Romantics and Pragmatists: So!? (excerpt of chapter 3)



 
3
SO!?
  
In chapter three, it is assumed that all the bad things said about Russia are true and all the good things about America are true. The author accepts the narrative of Russia as hell and America as heaven, yet he not only says so what, but actually argues that it is better to live in hell.

*           *           *           *           *
 
The first time I fell in love was in high school. After being friends with a beautiful girl for a year or so, we began to date. The dramatic denouement, the day or night it began, almost certainly will be the happiest day of my entire life. However, when we went from being friends to having a romance, something inexplicable changed. Something I could not explain for many years. All of a sudden, what had been a perfectly fun, enjoyable friendship turned into an awkward relationship. Eventually, I figured out that I was and had been a typical person who liked the idea better than the reality. I bring up this story because of the problems anyone faces in the context of what is considered to be the best situation.
 
People who are not in the best (subjectively determined) situation have many disadvantages. Some of them are far worse or more challenging than the decadence of dissatisfaction in the ideal. One of these is not, however, the inability to dream or wish for something better.
 
Nowhere in America do we see the burden of the best more powerfully than in husbands and wives in marriages of many years. The problem they have is not just the inevitable boredom or routine of the relationship, but this situation coupled with the pursuit (of a state) of happiness and their personal choice, usually originating in a period of falling-in-love, to establish the bond. The married American couple faces the perpetual contradiction of self-determined boredom on the one hand and the need for happiness on the other. This incompatibility partially accounts for the high divorce rate, the dazed look on people’s faces because they are forced to do an excessive number of activities to “breathe life into their marriage,” the need for stimulus, the need for children, the ideology surrounding the family and ultimately the dissatisfaction of mid/late-life and the mid-life crisis.
 
How?

One way of bringing an end to this contradictory state is to simply eliminate the boredom by divorce and starting the pursuit of happiness all over again. Those who choose to stick it out with their existing partner may attempt to evade their tedious life by packing it full of activities, leaving them too exhausted to think about their sorry spiritual state. This may distract them and provide a continual source of new small talk, but it exhausts and partially accounts for the dazed look on their faces when they aren’t stimulated.
 
Another option is to ascribe to the American ideology of the perfect family. Do not question or analyze the state, but constantly repeat the doctrine and observe it like the bible.
 
All of these solutions are perfectly good, but the actors tend to see through their efforts and ultimately suffer a mid/late-life crisis that is unknown in parts of the world where marriage does not originate under these general conditions (of pursuing happiness and self-determination). This should be viewed as a metaphor for the dilemma facing Americans in the “best” country: they are bored or unhappy, expect more/better, but can’t live anywhere better. This gives rise to many of the same attempts to evade awareness or distract oneself that we see in married couples: change, activity, stimulus, ideology, etc.
 
Two things are completely different in Russia: few people think Russia is the greatest place to live (although most love Russia) and expectations are much lower, from the start. Despite loving our country, it has been messed up by politicians, oligarchs, traitors and bureaucrats. Russian men and women are the best; Russian arts, literature, science, etc. rank among the most exceptional in the world, but our disinterest in material wealth in order to nurture the human spirit (see chapter 8) causes commercial interests to exploit our weaknesses and sow material chaos from time to time. The recurring material  trouble in Russia is the cause of our inability to believe that our country is the best.
 
As discussed in chapter 1, one of America’s greatest achievements is its ability to forget about the spiritual side and only concentrate on the material. I am not going to repeat what I said in chapter 1, but another side of this is the ability to blind yourself to something. It takes a certain skill. It also probably contributes to Americans ability to absolutely support their country. We Russians, however, pay attention not only to the spiritual and material, but also to the negative aspects of our country.
One of the greatest advantages of living in a country of questioning or doubt, is that everyone is welcome in the debate about the future: analysts, critics, supporters, skeptics, even dissidents. Nobody is excluded. A country that excels in this even more than Russia is Germany.  There an active part of projects or legislation involves the inclusion of supports and detractors. 
Another aspect that we enjoy in this imperfect state is the eschatological thought that the next stage will be better. In his analysis of Dostoevsky and Heidegger’s eschatological worldviews,  Horst-Jürgen Gerigk argues that the six volumes of Crime and Punishment are Raskolnikov’s reflection on the past prior to prison for murder, a previous existence that took place in the “not yet” that he has now finally reached. (Gerigk in XXI век глазамы Достоевского 87-8; 91) It is this “not yet” that the romantic never wants  to lose. Gerigk compares Dostoevsky’s vision with Heidegger’s. In Heidegger’s philosophy, he views the poetic in contrast to the calculating reason resulting from technology. Art, however, makes use of technology and thus cannot extract itself from the latter. However, this connection took place in history for Heidegger and the thinker reflecting on it posits a hypothetical future, thus living in the present between the past and the future. (See Gerigk 96-6) This is the romantic.



