I write what my heart feels and what my eyes see. I don’t want to sound like a scholar spitting out soundbites for retweets. I have left the academia for a reason: I am a peasant at heart. A peasant, an artist, same thing. I love to touch things with my hands, to experience them with the joy of a five-year-old, to feel awe and love, to use my brain for logical tasks while understanding its limitations when it comes to the things that matter the most. I despise slogans with the passion of a simpleton. I am a simpleton, a non-linear simpleton, that is who I am. I refuse to worship fiction. I refuse to worship thousands of years worth of experimental fiction that has only made us sadder.
RELATED: I am an Outsider: A Story of Freedom
Everything I am about to write here is based on my personal experience and observations: I am only an expert on the world that I see through my eyes. Everybody else is allowed and encouraged to form their own opinions.
I believe that our lives are driven by subjectivity and emotions despite the fact that the educated Western mind likes to jerk off about objectivity and the rule of law. Rule of law, blah blah blah… witness one court case, and you’ll see that it’s all wordplay and dancing around the lines drawn by the outcomes of wordplay that happened earlier. And who wrote those laws, a robot? (knock on the wood)
Speaking of subjectivity…
There is a lot of talk about precious individualism in the American culture. Based on my observations of a Soviet expat, it’s mostly spin, as American individualism is not for everybody. Individualism and self-expression are reserved for those who can presently afford a comfortable, dignified life style and who have credibility – and the amount of allotted individualism increases as the chair gets higher, and the wallet gets thicker. The more prominent you are, the more acceptable it is to attend to your health, to eat clean, to express your personality, and to protect the wholesomeness of your personal space from the generally indifferent and invasive surroundings.
In other words, individualism is not free, it costs money. If a janitor or an Amazon picker tries acting like Kanye and starts demanding personal freedoms, she’ll probably lose her job – and if she depends on that job to pay her bills or feed her kids, she effectively has the same amount of individualism as a Soviet factory worker.
Also, as I stare at people on the train wearing the same brands and staring at identical gadgets, individualism feels like a dream.
LOVELESS: COMMUNISM OR CAPITALISM, STILL A ROYAL F*CKING MESS
Systems don’t grow out of pure theory: they grow out of collective habits, with a fat smudge of individual ambition of the leader du jour. Both socialist and capitalist societies – at least the ones that I am personally familiar with – seem to have grown out of institutional Christian mentality, and out of the feeling of primordial sin: Nobody gets to have joy or dignity by default, joy needs to be earned. One may receive a bit of slack and unworked-for benevolence if one is fortunate enough to be surrounded by subjectively loving individuals – but on the systems level, tough f*cking luck, buddy. You get nothing for existing.
In the physical world, joy lives in nature and in the individual connection to life’s mystery. In the physical world, you are born into it. Joy comes from resonating together with those who love you. Individuals and entire communities draw from that mystery. One’s community is supposed to be a great source and supporter of joy, too – but for that, the community has to be relatively pure, genuinely loving, and spiritually sound. When the community is disconnected from the natural joy, it becomes a source of pressure, loveless judgement, fear, and punishment – a place where confused egos run amok – and it happens no matter what “ism” you attached to it.
Modes of punishment differ, however. Capitalism punishes you for not having a gift or a desire for war and commerce in your psyche – for whatever reason, a personal preference or total depletion – while socialism punishes you for wanting to be more or have more than your peers. Turn it this way or another, joy and dignity have to be earned by war or self-suppression or both, because we are born bad and can’t be trusted.
And therein lies the problem.
SAD SURROGATES OF DIGNITY
I believe that most battles that people fight are about restoring or protecting one’s dignity.
In a capitalist society where relative freedom of choosing what you do every day and what others can do to you, requires finances (with a disclaimer that the freedom of the ones in power is tainted, too), every energetic, vibrant, life-loving member of society has to strive to achieve wealth – so that she is able to carve out a little space for herself where she is less likely to be degraded. Degraded, mind you, not by God, but by fellow citizens who are all bumping into each other inside the walls of the same grinder. Having money and power allows the individual to build a little personal oasis where the general cruelty of society is felt less. Thus, money is a mechanism through which one protects oneself from destruction and psychological degradation.
