I am an optimist by temperament. Ever since I realized I was a libertarian, I have been convinced of the power of good to defeat evil, of the enslaved to cast off their chains and become free. Liberty will triumph over tyranny, at least once people wake up and realize what is at stake.
But I must confess, my optimism suffered a severe blow starting in March of 2020, when so many of my fellow Americans not only tolerated, but embraced, demanded, and celebrated the most severe restrictions on their personal freedoms seen in generations. In this long, dark night of the soul, I was forced to consider whether my previous faith in the human spirit had been misplaced, the product of youthful naïveté. Maybe this was what growing up was like.
Imagine my relief, then, when I heard that Michael Malice, author, anarchist, and internet troll extraordinaire, had written a book entitled The White Pill. For the uninitiated, in web parlance the term “taking the white pill” refers to adopting the attitude that everything is going to be all right in the end. The concept emerged in contrast to the red pill (recognizing that much of what we are told about the world is a deliberate deception), the blue pill (denying that such deception is occurring), and the black pill (fatalistically concluding that there is no hope of overcoming the powers that are deceiving us).
I was ravenous for a dose of positive thinking, so I ordered a copy of The White Pill and devoured it with gusto.
At the surface level, the book appears to be a history of the rise and fall of the Soviet Union, and yet it is so much more than that. As the subtitle proclaims, it is “a story of good and evil,” and at times, it can be a pretty harrowing story. As someone already fairly familiar with the terrors of communism, it takes a lot to shock me, but the atrocities committed under Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin are almost beyond belief. It’s unforgivable that these stories are generally not taught in America, for while we are all constantly reminded of the inhuman crimes of the Nazi regime in Germany (as well we should be), there are many who would prefer to forget about the Soviets entirely, and that is something we can never allow.
This attitude is nothing new. As Malice points out, the American media was firmly in the tank for Stalin until after the Second World War, celebrating his accomplishments and casually excusing even the most heinous of his crimes. It’s no surprise that outlets like The New York Times would rather this whole period in history be swept under the rug.
Malice himself was born in the Soviet Union, and it’s clear that this story has a special resonance to him. Yet, he never allows himself to drift into polemic. He recounts the facts in as close to an objective tone as possible given the extreme and revolting nature of the incidents described. He lets the truth speak for itself, largely without comment, and this is to the book’s benefit. Lofty rhetoric is redundant with a story this compelling.
But The White Pill is not simply a catalogue of oppression, torture, famine, and cruelty. Such a book would hardly be worthy of the title. As the pages turn, so does the wheel of history, until gradually an empire spanning half the globe starts to crumble before falling apart entirely. How did a global powerhouse like the Soviet Union, covering an entire continent, putting the first man into space, and vigorously defended by intellectuals around the world, collapse? Just a few years before the end, geo-political experts were insisting that it would last, if not forever, then certainly for many decades to come. I’ll leave it to Malice to provide the answer, but the fact that it happened at all should inspire hope in even the gloomiest individual.
I’ve always said that the cure for pessimism is perspective, and there are few better ways to broaden your outlook on the world than by the study of history. It’s easy to feel like everything is terrible in the moment, but that attitude becomes much harder when you remember how people actually lived as little as a few decades ago. Even discounting the technological advances that have vastly improved our standards of living, the progress we’ve made has been almost unimaginable. Over the last century, war and violent crime have dropped precipitously. The Jim Crow laws that enforced racial segregation have been repealed. Young men are no longer drafted against their will to go fight and die in foreign countries. Women have been liberated. Gay rights have flourished. Drug prohibitions are starting to relax. The number of people around the world living in absolute poverty has plummeted. And that’s just the beginning.
I am an optimist by temperament, but you need not share my personality to feel good about the future. You only have to look at the data. If freedom can emerge from a place as powerful and totalitarian as the Soviet Union, it can emerge anywhere. We just have to keep on fighting for it.