lateblt (lateblt) wrote,

Is it time to embrace poverty?

I am a migrant. I have not only left my country of birth, I've actually changed the country I live in multiple times in my life. In theory, people change countries for various reasons. In practice, there's usually just one reason why people want to move to a different country, namely to make more money, and that's why migration is so controversial. This creates a problem because obviously everyone would like to make more money, but not everyone can.

I moved to Germany because I fell in love with German literature, German music, the German mentality, and the German language. This is a great reason to move to a different country: If you feel that you fit in better somewhere else, then why not go where you belong? The problem is that most people who move to Germany, the vast majority of people who move to Germany, are not much interested in German culture or anything else German; the only thing they're interested in is German money, and that's why they risk their lives to go to Germany. The money is everything to them. I have spoken to many people who moved to Germany and seen interviews with them on television and the Internet, and almost without exception, people rave about how much money they are getting now that they're in Germany. Nobody talks about how much they love the writing of Nietzsche, Goethe, or Hermann Hesse, or the music of people like Beethoven or Bach, or the cinema of Hans Deppe or Fritz Lang (who was Austrian but had his first great cinematic success in Germany), or the painting of, to name an obvious choice, Caspar David Friedrich. Without exception, people get excited by how "generous" the German people are because they get lots of money, but they continue to listen to the music from their countries of birth, watch television from their countries of birth, and often speak the language of that country among themselves.

There's one country where those motivations for migration make sense, namely the USA, because the USA is kind of based on that model: It is about having a big, powerful economy that draws people from all over the world who are attracted by the prospect of making more money. Although such motives are crass and were historically unwelcome in Europe, they are par for the course in America, because this was the premise upon which America was built in the first place. America's heart and soul is not in its writers like Mark Twain and William Faulkner, nor its musicians like Elvis Presley and Bob Dylan; these people are certainly globally-recognized figures who happen to be American, and Americans often like to imagine that they channel the spirit of John Wayne or Dean Martin, but in reality, Americans are all about money. And that's okay, as long as everyone understands it; a culture functions well when everyone is on the same page and agrees that they all value the same things. The problem arises when people pretend that this is not the case, as if they are too coy to admit that they are really all about money. While living in the U.S., I once spoke to a person who had recently immigrated but then expressed some regret that money was so important in America: "It's a bit strange, to my mind, that money is so important here". I agreed that Americans think about money a lot, and that it's sometimes regrettable that money is such a strong cultural value there, but I couldn't help but wonder why, knowing this, someone would immigrate in the first place, so I asked: "Why did you come to America for the purpose of making more money if you didn't want to be in a place where people think about money?", thus echoing the common (in America) sentiment: Why did you come here if you hate this place so much? The person could only shrug bemusedly and conclude: "Somehow I just imagined this place being... different".

The same was true for me. I moved to America because I wanted to work in the computer industry. When the computer industry disappeared, I found myself disgusted with what America had become: A country which had sold all of its industry to China and believed it could now make a living by posting things on "social media" websites. America had become such a ridiculous parody of itself that I sought deeper and more lasting cultural values in the Old World of Europe. Since moving to Europe, I make much less money than I made in America, and that has never bothered me. I knew this would be the case, and I accepted it, because I was driven by something which was, to me, more important than money. In fact, it's probably better that people earn less, because less money means that less greedy, money-obsessed opportunists are migrating to that place.

When I first left the U.S., I lived in Russia for a while, and I enjoyed the fact that Russian people have gotten used to living without money; rather than being dependent on a salary to make a living, Russians are in the habit of growing their own food when possible, fixing old machines rather than replacing them, and generally doing things that don't cost money instead of doing things which do cost money. I like that kind of self-sufficient living, although understandably, Russian people see things differently. When I lived in Russia, I once explained to a Russian person what I liked about Russia (this being an understandably common question which Russians asked of me) thus: "People here don't have any money". The person indignantly replied: "I see nothing good about that".

I suppose this is a case of the grass always being greener on the other side. People who live in poor countries romanticize and idealize rich countries, and dream of living there. People who live in rich countries romanticize and idealize poor countries, and dream of living there. This is similar to the East/West German divide which existed in the time of the Berlin Wall: People who lived in East Germany risked their lives to escape it, while people who lived in the West admired the thrifty, simple East German life.

Today, of course, there are no longer two Germanies, just one Germany which has had famous success in bouncing back, in economic terms, from two history-defining wars and decades of being politically divided. What Germany has gained in economic and political clout, however, it has lost in culture. Perhaps these two are mutually incompatible: When a country becomes too wealthy, it becomes preoccupied with that wealth. I came to Germany hoping to find a nation of Hegels and Nietzsches. Instead, I found a nation of hedonists. The vast majority of Germans whom I speak to are at best bored with historical German culture, and at worst outright disgusted with it because they only learned about World War II and never studied German literature, music, or philosophy. Instead, when Germans talk about culture, their idea of culture is almost universally based on going out with friends. An evening in a bar having drinks with people is considered "culture" now, which shows just how far Europe has tumbled from its Renaissance peaks.

The loss of understanding regarding what culture is can be clearly seen in Germans' repeated enthusiastic use of the word "multiculturalism", which of course means multiracialism. A typical German's description of their social and cultural life goes thus: "Last night, I went to a rave and took drugs with a black guy. And the night before that, I went to a rave and took drugs with an Indian guy. And last week, I had the opportunity to go to a rave and take drugs with a guy from Afghanistan. Multiculturalism is great! It affords me so much variety in my life!" At this point, I would like to state that this is not in any way exaggerated or satirical; this is literally the present-day German perception of "culture" and "multiculturalism". Germany today no longer treasures its cultural heritage. If Germans had held their culture in their hearts, they would not have lost it, but they willingly gave it up. What a waste. What a horrible, shameful waste.

