“You are a little mistaken about all this.”

Chekhov’s first published work was a short story, A Letter to a Learned Neighbor. It’s what the title say it is – a letter to an apparently retired professor from an old fool full of childishly absurd opinions. The professor has certain ideas à la Jules Verne, which his neighbor rebuts brilliantly:

… if people were living on the moon, they would have blocked from us its magical and enchanting light by their houses and ample pastures. People cannot live without rain, and rain falls downward toward the earth and not upward toward the moon. Filth and garbage would pour down upon our land from such an inhabited moon. Could people live on the moon if it exists only during the night and disappears during the day? Also, governments could never allow people to live on the moon because, due to reasons of great distance and inaccessibility, it would be very easy to hide there in order to evade compulsory military service.

The wisdom of the last sentence is deep and abiding. Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s logic in the article I discussed in the previous post is very much the same: the opposition should not seek to win the highest elective office because the winner would usurp dictatorial powers. Never mind that winning that office is about as practicable as flying to the moon was in Chekhov’s or Jules Vernes’ lifetime.

On a side note, I would probably use “obligations to the state” instead of the more narrow “compulsory military service.”

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