How the Russian soul can save the American Empire
Due to its unshakeable commitment to materialism and individualism, Americans now find themselves passengers on a spiritual shipwreck that perhaps only the Russian soul can salvage.
Today, the challenges now confronting the United States – from protracted wars in foreign lands, to local wars on the home front – seem lethal enough to sink the ship of the American superpower. Yet people around the world are not ready to give up hope on Uncle Sam just yet.
“America makes prodigious mistakes, America has colossal faults, but one thing cannot be denied: America is always on the move,” commented the American writer, E.E. Cummins. “She may be going to Hell, of course, but at least she isn’t standing still.”
The problem with America (potentially) “going to Hell” is that this earth-straddling superpower carries enough economic, political and social baggage to drag the rest of humanity to Dante’s depths with it. That was adequately proven during the latest economic meltdown, sparked by flawed US financial products, overspent consumers and pure greed. Even the ensuing rescue package was gift-wrapped by US-backed international lenders of last resort and overnight-expressed to their favorite “too-big-to-fail” friends.
Despite escaping from the financial jaws of death before the final buzzer, we already know from past experience that superpowers are not impervious to sudden death.
“There comes a moment when complex systems ‘go critical’,” historian Niall Ferguson wrote in the March/April issue of Foreign Affairs. “A very small trigger can set off a ‘phase transition’ from a benign equilibrium to a crisis – a single grain of sand causes a whole pile to collapse, or a butterfly flaps its wings in the Amazon and brings about a hurricane in southeastern England.”
One day – maybe in 5 years, maybe in 500 – the United States too will be forced to give up the ghost of global preeminence. But perhaps there is a way to not only extend America’s lease on life a bit longer, but also to help it become more of a benevolent superpower. This may be accomplished by borrowing a few tricks from Russia, a nation well-known for its gutsy survival instincts and resourcefulness.
First we should step back and consider the moral and physical condition of the United States. After all, empires usually collapse not from financial crisis, or greedy bankers, but from internal decay brought about by a precipitous decline in morals and civility. In other words, America has much more to fear from a moral meltdown than any existential threat from abroad.
Pass the Prozac, we’re feeling edgy
Since the advent of the Industrial Revolution, and despite its Puritan beginnings, America continues to pin its hope for eternal happiness and wellbeing on material progress. The endless inventions and gadgets provided courtesy of the church of science have turned a God-fearing people into tinkering gods themselves, capable of casting their own miracles and charting their own destinies.
To quote Nietzsche: “God is dead.”
“We turned our backs upon the Spirit and embraced all that is material with excessive and unwarranted zeal,” commented Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn during his oft-quoted Harvard Address (June 1978). “Everything beyond physical well-being and accumulation of material goods, all other human requirements and characteristics of a subtler and higher nature, were left outside the area of attention of state and social systems, as if human life did not have any superior sense.”
When an entire nation is radically conditioned to believe that an individual’s inherent value is based purely on material success, then a person’s inner sense of purpose and self-identity will collapse when the rickety scaffolding is suddenly removed.
Due to this inner emptiness, any sort of personal tragedy – the simple loss of a job, for example, or a failed marriage – is enough to push stressed-out Americans right over the edge.
At this point, desperation finds its way into the driver’s seat, with a handgun or two in the glove compartment.
Here are a few of the fatal statistics for just one week this month: On June 15, Thomas Mortimer, 43, killed his wife and his two children, Thomas, 4 and Charlotte, 2, as well as his mother-in-law in an affluent neighborhood outside of Boston. The victims were found in their home lying in pools of blood with their throats slashed.
On the other side of the country (June 20), a man carrying two guns walked into a California fast food restaurant and shot four people who were eating lunch together – killing two – including an 8-year-old boy – before turning the weapon ten minutes too late on himself.
Finally, a 16-year-old boy indiscriminately stabbed to death Kirill Attuso, 8, who got momentarily separated from his family while riding his bicycle in St. Francisville, Louisiana.
