An interesting experience in December 1996 with a student group of English-speaking, Russian teenagers suggested that American Reflections devote some direct attention to their ideas and interests. Therefore, I shall reprint here some rather strong thoughts first written in 1989 and then published as an addenda to my long-titled book Towards the Spiritual Convergence of America and Russia: American Mind and Russian Soul, American Individuality and Russian Community, and the Potent Alchemy of National Characteristics. I hope the below thoughts, which especially concerned the young in Russia, will serve as a creative, stimulating, engaging challenge to its teenage Russian readers. Those who are more interested in telling the older generation how much wiser, intelligent and learned the younger generation is than the older – than in listening and learning – may well find this entire effort irritating, senseless, stupid or wrong (at least for a few more years). So, here is the book’s introduction (1990) to the article, followed by the article itself (1989).
Perhaps it might serve, amongst some of its readers, as the provocative beginning of a dialogue across both nationalities and generation?
The “Moscow Music Peace Festival’’(1989) could not but be greatly disturbing to anyone who does not facilely believe that a sensualization of the soul is the best enjoyment possible for the human being; and that somehow still hopes for the spiritual development of Mankind. The film record of this rock concert revealed the seductive influence and impact which the semi-literate American “Rock Stars” can have on Russian youth. The below appeal, which was submitted for publication to many new, “liberal-minded” publications in the USSR and elsewhere – but was included in none – is my response to such spiritual sensualism. In a “free society”, intellectual and spiritual degradation must certainly be a person’s right and option. But the youth of Russia, should not imagine that such leads to anything but spiritual nullity. The “Rock Stars” Billy Joel and Jon Bon Jovi, and their kindred spirits, are not in any serious spiritual sense the best the West can offer to the East – even if they are the most popular. What Marxism did to the Russian social order, they certainly could help do to its spiritual life. I believe that free choice is necessary to the spiritual time and maturity of Mankind; but let it be not naive selection. It should also be conscious! Here is the text as I submitted in late August, 1989:
It was greatly disturbing and deeply disheartening to recently see, on a nationally televised evening news program in the U.S.A., on 12 August 1989, report of a “Heavy Metal” rock concert (of music groups from America) performing to a large enthusiastic crowd in Moscow. Such events are applauded in the Western news as positive signs of progress and liberalization (much like someone who has, unaware, a terminal disease, and is relieved to see similar symptoms appearing in the citizens of the surrounding society). The television reporter described it as a “Woodstock of Russia” – a loose inaccuracy, referring to its approximate coincidence with the 20th anniversary of that ‘festival of adolescence’ (which was not permitted to be held in Woodstock, so that it actually occurred in Bethel, New York).
This was, of course, not the first Western rock concert to be held, publicly, in Russia, since the ‘opening’ of Glasnost. And it was explained that this concert was somehow construed to be a promotion of ‘non-drug use,’ and similar noble notions of social salvation.
Yet the concert was still deeply disturbing to anyone who wants the best for and from Russia. Almost all manner of things “Western” have a “mystique” in the Soviet Union – so long closed to the West and suffering from suppression of its own true self-expression. And it is certainly not that such public events should be banned, for moral or state reasons. Nor is it surprising that some portion of any society would be so excited and interested in such an event. But what is disturbing and disheartening about this – and the author writes, knowing the life in the West, especially living in “hip” California – is the fact that the spiritual direction toward which such Western influences as “Heavy Metal” concerts, lead, and the type of enthusiasm they promote, move ultimately in the direction of, at worst, spiritual emptiness and nullity, and at best, a sensualization of the soul and spirit, in the individual, society and culture. Open freedom should be allowed to the people, and youth, and spirit of Russia – to experience and express what they wish and will. But there should be no naive consciousness – no unrecognized Western seduction – as to the spiritual content, meaning, direction and results of such activities (and other Western ways) due to the “mystique” of the West.