Text by Yuri Smirnov
Photos by Koen Douterloigne (1-7, 10) and Lea Winkler (8, 9)
February 2016







Further reading


Smirnov, Yuri. Romantics and Pragmatists: Chapter 3 - Part 3 - So?! (excerpt). November 2016
Smirnov, Yuri. Romantics and Pragmatists: Chapter 3 - Part 2 - So?! (excerpt). November 2016.
Smirnov, Yuri. Romantics and Pragmatists: Chapter 3 - Part 1 - So?! (excerpt). February 2016.
Smirnov, Yuri. Romantics and Pragmatists: Chapter 7 - Part 6 - The transposition of presidents (excerpt). September 2016.
Smirnov, Yuri. Romantics and Pragmatists: Chapter 7 - Part 5 - The transposition of presidents (excerpt). August 2016.
Smirnov, Yuri. Romantics and Pragmatists: Chapter 7 - Part 4 - The transposition of presidents (excerpt). July 2016.
Smirnov. Yuri. Romantics and Pragmatists: Chapter 7 - Part 3 - The transposition of presidents (excerpt). July 2016.
Smirnov, Yuri. Romantics and Pragmatists: Chapter 7 - Part 2 - The transposition of presidents. Part 2 (excerpt). July 2016.
Smirnov, Yuri. Romantics and Pragmatists: Chapter 7 - the transposition of presidents. Part 1 (excerpt). June 2016.
Smirnov, Yuri. Romantics and Pragmatists: Chapter 8 - the exalted place Russian can occupy in the future world order. Part 4. April 2016.
Smirnov, Yuri. Romantics and Pragmatists: The exalted place that Russia can occupy in the future world order. Part 3. March 2016.
Smirnov, Yuri. Romantics and Pragmatists: What does life look like with just food and shelter (part two)? February 2016.
Smirnov. Yuri. Romantics and Pragmatists: What does life look like with just food and shelter? (excerpt). January 2016.
Smirnov, Yuri. Romantics and Pragmatists: What happens when you do not sacrifice the mind to the body Excerpt. November 2015.
Smirnov, Yuri. Romantics and Pragmatists. Feb. 2015.
Smirnov, Yuri. Romantics and Pragmatists: Chapter 1 - What Do You Have That We Don't? (excerpt). Mar. 2015.
Smirnov, Yuri. Romantics and Pragmatists: Chapter 6 - Are We Really That Different? - Security (excerpt). Mar. 2015.
Smirnov, Yuri: Romantics and Pragmatists: Chapter 2 - What's The Point of Living? (excerpt) Apr. 2015.
Smirnov, Yuri. Romantics and Pragmatists: Chapter 1 - What Do you Have That We Don't (excerpt)? May 2015.
Smirnov, Yuri. Romantics and Pragmatists - The issue of balance. June 2015.
Smirnov, Yuri. Romantics and Pragmatists - Chapter 2 - What's the point of living (excerpt). June 2015.
Smirnov, Yuri. Romantics and Pragmatists - Chapter 5 - What if America is the best? (excerpt). July 2015.
Smirnov, Yuri. Romantics and Pragmatists - Chapter 8 - The exalted place Russia can occupy in the future world order (excerpt). August 2015.
Smirnov, Yuri. Romantics and Pragmatists - Chapter 8 - The exalted place Russia can occupy in the future world order (excerpt). August 2015.
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