“Hamachidori“, by Ryutaro Hirota, played by Tokyo Kosei Wind Orchestra & Kazumasa Watanabe, from the album “Konomichi―Favorite Japanese Melodies (Japanese Melody Series)” (2004)
Lately I’ve been thinking about Justice, Gratitude, and Sincerity. We are observably running a serious deficit in these important virtues in our polite, politically correct, Canadian society.
I recently finished a decent little book by an author named Mark Manson. His book is all about the delusions we suffer under through caring too much about too many things and having values which are disconnected from our reality, which disconnect Steven Covey used to call our “circle of concern” versus our “circle of influence“.
In his book, Mark Manson makes a reference to the differences between Russian culture and Western Anglo culture. I think it is on or about page 166 and 170 or thereabouts. Anyway, here is an (longish) excerpt which perfectly encapsulates my observation about our progressive, politically correct, Canadian society:
In 2011, I traveled to Saint Petersburg, Russia. The food sucked. The weather sucked. (Snow in May? Are you f**king kidding me?) My apartment sucked. Nothing worked. Everything was overpriced. The people were rude and smelled funny. Nobody smiled and everyone drank too much. Yet, I loved it. It was one of my favorite trips. There’s a bluntness to Russian culture that generally rubs Westerners the wrong way. Gone are the fake niceties and verbal webs of politeness. You don’t smile at strangers or pretend to like anything you don’t.
In Russia, if something is stupid, you say it’s stupid. If someone is being an asshole, you tell him he’s being an asshole. If you really like someone and are having a great time, you tell her that you like her and are having a great time. It doesn’t matter if this person is your friend, a stranger, or someone you met five minutes ago on the street.
The first week I found all of this really uncomfortable. I went on a coffee date with a Russian girl, and within three minutes of sitting down she looked at me funny and told me that what I’d just said was stupid. I nearly choked on my drink. There was nothing combative about the way she said it; it was spoken as if it were some mundane fact—like the quality of the weather that day, or her shoe size—but I was still shocked. After all, in the West such outspokenness is seen as highly offensive, especially from someone you just met. But it went on like this with everyone. Everyone came across as rude all the time, and as a result, my Western-coddled mind felt attacked on all sides.
Nagging insecurities began to surface in situations where they hadn’t existed in years. But as the weeks wore on, I got used to the Russian frankness, much as I did the midnight sunsets and the vodka that went down like ice water. And then I started appreciating it for what it really was: unadulterated expression. Honesty in the truest sense of the word. Communication with no conditions, no strings attached, no ulterior motive, no sales job, no desperate attempt to be liked.
Somehow, after years of travel, it was in perhaps the most un-American of places where I first experienced a particular flavor of freedom: the ability to say whatever I thought or felt, without fear of repercussion. It was a strange form of liberation through accepting rejection. And as someone who had been starved of this kind of blunt expression most of his life—first by an emotionally repressed family life, then later by a meticulously constructed false display of confidence—I got drunk on it like, well, like it was the finest damn vodka I’d ever had.
The month I spent in Saint Petersburg went by in a blur, and by the end I didn’t want to leave. Travel is a fantastic self-development tool, because it extricates you from the values of your culture and shows you that another society can live with entirely different values and still function and not hate themselves.
This exposure to different cultural values and metrics then forces you to reexamine what seems obvious in your own life and to consider that perhaps it’s not necessarily the best way to live. In this case, Russia had me reexamining the bullshitty, fake-nice communication that is so common in Anglo culture, and asking myself if this wasn’t somehow making us more insecure around each other and worse at intimacy.
I remember discussing this dynamic with my Russian teacher one day, and he had an interesting theory. Having lived under communism for so many generations, with little to no economic opportunity and caged by a culture of fear, Russian society found the most valuable currency to be trust. And to build trust you have to be honest. That means when things suck, you say so openly and without apology. People’s displays of unpleasant honesty were rewarded for the simple fact that they were necessary for survival—you had to know whom you could rely on and whom you couldn’t, and you needed to know quickly.
But, in the “free” West, my Russian teacher continued, there existed an abundance of economic opportunity—so much economic opportunity that it became far more valuable to present yourself in a certain way, even if it was false, than to actually be that way. Trust lost its value. Appearances and salesmanship became more advantageous forms of expression. Knowing a lot of people superficially was more beneficial than knowing a few people closely.
This is why it became the norm in Western cultures to smile and say polite things even when you don’t feel like it, to tell little white lies and agree with someone whom you don’t actually agree with. This is why people learn to pretend to be friends with people they don’t actually like, to buy things they don’t actually want. The economic system promotes such deception.
