THE DARK SIDE OF THE NOON: Nanny State Lullabies

Or are the Golden Days at hand? A gilded age where civilization can be disposed of? Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler. Is the eclipse coming to a country near you? Does what goes around eventually come around? …… As America is a country deeply polarized on many issues, with mutual hostility, especially evident over the debate of universal health care and the deficit with  dire prophecies of an American wasteland.The logical result, to many being  an inexorable slide into the depths of the nanny state and then a quick jump into the abyss of Eastern European communism/totalitarianism.

Part of the reason for Darkeness at Noon’s wide success is the fact that Koestler, who was influenced by Sigmund Freud was able to weave his political and philosophical themes into a compelling psychological narrative, whether we agree with the assumptions or not.  With the use of rationalistic argument and religious symbolism, Koestlerwas able to consider politics together with psychology and individualism. Despite the loss of the original German text, Daphne Hardy’s English translation of the novel, published in London in 1940, has become an international classic and has profoundly affected how history remembers the Moscow Show Trials.

"Koestler wrote in German (the original language of “Darkness at Noon”) and English. He spoke Hungarian, Russian, Spanish, and French, too. (Hebrew gave him trouble; characteristically, he blamed the language.) He was, in his own phrase, the “Casanova of causes,” from Zionism to the campaign against capital punishment, and he donated generously to many of them. He maintained lifelong relationships (including the occasional feud) with the writers, scientists, and political activists he met in the various places he visited. And he was a social and sexual torpedo. Academics generally avoided him, but he socialized and debated—alcohol, generously administered, was a necessary lubricant and invariably made him obstreperous and sometimes violent—with nearly everyone else in midcentury intellectual circles, from George Orwell and Jean-Paul Sartre to Whittaker Chambers and Timothy Leary. He was married three times, and he had literally hundreds of affairs. He was the sort of person who records his liaisons in a notebook."

…When Charlotte Lintzel was desperate to be seen by a surgeon at the Montreal Neurological Institute, she casually mentioned some of his preferred clients’ names to his secretary. Instead of waiting up to a year for an appointment, the surgeon himself called her at home the next day. He whispered into the phone: “Come to my private office tomorrow at 3 p.m.” …Another patient undergoing a medically necessary breast reduction at Santa Cabrini Hospital in October, said she was told not to forget to slip $100 under the pillow — for the anesthesiologist. She had already paid her surgeon $900 for “administrative fees.”

"If you don’t, this program I promise you, will pass just as surely as the sun will come up tomorrow, and behind it will come other federal programs that will invade every area of freedom as we have known it in this country. Until, one day, as Normal Thomas said we will awake to find that we have socialism. And if you don’t do this and if I don’t do it, one of these days we are going to spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children, what it once was like in America when men were free."

Koestler, to some degree, transposed Freudian theory onto a political template, in particular the conundrum of “Civilization”; civilizationbeing the term Freud uses for culturally-approved ways of resolving the tension or “combat” between the id and the superego. Because it encourages the superego to maintain its control over the id, in effect keeping the ego enslaved to our unconscious guilt and suppressed sexual desires, civilization produces unhap­piness . We create civilization “to protect ourselves” from the suffering produced by na­ture; yet ironi­cal­ly, “our civilization is largely responsible for our mis­ery” .

This is because happiness arises only when a person satis­fies a sexual or aggressive drive; but civilization’s task is to limit the ex­pres­sion of individual instinct .Ironically, Koestler himself was known as a sexual bully and womanizer bordering on the criminal. His own pessimistic view of civilized life reflects largely upon Freud’s own bias toward the id and the maximize pleasure/ minimize guilt dynamic as a simultaneous dulling and opening of the senses. Religion, like art, philosophy, and any other product of human culture, such as Koestler’s obsession with Marxism, was in effect a critique of  Socialist doctrine as an essentially futile attempt to solve the problem of civilized discontent­ment; yet, like Freud, Koestler had noth­ing better to offer us, for he doubted the very possibility of any gen­uine solution to human unhappi­ness, though ceded that Western capitalism was a superior way-station in a view where the world is a ghetto.

