Thursday, June 08, 2006

Some good things should be said…

During the time of the former USSR I have been told, people suffered from acute boredom. The phrase acute boredom should amount to an oxymoron, but my friend Uladsimir told me that it was the truth. He said that because the nature of people’s lives became so filled with redundancy and stagnancy that all of the cultural pursuits and inherent physical pleasures of life which should have otherwise sated became so mundane that people began to think in rather abstract terms. I know it is hard to believe this from a culture that supposedly had no use for money, but this is what he said.

I really don’t know what this means but I tend to take the comment seriously. I say that I don’t know what it means because I grew up in the United States and in the world I grew up in we were taught some basic truths about life that were absolutely a part of every person’s psychosexual makeup that were the polar opposite to anything that could result in boredom from too many cultural pursuits. In my world you were alone and would basically be forever and ever because there was no real possibility kinship beyond short term bonding, absolutely no one was ever to be trusted and you are obligated to leave your home and finance a completely separate world from your family. This last one supposedly needed to be accomplished with a woman who retained complete economic independence from you and effectively because of her strong feminist views, didn’t even like you very much. Not only would this situation disallow boredom, it also probably disallows sleep.

But before I can go off on how grass the green is, let me state that I completely understand that everything I just mentioned has an economic background to it. Obviously you can’t preach an ethos of each individuals having a necessity to build their own empires unless there was some reasonable possibility of their doing so. You at least need to have something that seems like physical evidence or enough success stories that bespeak of the possibility of accumulating great wealth by stealth, guile, great luck and occasionally by actual effort to make the fantasy strong enough to make people want to participate in it. America is certainly not about boredom because there are so many ways to spend all of those extra dollars we are supposed to have that it is impossible to even sustain an attention span much less any feelings of redundancy.

And by contrast, and I am really oversimplifying here, the soviet Union WAS about what Americans would call stagnancy. The point was absolutely not to go and make a mark on the world financially, but rather to be incredibly good at getting along with the others who were in the world you were living in. It was about suppressing the ego and understanding one’s place in the group. The had role models as well, but their success stories were those who had achieved some zen-like level of love for the land, their fellow man, their country or the local pleasures available to everyone.

I spent a lot of time thinking about things when I was growing up. I read books and wondered about twhy things were the way they were and eventually came to some conclusions that seemed to really piss my parents off. I told them that I didn’t understand why we needed to be accumulating so much crap and yet never either seemed to have enough money to be at peace because if it. My mom would spend thousands of dollars on decorating a room and then would say we could not go in it for fear of getting it messy. What was the point, didn’t we live here? I really don’t think that I was so sure about what I was talking about and in reality might have just been thinking rebelliously, but in response to whatever I must have actually said all I ever got as a response was that I should stop believing in any fantasies about the benevolence of “poor people”. I actually don’t remember lionizing anyone I particular or even thinking of getting anything, but my folks took whatever I was babbling about as a contradiction to making money and therefore equated it with love of poverty.

Of course this was not the case because no one loves poverty and there is absolutely no romance in starvation and even a well fed alienated youth like me could see this. But taking my thoughts seriously for a second I think what I was rejecting was the lack of social cohesion and ability to simply communicate with each other that was inherent in my world. I didn’t understand why exactly we needed to be so insincere with each other and why we needed to be revved up so tightly for each and every day of our existence. Not laziness, just a bit calmer and more reasonable world, this is what I was asking about.

It is possible that I was only worrying about my own personal self worth and why it wasn’t thought of is a bit higher terms. Ego would have to be at the essence of what I named as alienation a few sentences back and anyone who has ever heard the word Columbine can relate to what I am saying. Not to say that I was violent, I hated violence for its senselessness, but I just couldn’t put the pieces of the puzzle together in my head in how what we were doing was supposed to work.

My problem, and it was acute, was that I could not get past the question of why it was not possible to actually get there, wherever there was. In fact, you couldn’t even really enjoy the trip much less look forward to any answers. In my mind finding the real answers, the real satisfactions were always possible; you could just talk it out, put the thoughts on the table, speak your mind, have your thoughts registered by the people who also had a vested interest in what you were speaking of and then come up with a reasonable conclusion and act on it. So simple that it hurt. My mom would scream at me that I thought too much.

