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A talk given to American students in Kyiv

04.04.2005 11:42

Introducing win-win thinking to Ukraine

A lecture delivered on April 4th 2005 in Kyiv

Thank you for inviting me to give a talk today. I very rarely get to speak because I find myself outside of the current academic or policy debate. To illustrate the reasons for that, let me use an example of an elephant.

Elephant’s brain is thousands of times greater than the brain of a pigeon; therefore, elephant is much smarter than a pigeon. Yet, even a pigeon knows to fly away at the first sight of danger. Therefore, if an elephant sees a poacher, it surely will, and definitely should, fly away. Well, I maintain that the elephant does not fly. No matter how large is its brain, no matter how great the danger, an elephant would not fly. But by saying that, I exclude myself from further debate. Some people say that an elephant would fly by flopping its ears, and calculate that given an EFR: By the way, it is assumed that everybody knows what EFR stands for: do you? Sure, it stands for “ear floppability rate”, we are doing serious science here: So, an EFR of two billion per second would allow an elephant to fly. Yet, I stubbornly maintain than an elephant would not fly. Now, some people say that an elephant should use its trunk for jet propulsion, use its ears as rear wings and elegantly fly, tail first. Just when that looks like a solution, I maintain that an elephant does not fly. So the people conclude that I either want a poacher to kill an elephant or, against all evidence, deny the principle of jet propulsion.

What is a logical mistake here? Just because birds fly, it does not mean that elephant will or should. Elephants should be studied as they are, with their own survival mechanisms. Just because democracy, economic success, or baseball have been observed somewhere, it does not mean that they will automatically and immediately appear everywhere. We need to study each society as it is and then formulate policies that are appropriate to it.

Yushchenko is a popularly elected President, Timoshenko is an attractive woman, borshch is a tasty soup, Ruslana won the Eurovision contest, Klichkos are great boxers. Does that mean that Ukraine will now be successful politically and economically, even though we want it to succeed, even though it really-really needs to succeed? Absolutely not: these characteristics are simply irrelevant. There were many personally popular politicians whose policies turned out to be disastrous.

If I mention an EFR of two billion per second, people laugh. But the same people read the forecasts that Ukraine is now all set for the great economic success, just because Yushchenko speaks English - and do not laugh.

So, let us study Ukraine as it really is to objectively see where it is going. How to do that? Allow me another example. Suppose we investigate a traffic accident. There literally hundreds of “reasons” why this particular accident happened. It could be “because of what you told me last Friday”, but usually it is a combination of several interconnected factors, such as poor visibility, traffic violation, or a sudden phone call that distracted the driver’s attention.

Same here. Today we are discussing how to introduce win-win thinking to Ukraine, and I have chosen three interconnected factors that, in my view, are most relevant to that problem. There are more factors, but these three will suffice.

Here are these factors:

  • Ukraine’s religion: Orthodox Christianity.
  • Ukraine’s attitude towards win/win and lose/lose
  • Ukraine’s adaptation to modernity in the 20th and the 21st century.

Factor #1. Ukraine’s religion: Orthodox Christianity.

The biblical story can be interpreted in several different ways. This interpretation is important, as the essence of religion is to relate to your God, if possible, to be more like your God. Roughly, the Protestant version maintains that a person should not do bad things to other people and should be productive and creative, whereupon he may be blessed with wealth and respect of his peers.

But Orthodox Christianity has interpreted the biblical story very differently. Jesus could do any miracle; indeed, He clearly saw the future. And yet, he chose to suffer on the cross. Jesus is the son of God, and God is Almighty. The Almighty could have given His beloved Son a red Ferrari, and instead Jesus suffered on the cross. How could that be interpreted? And so it was concluded that the act of suffering is something positive as it could purify the soul.

Russian Orthodox religion knows many saints who voluntarily inflicted on themselves enormous suffering. If you produce toasters or discover the structure of DNA, that would not make you a Saint: if you want to become a Saint, you should start by making your flesh rot.

But turning oneself into a Saint by actively seeking to suffer is immodest. Who are you to be like Jesus? And the solution was found: why don’t inflict suffering on others so that they could suffer, purify their souls and redeem us all? Indeed, Pilate is a key figure in the story of Jesus. If Jesus were not wrongly convicted and crucified, how would He reveal His true nature? Fortunately, Pilate was very helpful.

