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Cultural background, family, and ambition - Input Junkie
November 15th, 2010
12:05 pm


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Cultural background, family, and ambition
From a discussion at Less Wrong:
If you thought that you were living in a realistic/naturalistic story, you'd be underestimating your chance of making a significant difference. I have no idea what thinking you were living in a tragedy would do to your presuppositions.

Nihil Credo:
I don't know if you have peasant ancestry, especially peasants living in a non- or partially-democratic society; I do, and when I talked to my grandparents and granduncles, as a young boy raised on hero stories and supported by his family, I was struck by how tremendously fatalistic their outlook on life was. While they worked hard and smart, and aimed at steadily improving their lot in life (and, eventually, succeeded - my father was able to get an engineering degree), the idea that they were and would always be part of the background scenery of history was very fixed in their mind; no matter how proud they were of their debt-free house and comfortable retirement money, they never even considered that it might be possible for them to be concerned about matters beyond their family's immediate needs - that was "gentlemen's stuff", while they were but "poor people".

To cut short, my point is that that type of literature is called "Realism" or "Naturalism" for a reason - because to a significant degree, and especially when compared with Romantic literature, that was actually how nineteenth-century peasants thought and lived (and not just peasants, I believe - Joseph Roth's Radetzkymarsch deals with the middle class but it's one of the most depressing novels I've ever read). The answer to your question is in those books themselves.


That's interesting. My background is various Russian and eastern European Jewish, and the default assumption seems to be that you can build a decent life, but playing on the larger stage just isn't thought of. It's not even viewed as "gentlemen's stuff", it's just a blank spot.

So, if anyone's interested in writing about their family background, default ideas about ambition, and where they fit into cultures, I'm interested, and likewise about realistic/naturalistic fiction.

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Date:November 16th, 2010 02:35 am (UTC)
My mother told nme fables and stories meant to instill in me the idea that no matter how powerless or small (literally) I was, I had a role to play and I could do something to make things better. Her favorite stories were about children who protected their families from Cossacks and the SS. Or mine: anyway, they're the ones I remember.

When I was depressed at the death of my great-grandmother and great-aunt, my father told me about Semmelweiss, who died of the disease he was fighting, still unheard and unrespected, but followed immediately on by Lister, who convinced the medical world of the same truth Semmelweiss was trying to say.

My family background is mostly various Eastern and Central European minorities, mostly well-educated working class and middle class/intelligentsia with a weird lump of well-off english remittance men in one corner. (the Jewish side included doctors and lawyers and also mechanics and carpenters: the other side included blacksmiths and doctors and teachers and farmers)

But the salient thing, I think, is that my parents were Communists, and my grandmother was in the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom.

Every time I come across anything really different about my worldview and upbringing, it comes back to that, really.
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