And these are just the most sensational murders from one week in June; hundreds of other daily assaults and homicides have become such regular occurrences that they no longer incite outrage, just a stunned “I-can’t-believe-that-could-happen-here” sort of disbelief.
So what is the cause of this daily hemorrhaging of America’s vital lifeline? Is there something inherently flawed with free-market capitalism, the American psyche or our lifestyles that is causing Americans to commit the most heinous crimes against strangers and loved ones alike? How long can this worst form of terrorism – far worse than anything that Osama bin Laden has delivered to date – continue? Whatever the case may be, the dramatic upsurge in the use of antidepressant medication suggests that America’s general state of mind is under some heavy stress.
According to a report in the issue of Archives of General Psychiatry (August, 2009), antidepressant use in the United States doubled from 1996 to 2005. During that feel-good decade – the last period that data was made available – the percentage of Americans using such medication jumped from less than six percent to more than ten percent, or more than 27 million individuals.
It is certainly no small irony that the “pursuit of happiness” in a free-market economy seems to be largely dependent upon the beneficence of the pharmaceutical industry.
As “more and more Americans are reporting symptoms of major depression,” Time magazine reported (Antidepressants in America, Aug. 5, 2009) they are increasingly turning to prescription drugs for a cure. And the medical community has still not decided for certain if such medication is safe.
“Problems that were once solved partly through hours of introspection on a shrink's couch are now considered curable with a simple pill,” the article continued. “It's up to us to determine whether this represents a step forward or back.”
But perhaps the cause of the general malaise goes back much further, all the way back to childhood, which is nothing if not saturated with a constant TV blitz of violence, crude behavior and unrestrained commercialism. Today, children and adolescents, who have not completed their maturation process, are being exposed to a level of entertainment that is starkly different from what Walt Disney was delivering into our living rooms just a quarter of a century ago when we were the beneficiaries of the so-called “golden age of television.”
The so-called ‘good ol' days’ are over.
Super Bowls and Circuses
Although a particular cultural influence cannot be criticized solely on the grounds of being radical and different, it can and should be criticized if it is potentially dangerous to the viewing audience, especially if the viewing audience is largely made up of children.
The Swiss developmental biologist Jean Piaget (1896-1980), who spent a lifetime analyzing the effects of culture on the mental development of children, declared that “only education is capable of saving our societies from possible collapse, whether violent, or gradual.”
Unfortunately, however, the greatest educator in America today is the TV, and it has proven itself to be completely unqualified for the task.
Children entertainment, which has featured wonderful titles like “Sponge Bob Square Pants” and “Ren and Stimpy,” are so bizarre, so borderline psychotic, so totally unhinged from any sense of reality that they should be forced to carry warning labels from the Surgeon General’s office just like any pack of cigarettes. But since this visual product potentially destroys the mind as opposed to just the lungs, it is the far greater risk, scientists like Piaget warn.
Since most people already understand the powerful connection between sound external influences and the maturation of our children, how is it that we now permit the basest form of entertainment to “educate” our kids at the most sensitive and impressionable period of their lives?
Actually, the so-called artists who manufacture these daily doses of hazardous waste, with characters so ridiculous they practically defy serious criticism, seem to be aiming their poisonous product more at adults than children. But don’t take my word for it. Take a moment and watch one episode of these freak shows and then ask yourself if such programming is really geared toward the development of a child’s impressionable mind.
Life imitating art?
Following America’s deadliest shooting massacre in its history [on April 16, 2007, Seung-Hui Cho, 23, killed 32 people and wounded dozens more on the campus of Virginia Tech before committing suicide], Mike White, a screenwriter, provided a candid commentary on how violence in the film industry is affecting America’s youth.
