The American Spirit was founded upon a false and troubling premise: that competition and winning, a.k.a., conquest, is the royal road to happiness. In fact just the reverse seems to be the case for the great majority of peoples, and apparently for the planet at large. Yet we Americans have been conditioned over many centuries to believe in this fantasy — that the “democratic” ideals of equality, fraternity, and liberty somehow thrive in a competitive, capitalist environment — that competition leads down the road to universal prosperity, as if this were a “good in itself.” ‘A rising tide,’ they say, ‘raises all boats.’ This too is a lie! And, even worse, if it were true, it would be fatal.
Competitiveness, economically or politically, is no panacea for the human condition, nor apparently, for the planet in general. Competition presumes a winner. And winning presumes losers. Winner take all. And losers? Gobbled up or decimated by the winner — the conqueror — of course! This is not a healthy approach for maintenance of life on earth. Quite the reverse. But this is how our Western mentality has worked. At least this is what it has aspired to. As Theodore Roosevelt succinctly put it at the turn of the 20th Century:
Of course our whole national history has been one of expansion… [T]hat the barbarians recede or are conquered, with the attendant fact that peace follows their retrogression or conquest, is due solely to the power of the mighty civilized races which have not lost the fighting instinct, and which by their expansion are gradually bringing peace into the red wastes where the barbarian peoples of the world hold sway. – The Strenuous Life (1900).
Or as one Frenchman wrote to Thomas Jefferson one hundred years earlier:
The inhabitants of your country districts regard — wrongfully, it is true — Indians and forests as natural enemies which must be exterminated by fire and sword and brandy, in order that they may seize their territory. – P.S. DuPont de Nemours (1801).
It was upon this perverse foundation that our way of life, the trajectory of our competitive Western hegemony, was established. And, while we cannot simply blame the USA for having invented such a program, it is our culture that perfected this pathology of competition and conquest to the detriment of the greater human community, and quite contrary to the more primal human tendencies of cooperation and sharing (See Morton Fried, Columbia University, The Evolution of Political Society, 1967.)
So, we can at least surmise that there have been other (alternative) approaches to life over the vast millennia of human existence, some of which may have been more conducive to living on a finite planet. The well-mythologized Russian Soul may itself have been a product of just such an alternative — a view nourished in a wholly different atmosphere, over a period of fifty-thousand or perhaps, a hundred-thousand years, in the darkest reaches of the Central Siberian plateau. Early human remains (Denisova hominins) were unearthed a few years back in the Altai Mountains of Russia as a result of archeological work conducted over the past few decades. The human ‘project’ — if we may call it that — in those earliest millennia was apparently ‘cut from a different loin-cloth’ than is our modern project of competition and conquest. According to political anthropologists, the disposition of the earliest pre-civilized humans, represented as well by discoveries at Denisova Cave — a disposition still extant among the gentle, indigenous Altaian populations of today — suggest a radically different view of the world, of the human community, and its ecological niche. It was a world constituted upon tribal communitas and egalitarian sharing. Let’s call it, with Karl Marx, a pristine form of communism. And perhaps this is the real origin of the myth of the Russian soul.
The earliest Slavic, and later, Russian tribes, that came to inhabit the lands between the Carpathian and Ural Mountains — seem to have retained much of this same primal concern for family (rod), homeland (rod.ina), and kinship (rod.stvo) as found among earliest tribes occupying the Altai.
As Nikolai Gogol wrote in his famous short-story, Taras Bulba:
There have been brotherhoods in other lands, but never any such brotherhoods as on our Russian soil. It has happened to many of you to be in foreign lands. You look: there are people there also, God’s creatures, too; and you talk with them as with the men of your own country. But when it comes to saying a hearty word—you will see. No! They are sensible people, but not the same; the same kind of people, and yet not the same! No, brothers, to love as the Russian soul loves, is to love not with the mind or anything else, but with all that God has given, all that is within you. (1835)
After the revolution that saw the fall of the Tzarist regime, these same values were taken up yet again, dressed now in more modern garb, by the Marxist ideal of a communal life — a life grounded upon a profound sense of kinship and egalitarian sharing.
Obviously the Soviet articulation of that model was unsuccessful. The leasdership of the USSR was consumed by the selfsame assumptions as those of the West, both internally, as well as externally, in response to an aggressiveness of a competing Western hegemony. In fact, wherever hierarchical governing systems exist, the possibility of egalitarian relations fades to black against a need to compete, conquer, and control.
Needless to say, when the erstwhile Russian soul was fully exposed to the spectacular show and material plenty of the West, that soul began to lose its (moral) compass. And it has continued to wander further away over the intervening years. The loss of a more tribal base, and an egalitarian faithfulness that characterized the old Rus, is vanishing before our eyes. A new generation of Russians adheres to the same fatuous ideals and misguided strategies of the competitive and conquest-consumed West. And of course, Russia is even now being forced to adopt the self-same aggressive military tactics of the West, in order to compete for its own sovereignty. And Western propaganda beats the drum for this conquistador.
Comcast to Dreamworks and the rest of Hollywood, you’re owned mind and body by some powerful people who want war with Putin and Russia. You can argue the “war” part, but you cannot intelligently compare Russia’s news media to what 99 percent of Americans and Brits see all day every day. Is Putin rearming Russia? He’d damn well better be. What kind of leader would not with NATO at the front door and “We the People” turned into mindless zombies for billionaire arms dealers? (Russia Insider, Liar, Liar! Mainstream Media Won’t Like This One, Phil Butler.)
And whether they are billionaire arms dealers driving for the conquest of Russia and the privatization of its mineral riches in the hands of a few Western oligarchs, or the bankers at the IMF, headquartered in Washington, D.C., looking to disrobe, rape, and plunder the Greek islands… the competitive, capitalist, winner-take-all American Spirit is there in all its glory for all to see.
And the winner will take all. Or, perhaps not.