The stupidity of photocopied modernization

We often encounter circulating opinions that so utterly lack judgment, that it’s hard not to regard them as anything else than ideological scaffoldings. Amongst these opinions there is also the dogma that is now preached in all seriousness in the 3rd PR[1], the dogma according to which modernization means copying the current state of the Western Civilization. In other words, without granting gay marriage, without undermining the traditional family or without the radical secularization of the society, modern highways cannot be built. The stupidity of this line of reasoning is staggering. And still, this line of reasoning finds a surprisingly high number of followers within our country.

The European stagnation

It is understandable for people that lack any kind of intellectual background and people that are fascinated by a piece of a relatively prosperous world that they have managed to see to consider that the only way to get closer to that world is to mimic, without any for of discerning, all the behaviors of its inhabitants. The English-language literature, from Kipling to Naipaul, is filled with native grotesque figures that thought that by wearing English costumes, having a cup of tea in the afternoon and smoking pipe would eventually raise them to the rank of the British culture.

But what is one suppose to believe about the representatives of the elites of the 3rd PR which act in a similar manner? Moreover, they have been dominating for 20 years the Polish means of opinion forming. Their mental attitude suffers no doubt. Without thinking, they adopt an ideology whose vehicle is now the European Union – albeit this doesn’t mean that the countries that comprise the EU have already been transformed by it. The fact that they are different amongst them by such high degrees like, for instance, Italy and Finland, or even England and France, is the best evidence for this assertion.

More important is, however, the fact that this ideology not only does not represent an obvious consequence of the European civilization, but it’s rather built in direct opposition with it. It can be considered to be an eruption and, in the same time, a factor of European decadence. A significant number of years have already passed since our continent is sunken into stagnation. This continent’s economy is no longer innovative and its growth rate is significantly smaller – not only in comparison with the new economic tigers, but also in comparison with the United States.

The Lisbon Strategy, adopted by the EU in the year 2000, according to which Europe was supposed exceed the United States, has turned out to be a spectacular failure and the distance between Europe and America has kept on widening. In return, with regards to cultural troves, the EU is leading and, obviously, does not intend to stop here. So, if we want to develop ourselves, that is to say – to modernize ourselves and catch up with the rest of Europe, we should stay away from mimicking the attitudes that are currently dominating within Europe and call for the cultural ethos on which Europe’s power has been built to begin with.

Paradise now!

Europe has developed in a dynamic manner until the first half of the 1970s. It has survived several disasters, such as the World Wars and several regress periods such as the great depression of the 1930s. Europe has succeeded to overcome them though in a relatively short period of time, it rebuilt what had been destroyed and accumulated wealth.
The beginnings of the European stagnation coincide in time with the huge wave of contesting and counter-cultural revolt which went out throughout the Western world. I don’t want to say that these events lead to the stagnation of Europe, but rather that these phenomena have the same causes and, sometimes, they propel and potentate themselves in a reciprocal manner.

It is not an accident the fact that the EU establishment is the generation of the rebellion, the generation that loves to sentimentally assert itself from it. And this rebellion was aimed against the forms that were at the basis of this civilization. This revolt was named, with a nuance of sympathy, the ‘revolt of the flower over the roots’. Only that this description is identical in its content with the interpretation that it results from ‘The Revolt of the Masse” by José Ortega y Gasset, in which the Spanish philosopher, half a century before, showed the danger for Europe attitude of the dandies who considered that inheriting the civilization as a given to them for eternity. The rebellion of the counter-culture was a call to using the inherited thesaurus and refusing any responsibilities that come from it. The main slogans of that age, like “all the power of the dreams”, “demand the impossible” or “forbidding is forbidden”, proves the infantile refuse of admitting the limits of actual reality. The human condition results from the recognition of these limits and it differentiates itself through the various ways to deal with them. Generally, however, a civilization can be built only on the principle of delaying satisfaction. Demanding immediate satisfaction, paradise now! – like the title of the most noisy spectacle of one of the most important theaters of this movement reads, “The Living Theatre” – is, in fact, a counter-cultural behavior just like, rightfully, the contestants themselves used to describe their attitude.

The construction of the modern civilization, and consequently the modernization, has grown from the harsh ethics of the beginnings of capitalism. Regardless of whether they agree or not with Max Weber’s theory regarding its protestant origin, historians accept that there was an ethos of severe discipline and strong moral principles. Even the radical critics of capitalism, like Karl Marx, have admitted to this fact. Individualism, from which capitalism and modern Western civilization has grown, was incorporated in a tradition of individual absolute responsibility that was tempered by tight social connections. The term “social capital” which made such a career in the latest decades is nothing else than a social ethic: a collection of norms and principles that make the members of a community trust each other. Without a basic level of trust, building a free market is impossible and this is an aspect of which plenty emerging countries are being convinced.

