Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Russian Rudeness and Russian History

The Russian people are known as being rude, violent and authoritarian. While I do not yet understand the historical origin of Russian rudeness, a case can be made that rudeness is actually more respectful and honorable than politeness. When you are rude, people know exactly where you stand; whereas when you are polite they are left guessing. I have heard it say by an American lady that sometimes nice people are worse than mean ones. And I have also known any number of salesmen and player types in both America and Australia who put on a nice and polite front while wooing a lady but turned into monsters when the woman was theirs.

In the Japanese culture – and in some parts of the America - it is considered wrongful to say, even to think, anything negative. This turns into absolute dishonesty. After the Fukashima disaster, the Japanese politicians following their customs did not tell people the reality of the gravity of what had taken place, and people lacked the knowledge that they needed to protect their lives and their health.

Some of the reasons for these attitudes are the Buddhist law of cause and effect and the Pagan law of attraction: That like begets like and that you get what you send out. A traditional Russian would look at people who believe such things and say, “What a bunch of airheads.” They in return would look back at him and say, “What a loser.”

Both of the above have a point. It may be valid to be a positive person; it is most certainly valid to see in people their positive qualities; but it is in no way valid to be either blind or insincere.

Where does the trademark Russian negativity come from? Probably the idea in Orthodox Christianity that the world is evil. That would of course create a negative outlook on life. It does not however necessarily translate into failure. Russians have had all sorts of disasters; they also put the first man in space, won the Second World War, produced brilliant inventions, created some of the world's greatest music and literature, and for several decades credibly rivalled America for leadership of the world.

Where rudeness fails is when it turns into an actual disrespect. This leads to closed-mindedness that keeps the person from seeing other people's positive qualities or learning the things that they need to know. One thing I've learned from American businessmen is that you never know when someone will have something useful to say or have something useful to offer, and unpleasantness can deter useful input and alienate potential friends. There are many Russian people who need to hear that and correct such behaviors, as they are hurting mostly themselves. But at no point do they need to go the way of the Japanese or the players or Southern belles and become actually insincere.

One place that does stand to benefit from a healthy dose of traditional Russian rudeness is the politically correct cultures in America. These places want to stop any speech that anyone can consider to be offensive. This prevents from being said anything controversial – meaning, anything meaningful. That vitiates the First Amendment as well as the democratic intent. Bad beliefs in a democracy are not meant to be censored; they are meant to be met with rational refutation.

As for the Russian violence and authoritarianism, this is due to Russian history. They have learned again and again that violence and authoritarianism pay. They had very nice cities at once, that were conquered by Mongols and subdued for 300 years. There was another situation when there were two competing Russian governments – the Tsar in Moscow and a democracy in Novgorod – and Moscow conquered Novgorod. Trotsky was far less brutal than Stalin, but Stalin rose to great power and Trotsky wound up getting shot. Under the Soviet rule, Russia became a superpower; but it was laid as low as dirt under the humanitarian Gorbachev and the democratic Yeltsin.

In a recent poll of Russian people, 30% said that they wanted democracy, 30% said that they wanted authoritarianism, and 30% said that they did not know. Their own historical lessons favor authoritarianism, but they also know about democracy in the West. This creates conflict between those who look at Russian traditional history and those who look to the West; and this conflict has been ongoing since 17th century.

One thing that make the former credible at this time has been the failure of the hopes of many. Many Russian people looked up to the West, but many now believe that West has betrayed them. This has created a very dangerous situation. It has reinforced the traditional authoritarian attitudes and discredited those who looked to the West. Putin remains highly popular, even despite the sanctions; and I am of the opinion that the sanctions are also working to reinforce these attitudes.

What we are dealing with here is a very volatile mix, and one that has all sorts of destructive potentials. We are seeing the better people being discredited, and we are seeing the worse people becoming more credible. Wrong lessons learned from history are being reinforced, and reinforced with them are also bad cultural habits. The West needs to reach out to Russia in the same way that Russian people reached out to the West. Only then will the better habits become more credible. And only then will wrong lessons that have been learned from history finally be unlearned.


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