I have noticed that people who have experienced poverty as kids in a capitalist society (and who were able to compare the humility of their status to the dignified wealth of others), are more likely to be hellbent on accumulating wealth than those who have experienced poverty in a place like the Soviet Union, where it didn’t translate to being humiliated or treated worse. It might be a coincidence but I have observed it several times: It seems like the cellular memory of being degraded for being poor in the land of the rich is a strong driver. A memory of hot tears running down one’s cheeks. “No f*cking way, never again.” And then one grows up and finds a way to protect oneself with money, and announces, “If you touch me, I will sue the hell out of you… I can afford it, too. Now fuck off.”
If one receives the humiliation but not enough love to push one through to the top, one ends up with helpless anger, and the desire to level the playing field by bringing everybody else to where they are not respected, either – so that own indignity doesn’t burn so badly.
I don’t think there is that much difference between the warrior at the top and warrior at the bottom, the difference is in the amount of love and healing one has received. I think if you open such people up (either kind, the militant warrior or the bleeding victim), they will cry for hours and hours on end. It’s the desire of unworked-for dignity, a desire that is completely valid spiritually, and completely ignored and abused by society that believes that we get no love simply for existing. That we have to force others to love us. It is a crime to teach children that.
Now, in a socialist community, there is another kind of grinder, the one I have personally experienced. There is no pressure to earn money – but there is a tremendous pressure to please your fellows, and a great discomfort associated with sticking out or shining too brightly. It’s the pressure of the community that tries to adjust everybody to the brokenness of its broken older members.
In both scenarios, the prospect of degradation comes not from nature, not from God – but from other people.
Again, in a capitalist organization, protection from the broken people is bought with money and force, and in a socialist one, it is bought with paying respect to peer pressure, good or bad. In either case, your spiritual freedom and your loyalty to yourself are likely to cost you, unless you are born with a personality that fits perfectly into the collective psyche of the day. An artist in a capitalist society has to twist herself and become a merchant. A merchant in a socialist society has to become a state official. ‘Doing your thing’ has no value unless you wrap it into a format that the society approves. And as long as the society runs on abuse, the wrapping process will resemble slavery, even if you are formally free.
And no, this sad situation is not a universal human condition, although it may be a universal condition of modern empires. In the traditional pre-Judeo-Christian and pre-Buddhist cultures that I am familiar with, people enjoyed a solid emotional support structure that communities maintained with fervor understanding that it’s a matter of everybody’s survival. Dedication to communal health was not intellectual or theoretical, it was rooted in respect for the spirit. Physical conditions might have been less comfortable than what we are used to today – but respect for the sanctity of each individual’s spirit, personality, and talents (all things that make us happy), was a part of the collective emotional fabric maintained religiously. Modern psychologists stole many ideas from the indigenous people, but forgot to include the foundation.
We all rebel against indignity. Poor people rebel against it, rich people rebel against it, it’s a normal reaction. It takes an incredibly wise and grounded leader to channel people’s anger and frustration into a cause that restores the foundation and does not steal the dignity from those whose only fault is still having it.
I fear that without wisdom, no “ism” and no restructuring can fix us. As long as we fight like fools, we will remain fools.
The biggest revolution is remembering one’s love. No one can force anybody to do it, but we can help each other.
DIGNITY VS ENTITLEMENT: NOT THE SAME THING
As seen through my eyes of an immigrant, the American nation is an entitled one. Everything is a hashtag, everything is exceptional. Accomplishments are described in superlatives, and hard times are described in superlatives. As long as you have the largest amount of something and enough stamina to package it for the masses even as your heart bleeds, you can make it into a commercial project.
There are moments when this entire Western civilization feels like an elaborate and beautiful pyramid scheme. Our hearts are what they are, eternal and outworldly even when we dance on the deck of the Titanic – but I miss the purity. I miss it so bad. I miss it.