So bypassing a whole lifetime and an enormous amount of running around and wasting money, I eventually fell into the Republic of Belarus. I got here the first time because I was traveling about anyway and even though there was a fairly expensive visa to get in here, the place had going for it that I had familial roots and wanted at least to have the stamp in my passport. The quintessential American phrase that I was finding myself ran like a tape loop in my head in justification of my hanging out. I masked my selfishness in pretending I was looking at the world first hand for some eventually advanced university degree in cultural anthropology. In any case, I was prepared to stay on the outside looking in, paying in cash rather than heart but seeing what I could get from the experience anyway. This was in 1997.

Well what happened? The first thing I noticed was that they had manners here. They had manner and they were all on their best behavior. Not just to me but amongst themselves. There was a formality, or at least an understood formality that any familiarity would descend from. They were interacting peacefully and graciously; calmly and respectfully with each other. Or maybe better said, there was a large amount of respect paid to each other- or maybe it seemed like respect but really it was love. Or maybe it seemed like love but was really just habit. But maybe it really didn’t matter because there was this thing that was going on here, it was tangible and palpable, everyone seemed to be into on the dance, old and young and though I was not completely sure of what I was seeing, it certainly seemed to be exactly the sort of think I had always imagined possible. Could it be possible that what I had been thinking of as being a right way to live together was actually being practiced in the world? Why didn’t anyone tell me about this sooner?

There is a Russian phrase that sort of has a little extra meaning to it from this perspective “droog k drooga”. It means basically one to another as in ‘they were good to one another’ but the word droog is also the word for friend, so you can see how the idea gets a bit tangled. I actually thought in my American paranoia that they were playing with me at first and then I started to get really caught up in the thought that all of my teenaged theories came from some lost DNA strand that had been established by cultural repetitions over the centuries. Or maybe it was because it was all personal. In any case, these folks seemed to be living out all of the ideas that I thought were worthier of consideration than my America had time for.

Now, I really shouldn’t go on any further without saying that in practice, a lot of those theories of mine that were in practice here actually don’t really help much in practice. As a for instance, all of that sitting around and discussing all of those brilliant ideas people have is enough to make you want to go mad. In one’s autocratic fantasies, this might work but in those fantasies one is actually a benevolent dictator who moves these discussions along to a point where you are right. In the real world, because each and every individual has an opinion and a will to express themselves you have to add five times the discussion time just getting to the point. Even sticking to the subject at hand has pitfalls that would derail even the longest of attention spans. But they did do this, they did rely on consensus and they would, really, allow for discussion to the point of satisfaction regardless of having the thing they were actually going to do go away from lack of attention because of it.

But this complaint and economic realities aside, how could I argue? They were right and I was hooked. This is not to say that I had any ideas of walking into what had become an economic wasteland completely broke but I wanted to stay. I had some idea to try and stay in 1997 but I didn’t because of economic reasons and not having pulled the trigger than had a lot to do with this too. And when I came back in 2002, I also held on to some sense of reasonable personal economics- Poland not withstanding. But I did want to be here despite the changes that were happening around me and if anything, I actually wanted to try and be a voice from the outside which had some agreement that the culture that had been still had some merit. My thinking was that it probably could have made it but for some economic shortcomings. These shortcomings could have been world economics or could have been too much vodka and talking things to death rather than actually getting back to work. Or maybe it was boredom and they really did think that buying stuff you really don’t need was a reasonable personal decision rather than just a cultural and fiscal necessity of capitalism. In any case, I stayed.

I don’t know if I made any real points here this morning but I think I might like to close with even a little bit more of the naiveté that I am sure you have stamped on all of these weightless words of mine: Lukashenka is an obvious response to the line of reasoning that comes from the end of the Soviet Union to now. They really didn’t want it to end and their decisions were not made from laziness. I am speaking not only about Belarus but also about Ukraine and the northern states who voted in 90% agreement to go on; they liked it and liked the life that they got from it because it came without having to toss away their fellow man to get it. They were both rich and poor at the same time and were able to keep a connection to the land and to each other. And if the reason really was that the USSR failed because of a lack of character on the parts of the people who lived here, and certainly the people here do harbor this thought, than having a strong leader who imposes discipline on them means that there might be a chance to right the mistakes of the past and go back to being the way they remember the old days to be. In this scenario the west, and unfortunately this also includes me at times, is nothing but a lot of empty noise and advertising; just the sound of a lot of selfish greedy people who wouldn’t connect to you out of simple friendship no matter how many tears you shed trying to convince them that this is all you wanted. They’ll just keep screaming at you that you are poor and therefore you want their money: This is why the doors are closing these days and new curtains (and new threats of atomic war) are being raised.

Funny how these things work out. I am not going to sit here and argue which is better but I think it is worthy enough to note that the differences.

More soon…


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home