In Russia and Ukraine such stories are very common. Take Russia’s true living saint, Alexander Solzhenitsin. He was a World War II veteran. If he were an American, he would have gone to college on a GI Bill and spent the rest of his life driving a Buick and selling insurance. But in Russia, he was sent to the Gulag, where he suffered greatly, understood the true nature of the Communists, acquired superhuman strength and determination, and eventually wrote his great books. In Russia, you often see that others do not hesitate to make your life more dangerous and unpleasant. Are they evil? No. They simply believe that suffering would make you a stronger and better person, so you may take it as a sign of respect, even love.

Orthodox Christian teachings are ambiguous, and the Communists exploited that and brought that to the fore. The word ambiguous is important here: ambiguous does not mean wrong. Indeed, a case could be made that it is not acquisition of more and more goods but precisely the ability to overcome suffering that gives our life meaning, and if it is the case, we may indeed need someone who would cause this suffering to us.

Look, we are talking about democracy and economic progress here. We want people to respect each other’s rights, to grow wealthy. But what if people see it as their duty to cause suffering to their neighbors, what if they see wealth, success, satisfaction, or lack of pain as sinful?

So, our first keyword is suffering.

Factor #2. Ukraine’s attitude towards win/win and lose/lose

I have just bought a flower for 10 gryvnias. Since I did buy a flower, it is more valuable to me than 10 grivnyas; I would say that 13 grivnya price would make me really think as to whether or not I should be buying it, and so we can say that for me this flower is worth 12 grivnyas. And what about the flower girl? She would not sell her flower for seven grivnyas but would sell for eight. Now, let’s calculate. I realized a profit of two grivnyas as I spent just 10 gryvnyas on a flower that is worth 12 gryvnyas to me. The girl also realized a profit of two grivnyas, having sold for 10 gryvnyas the flower that was worth 8 grivnyas to her. The exchange has created four grivnyas of total profit; it’s a miracle! But this is not the end: when I give this flower to my wife, it will be better for her than 20 grivnyas. This is a win/win.

Let’s now visit the world of lose/lose. As a lose/lose person, I am not aware that I can create additional value to benefit myself and others: I simply believe that whatever exists had been stolen from someone else. I know that I can experience fleeting and angry pleasure only by causing harm to others, by destroying whatever it is that makes them happy, which is only fair since I know that they are enjoying life and I don’t. Here, lose/lose simply means, “They are buying flowers and giving them to their wives, and I have nobody to give the flower to. I wish these flowers never existed!” Since without creativity life cannot be satisfying, I have nothing much to live for and do not really like myself. Thus, I welcome the opportunity to cause harm to myself. Now I see a flower girl. Her flowers really irritate me, since I know that there is real life out there somewhere, but since I do not have the win/win key, I cannot be a part of it. So I rip a flower out of her hand, stick it into her eye, while she scratches my face. Now I am doing time for assault while she is in the hospital. This, again, is a miracle: mere existence of something good has caused catastrophic damage to both participants and to society.

A win/win person, having bought a flower, rushes to his wife, they have plans for the evening, and the flower appreciates in value. There is a process, future, life.

A lose/lose person has nowhere to go, especially after he has destroyed everything in sight. A lose/lose person exhibits inanimate characteristics: inability to have a life, luck of movement and desire to destroy.

We have our second key word: inanimate.

And yet, it is the lose/lose person that causes, to himself and others this, apparently desirable and soul-cleansing suffering, which was our first keyword. And here is what it means: an Orthodox Christian may see lose/lose behavior as moral and more natural to him, while he sees win/win behavior is somehow immoral and hard for him to adopt.

Obviously, the worlds created by win/win and lose/lose are very different, which means that they define economic terms in very different fashion. Here is and example.

Money in a win/win realm

Helps to achieve creative goals. Money can buy food, education, technology, health. In other words, money can make you work better, so that you earn more money. Money thus cannot be separated from such terms as time, growth, development - terms that have to do with life and control over one’s world.

