Friday, May 23, 2008

Romanian Culture


As more and more fellow Romanians from our glorious capital have begun shouting, please allow me an attempt to answer the mind-boggling question "Why are Romanians unable to be Western?"

I do believe the question has an answer as simple as it is mostly foregone by the mathematical brains of my generation: culture. You see, whenever reaching this peak of wisdom, ordinary Ioan proceeds to either give up on the discussion in favor of Palinca (or Jack in some urban establishments) or commit the ultimate fallacy and bravely pointing a finger while screaming at the top of his lungs "You damn Pussy!".

Such an answer as 'culture' is for the weak, you see, for the unable. It is no match for the Romanian's brave spirit, capable of change, so vividly portrayed in expensive cars and crowded malls in overcrowded Bucharest. What a wearer of the typical D&G king-sized silver belt is not aware of however, is culture's tricky part. You may be fooled into believing that culture is that which we can observe, i.e. crappy communist apartments blessed with huge screen TV's and a Porche and a life-time of mortgage payments. But oh, perhaps you might think culture is that which can be seen as an honest farmer's (well rather a peasant's) torn conscience between the drinking spot and the church, as a basic order of life. But maybe also culture is in fact our Moldavian easter eggs, our Transylvanian spring ritual, our Southern... apparent economic prosperity. You may honestly agree that these are all cultural elements of Romanians.

If you do, then you will agree that culture in itself is nothing more than a collection of fun objects, delightful stories and non-western mind frames. Is this what is to keep Romanians from being Normal? From being Civilized? From being The Way That People Should Be? (well except for the very poor countries that we fiddle with on a regular basis. we still need to exploit them to keep capitalism going. shhh. shhh.)

My dear friends, as my experience and study has brought me here, this is my honest answer:

Culture may be seen as a collection of elements which may blend so nicely together, but one must not mistake the visible effects of a cultural mind frame with the essence. Yes, culture is fluid. Anyone past 30 can tell you that nowadays. But culture is not the expensive and traditional easter eggs on a table in a luxurious suite. In this case, culture was that mind frame which was reflected centuries ago in the patterns and shapes of the geometry on that egg. Culture is one's longing to be traditional in this superficial way.
As a conclusion to all of this, culture is more logically and productively seen as that what is beneath the effects.

Alright, nothing new here you may assume. Romanians - lazy, shallow and inconsistent. And something else. ... not paying attention.

Westerners may be modest and civilized. But these in themselves are not essence, they are effects. Historically, they were just as barbaric in their habits as the rest of the world, even more so than the Chinese and the Indian people throughout centuries. Many scholars bluntly state that Western-Europeans' and consequently North-Americans' 'civilized' ways were nothing more than a catch-up with the Orient's ways at first and then a means of distancing themselves from the 'barbaric' ways of the conquered. Furthermore, westerners splurged. They indulged themselves in all luxuries possible, they were beyond immoral in their colonialism and, to this day, racist. But indeed, they were something Romanians never were: aggressive, as a natural consequence of greed.

We have heard so many times that "Romania is lagging behind. 50 years, 100 years, 200 cultural years". This only implies that there is one Right way for culture to evolve. But culture in itself is nothing more than an accumulation of events, over time, many of them caused by circumstances.

So then, why are Westerners different now? Considering the cause-effect mind frame that is innate to all of us, we can only answer that in historical terms for as far as we can trace it. Westerners had their day of aggressiveness, accompanied by extremely favorable circumstances (gun powder, disease, immorality); they had their chance to splurge away and create a deeply-rooted euro-centric view of the world and now, for varied reasons, only a small fraction of which are WW2 and the 'Protestant Ethic' (Weber so as not to plagiarize even here), they have resorted to accumulating money as a means of social validity. Just as the Italians and Romanians show their social standing by displaying expensive cars, the 'true' Westerners that Romanians unknowingly idolize (Dutch, Belgian, English, Scandinavian) display relative modesty. That again is a consequence of Calvinism being imprinted into culture.

If we were to truly answer why one culture is different than another, we would have to go back to Africa and the separation of the first tribe. Then see how the environment and the events influenced their way of thinking. How exactly it is that the first tribe led to the nations we now observe is by no means pointless, but intrinsically unattainable.

My answer: attempt to understand one's own culture to the furthest degree possible. Go beyond communism, go beyond just one science, go beyond Romania in comparisons and leave no preconception untouched. Even if it seems impossible or pointless, even if you are to arrive at roughly your starting point, it is a journey worthwhile. In its absence, the guilt and self-loathing of not being Western will do everything but help.

Si pana la urma noi suntem fraierii care isi autoimpun euro-centrismul.