“The notion that ‘movies don’t kill people, lunatics kill people’ is liberating to us screenwriters because it permits us to give life to our most demented fantasies and put them up on the big screen without any anxious hand-wringing,” White wrote in the International Herald Tribune (“Making a killing,” May 3, 2007). “Most of us who chose careers in this field were seduced by cinema’s spell at an early age. We know better than anyone the power films have to capture our imaginations, shape our thinking and inform our choices. At the risk of being labeled a scold – the ultimate in uncool – I have to ask: before cashing those big checks, shouldn’t we at least pause to consider what we are saying with our movies about the value of life and the pleasures of mayhem?”
Solzhenitsyn, from a slightly different angle, alluded to the “decadence of art” during his Harvard talk as one of the warnings of a society teetering on the abyss: “There are meaningful warnings that history gives a threatened or perishing society. Such are, for example, the decadence of art, or a lack of great statesmen.”
The Russian dissident, who was every bit as critical of his Soviet homeland as he was of his US host, then warned about the dangers associated with “irresponsible freedoms” that allow such decadent and dangerous productions to rear their ugly heads in the name of “liberalism” and the “freedom of expression.”
“Destructive and irresponsible freedoms has been granted boundless space,” he continued. “Society appears to have little defense against the abyss of human decadence, such as, for example, misuse of liberty for moral violence against young people, motion pictures full of pornography, crime and horror. It is considered to be part of freedom and theoretically counter-balanced by the young people’s right not to look or not to accept [the damaged product].”
Despite the endless opportunities that television has as an educational tool, statistics indicate that much of what is broadcast these days is disturbing and even destructive. Indeed, mass entertainment seems to be forever in search of the lowest common denominator and is largely responsible for “dumbing down” sections of the viewing public to unspeakable levels. The numbers speak for themselves.
“The average child will watch 8,000 murders on TV before finishing elementary school,” according to Norman Herr, Professor of Science Education at California State University. “By age 18, the average American has seen 200,000 acts of violence on TV, including 40,000 murders.”
Dr. John Nelson of the American Medical Association said that if 2,888 out of 3,000 studies show that TV violence is a casual factor in real-life mayhem, “it's a public health problem.”
The American Psychiatric Association addressed this problem, stating, “We have had a long-standing concern with the impact of television on behavior, especially among children.”
And then there are the advertisements, which, in an effort to keep the viewer from running to the refrigerator during commercial breaks, have become a form of entertainment unto themselves. The average American child watches four hours of television every day, which translates into about 20,000 30-second commercial clips per year.
Can an excess of mindless entertainment actually undermine a nation as big and powerful as the United States. Thomas Jefferson, America’s third president and one of the most influential Founding Fathers, seemed to think so.
"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization,” Jefferson wrote in a letter to Charles Yancey in 1816, “it expects what never was and never will be."
In an age when nuclear missiles can be launched by the simple push of a button, should we not be taking extra precautions to nurture mentally healthy children? For the sake of future generations, the answer seems obvious.
A super diet for a super power
America’s obsession with the two-dimensional, virtual world of television is also connected with perhaps the greatest threat to the long-term health of the American empire: the battle of the bulge. Is the problem large enough to bring down the American Empire? Maybe.
According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over the past 20 years there has been a dramatic surge in obesity rates across the United States. In 1985, America was more or less physically fit, with most states registering obesity rates less than 10% of the population.
By 2008, just one state (Colorado) registered an obesity rate of less than 20 percent of the population. Meanwhile, thirty-two states weighed in at equal to or greater than 25%; six of these states (Alabama, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia) tipped the scales with obesity rates equal to or greater than 30%.
Studies show that approximately 60 million American adults are classified as being obese, with another 127 million being overweight.
A simple trip along Main Street, USA, quickly betrays the source of the problem: a host of fast food restaurants available at practically every street corner, not to mention omnipresent vending machines serving up every greasy snack under the sun. The temptations are so omnipresent that a person must make a conscious effort to stay fit by either joining a fitness club, or signing up to the latest diet craze. One academic argues, however, that the easiest way to beat the bulge is to simply switch off the television set.