Money in a lose/lose realm

Money must be strictly controlled, and, if possible, destroyed, as it can bring growth and development. He who owns the money should not be able to manage it as he can benefit from it. Especially dangerous is someone who wants to earn money, to increase its quantity. This behavior must be discouraged: it should be seen as self-defeating or dangerous. Whether its my money or not, there should be a direct association between money and dishonesty, money and fear. As everything else on the world, money should be a symbol of death.

This explains the Ukrainian miracle: no amount of money would make this country richer. Money is spent only to buy something unnecessary, ugly, fleeting, or actually harmful. Certainly no money is invested in productivity or into something that could be beneficial to others. Ugly mansions are being built everywhere, but there are no new hospitals.

An enterprise in a win/win realm

An enterprise is an entirely fluid and living thing. It is a combination of an idea, an opportunity, and human labor. This combination has a character: it wants to provide beneficial service to others, known as customers. It grows, develops, and uses money as means of achieving its goals and as a measure of its success. The money it has is to be used for creation; the money it gets was given to it gratefully, in recognition for the good service provided.

An enterprise in a lose/lose realm

An enterprise is something that was created by someone but now belongs to someone who simply had more power. The owner of enterprise is not the creator, but a mysterious entity, a strongman, and most of all, one who is unable to use this enterprise for purposes of creativity, production, and service. An enterprise is sort of a disease or a vice that you happen to have. An enterprise is a cadaver to be carved up, an asset to be hidden and buried. Such an enterprise is reduced to trying to intimidate others to gain an unfair advantage. It can bribe, it can be a monopoly, but not to introduce a new product. As a result, this enterprise does more harm than good to the economy at large, its product becomes archaic, and its customers are embarrassed and endangered -- they are being made to suffer.

I can go on with these contrasting definitions, but the point has been made: Ukraine has a strong tendency to choose the inanimate lose/lose option, an option that destroys economic life and creates suffering.

Factor #3: Ukraine’s adaptation to modernity in the 20th and the 21st century

WWI caused millions and millions of Russian casualties, and yet it looked as if Russia was losing the war. It became clear that God could no longer protect the Russians. So, some Russians started to look for the new God, and it was immediately found. Look, God created trees and animals, the sun and the stars. But people no longer saw any of that: instead of the sun, they saw the factory ceiling. Indeed, the Machine Tool created everything that they touched: shoes, newspapers, forks, whatever. The God of the Bible made everything unique, and therefore priceless, but the Machine Tool was a more efficient producer: it made things by the millions, and they were cheap and absolutely alike.

That was when a Workers Party made its appearance in the Russian Empire. Unconsciously, the members of this Party conducted themselves as if they were the priests of the Holy Machine Tool, and they did all they could to make humans resemple their Deity. That is, they saw humans as unanimous, faceless, worthless, and preferably inanimate. They killed millions outright, and then turned their attention to building tanks. A tank is an Industrial Age machine that completely hides humans inside and serves to turn humans into inanimate objects.

The Communist ideology won in Orthodox Christian countries because it combined inanimate characteristics dear to a lose/lose personality, suffering that requires and promotes lose/lose behavior and perverted illusion of modernity that took a form of worshiping the Industrial Age Machine Tool.

But the Industrial Age ideology cannot exist in the Information Age. As soon as the tank became vulnerable to smart bombs, the Soviet totalitarian state, a state of tank worship in more ways than one, simply melted away.

In its wake, the Communist state left people who are deeply suspicious of initiative and success, do not understand the concept of added value, and think that suffering is the best route to spiritual improvement. If Yushchenko were not poisoned, he actually could have lost the election.

In fact, Yanukovich’s strategy seemed perfect: he simply ordered, in the rudest possible way, that the cattle should vote for him. And then he discovered that Ukraine is actually populated by humans who look and act as Europeans. Of course, this was a tremendous moment.

And yet, it remains to be seen, to what extend will Ukrainians be able to get away from the idea that suffering is to be desired, to what extent they embrace the win/win, and whether or not citizens will demand their democratic rights. As of today, it does not appear that the government knows that adoption of win/win is the key to Ukraine’s success. That is why I remain very skeptical about the immediate future of Ukraine.


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