Burning the capital

Well, the rebellion consists precisely in negating that ethos. It was a cult of instantaneous satisfaction, therefore a cult of the present, albeit it has been disguised in various costumes. Elevating itself from the bounds of the civilization, the rebellion destroyed the responsibility part. Instead of the traditional family which has the character of an assembly of reciprocal obligations, particularly for those that are defenseless of its members – for reasons of immaturity – therefore children and the rebellion launched a call to listening and pursuing passions. To the classic attitude of duty which is, by definition, fulfilled towards others, it has been countered over it the mystification of the “duty towards oneself” which is just another new mask of ordinary egoism.

The explosion of counter-culture was accompanied with phenomena that had eaten the Western civilization before. The traditional ethos of capitalism was torn apart and the West started to live off debt. In fact, the very mode of John Maynard Keynes, which was supposed to be a sort of a perpetuum mobile consisting in increasing the supply of money during stagnation periods with the purpose of restoring the conjuncture, undermined the traditional responsibility and the temperance. This model claimed to spare people of the consequences of their mistaken decisions but it was, in fact, a system of accumulating debt.

This model, which triumphed in the West, particularly in Europe, was accompanied by a project of the protecting State, which eroded deeply the attitude of the inhabitants in the countries that adopted it. It basically transformed them from citizens into customers. The protection relationship is an asymmetrical one, though. The person that needs the protection is rather disadvantaged; the protector, inevitably, must, to a certain degree, protect its protégé of liberty. The State, meaning the administrative apparatus, by taking the citizens under its care, had to make them dependent on it.

It is not the time to discuss here to which degree these processes resulted from the natural logic of capitalism and in which measure did they constitute a crisis moment of a mature civilization. Significantly, the United States, which, in a cultural way, are more traditionalist and have anyway forces that oppose the counter-cultural troves, are far more dynamic and filled with life than Europe, which is subdued to them.

Europe has already burned its capital for a while, both literally and figuratively, in a cultural sense. The idea that in order for us to catch up materially with them we should compete with them in destroying the cultural foundations from which Europe’s wealth was born is indeed truly foolish. So one can see the stupidity of photocopied modernization.

How should we develop

The free market or capitalism needs certain cultural conditions in order to develop. Various countries from Africa or South America are going through this experience right now by introducing the rules of the market, apparently, but their countries still don’t work. On a much closer example, Robert Putnam showed why the free market only works in Northern Italy, whilst in South it still confronts itself with severe difficulties.

It seems that the Western civilization model is universal and can be successfully introduced in a different environment. However, that environment must be characterized by certain cultural features. Spectacular successful examples are Japan in the post-WWII period and then South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore. China’s triumph, proclaimed everywhere, raises more and more serious doubts, considering that we’re dealing with a country more populated than the whole Europe that develops unequally and in which internal problems are on the raise. Making China a mode for others, or an example of any sort, is still way too soon.

On the other hand, in all the aforementioned countries, which are unquestionable examples of efficient modernization, we’re dealing with an incorporation of the Western procedures and norms within the depth of the local cultures which – as it was proven – have been an important factor that has helped the developing process. We’re talking about the fact that people, in a world that is changing, can have a reference, they can move by using known rules that conserve their self confidence and, consequently, constitutes an absolutely fundamental factor for the community to develop and creation of sustainable wealth. The judicial norms and structures alone, extremely important as they are, are not sufficient. In order to accomplish the civilization jump, it has been proven necessary to have a call for the norms that work in the local culture, instead of declaring a war against those said norms.

In the case of Poland, which inherits a special culture, but still a European one, the problem is even more obvious. Our tradition could be the perfect basis for constructing modernity, a modernity that doesn’t consists in gay marriages, but in the dynamic development and the construction of an efficient infrastructure of civilization.

The idea that in the name of modernity we should negate this tradition proves itself to be counterproductive. However, looking at the attitude of the modernizers in our country, we cannot hold to the suspicion that, more than the material development of our country, they are interested in destroying our tradition

English translation by Lucian Vâlsan
Romanian translation by Anca Cernea: Prostia modernizării la xerox
Original version: Nonsens modernizacyjnej kserokopiarki

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Bronisław Wildstein

Bronisław Wildstein

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