According to William H. Deitz, pediatrician and prominent obesity researcher at Tufts University School of Medicine, “The easiest way to reduce inactivity is to turn off the television set. Almost anything else uses more energy than watching TV.”
According to an American Journal of Public Health study, an adult who watches three hours of TV a day is far more likely to be obese than an adult who watches less than one hour.
But what are the choices? We’ve already sacrificed the time-proven right to cultivate our own food, not to mention picking the right mushroom or wild berry in the forest without poisoning ourselves in the process. According to one study, less than five percent of the population could survive a fortnight in the lonely wilderness without a stocked refrigerator in tow.
Indeed, most of us have forgotten the painful lesson our grandparents were forced to learn about the importance of having a so-called “root cellar” in their homes just in case another economic catastrophe on the scale of a Great Depression makes landfall again and food suddenly becomes scarce.
This is yet another case where a perceived freedom – to shop at will at any number of brand-name outlets – has actually transformed into oppressive chains: we have become nearly 100% dependent on the corporations and agribusiness industry to provide for our daily sustenance. But if Corporate America ever decides (or simply suffers a colossal crisis) to turn off the lights and lock the doors, a lot of Americans will be in for a rude awakening.
America's television addiction
I. FAMILY LIFE
Percentage of households that possess at least one television: 99
Number of TV sets in the average U.S. household: 2.24
Percentage of US homes with three or more TV sets: 66
Number of hours per day that TV is on in an average US home: 6 hours, 47 minutes
Percentage of Americans that regularly watch television while eating dinner: 66
Number of hours of TV watched annually by Americans: 250 billion
Value of that time assuming an average wage of $5/hour: $1.25 trillion
Percentage of Americans who pay for cable TV: 56
Number of videos rented daily in the US: 6 million
Number of public library items checked out daily: 3 million
Percentage of Americans who say they watch too much TV: 49
Approximate number of studies examining TV's effects on children: 4,000
Number of minutes per week that parents spend in meaningful
conversation with their children: 3.5
Number of minutes per week that the average child watches television: 1,680
Percentage of day care centers that use TV during a typical day: 70
Percentage of parents who would like to limit their children's TV watching: 73
Percentage of 4-6 year-olds who, when asked to choose between watching TV
and spending time with their fathers, preferred television: 54
Hours per year the average American youth spends in school: 900 hours
Hours per year the average American youth watches television: 1,500
Number of murders seen on TV by the time an average child finishes elementary school: 8,000
Number of violent acts seen on TV by age 18: 200,000
Percentage of Americans who believe TV violence helps precipitate real life mayhem: 79
Number of 30-second TV commercials seen in a year by an average child: 20,000
Number of TV commercials seen by the average person by age 65: 2 million
Percentage of survey participants (1993) who said that TV commercials
aimed at children make them too materialistic: 92
Rank of food products/fast-food restaurants among TV advertisements to kids: 1
Total spending by 100 leading TV advertisers in 1993: $15 billion
Percentage of local TV news broadcast time devoted to advertising: 30
Percentage devoted to stories about crime, disaster and war: 53.8
Percentage devoted to public service announcements: 0.7
Percentage of Americans who can name The Three Stooges: 59
Percentage who can name at least three justices of the U.S. Supreme Court: 17
Compiled by TV-Free America
1322 18th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20036
E Pluribus Unum: nice idea, but is it feasible?
The United States was built squarely on the idea of immigration, and this is witnessed by the engraved inscription at the base of the Statue of Liberty by the poet Emma Lazarus: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, the tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
Well that pretty much includes every single person on the planet, I would imagine. But political pretensions and human right issues aside, some may argue that such a dubious recipe for nation-building, square on the backs of the world’s “wretched refuse,” may be somewhat flawed and even potentially hazardous in the long term. Indeed, French wine is a wonderful thing until you pour so much that it starts spilling over the rim of the glass and all over the floor.
