The responsibility of people in the West

Having read and looked at the alternative sources on the developments in Russia that have led to the conflict in Ukraine, there seems to be a lot we don’t understand about Putin or even about the Russian people. I once had a German-Russian daughter-in-law and have experienced a family that has shown me that I do not understand much of what is going on in their souls and how they are suffering here in the West. It’s easy to say that they could just go back, but that’s not true. A life that has gone through the upheaval from a society where you talk about “common good” or “public goods” or “obligations to society” to a society where you talk about “individual rights”, or “individual freedom” is a big step that can’t be easily reversed.

There was also the “guilty conscience” they spoke of, especially after returning to the Siberian village where they had once lived and realising that they could not return, that the West had “infected” them. I heard the young woman say how the coldness entered her soul and she realized that she no longer belonged there. They heard people talking about things they no longer related to, and they sensed a lurking resentment in friends who felt abandoned. My ex-daughter-in-law felt obligated to write about the suffering of serfs in Siberia in her doctoral dissertation but broke down before finishing and suffered a depressive episode. In the end, this led to divorce and despair on both sides.

I am talking about a completely different mentality and cultural heritage, which makes it clear that the conflict in Ukraine is just as much a clash of civilizations as the struggle of the Islamist groups against the West. What became clear in the lectures and interviews in previous entries is that we in the West are also struggling to find the way forward, and that this struggle has created the impression among some observers that Western culture may eventually collapse. Those who foresee the demise of the West say there are many ways it can happen: whether through weak men, apathy, foreign influence, tribalism, economic inequality, internal division, oligarchic control, or other means. Representative forms of government are considered weak because they are vulnerable to external and internal forces. Such governments tend not to have the long-term direction of a country in mind, instead choose to make short-term gains in the political arena with the goal of getting re-elected. These observers are from the West, so how will observers in other cultures see us?

In my eyes, we in the West have a responsibility to the people of Ukraine, who have suffered so many losses in this conflict because they have chosen our individualistic society over Russia’s collectivist society. Our responsibility is to realize our ideal, something that people live by, and make it a flesh-and-blood experience of freedom. It would be too heart-breaking if children who lost their parents or grandparents in this war had to look back and sum up that it was not worth it. That the ideal they fought for was an illusion. That is why we must be self-reflective, self-critical and engaged in making a liberal democracy a reality, in which we wrestle with options, but have the well-being of the population in mind. The dangers that others perceive as our probable downfall must be addressed and encountered. We must not continue in apathy.

Otto Spengler explained that in his work “The Decline of the West [or Occident]” he did not intend to describe a catastrophic event, but rather a protracted decline, like a twilight or a sunset (which is derived from the German “Untergang”). He used the term “pseudomorphosis,” which means that an older culture or civilization is so deeply entrenched that a younger culture cannot find its own form and full expression. This results in the young soul being poured into the old forms, as Spengler says. The young feelings then freeze into senile practices, and instead of developing creatively, it stirs up hatred for the other, older culture. This sounds a lot like what we have experienced in the past. The stirrings of 1968 were an attempt to break out of perceived confines, but we have seen that this hasn’t released that generation into a wholesome freedom, but into a great deal of confusion.

Spengler warned that we are in a state of becoming, not being, and that we must not fall into this static state that leads to death. It is the orientation towards constant evolution that makes life possible, but it is the tendency towards apathy that makes a society rigid and fragile. Despite the confusion of terms that earned him the accusation of racism, he saw unity in the worldview of a society as binding, and the common effort to realize the ideals it sets can overcome the dangers of capitalism, which in this sense restricts rather than promotes growth. That this is true is evident from the many examples in which ideals are sacrificed to mammon, and from the numerous sacrifices that become collateral damage in the interest of profit. A similar message was expressed in Erich Fromm’s “To Have or To Be”.

This means, in my view, that we have to reconsider where our society is moving, whether towards life in its diversity and dynamic, or towards death, in promoting a cancer-like amassing of wealth amongst an ever-dwindling number of people and restricting an ecological development that enables people to live in a healthy environment. Another danger we can see, is the radical fundamentalist vision in our own society that welcomes an apocalyptic catastrophe as fulfilling a religious aspiration, which, according to Gary Lachman in the last entry, is also a part of the religious mission he says Putin is on. Yet another problem that needs to be overcome is a radical post-modernism, which overstates the restrictions of social conventions, which can be seen as a further example of Spengler’s “pseudomorphosis”. If the concerns of the young and those who do not want to conform to social norms are not addressed, and a way found to bring the focus of these people to the well-being of the whole, we will fail to have a future.

So, the suffering of the people in the Ukraine must be made worth it, and the responsibility lies not with individuals “at the top”, but with each and every one of us.