The key word here is “genuine”: religion often does make people happier, but only at the expense of a realistic view of human life. In his book, The Future of an Illusion, Freud argues that religion is actually a psychological trick based on an infantile desire to have parents who will fulfill one’s every wish. Religious ideas originate “from the necessity of defending oneself against the crushingly “Which brings me to Darkness at Noon, Arthur Koestler’s 1940 novel about Stalin’s show trials of the 1930s. I had most recently heard of Koestler’s book in a Village Voice column by the great Nat Hentoff, who wrote that the novel proved to him, at a young age, “that dishonest means irredeemably corrupt all ends, no matter how noble.” Before that, there was Bill Clinton’s famous (and probably apocryphal) comment that during the Lewinsky affair, he felt like Rubashov, the protagonist of Darkness at Noon, who is abducted, jailed, psychologically tortured, and forced to confess to a series of “counter-revolutionary” crimes he didn’t commit. I doubt that Clinton actually made this comparison, despite Sidney Blumenthal’s claims — but if he did, he flatters himself. Rubashov is a man who has lost everything, whose life has become a perverted parody of itself in the hands of the Russian secret police. Clinton didn’t have a Stalin (in the novel, Stalin is referred to simply as “No. 1″), he had Ken Starr — still morally contemptible, but not a murderer, not a maniac.” (Michael Schaub)

---Because his interrogators did not know he was an actual Communist, it was possible for the Party to secure his release through its front groups. Scammell is masterly on the role of these organizations, putatively just “antifascist” but run by steering committees taking orders from Moscow. They drummed up the campaign, a novelty at the time, for Koestler’s release, turning him into a European celebrity. Prison changed Koestler. It did not bring him the spiritual blossoming that it brought to, say, Solzhenitsyn and Mandela, but it gave him insights about human character that Europe needed and lacked. “The consciousness of being confined acts like a slow poison, transforming the entire character,” he wrote. “Now it is beginning gradually to dawn on me what the slave mentality really is.” By then, the Moscow show trials were under way, with the Politburo member Nikolai Bukharin confessing in public to crimes he didn’t commit, and calling for his own execution. Koestler’s brother-in-law, a doctor, was arrested in the Soviet Union and accused of injecting his patients with syphilis. Koestler began to see a family resemblance between Communism and fascism. He broke with the party. Interned in France as an undesirable alien in 1939, he began to work on “Darkness at Noon,” the book that revealed, for Western readers, the psychological underpinnings of Communist dictatorship.....-

From the first page of Darkness at Noon you become aware that the daily realization of impending execution is a powerful stimulus, both to reflection and to fatalism.Rubashov has one fatal weakness, which is that of the open-minded intellectual: “the familiar and fatal constraint to put himself in the position of his opponent, and to see the scene through the other’s eyes.” His dogmatist jailers suffer from no such disadvantage. This is a crux that has relevance well beyond the time and place in which it was set. Orwell’s more widely read Nineteen Eighty Four, which has many points of similarity with Darkness at Noon, makes the same terrifying point that the fanatics don’t just want you to obey them: They want you to agree with them.Throughout the novel, Koestler is at pains to stress the similarity of totalitarianism to religion and to make the related comparison between dissent and heresy.

"Cristian Mungiu is best known for directing what most critics refer to as “the Romanian abortion movie.” Released in 2007, its full title was 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days and it followed a young woman’s attempt to get an abortion under the communist regime of Nicolae Ceausescu. Now, he’s back with another feature called Tales From T

olden Age. It’s a comedy. Read more:

…”The nurses were asking me, ‘Where did you put the cash?’ like they’d asked if I had eaten that morning or taken medication,” said a woman who asked that her name not be published because she has to return to the surgeon for a checkup…. It’s an open secret at many Montreal hospitals and it can cost patients up to $10,000 in under-the-table payments, one physician said.

Vivian Green had slipped an envelope with $2,000 to a surgeon at the Jewish General Hospital for a life-saving operation for her mother. He later returned the money saying he didn’t have the expertise. That’s when Green went to a surgeon at the Royal Victoria. He took the money but failed to show up for the operation. Green is not alone. New revelations suggest the practice of black market medicine is more widespread than initially suspected….

