmental area leads to the release of dopamine in the ventral striatum region associated with increasing our motivation to seek out a reward. Fearlessness appears to be influenced by oxytocin interactions within the septal region, adjacent to the ventral striatum. Both oxytocin and the septal region of the brain are involved in diminishing the physiological indicators of distress, which may facilitate helping someone else even when the situation is distressing or gross. In other words, when we see someone in need, say, someone with a bloody wound, oxytocin may simultaneously increase the reward value of approaching that person and decrease the distress we might have over being near someone else in distress.
Although there are great similarities in how oxytocin promotes care for offspring across mammalian species, oxytocin has different effects on how primates and nonprimates treat strangers. In nonprimates, increased oxytocin is associated with increased aggression toward strangers. This is generally understood in terms of mothers’ protecting their infants from unknown threats. A mother sheep will attack an unrelated baby lamb that tries to nurse from her. But when the oxytocin processes are blocked, the mother sheep will allow the unrelated lamb to nurse. Thus, in nonprimates, oxytocin promotes direct care of one’s own offspring, including protecting them against others. This ensures that the mother’s limited resources are spent only on those offspring that will pass on her genes to future generations.
Both the caring- and aggression-related effects of oxytocin have been demonstrated in humans as well. Administering oxytocin has been shown to increase generosity when people play behavioral economics games like the Prisoner’s Dilemma. On the flip side, psychologist Carsten De Dreu in the Netherlands has demonstrated in multiple studies that administering oxytocin leads to more aggressive responses to members of other ethnic groups in the Prisoner’s Dilemma.
While oxytocin can promote ingroup favoritism (that is, toward groups that one is a part of) and hostility toward those who are not part of one’s ingroup, the dividing line between friend or foe differs in a crucial way between primates and other mammals. In nonpri-mates, oxytocin leads individuals to see all outsiders as possible threats, thus enhancing aggression toward them. In contrast, humans divide others into at least three categories: members of liked groups, groups, members of disliked groups, and strangers whose group affiliations are unknown. Administering oxytocin in humans facilitates caregiving toward both liked group members and strangers , but it promotes hostility toward members of disliked groups.
Oxytocin in humans helps to promote altruistic tendencies not toward one’s own group—because that isn’t altruism in the strongest sense of the word—and not toward members of disliked groups. But oxytocin can increase our generosity toward complete strangers, which is quite magical, as strangers who start with a positive bias toward one another can do great things together, such as building houses, schools, and other institutions that support a society.

* The severing of a social bond —whether it’s the end of a long-term romantic relationship or the death of a loved one—is one of the greatest risk factors for depression and anxiety. Although adults can survive with unmet social needs far longer than with unmet physical needs, our social bonds are linked to how long we live. Having a poor social network is literally as bad for your health as smoking two packs of a cigarettes a day.
The social motivation for connection is present in all of us from infancy. It is a pressing need, with a capital N . The evolutionary fallout from the presence of these social needs is a major advantage to those who are able to minimize their social pains and maximize their social pleasures. Building and maintaining social networks is no easy feat. Just watch any reality show, from Survivor to MTV’s Real World . Fortunately, evolution has given us not one but two brain networks that help us to understand those around us and to work more cohesively with them. Connection is the foundation on which our social lives are founded, but evolution was far from finished, making sure we would make the most of our social lives.

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The Growing Revolt Over Covid Restrictions & Bank Bailouts (3-17-23)

01:00 Trump vs DeSantis on Ukraine,
03:00 Trump on the banking crisis,
05:00 WP: Trump escalates his white-nationalist doomerism,
14:00 Putin’s Folly:
26:30 Dylan becomes a girl
34:40 Jussie Smollett hoax
37:00 NYT: America Has Decided It Went Overboard on Covid-19,
43:00 NYB: Janet Malcolm called Chekhov’s work an “exercise in withholding,
59:00 Noah Carl in Quilette,
1:00:00 A review of ‘How to Argue With a Racist’ by Adam Rutherford,
1:10:00 NYT: Here’s Why the Science Is Clear That Masks Work,
1:14:20 The Age of Easy Money,
1:17:00 NYT: What’s Wrong With Getting a Little Free Legal Advice?,
1:19:00 Liberal Democracy 3.0: Civil Society in an Age of Experts,
1:25:00 The politics of expertise,
1:28:00 FT: Britain embraces trivia because it is stuck on the big issues,

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