In other words, America is failing to assimilate the millions of legal and illegal immigrants it now has inside its borders, and this is doing nobody – not the native-born Americans, nor the newly arrived immigrants – any favors.
In an interview with Sports Illustrated magazine in 2000, the outspoken American baseball player John Rocker gave the following description of New York City: “The biggest thing I don't like about New York are the foreigners. I'm not a very big fan of foreigners. You can walk an entire block in Times Square and not hear anybody speaking English. Asians and Koreans and Vietnamese and Indians and… everything up there. How the hell did they get in this country?”
Rocker’s incendiary comments attracted the wrath of many people and organizations. Yet today, comments strikingly similar to the abovementioned are beginning to be heard on a regular basis. Moreover, the anti-immigration debate has already forced two states to rewrite their immigration laws – over the stern objections of the White House.
In April, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed into force a bill on illegal immigration that aims to identify, prosecute and deport illegal immigrants. The southwestern state, which is witnessing a surge of illegal immigrants, shares a 389-mile (626 km) international border with the states of Sonora and Baja California in Mexico.
Yet what seems to be a reasonable solution to a real problem has been greeted with a flurry of condemnation, not to mention a lawsuit from the White House.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told a South American television interviewer (June 22) that the president had told the Justice Department to file the suit on the basis that it's the constitutional responsibility of the federal government – not individual states – to set immigration policy.
“President Obama has spoken out against the law because he thinks that the federal government should be determining immigration policy,” Clinton told NTN-24. “And the Justice Department, under his direction, will be bringing a lawsuit against the act.”
Yet on the same day that Hillary Clinton was threatening the people of Arizona with a lawsuit, voters in Fremont, Nebraska were busy passing an immigration measure on Monday that would prohibit businesses and landlords from hiring or renting to illegal immigrants.
According to a spokesperson for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which has also threatened to file a suit against the Nebraska town, “We are not well-served when communities or states try to set policy on their own.”
It would be interesting to know who the ACLU means by “we”. Perhaps they are talking about the corporations, who seem to be the only ones profiting from illegal immigrants applying for low-paying jobs.
What’s interesting is that even though the White House is showing very little interest in resolving this standoff between natural-born citizens and illegal immigrants, it does have the potential to cause a significant rupture between the federal and state authorities. About 2.5 million farm workers in the United States are illegal immigrants, while another 35% are not US citizens, according to Labor Department statistics.
The United Farm Workers Union recently launched a campaign to see how many US citizens and legal residents are willing to take over the jobs of 1.2 million illegal immigrants who work on farms across the United States, especially with national unemployment around 10%.
Is the end near?
Ironically, Igor Panarin, a Russian academic and former KGB officer, has been predicting for the last decade that the United States would fall apart in 2010 due to the myriad challenges connected with trying to hold together a multicultural society.
“There's a 55-45% chance right now that disintegration will occur,” he said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal (Dec. 28, 2008). Panarin, who now serves as dean at the Foreign Ministry’s academy for diplomats, added that such a scenario, due to Russia and America’s economic links, “is not the best scenario for Russia.” Yet this polite insertion has not softened his grim prospects for the United States in the imminent future.
Panarin says that “mass immigration, economic decline, and moral degradation” will trigger a civil war… and the collapse of the dollar. Around the end of June 2010, or early July, Panarin predicts, the US will disintegrate into five republics, which he has even gone through the trouble of naming: The California Republic, The Texas Republic, The Central North American Republic, and Atlantic America, which may join the European Union.
Alaska, of course, would revert back to Russian control.
Perhaps it would be easy to chalk up such dire predictions to wishful thinking on the part of a former KGB official. However, prominent Americans as well are beginning to note the dangers of letting the immigration issue get out of control.
Pat Buchanan, who served as senior adviser to three US presidents, echoed Panarin’s dire predictions when he told RT this month that America’s increasingly changing demographic picture threatens to break down the country – much like what happened to the Soviet Union.
