Live For The Applause

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1918 – 2008) was a famous Russian author and dissident. His most well-known book, The Gulag Archipelago, tells of the horrors of Russian ‘gulag’ concentration camps, and confronts Stalin’s communist state.

In one scene in the book the dictator has just given a speech. Solzhenitsyn writes: “The applause went on—six, seven, eight minutes! They were done for! Their goose was cooked! They couldn’t stop now till they collapsed with heart attacks! At the rear of the hall, which was crowded, they could of course cheat a bit, clap less frequently, less vigorously, not so eagerly…Nine minutes! Ten!…Insanity! To the last man! With make-believe enthusiasm on their faces, looking at each other with faint hope, the district leaders were just going to go on and on applauding till they fell where they stood, till they were carried out of the hall on stretchers.”

At last, after eleven minutes of non-stop clapping, the director of a paper factory finally decided enough was enough. He stopped clapping and sat down—a miracle!

“To a man, everyone else stopped dead and sat down,” Solzhenitsyn says.

That same night, the director of the paper factory was arrested and sent to prison for ten years. Authorities came up with some official reason for his sentence, but during his interrogation, he was told: “Don’t ever be the first to stop applauding!”

It strikes me social media has become much the same. When someone posts about standing up against power, against domestic violence, against abuse, you must applaud, like, and retweet (just as Taylor Swift’s fan base is doing at present). Not just because you may oppose these evils. But there is a social compulsion. These are causes you must publicly oppose – with enthusiasm. People are watching, and if you don’t ‘like’ the defiance of others, you will be viewed with suspicion.

Isn’t it odd, that social media – the great platform for free speech – parallels the phenomenon of communication under Stalin’s abusive communist Russia.

Rev David Rietveld

Senior Minister

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