It seems that life is just too good in Germany. When a people really has nothing to worry about, its constituents lose interest in improving themselves physically or mentally, and fall into a lifestyle of just trying to enjoy life as much as possible. This is similar to the cultural void which is even more highly visible in the Nordic countries, and which I've excoriated in the past. The Germans aren't developing their own culture--in fact, they seem eager to get rid of it, as though it were something cumbersome, dull, and embarrassing--and the people moving to Germany don't care about it either, because they are drawn only by the prospect of making money.

All of this has led me to ask myself for a while now: Is it time to embrace poverty? In the 20th century, life was good in wealthy countries, because the constant development in science and technology meant that people who worked in those fields could make great money while also bringing new possibilities to the world. Today, technological development has been stalled for 20 years, and the West is falling apart: Both the USA and Western Europe are becoming constantly more economically, socially, and politically unstable, and they no longer hold any promise for the future, either for new immigrants or for people who've lived there their entire lives. Culturally, too, ours is a dead world: The world's search for wisdom and development is over. There is no longer any sense in living in a rich country, a place where nothing good can happen and the country is constantly besieged by me-too opportunists who just want to come in to snatch a piece of an ever-dwindling pie.

The question is simply where I would go. There are lots of poor countries, but the problem is that most of them also have no culture. Human beings are astonishingly bad at developing culture, which is why so many people associate "culture" with inane things like dancing or food, thinking that a particular style of cuisine constitutes a national culture. There is, for example, Poland, which doesn't like to consider itself Eastern Europe but has historically been Eastern for most of its history. Poland is still mostly Polish, but Poland does not have a strong internal culture. There are Polish books and movies, in the sense that there are books and movies which have been written and filmed in Poland, but these tend to mimic patterns seen in other literature and cinema (usually either German or American). And now that Poland has joined the European Union, it has been busily trying to turn itself into another America, where the most important thing in life is business success. If I were to flee to a poor country, Poland could not be it.

Of course, there are others. There are plenty of economically-underdeveloped countries in Europe, which is why I tried to make a thorough survey of all of them. What I discovered in most of them is that such countries are just too small and weak (in every sense; not only economically and politically, but also culturally) to really have any identity. They may have had some writers, composers, and artists in their history, but these were rather incidental to their development, random geniuses who were born by pure happenstance in Eastern Europe rather than people who represent anything which could be called a national culture. (Nikola Tesla is one of the most famous examples: Born to a Serb family in what is geographically Croatia, Tesla lived like neither a Serb nor a Croat; he was an eccentric genius, and there is nothing about his personality or his life which reflects anything representative of national culture in either Serbia or Croatia. Indeed, Tesla immigrated to the U.S. and lived there for the rest of his life.) People who grew up in most Eastern European countries grew up reading literature from other countries and hearing music from other countries. That seems to leave Russia, as Russia is the only one of the "poor" countries in Europe which really has a rich and widely-received internal culture, by which I mean a culture which most of its residents are aware of and recognize. But even in Russia, Russians tend to dislike their own culture, because they are obsessed with moving to Nordic Europe, England, America, or somewhere on the Mediterranean Sea. Whenever I expressed admiration for Russian literature to people in Russia, they almost invariably gave the same response: "We Russians don't like Russian literature, because we were forced to read it in school and we find it boring. We'd much rather read Western literature because we love Western money. Um... Oops... We meant cultural values, of course". The only thing which I really hated about living in Russia was how much Russians hate their own country.

To boil it down to the essentials, if you want to live in Europe, you broadly have two options: You can go to Western Europe and do what I'm doing now, which is basically documenting the downfall of Western society as the whole idea of "culture" disappears and gives way to absolute obsession with trade, business, and hedonism. The other option, of course, is Eastern/East-Central Europe, which is mostly countries that never had any culture in the first place and simply exist as places on a map. Moving there is difficult as an outsider because there are not a lot of jobs, nor a lot of avenues to meet people if you don't already know people there; most people there survive by maintaining large families and local social networks who support each other financially and socially. If you live there, you lose a lot of independence because you don't have any money and your life depends on having friends and family, but that is a place where real stability can be found.

The message that we're learning here is that just as the West was a place where people sought stability in the 20th century because of the turmoil caused in Eastern Europe by the rise of communism and constant "revolutions" which failed for one reason or another while the West maintained strong economic growth that allowed people living there to have very good lives and you had good chances at financial success if you had reasonable levels of intelligence and ambition, the 21st century has become a time where this picture is exactly reversed: The West is a set of crumbling castles which are falling apart as waves upon waves of "refugees" come pouring in at precisely the time that most jobs have been replaced by computers and robots, while the East is a place of stability where, outside of the largest cities like Moscow and Saint Petersburg, people in the villages still live much the same way as they did 50 years ago. If you want stability, seek out a place of stable poverty, because the only safety and stability in the world today is to be found in places without economic development. Any amount of economic development rapidly brings an endless stream of parasites desperate to latch onto whatever money they can grab.

The question then becomes: What do you do when you're in a place like that? If you're able to secure a place to live and a job in a poor place and can manage to sustain a stable life in a place where most people are farmers and factory workers, you come to realize that "stability" is the same as "stagnation": Yes, you might have a stable life there, but your life will never change because there is no way and no place to grow or develop. However, this is true in the West as well: Culturally, economically, politically, socially, and technologically, global humanity is at a dead end. So if you're going to stagnate anyway, you might as well at least do it in a place where neighbors know each other's names.
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