“America is breaking down as a nation,” Buchanan told RT’s Dina Gusovsky in an exclusive interview. “America is breaking down into ethnic enclaves…and risks the same thing that happened to the Soviet Union in 1991… where it flew apart into 15 nations based primarily on ethnicity.”
In conclusion, empires fail not because they are financially insolvent, but because they become morally and spiritually bankrupt and lose their self-identity, as was the case with the Roman Empire at the end of its rope.
America can and will continue to survive economic crises for a long time. But what no empire can sustain for long is internal rot.
Can a little Russian soul save America?
First, it needs to be said that many of the abovementioned problems attributed to the United States – like acts of random violence and obesity – are beginning to appear in other nations as well. But given America’s powerful influence, not to mention its innate weaknesses, many global trends get their initial start there.
Although the United States deserves credit for its democratic principles, not to mention introducing the world to an array of top-shelf technological wonders, it must also accept the blame for cultivating some very disturbing trends that now demand serious consideration – not just for America’s sake, but for the sake of the world. In addressing these issues, can America learn anything valuable from Russia to stem its decline?
In order for this to work, the United States would first have to admit that it can learn something from Russia. This in itself would be a tremendous challenge given that many Americans still suffer from a Cold War hangover and cannot see Russia as anything besides “the former Soviet Union.” Yet Russia is a mature country and has passed through many historic stages, not just communism, and now has many lessons to teach – if we are willing to listen.
Some things America could learn from Russia
Get back to the natural
Russians, for a variety of reasons, continue to nurture strong bonds with Nature. Now some may hastily interpret that to mean something inherently backwards, as opposed to “being modern.” But nothing could be further from the truth. Nature, after all, is a timeless concept, not relegated by anthropomorphic notions of past or future. What matters instead is how we relate to it in the here and now. We can either totally cut ourselves off from the natural world (or pretend that we can), destroy it, or agree to meet Nature halfway. There is everything to gain in making peace with Nature and nothing to lose.
The immediate advantages of reconnecting with nature are threefold: first, it could inspire a whole generation of American children to appreciate the health advantages of organically grown food, as opposed to sodium-phosphate-laced pre-packaged garbage that passes for food today. Eating more naturally would help to reduce obesity rates. This may come as a surprise to some, but the entire notion of obesity in Russia is practically unheard of. It simply does not exist. Thus, the regularly regurgitated notion in the western media that obesity is some sort of incurable, genetic defect in a victimized portion of the population is total hogwash. Just half a century ago obesity was also unheard of in America. But what changed was not our appetites, but rather the available food, as well as our attachment to a severely sedentary lifestyle.
Second, reconnecting with nature reduces stress, and if there is a place in the world that could use some stress relief it is the United States. In Russia, it is part of the summer ritual for families to escape to the dacha for rest, clean air and an abundance of freshly grown food. Alongside the rest and relaxation, being outdoors also occasionally demands rigorous exercise, something which we Americans are not getting nearly enough of.
Last year, this writer “went native” and purchased a tiny dacha outside of Tula with about 600 square meters of land (“sutka” as the Russians call it). It was the best investment I’ve ever made, even though my “interest” only derives from the things that are naturally obtainable from the land: spring water hauled about one mile away from a nearby forest; exercise from chopping down trees and pulling out the endless weeds; and the renewed sense of invigoration from escaping the highways and airports in a frantic search for a “vacation” (that word, incidentally, derives from vacatio – Middle English for "freedom").
How many times have we gone on vacation only to return feeling more exhausted than when we left? On this tiny plot of land in the verdant outdoors with only the chance car or person all day, I can honestly say I’ve have never felt more alive and relaxed. I shudder to think how fast our killing sprees would end if more American men went on vacation in such a manner. And with a little piece of land you can cancel your expensive spa membership and silly trips to the tanning bed: working outdoors is the best exercise you’ll ever need with no shortage of ultraviolet rays.