Read More:

Read more:


It might not have worked if Rubashov wasn’t so depressingly real. Koestler could have easily made the protagonist a saint, a paragon of virtue and blamelessness. But Rubashov isn’t perfect; he’s sadly venal, self-doubting and fatally naive. Of course we have the gift of hindsight now. And of course there were millions who never bought into Stalinism in the first place. The cliche about communism is that it was good in theory, but failed in practice. But Darkness at Noon questions the first part of that formulation. There’s a reason that books like Koestler’s tend to make some hardcore American liberals uncomfortable — it’s not that left-wing, small-d democrats somehow approve of Stalin’s cruel brand of totalitarianism; it’s that any anti-communist sentiment tends to remind us of Tailgunner Joe McCarthy and his purges. But there’s no comparing the agony of entire villages starved, tortured and murdered with the agony (and it’s still, of course, agony) of a screenwriter who’s lost his career.

---It was sort of our homage to life under communism: You never know what you’re going to get. We all remember people queuing from midnight to morning just to hold their position in the queue, and in the morning, perhaps you’d get milk or bread. You never knew. Were these stories that you discovered through research or were they known to you before? I knew the stories. Some I read about as articles, particularly the ones involving the police. My father subscribed to the party newspaper and you had a choice of another publication so he picked the monthly police paper, which was very interesting because it was less polluted by censorship than most publications. We also did further research and interviews. I spoke to a journalist who had written about the policeman and the pig, for example.---

“Ayn Rand disliked Koestler, just as she disliked Scammell’s other biographical subject, Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, and for similar reasons. In her view, neither dug deeply enough to hit upon the bedrock importance of the individual self. Solzhenitsyn held to a pre-revolutionary, anti-Western Christian paradigm. Throughout the 1940s, Koestler defended Communist “ideals” against the temporary reality of Stalin. In a letter to Isabel Paterson in 1948, Rand calls Koestler “confused.” According to Robert Hessen, when asked about Darkness at Noon after a speech at the Ford Hall Forum, Ayn Rand answered with one word, “Junk,” and moved on.

Rubashov’s meditations on William James’s “oceanic” religious feelings and on the meaning of the self as at least partly limited by historical necessity and tied to duty are distinctly anti-Rand. But his nostalgia for a pre-Revolutionary world of boyhood Russian country houses and great books is Randian, and his thoughts about the paradoxes of Party loyalty cast a sidelight on both Taganov and Commandant Kareyev in “Red Pawn”:

“The infinite was a politically suspect quantity,” Rubashov muses, “the ‘I’ a suspect quality. The Party did not recognize its existence. The definition of the individual was: a multitude of one million divided by one million.” ( Anne C. Heller )

"---Most of these stories are humorous, but there’s always a threat that someone may get thrown in jail for saying the wrong thing. Was there any context where people could openly say, “This is insane”? At home, where the music was loud. The truth was everyone was speaking about it somehow – the system was allowing this to happen as a form of relieving the pressure in the midst of food shortages and other problems. If you wanted to say Ceausescu was insane, you just wouldn’t yell it in the public square. It was more like, “Is anyone listening to us? I’m going to tell you a good one.” We were in terrible fear of the hidden microphone. One thing we believed was that all our houses were bugged. After communism collapsed, we realized that a lot of this was in our heads so we censored ourselves, and it worked. Now that the files have been opened, you can see it was the people who were close to you who were actually reporting to the secret police.---"

The Santa Cabrini patient also has questions for the college. Her surgeon demanded $900 for “administrative fees” while simultaneously billing the RAMQ, the health insurance board, she said. “It’s supposed to be one or the other, not both,” she said.

She went to his office and gave him the money one week before the procedure. That’s when he told her to bring $100 cash for the anesthesiologist. “I was very surprised but I paid. I didn’t want anything to go wrong,” she said. Once at the hospital, several nurses and orderlies reminded her to leave the cash under the pillow. … One high-ranking physician, who works with doctors at several Montreal hospitals, said obstetricians often accept cash offered by expectant parents to ensure their doctor attends the delivery, instead of whichever doctor is on call.

“I’ve learned that it’s current practice . . . everyone within these hospitals knows about it,” he said. “It’s systemic, and it’s been so for a long time now.” The doctor said it costs a minimum of $2,000 to guarantee that an expecting woman’s doctor will be there for the birth. “And it can go up to $10,000.” For general surgery, he said, the cost runs between $5,000 to $7,000 to jump the wait list into the operating room. For Ms. Green and her sister, the $2,000 got their mother’s operation bumped up, but not the surgeon they wanted….

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