Old, Holy Russia was – perhaps unavoidably – destroyed: physically, culturally, socially and spiritually. And there is, it seems, much more excitement, enthusiasm (of a sort) and interest – especially among the young – in the rock concerts (and clothes, manners, etc.) of the West, than in the old ways and life of Russia... How many people were more inwardly, personally, soulfully involved in this (crude) rock music concert of “Heavy Metal” (or other, less obnoxious concerts), in comparison to the celebrations and ceremonies of the Christian Millennium in Russia in 1988? What is the difference, in Russian soul direction, of the ‘inwardness’ (outwardness?) of this loud, “Heavy Metal” music, “enjoyed” when compared to the inward experience of the audience, in November of 1988, in the Moscow performance of Vyacheslav Artyomov’s Requiem?
Oh Russian Souls, do not unconsciously accept and embrace the lifestyles, manners and ways of the West! The Russian philosopher Vladimir S. Solovyov once asked Russia: “What kind of Orient do you wish to be– /The Orient of Xerxes or that of Christ?” The “Orient of Xerxes” – Stalin – crucified the “Orient of Christ.” This is now history. But if Russia is now repenting of Xerxes; does it prefer to be seduced by an ‘Occident of Sensualism’?
The West, has immensely more of the earthly comforts, goods and commodities of life than Russians will have for a very long time to come. But does America for example offer a high and refined intellectual culture? A deep reverence for great literature, music, art and theater? Do the physical comforts of life in the West form the practical basis for a deep soul culture and a profound inner spiritual life in the individual and society? Is there, in the West, a deep heartfelt impulse toward social brotherhood?
Do you imagine that the musicians of this, or other rock groups, have a passionate love and involvement with great literature and poetry? Are the rock-musicians, of the “Heavy Metal” music, inwardly troubled by the “cursed questions” of Dostoyevsky? Has Billy Joel ever read one single line, from one single poem, of Pushkin? LOOK at these Westerners oh young, youthful and naive of Russia; feel them. Do you imagine or sense that they know the answers to the real questions of life? Ask them what they know of Russian literature or poetry, Russian theater... Or ask them to explain the deeper meanings of America’s Melville, Faulkner, Emerson or Thoreau! Or ask them to recite to you Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address!
If you imagine that these rock musicians are actually, in some way, noble, ideal models of mankind to emulate, you would be profoundly mistaken. Inquire of their inner lives: their greatest thoughts, deepest feelings, highest aspirations and goals. Consider their spiritual maturity, philosophical interests, etc. But do not let worldly financial wealth, glamorize from sight, inner spiritual poverty. A fabulously rich, shallow soul – is a fabulously rich, shallow soul. (If you prefer the shallows, then please, dive in!)
“Freedom of choice” is a much heralded reality in the life in the West, especially when compared to all but the most recent years of Soviet life. But Russia, ‘What kind of Orient do you wish to be – the Orient of Christ’?, Xerxes?; an ‘Orient of Earthly Sensualism’; or one of ennobled inner culture and human brotherhood? It seems that Russia does now increasingly have some freedom of choice. But do the Russian Souls want to unconsciously follow the West? (Fooled by a false gold due to the West’s “mystique”?)
The West can offer external physical pleasures and practical conveniences and comforts ad infinitum to Russia; but it would be dangerously presumptuous to imagine that behind this, is profound and refined inner life of mind, soul and spirit. Russia must bear her own inner life of soul and spirit as she embraces the outer, physical, practical offerings from the Western world. But it would be a great disaster for mankind – in both East and West – if Russian Souls, unconsciously and naively, accept the external material life of the West; and yet do not recognize that the inner life of soul, and all that which is unique of Russia (and which has manifest in her culture, history and tradition) must constitute the inner gifts which Russian souls can give to the West.
Accept from the West its external conveniences and practical capacities; but do not assume that they are accompanied by an adequate and healthy inner life of soul, spirit and culture. Russia must bring her own inner life to ensoul the outer Western ways. The world does not require a second America, nor another California. And it would be a great spiritual misdirection of Russia, if it were to follow, incautiously, the spiritually-lost lead – as exemplified in the “Heavy Metal” nullity – of the West. If this seems preposterous, seek out a Western visitor, and try to have a deeply human conversation... And while – someday perhaps – eating a McDonald’s Hamburger on Pushkin Square in Moscow, ask them of Pushkin, or Dostoyevsky, or V. Solovyov; or Poe, Thoreau or Emerson!...
“Oh Russia... what kind of Orient do you wish to be.....?”
First published in the magazine English, #5, February 1997, p. 1-3.