Living Others' Lives, Not Our Own
Did That Plane Leave at All?
Collectivism surely means something different to a philosopher, anthropologist, or a sociologist than it means to me. Born and raised in a communist dictatorship (not Russia), I could only learn one meaning of it: living everyone' else's life except one's own.
My moving to the democratic West was supposed to denote my leaving behind that collectivistic mentality---along with that constant glorification of "patriotism", "common good", and all other sterile slogans that couldn't find any justification in the way of life there.
Instead, some time soon after my arrival I had an opportunity to hear on a TV program John F. Kennedy saying that famous one: "Do not ask what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country". Hey, didn't I just come from a place where slogans like that were more popular than daily bread!
A Lonely Individualist
It didn't take long for me to realize how I was not likely to run into a bona fide individualist like myself. At my work place there were a few quiet secretive faces that seemed to qualify; but soon enough I figured out why they were so quiet---they didn't like me, a "displaced person who had come to their country to steal their jobs".
However, none of them looked one bit like Native Canadians, but I didn't want to start anything by reminding them how their ancestors had come to this land to steal much more than "jobs" from those they found here. Anyhow, since they already had their dignified careers of helpers in a huge cookie bakery, how could I possibly steal their jobs. Silly collectivists.
Staying for another moment at that unwelcoming environment---during coffee breaks I would listen to their exchange of comments over the upcoming federal election. One might almost call that a good discussion, except that it was filled with frequent obscenities, just for a convincing effect, as you guessed.
At one point I gathered enough confidence to ask: "What is the difference between conservatives and liberals?" Well, we didn't have anything like that in my old European country, it was all just communism---with no questions asked if you valued your freedom. But now, they looked on me as if I just asked : "What's the next bus to the Moon?", and by those stupid facial expressions I could tell they didn't know the answer.
That somewhat surprised me, because if they had asked me about communism I could have given them a little lecture about all those tenets of it---which actually made me decide to emigrate.
However, they quickly changed the subject and started talking about football. There they were pretty safe from my "stupid questions", because being a sort of a book-worm I had really no interests in sports.
Juicy Stories---a Surrogate for Having a Life
I have seen, heard of, and read about so many folks without any hobbies, interests, clean fun, or attempts to improve their health, their personalities, or relationships--- but instead with a constant mouthful of political amateurism, and critics about everyone from a doctor, auto mechanic, all the way up to a president or a prime minister.
As for a "conversational dessert" one could hear every rumor imaginable about Hollywood celebrities---who is sleeping with whom, who is divorcing, or on a rehab, whose facelift or boob-job was a sheer waste of money, and so on.
Not to mention a possible argument over the real cause of Elvis's death---was it his heart, his drug abuse, a chronic heavy constipation, or all of the above. Of course--- IF the "king" did die at all, or he faked his funeral "to escape from the revenge from those on whose toes he had stepped" in his after-hours, after he stopped singing "Love me tender".
When Privacy Is just another Word for Isolation
Not everything in that old style of life was bad; just as not everything in the new one was good. While communist regime made an unwilling political disciple out of everyone, its side effect was a great sense of togetherness, of belonging, and that started from your immediate neighborhood to several blocks in any direction.
People greeting you and sharing their private issues while meeting in the street or a store; people caring, helping, gossiping, arguing, complaining---but somehow being close. People walking everywhere, socializing, laughing, joking. Man, I missed privacy there because that was too much of collectivism for my taste, even though I liked closeness where ever it was showing in moderation.
Western closed mentality hit me like a brick at first, as I could almost read on everyone's forehead: "Stay away!" Neighbors saying a cold "hi" in passing, living door to door for decades without ever asking for each other's name.
Nothing short of a fire or a natural disaster could get them into having a conversation. Well, I soon realized how that mini-paranoia in their mentality was making an isolation out of their so cherished privacy.
And then I started understanding why westerners had such a hot-headed interest in politics and all those themes lavishly thrown at them by the media. They are compensating for their isolation by this excessive collectivism democracy-style. I have heard it's different in small towns as far as togetherness goes, something resembling that other extreme of collectivism that I left in my old country.
Minding Our Business More Than the One of Others
When someone says they "love" their people, they should be very specific before I would categorize them as naïve. Namely, not only across the whole territory, but even within a small community there are those individuals that we do like, and those we don't---regardless of the coincidence that we happen to wave the same flag.
Not even to talk about all those in penitentiaries and those who should be there, but also those stupid, ignorant, arrogant, and generally unpleasant human specimens in our tribe. So, what's all that "love for our people" about? Indeed, what exactly do we mean by that?
Are we saying that people across our borders are not lovable, or that our idiots are better than their idiots because they are "ours"? Personally, I could think of an enormous number of lovable people in any country, and at least as many of those that I would be simply delighted to ignore.
Of course, I am not telling anyone not to feel patriotic about their country. Go ahead, I am only sharing my own views about this collectivistic orientation of people---at the expense of their own best interests which would include more fun, happiness, more ignoring of the mainstream media bull-crap, more hobbies, interests, self-upgrading, and nurtured relationships. In short, everything that spells "having something like life".
In my view, which I am not trying to make universally valid, people are investing way too much interest in matters over which they have no control whatsoever--- instead of devoting their efforts to increase the quality of their own life.
At this point it might even be fair to say that much of that is none of our business, and our collectivistic passion oftentimes resembles something of a paparazzi style.
Indeed, for as long as we find "nothing interesting" in our own life, we are bound to live everyone else's, including the nation's---whatever "nation" may mean to us---other than a mass of folks most of whom we personally don't know at all, and never will.