Philosophy Hour: Russian Exceptionalism vs. American Exceptionalism
Where do they come from?
For a long time, I’ve been thinking about a palpable psychological “ground level” difference between the cultures of my two homelands—the Russian and the American cultures.
First of all, the two have lots of features in common. For example, both cultures feature “ambitious geopolitical thinking in mere peasants,” which is seemingly different from the collective mindset of the people coming from less “influential” countries. What I mean by that is people on the ground bond emotionally to the foreign policies of their empire and discuss geopolitics amongst each other as if their “good” leaders love them. (It is kind of like when two sincere peasants, having studied the latest issue of “Pravda” after a hard day, argue with each other with passion about the geopolitical benefits or disadvantages of “our” invasion, which is not really an invasion because it’s a fair invasion, etc.—and I am not even talking specifically about anything current, I am talking about the mindset and the gap between the emperor’s goals and the peasant's illusions.)
But despite the fact that both cultures share “ambitious geopolitical thinking,” the difference in “exceptionalism” is striking! And I’d like to share my observations, with a disclaimer that this is all subjective, and the world is complex, and I am using generalizations, etc.
…welcome to my TED talk! :)
Russian exceptionalism vs. American exceptionalism: very different
It’s been my observation that whenever we stumble upon a group of people who collectively feel that they are more special than others, somewhere near there is a politician, hiding in the bushes and shamelessly scamming. It could be a religious politician or a political politician—but most certainly, a politician, and most certainly, scamming.
Keeping that in mind, to my senses, American exceptionalism is about having the tallest pile of money—and Russian exceptionalism is about being “broke and drunk and thus spiritually superior.” American exceptionalism is about being a successful, respected, confident, and possibly rapey winner. Russian exceptionalism is about being so repelled by the ignoble, cheesy snake pit of exhausting hustling that one proudly chooses to be poor and pure, while none the less envying those who are rich and dishonest.
And to my senses, beautiful people in both of my homelands have been broken—but with different talking points, designed for different purposes of those in power. (To be clear, in this story, when I talk about the American culture, I am talking about the mainstream culture that was set in motion on this continent by the Europeans, not the culture of the original people of this land.)
Interlude: the spirit of domination
The root of the breakage is what Steven Newcomb calls the System of Domination. It’s that mindset, that algorithmic scarcity-based social arrangement that human beings decided to collectively engage with a some thousands of years ago, after millions of years of trusting their relationship with nature and with the spirits and feeling no need for anxious hoarding. Any speculation about what caused the initial shift from the original “old normal” to the very experimental phase of history we are in right now (weird but true) is a speculation. It is very hard to determine.
Maybe it was boredom, the urge to go for an adventure and “try something different” without realizing that the uneventful feeling of having all bases covered was not a bad thing, and should be appreciated. Maybe it was corruption, a feature of the mind that human beings are prone to, especially when out of balance. Or perhaps it’s just that the human species collectively entered our “teenage years,” and we are learning about the cost of being delusional the hard way.
It could even be even as crazy as that—bear with me for a second—some important ancient leader fell prey a tiny predator with a destructive psychological profile (see “Risky business”), went crazy, and started trouble—and then one thing led to another, people made various choices at each junction, and we are here now.
And at each turning point, during each “great reset,” people complied due to pressures and confusion. And perhaps, if they knew what their compliance would mean for the future generations, they would have been less compliant. But they didn’t—and so we are here. And today, we are the people making choices.
American and Russian “community values”
And so, both of my homelands have been visibly traumatized by the relationship with the spirit of domination. Both have strong preconceptions about winning, losing, and being special. Both expect behavior that’s compliant with the predominant pattern—and punish trespassers—but the patterns and the manner of dealing with domination are very different.
In the culture of my birth homeland—although it is being quickly Americanized at the moment—being overly commercial is considered bad manners, while at the same time, there is strong financial envy. People can be either “poor and normal” or “criminal and wealthy.”
On the one hand, in Russia, art, philosophy, and spiritual explorations are respected a lot more than here, which is pleasant people don’t look down on you because you are a poet.
On the other hand, there is this thing where you can be a snobbish, well-read but emotionally abysmal little wanker who, in his 30s, doesn’t even try to make any sustenance money, depends on his overworked mother for food and shelter, and with that, feels very proud. He is proud that he is not even trying to earn an income because “all money is dirty, and so he won’t bother”—but at the same time, he is eating daily, buying books using his overworked mom’s money, and expecting others to carry the depleting burden of making a living under domination.
In the culture of my adopted homeland, as seen through my immigrant eyes—although it is being quickly Sovietized at the moment—it is important to be “successful,” to have the last word in each conversation, to make the most money, and to replace spiritually vibrant relationships that require soul investment with dry financial transactions. It is considered important to stomp out inconvenient vulnerable emotions and to replace them with products so as not to emotionally depend on other people.
Like I said, both cultures are broken by the need to deal with the spirit of domination on a daily basis—but they are differently broken.
Marketing: the glorious but temporary “special people” designation
Top emperors throughout history, the Darwinist super rapists, can’t rape successfully on their own, they need not just a loyal upper management class, they also need supporters and an army. So they condition a group of people they need as supporters to believe that they are special, as opposed to “those non-special ones over there, with dangerous features”—whom they want to rob and murder with the help of their “special” supporters.
And because the self-perception of human beings is strongly impacted by how others treat them, it seems like we are looking at the difference between two metaphorical children—one told by the (broken and exhausted) parents that he amounts to nothing, and the other one told by the (broken and sociopathic) parents that he has a rape license from birth because he is special. Both children are victims of horrible upbringing!
In Russia, the people have been dealing with openly abusive and violent leaders who’ve been raping them systematically and without mercy for generations (and so, retreating into a philosophical bubble or falling on the bottle became a way of hiding from the indignity of the situation) On the other hand, the people shaping the mainstream American culture have been told that they were special. I very much doubt that the predators telling them they were special actually thought they were special (after all, we only enjoyed a few decades of high living standards on a large scale in western countries, and the aspiring masters are seemingly trying to end that movie). But they needed supporters—and so they recruited supporters.
And because the “special” designation is usually based on a specific geopolitical purpose (and not the real respect), the designation expires as soon as the help of the “special ones” is no longer needed—after which they are sent to the pile of “those other people with dangerous features,” and the end of their reign becomes the dawn of the next “special designation.” (See 2020.)
So it seems to me that we’ve been stuck in a game of musical chairs—mostly due to compartmentalization of thinking and the habit of living under domination—and it order to break the cycle, we have to … well, break it. (How do you like my TED talk?)
Jokes aside, it may take us a very long time to collectively break it but in order to get there at some point, we need to start walking now! And a good place to start is recognizing that everyone is special and needed, has a direct relationship with the spirit that is intimate and sacred, and that we most certainly don’t need to get at each other’s throats over whose God has the final answer. That is what started this dubious roller coaster ride in the first place.
Going too far
“Extremism” is a foundational human habit, and by that I mean taking our genuine gifts and useful personality features and expressing them in an exaggerated manner.
When that happens—and it happens often—the ugly potential of beautiful things comes to the forefront. In the world of extremism, people with extra kindness turn into suffering doormats, fierce warriors transform into rapists, gifted merchants become money zombies, etc. etc. And in each case, the original gift has a beautiful, spiritually useful purpose… it’s the unbalanced implementation of the gift that makes the world so messy, not the gift itself, which was meant to be useful for good things.
I believe that, despite the gravity of the situation, “what now” is not very different from “what always.” True, we are dealing with rulers who are as crazy as ever but with more technology in their pockets. True, we are facing things like geoengineereing on a planetary scale, EMF pollution, IoT, smart dust, smart oceans, covert genetic modification, and other expressions of a very clumsy and mentally damaged elephant dancing in a china shop. Even so, we are here, and we have the power to start walking.
I believe that we, human beings, come to this world with both spiritual and worldly goals, and that we are expected to pursue them in balance. Earth is a generous mother, not a place of exile—and body is a way to enjoy and learn, not a prison! Our life here is about experiencing free will, creating, and being grateful! And really, this world, when it’s healthy and balanced, is filled with all sorts of good things for the people (from yummy foods to doing what we love and communing with others to enjoying the sunshine)!
We are not intended to be crawling like slaves or fighting with each other under domination, we are intended to be enjoying life as free people. And we’ll get there sooner or later.
This is all … I don’t know … it’s complicated and lofty. But then on the other hand, is there any other way out?
(Thank you for your support, I surely depend on it)
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"it’s the unbalanced implementation of the gift that makes the world so messy, not the gift itself." love that. maria montessori would agree
Beautifully written, Tessa, and very intriguing. I've been studying A Course in Miracles for a couple decades and it agrees with you that the quest for 'specialness' is the root of all dysfunction, preventing the recognition that we're One. I wonder, however, if Russia is entering a new era with the BRIICS-BRI cooperation and Putin's domestic policies of supporting local production and small businesses while telling the oligarchs they should "think about their legacy. While money and assets will lead their heirs to drink, a good name will be something they can be proud of."