Lastly, reconnecting with nature teaches us how to cultivate, at least to a limited degree, our own food supply – a timeless, ancient art that a few industrial farms have literally stolen from us. These days I spend my time googling such prosaic activities as “how to prune an apple tree,” and “how to operate a chain saw without severing an artery” and “when is the best time to harvest those fields.” How many of us know which mushrooms to eat without dying a swift death? No, not me either. But I’m learning.
Once upon a time in America, about 15 years ago, I got the first indication that the Russian people, despite all of their dreadful losses under communism, still retained some critically fundamental wisdom that we spoiled capitalists have casually forgotten.
Walking through a baseball field to university in the city of Pittsburgh, my hometown, my Russian friend approached a large tree whose branches were practically breaking from the weight of tremendous white berries. Personally I had never seen anything like them before in my life. Despite my initial fear of poisoning ourselves, we stood in the glorious shade of that berry tree in the outfield of that baseball field for a good hour happily devouring the delicacies.
But the really incredible thing, which only dawned on me much later, was that just the day before dozens of kids were standing under that same tree in the sweltering heat, playing baseball all afternoon, oblivious to the tasty treasure hanging above their heads. Nobody knew that the berries were not only edible, but absolutely delicious.
Sadly, in America it is becoming the general rule that if our food is not plastic-wrapped, zip-locked and bought at a supermarket we will simply not eat it. This, I beleive, is a tragedy of the first order.
Another thing Americans could learn from the Russians is how to enjoy a profound attachment to literature – spoken, written, in prose or in verse it doesn’t matter. Go to any Russian home, no matter how small, and the rooms will most likely be filled from floor to ceiling with a wide assortment of books. And not just the immortal Russian writers, like Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, but the famous American and British and everything-in-between writers as well. If you think you are a serious reader, go to Russia and you will probably discover that you are not.
But the real importance of reading, it seems, is not just about making people more intelligent and knowledgeable, although that, of course, is a big part of the story. It’s also about making people more civilized and thus less prone to fly off the handle in a rage, for example, or be too quick to start another senseless war. In fact, during my lengthy stay in Russia I have begun kicking around a theory that perhaps somebody in the world of academia may want to test: high verbal skills reduces the incidence of violence.As John Keating, Robin Williams’ character in The Dead Poet’s Society said, “No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.”
Personally, I have witnessed extremely few incidences of violence in Russia. Although fights certainly occur, and with occasionally fatal outcomes, a full-blown fist fight seems to be something of a last resort between two opponents; more of the exception as opposed to the rule. What always comes first, however, is a slew of choice vocabulary words, volleying back and forth between the individuals, who don’t always necessarily have to be of the male persuasion. In the majority of cases, berating an individual with words easily substitutes for fisticuffs.Russia first employ to the fullest of their ability the power of words, not weapons, and it certainly does not hurt that Russians are not armed to the teeth with every imaginable assault weapon as in the US.
But in America, where the verbal skills have not been pounded into our heads from the age of three with the help of poems from Alexander Pushkin et al, I have seen far too many cases of fights erupting simply because the color phraseology stopped; at this point, one or both individuals will feel as if they have been cornered, and a fight will quickly ensue.
This failure to impress upon people the power of literature has even had implications on the foreign-policy front.
Or to quote Tom Daschle, the former US Democrat, on the eve of war in Iraq: “This president [George W. Bush] failed so miserably in diplomacy that we are now forced to war.”
Finally, America needs to invest far greater resources in the advancement of its people. The US public school system receives about one percent of what is invested annually into our out-of-control, trillion-dollar military industrial complex. And the results are becoming apparent, both by the rising prison population, as well as the overall declining moral climate.
If we don’t start trusting the people and educate them appropriately, America’s heady days as a global superpower may soon go the way of other great empires in the past – to the ash heap of history.