My Favorite Book Passage

We are all, each of us, simultaneously oppressor and oppressed. Thus, we come to realize that the twin categories of “guilty oppressor” and “justice-seeking victim” can be made endlessly inclusive.

My Favorite Book Passage
Photo by Fabio Rose

"We are all, each of us, simultaneously oppressor and oppressed. Thus, we come to realize that the twin categories of “guilty oppressor” and “justice-seeking victim” can be made endlessly inclusive. This is not least because we all benefit unfairly (and are equally victimized) by our thrownness, our arbitrary placement in the flow of time.

How to have a meaningful life: “I am indeed thrown arbitrarily into history. I therefore choose to voluntarily shoulder the responsibility of my advantages and the burden of my disadvantages—like every other individual. I am morally bound to pay for my advantages with my responsibility. I am morally bound to accept my disadvantages as the price I pay for being. I will therefore strive not to descend into bitterness and then seek vengeance because I have less to my credit and a greater burden to stumble forward with than others.”

Perhaps our tendency toward compassion is so powerfully necessary in the intimacy of our families and friendships that we cannot contemplate its limitations, its inability to scale, and its propensity to mutate into hatred of the oppressor, rather than allegiance with the oppressed.

“Is it the City of God that is in fact the aim? Or is the true aim the desire to make a burning sacrificial pyre of everyone and everything, and the hypothesis of the coming brotherhood of man merely the cover story, the camouflage?” Perhaps it is precisely the horror that is the point, and not the utopia.

In consequence, any attempt to attribute the existence of inequality to the functioning of the productive institutions we have managed to create and protect so recently in what is still accurately regarded as the Free World will hurt those who are weakest and most vulnerable first. The radicals who conflate the oppression of the downtrodden therefore do nothing to aid those whom they purport to prize and plenty to harm them. The claims they make to act under the inspiration of pure compassion must therefore come to be regarded with the deepest suspicion—not least by those who dare to make such claims themselves.

Our mere good intentions are not sufficient to make us good men and women.

Perhaps we could come to understand that such intentions are instead all too often the consequence of our unpardonable historical ignorance, our utter willful blindness, and our voracious hidden appetite for vengeance, terror, and destruction."

– The foreword to The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn