Romantics and pragmatists: chapter 7 - the transposition of presidents. Part 3 (excerpt)


 
In the French anonymous committee’s treatise titled The Coming Insurrection in English, the authors discuss the backward-looking, sentimotional vision of non-immigrant Frenchmen and –women with their nostalgic view of the past. The same can be said about the majority in many Western countries with the exception of Germany and, to some extent, Russia. In America, very little unites both the far left and the far right, but both look back on the past through rose-colored glasses. Even much of the political center nurses a romanticized version of the past. America’s alleged prosperity, high standard of living and status as global superpower cull the desire to continue in the tradition of the past – “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

This mindset causes change to be slow or non-existent on the surface, while allowing the quiet introduction of reforms that ensure progress and social stability. In such backward-looking societies, leaders must cultivate links to the past and invoke the past in their speech to distract the public from actions that are contrary to their words. It is one of the many forms of distraction (sports, entertainment, food, etc.) that are resorted to for stability.

Countries with a less celebrated past, Germany in particular, are able to discuss reform and development openly. There is no need for a Janus-faced approach, as the electorate wants to continue to move further and further from the disgraceful past. In Russia, too, the upheavals in the early years of the Federation and the controversy surrounding the Soviet past allow the people to embrace a progressive vision more than their American counterparts, although perhaps to a lesser extent than the Germans. Nostalgia for a romanticized past is also widespread in contemporary Russia. When you compare the middle class in America to however we define the largest class in Russia, a number of similarities strike you: lack of eloquence/difficulty engaging in conversation over a longer period of time; short attention span; desire for entertainment.

These generalizations are indirectly affirmed in structural differences between Germany and Russia/America. A less objective empirical finding is the prevalence of loud music in bars and even restaurants in Russia and America, making it effectively impossible for more than two people to talk with each other and even requiring them to speak loudly (indirectly requiring stimulus). But the most obvious structural difference that attests to these cultural differences is the widespread existence of beer gardens in Germany and their nearly complete absence from Russia/America. In a Biergarten you are required to sit at a table outside (generally without music) and talk for a long time as your drink a large Krug of beer (nearly twice the size of standard beer bottles in America and Russia). This tradition has only prevailed because Germans love to sit around and discuss topics at length. For the sake of anecdotal comparison, a popular artsy restaurant (with music) around the corner from my apartment tried to show creative films on its large screen, but was evidently pressured to shift to sports, despite being located in a creative quarter of Brooklyn. In Russia there are almost always screens and music, much the way you find things in America. They are a symptom of the contemporary communication difficulties, short attention spans and desire for entertainment.

Governments with a desire to preserve social stability attempt to generate a steady stream of new news, i.e. distraction similar to entertainment, to feed the populace’s desire for new developments to talk about (e.g., Greece, refugees, financial crisis, etc.). Such dynamics preserve the status quo, ensuring brief uninformed debates on a superficial level each time an event occurs. While this agenda is presumably pursued by most countries’ governments and media, we must distinguish between countries that use an event to set up committees to introduce reform and those that simply allow the event to pass without any legislative or regulatory amendments. It should be said, however, that behind the scenes in every country, there are influential people trying to give their country an edge in global competition or place them in an advantageous position. In Russia, these actors are led by a president who attempts to motivate its representatives to act in a progressive manner that is agreed upon by a vast majority. In the US there is much less consensus, which the president must allow in his or her efforts to achieve certain results. Each system is constructed as a near mirror image of what its populace wants to see in terms of change. The divisions in the US lend the impression that very little is changing, which is exactly what a conservative country reminiscing about its past would like to think: we are not traveling too far from our roots, even if we can’t return to the glory days. In Russia, the combination of moderate reminiscing coupled with a widespread desire for improvement can also be found in its federal government that assumes a somewhat collective form (the ruling party United Russia has an overwhelming majority) not altogether unlike its Soviet predecessor, but its agenda steadily pursues reform, improvements in efficiency and modernization.

Text by Yuri Smirnov

Photos by Wisconsinart, B2e2n3i4, Luisa Vallon Fumi



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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