English / 22.10.2019 / 1359

Escaping Fate?

Nikolay Mokhov, author from the Dark Side of Business

My grandfather Semyon escaped dekulakization, a wave of Soviet repressions in the 1930s. He grew up in a big family. His father died fighting in the First World War, and his grandfather (my great-grandfather) had a fairly decent, by rural standards, household. He had a sturdy house, some horses… In the Soviet thirties, this was a death sentence.

Your social circle determines not just your life, but your death

Grandpa Semyon, then a young lad, was warned the day before it happened, just as everyone else was. He was told that the next day he’d be “dekulakized”. With his young wife, he went to the city. He escaped fate, which would have had him on a train, deported, and eventually dead from starvation.

I must have taken after my grandfather. When I was young, I kept asking myself the same questions:

“Why would people stay, choosing certain death? Why didn’t every Jew flee Nazi Germany? Why didn’t Meyerhold stay in Europe in 1934? Why did he come back to the USSR, knowing full well he would be killed? There’s a question. A question that has always intrigued me. Why does the basic human desire to live often fail to lead people to decisions which would preserve this life? Why doesn’t it give them the possibility to save their lives?”

It’s one thing when they don’t see death approaching. That I can understand. You cross the road and have no idea there’s a bus careening straight for you. The proverbial die has already been cast. But taking a step towards the bus, knowing you’re about to get run over… Why?

It was back then, too, when I was young, that I heard the answer to my question:

“It’s fate.”

First time I heard this was from a classmate. We had just graduated and were discussing our further voyages in life. In the sea of opportunities, he saw but two lighthouses: prison and the army.

“But why? There is so much else you could do!”

“It’s fate. Everyone has their own fate. You’ll probably become famous. We might read about you in the papers. But I have my own fate.”

This blind faith in determinism annoyed me, just as the word “fate” itself. What does it even mean? If you ask a sociologist about fate, they’ll most likely remember the First World War. The English were presented with a challenge: they had to recruit a lot of new soldiers in a very short amount of time. But the soldiers had to be trained, and they had to learn to get along.

So they relied on “Pals battalions”. Neighbors would enlist together into a single battalion. They all knew each other, and they knew how to get on, which seemed important in war.

After the Battle of the Somme, the people of Sheffield started getting condolence letters. Half the families were in mourning. The Sheffield battalion suffered serious losses — 513 people.

This story is how sociologists illustrate the word “fate”: Invisible social ties predetermining a particular person’s death. Your social circle determines not just your life, but your death. Scientists try to look for patterns in all this.

But I was always curious about something else:

“Can you escape fate? Can you choose your own fate?”

Science does not answer these questions. Those who are firmly linked with a chain of social ties are easier to study. Freedom-lovers just ruin the statistics, they prevent you from forming theories. Do in revenge, the scientists count them out as statistically insignificant. In general, modern scientists are annoyed by the role of the individual… Which is why the answers to my questions always lay in the realm of magic.

A mage is someone who finds themselves on the boundary between two worlds: the social world, and the world that cannot be described in words. A mage interacts with the community, but never shares its fate. Priests were always separate from the government. They never took part in wars. The Christian vow of chastity is a way to cut monks off from the fate of the community. And of course, it’s a way to tie them stronger to ecclesiastical society.

The common impression of mages is outcasts living on the sidelines of history. In reality, mages, not concerned with the lives of the common folk, stored up a lot of energy, which allowed them to greatly influence social development. There is, after all, a difference between sharing the fate of society and affecting it.

It’s a practical question: how do you first enter into this superposition? Here’s an analogy from economics. Who’s more afraid of crises? Someone with savings or someone without? Obviously, in a crisis, the rich only get richer.

Warren Buffett’s entire strategy is built upon saving up before financial crises and then buying out valuable assets for cents. And so he gets richer from crisis to crisis.

But the billionaire saves up money in the bank. What do the mages save up? They save up energy, and they store it in the bank as well: in their own energy bank. They do this partially to be free. Free from the community’s fate.

Common people gain energy from the attention of their friends and lovers. But they immediately waste this energy on work and suffering.

Magical thinking implies using energy sparingly, but that’s not what society as an organism wants from its members. Society wants to take all the energy for itself. And for this, it has a whole range of tools and traps: defining love as suffering, painting sleep deprivation and alcoholism as virtues, and wasting money on trifles as a necessity. And the list of ways society manipulates us does not stop there.

It’s no use judging society for this. The stronger the ties, the more powerful the organism itself. But if the organism needs to sacrifice its own cell to survive, then it will do so without thinking. And the sacrifice will hear:

“This is fate. And you can’t escape fate…”

And then the hypnotized victim will proceed to the slaughter… Not all people are susceptible to society’s hypnosis. A few are able to hack the pre-installed program. They can change the factory settings. Funnily enough, they don’t need complicated rituals, spells, and other nonsense for this. In order to break out of the shackles of society, you need but one ability. The ability to say “no” without explaining why. This is what all of magic begins with. Is it an easy formula? Painfully easy. But is it difficult to execute? Yes, extremely so. But this is the magical key to controlling your own fate.

The roads of childhood

— I remember myself from the age of three...

— But I have memories since I was two.

Friends were arguing about who had the earliest memories. And I realized that I don’t remember myself in childhood... Not that I don’t remember anything at all. I don’t remember winter. I only remember summer and the moment when that summer of my childhood ended.



His fingers were freezing from the cold. Gauntlets over the gloves, winter boots… None of this protected him from the harsh wind. The arctic ocean is nearby. Is that where the wind is blowing from?

— Brasileiro, why did you get distracted? Hook it up... — commanded the crew chief. He was making sure that the workers were quick at hanging the fish to dry.

Brasileiro looked at the cod with hatred. Cod, cod, cod... Those who never lived in northern Europe would not understand the significance of this fish. It would be shocking to find out that in the second half of the 20th century, there were three times when Iceland was ready to start a war with England over codfish.


Babylonian Squabbles

Once again I wondered: why is it so difficult to understand other people? Recently, we had a heated discussion in our chat. One of our readers pondered: what motivates young people these days to join power structures where there is “no place for individualism”? Someone suggested they could be compared to Batman: “Being afraid of bats, he decided to become one of them. So did these people: being afraid of the authorities, they decided to become them.” Someone else had a counter question, “How successful would they be had they not decided to join these structures?”


How Fair Ladies Rule

“What is power? Who needs it?” a pretty girl asked me. It was a difficult question. Talking to a beautiful woman, you want to say something funny, something light-hearted. You want to tell a joke. But talking about power you’re one step away from seeming boring. Can I avoid this fate? I’m afraid no. I’ll have to write my answer, at the risk of being perceived as dull. Well, what else can I do? Maybe at least She’ll read it..?


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