Members of my immediate family live in Russia, Ukraine, the US, Canada, South Africa, and Tanzania. Obviously, geographic globalization has been achieved. But the cultural globalization, the incorporation of historically accumulated knowledge specific to every particular country is slow to penetrate the “generic” culture of the world, which increasingly is America-centered.
Whatever is fashionable in America, no matter how exoteric, is soon accepted anywhere, but whatever America fails to pick up hardly seems to exist. Russia is in a latter category, and it’s a shame, as Russian cultural and historical experience has much to contribute to the world at large.
Here is an example to illustrate what I mean: Acupuncture can cure stomach ailments by sticking needles in one’s ear. Acupuncture talks about flows of energy and maintains that human body must be kept in balance. In America, to cure a stomach ailment they go straight at it with pills or with a knife, never mind the needles in the ear. This contradicts the traditional Chinese medicine, and as a result it does not occupy its rightful place in the world’s medical knowledge.
If what you are contradicts whatever is fashionable in America, the next question is why you exist at all. In the last forty years, this has been bad enough for those musicians who played anything but the electric guitar, but now, to impose its fashions everywhere, America is ready to use its military force. They are not making space for dombra and gusli players at the Guantanamo Bay yet, but if the current trend continues, one day they might. But do not hide your dombra yet, since today the term that sharply separates all humans into the guards and the inmates is not the dombra: it’s democracy.
Are you a democrat, baby?
Say, “Yes, yes, yes!”
Do not say, “Maybe”
Or else they lock you straight away
Obviously, the Key Question is so important I simply had to put it into some atrocious “song” lyrics, in “English”, of course, for otherwise it simply would not be heard or understood. Man, we no longer like talk, we just keep on rappin’. And we’ve been rappin’ a lot about “de-mo-cra-cy”, following the lead of our President, George W. Bush, the Historically-Impatient. The education our President has got appears to this observer as somewhat superficial, nor is he sufficiently culturally aware, but hey (did you like my “but hey”?), but hey, this is what makes him popular.
As America is now ready to use lethal force to impose “democracy” everywhere, it seems very worthwhile to make use of the last fifteen years of the Russian historical experience. There are two major lessons:
- A democracy cannot be imposed; it is something that a society must grow into. Those who got used to living under a lose/lose principle enjoying the benefits of unfair competition, exploitation, self-pity, etc., etc., would not easily give them up. Win/win is a magical discovery that gives us the taste of heaven, but it does take some getting used to.
- Democracy is not a political, but primarily an economic system, a system of genuinely free, envy-free, enterprise. When there are no barriers to entry, when people genuinely have an opportunity to succeed, when envy-based behavior is actively discouraged - then there will be people who succeed and have good things to say. These people will then provide for a forum in which to discuss things and come to a win/win solution. But if a country has 90% income tax, all its “democratic” institutions are a travesty, since honest business is impossible there and one cannot be wealthy and good at the same time.
America has had major influence on what has been going on in Russia for the last fifteen years, and overall, Russia is no better off than it was. The symptoms have all changed, but the overall state of the patient is as precarious as it has ever been. Russian shops are filled with sausage, but since the scientific establishments are as empty as the stores once were, the Ph.Ds are employed to unload the trucks. Fifteen years ago, millions of Russian youths were in the Communist League; now these same millions work in the sex industry. It did not have to be this way.
If we are out to impose the democracy on the world, we should start by knowing what it is. Then, having defined the democracy, we should try to build it in America, because “political correctness” and loud “entertainment”, of which American society consists, has nothing to do with democracy. America has got all the ingredients (just as in a supermarket) but that does not make for a tasty and healthy meal (which requires a cook with a good recipe and a sense of balance).
US assistance to newly emerging democracies should face up to the lessons of Russian transformation, and most are the lessons we should make sure we would never repeat. And of course, American assistance should not be wasted, stolen, or misused by unscrupulous US managers. Russia has seen several cases where such conduct was alleged, and there have been no convictions as yet.
And then, there is Russian history. If we are assisting a country, it means we make sure that the precious and unique lessons of its history are not forgotten, that the knowledge gained from this country’s mistakes or discoveries is never lost on the world. Recently, I have been reading with interest several reviews of Anne Applebaum’s best-selling book, Gulag. I am glad the book is out, as those who do not remember history are condemned to repeat it, and we certainly do not want any repeat of the Gulag, anywhere. In Russia in the 30-ies there were tens of thousands of people condemned under the most absurd charges, just to signal that the charges were political. Sergey Snegov, a well-known science fiction writer and a dear friend of my family, spent 19 years in the Gulag, having been convicted, in Odessa, of being a Japanese spy. As of the time of his trial, no Japanese has ever visited Odessa, and there was no way to communicate with Japan from Odessa. But the absurd charge shortened the trial and lengthened the term.
Here now is a passage from today’s American news:
According to a government statement that Faris signed, an al-Qaida leader instructed Faris to obtain “gas cutters,” probably acetylene torches, that would enable him to sever the cables on “a bridge in New York City” that officials said was the Brooklyn Bridge.”
As anyone who saw Brooklyn Bridge cables would tell you, the plot to sever the Brooklyn Bridge cables is as unlikely to succeed as just about anything you could think of. But will this blatantly absurd accusation shorten Mr. Faris’ trial and lengthen his term?
America would not succeed in “imposing” democracy on the world, and its success is even less likely if it moves, as it rapidly does right now, towards its own version of a totalitarian state.