Staunton, February 12 – For Russians, Argentina is an instructive case of a country whose national culture promoted progress at one point and then whose dictatorial regime drove its national culture in another and more negative direction, according to Yezhednevny zhurnal commentator Petr Filippov.
At the beginning of the 20th century, he writes today, the standard of living in Argentina was at roughly same level as that of the United States. But then with the rise of the Perron dictatorship, its pursuit of military success and its repression against its own people, all that changed and Argentina fell behind (ej.ru/?a=note&id=32117).
“We Russians” have undergone a similar trajectory, Filippov suggests. After some progress in the late imperial period, we “experienced the Stalinist terror and took part in aggression against the Baltic countries and Finland. [And] today the authorities are depriving us of the freedom to assemble in meetings and to speak against arbitrariness … and corruption.”
Argentinian journalist Marino Grondona has shown, the Moscow writer says, “that it was precisely the culture of the people and its mentality that became the cause of the impoverishment of Argentina.” Others have drawn the same conclusion for that country and for others as well, Filippov writes.
According to Grondona, societies “oriented toward progress” display cultural features which include respect for and trust in the individual and thus allow for “the decentralization of power and trust in honorably earned wealth.” They do not have extreme income differentiation, and corruption and embezzlement aren’t tolerated.
“But there are peoples,” he continues, “whose cultures stand in the way of progress.” People don’t respect one another and suspect anyone they don’t know of having bad intentions. “There everywhere are guards and in apartments, iron doors. Citizens are certain that it is possible to believe only their own.”
“Such cultures,” the Argentinian writer says, “give rise to authoritarian power not only in the state but also in companies.” And Russia is one of them. As its sociologists have pointed out, “Russians also prefer an authoritarian style of administration in business: the director gives the order and our duty is to fulfill it.”
“The majority of residents of the Russian Federation,” Filippov continues, “view a military organization of power as the best. In such a culture, sooner or later repressions against dissidents and the opposition always begin. If they criticize our power, they are enemies;” and such attitudes allow the rich to acquire enormous wealth.
“In a society directed toward progress,” he says, “morality is based on responsible egoism and mutual respect. An individual must seek a worthy life for himself and his or her family.” Those who are most respected meet their obligations and overcome difficulties. They “do not hope for state assistance or happiness in an imaginary world after death.”
However, “in cultures opposed to progress, people seek salvation from misfortune in a flight from risks and problems. They go into monasteries or like shahids, they blow themselves up hoping for happiness in another world.” More than that, they remain deeply suspicious of those who display entrepreneurial talent and a love for work.
“In a progressive society, the goal of the individual involves seeking self-perfection and the respect of those around him or her … But in cultures opposed to progress, there is no such clearly expressed striving to a worthy life. Instead, there is laziness, passivity and inaction,” and such distinctions make all the difference.
According to Filippov, “the chief distinction of these cultures is respect for law,” with those disposed to progress viewing it as something that must be obeyed and those opposed to it viewing it as something that those in power use to their benefit and that others do as well to the extent they can.
Grodona provides a typology of the two cultures, with the first element below characteristic of progressive ones and the second that of those opposed to culture:
· “Religion justifies success in culture and life. It justifies hard work” vs. “Religion justifies suffering, promises happiness in the afterlife, forgives sins, and pushes them to new ones.”
· “Wealth is the result of initiative and work. The wealth of the people grows as a result of work and entrepreneurialism” vs. “Wealth is a limited resource like land. The main thing is to take as much for oneself as one can regardless of means.”
· “Competition is the driver of progress” vs. “Competition is a form of aggression which threatens the unity of the nation.”
· “Justice in the economy requires savings and investment for the good of future generations” vs. “Justice in the economy is to give everyone an equal amount so that they can eat, drink and spend already today.”
· “Work is a moral duty, a form of self-expression and self-satisfaction” vs. “Work is a burden, an unavoidable evil, and the individual finds satisfaction outside of work over a glass of vodka.”
· “Differences of opinion are very important for the search for truth and the improvement of society” vs. “A dissident is a criminal, a foreign agent, an enemy of our stability.”
· “Education is a condition for the creativity of the individual” vs. Education is needed to impose the correct views in order to believe more in Allah or in Chris.”
· “Pragmatism, rationalism, empiricism, and utilitarianism are the main values of society” vs. “The main values are our traditions and my good fortune.”
· “People should focus on the future because they can influence it!” vs. “The thoughts of people should focus on the past – in the future, everything is unclear and unknown.”
· “The world is the place for actions” vs. “The world is run by forces beyond out control and thus a source of fear.”
· “Life is what I do in order to achieve” vs. “Life goes along its own course regardless of my own will.”
· “Optimism is the norm of society: it is even our duty” vs. “Our goal is to survive; pessimism for us is natural.”
Any Russian who is honest, Filippov suggests, will recognize that Russian culture is “against progress.” Of course, culture can be changed as Singapore, China and the former East Germany have shown. But that is almost impossible if those in power see the source of their power resting in the opposition to progress.
For selfish reasons, he says, the Rusisan authorities “do everything they can to support and preserve the medieval” and anti-progress “traditions of the people. And out of this arises ‘the authoritarian track’ along which we have been moving for centuries.”