Friday, October 04, 2013

The Tragedy of Our Time

Last night, for no real reason, I got curious about the ethnic breakdown of the former Soviet Union. I wanted to know the percentage of the total population that was Russian, Uzbek, Latvian, Ukrainian, Tuvan, Kazakh, etc. when (or around the time) that the USSR collapsed. I googled around and I couldn't fucking find it. I did find this, but that only frustrated me more. I mean, the fact that we know that 51.4% of the USSR was Russian in 1989 means that the data is out there. Someone measured the ethnic breakdown, they just didn't bother to put anything other than the Russian number on Wikipedia. It would have been easy to count ethnicities because the Soviet Union classified all of its citizens by "nationality," which was essentially an ethnic classification. "Nationality" appeared in the Soviet national ID and on Soviet passports. It still appears in the official documents of former Soviet republics like Kazakhstan.

Somewhere out there is a chart showing what percentage of Soviets were what nationality. But google as I might, I just could not find it. What I thought would take 30 seconds to satisfy idle curiosity ended up sucking up a good 20 minutes of searching in vain.

All that was very annoying. But my annoyance just reflects how much my expectations have changed. 15 years ago if I got curious about something like that, I would just shrug my shoulders and move on. Maybe if I was really curious I would ask some academics I know, or go to a library to research it. But probably not. I don't care enough to put in any real time into the question. In the olden days I wouldn't know and I would just live with that, not that there would be much to live with. I doubt if my lack of knowledge would have bothered me much at all. I just was used to not being able to find out just about anything at any time in only a few seconds

This morning I was listening to this episode of TLDR, the new On the Media spin off podcast. It starts with a comedian named Pete Holmes saying this:
Listen to me, there was a time, and I don't mean to get all Andy Rooney on ya, but there was a time when if you didn't know where Tom Petty was from, you just didn't know. And you felt that yearning and that deficit in your being. And you'd go around and ask actual people.
That's what I'm talking about.