The downside of this is that you never know, in the West, if you can completely trust the person you’re talking to. Sometimes this is the case even among good friends or family members. There is such pressure in the West to be likable that people often reconfigure their entire personality depending on the person they’re dealing with.
Manson, Mark. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life (pp. 166-170). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
Hamabe No Uta (Narita), Jean-Pierre Rampal, from the album “Rampal: Japanese Folk Melodies”, (1978)
So, if you got this far then we can get to daily life here in the Anglo west. How do we deal with Justice, Gratitude, and Sincerity? Well, it seems that mostly we don’t. Oh, we talk a lot about it, especially Justice, but when it comes right down to it we shy away from the reality of these virtues, preferring to dodge in favor of some direction that either makes us look better, or feel better about ourselves, or influences the other in a direction beneficial to ourselves. Distinctly the opposite of Justice, Gratitude, and Sincerity.
It seems, on consideration, that we, as a nation, are just more comfortable lieing about reality – or as I have written before: “Joe, I don’t care about your damned facts, and your damned truth, I just want to have a pleasant conversation with my friends”. I think the foundation of these three virtues is really Sincerity. And it seems that the only thing which invokes sincerity these days is the destruction and discrediting of anyone who disagrees with us. C.S. Lewis said it well in his little essay about Bulverism a (shortish) excerpt of which appears below from one of my previous posts here:
Until Bulverism is crushed, reason can play no effective part in human affairs. Each side snatches it early as a weapon against the other; but between the two reason itself is discredited. And why should reason not be discredited? It would be easy, in answer, to point to the present state of the world, but the real answer is even more immediate.
The forces discrediting reason, themselves depend of reasoning. You must reason even to Bulverize. You are trying to prove that all proofs are invalid. If you fail, you fail. If you succeed, then you fail even more – for the proof that all proofs are invalid must be invalid itself.
The alternative then is either sheer self-contradicting idiocy or else some tenacious belief in our power of reasoning, held in the teeth of all the evidence that Bulverists can bring for a “taint” in this or that human reasoner.
I am ready to admit, if you like, that this tenacious belief has something transcendental or mystical about it. What then? Would you rather be a lunatic than a mystic?“
And so we now see that virtually every “debate” extent today in all venues and all media is simply some variant of “Bulverism” which we are now calling “Social Media” and “Fake News”. For the powers of reason have been abrogated by the legions of the thoughtless – Truly Truly I say to you – a Zombie Apocalypse. So what about Justice, Gratitude, and Sincerity, especially Sincerity?
Why is Sincerity the foundation of the other two, the foundation of Justice, and Gratitude? Well, lets take a stab and see if I can get it out. What I say here is informed by a fervent belief in God and the absolute Goodness, that is, the absolute Truth of God. To grow to adulthood we must continually search to possess truth in our hearts, in the core of our being.
We have to know ourselves as we really are, we have to know the absolute truth about ourselves, without any trace of disguise and artificiality. This means that we have to know and accept not only the truths about ourselves which please us, but also all those truths which are painful and wound our pride and self worship by exposing our faults and evil tendencies.
A Sincere adult never avoids or dodges these painful truths, but rather treasures them because the humiliation of these painful truths is worth more than illusion, which flatters our pride and builds up our self worship and keeps us steadfastly on the broad road to perdition. Even our society’s denial of the broad road is just another illusion to which we cling because we would rather take the easy path regardless of the long term cost. People would literally rather die than change their behaviour. People seem to spend all their precious time searching for the quick fix which will permit them to keep on indulging their fantasies and gratifying their appetites and egos.
Daily we encounter contradiction in the course of going about whatever makes up our lives, and as often as not that contradiction gives rise to anger, rebellion, selfishness, and continuous pressure to indulge our fantasies, palliate our flaws and faults and to continue to cling to our illusions about ourselves and the world we live in.
Any growth requires the courage to acknowledge our faults, accept our faults and the effort of will to change our behaviors and beliefs to conform with empirical reality. If instead we blame circumstances, or other people, or the economy or the politics of the day then we perpetuate the fantasies which are crippling us and preventing the existence of Justice, Gratitude and Sincerity. But it all starts with a sincere appraisal of the truths of our inner self, the inner self to which we are so attached and which we worship.
To be sincere our words and actions must correspond to our thoughts. To be convinced of one thing but to affirm something else for the sake of expediency or to avoid hurting the “feelings” of another person is contrary to truth. Shorn of all make-up it is “living a lie”, for the sake of gaining an advantage over another. That said, sincerity does not require that we reveal all that we think and know to everyone, this is contrary to prudence (another virtue). Sincerity does, however, demand that everything we do reveal by word or action or even by silence, corresponds to truth.
Disclaimer for nitpickers: We take pride in being incomplete, incorrect, inconsistent, and unfair. We do all of them deliberately