Ta-Nehisi Coates quotes the passage from "The Bloodlands" that made him shut off his MP3 even though, as he puts it, he "generally ha[s] a strong stomach when it come to reading about evil." Coates goes on to say:
Somewhere between 5.5 and 8 million people died during the famine. "The classic case of Soviet genocide," Rafal Lemkin would call it....That's a fascinating mental journey Coates makes from evil to chaos. The evil is so horrible that he turns off the audiobook, then he cogitates his way to: It's all, always, chaos.
The Soviet Union pitched itself in opposition to the racism of Nazi Germany, and even America. There's a Stalin-era film, which I'm dying to see, in which the American heroine gives birth to a black child and finds peace in the Soviet Union. But it is hard not to look at Ukraine, or look at dekulakization, or look at the Polish operation, or the Latvian operation, and not see — if not racism — a lethal ethnic bias....
We are taught that World War II was a battle between good guys and bad guys. I came out of that notion some years ago. But there's a difference between feeling something to be generally true, and being confronted with it in all the detail. It really is chaos out there. It's always been chaos out there.
In that progression of thoughts, the idea of chaos is soothing, an escape from detail: Why, there's no pattern to be perceived here at all! He'd thought it was good guys and bad guys, but Stalin as one of the good guys is not a notion you can stay in, and he'd come out of that notion some years ago.
Having emerged, where could he go? The details pile up. One is confronted with so many details. Where do you go? The notion Ta-Nehisi Coates comes into is chaos. It's really chaos, always chaos. To look at the details and interpret them as chaos is to free yourself from the perception of details and even of patterns.
All is always chaos may feel like a refuge at the end of a blog post, but, like good guys and bad guys, it's no place to stay.