an American's Reflections - Stephen Lapeyrouse’s website

How Can Russians Help Americans?

Living in Russia, where the “American way of life” is beginning to pervade the world here, like it has done in most parts of the world; I am compelled as an American to make note of ways that Russians can help Americans. Since the fall of communism and the collapse of the USSR, Russians have often turned to the West and America as models, in innumerable ways, as to how a society should be organized, and how the human being should live. I have in my time here in Russia sometimes seen ridiculous imitations of American patterns by people who may imagine they are their most accomplished, when in fact they are the most predictable, standardized copy of a “successful” American. It is clear that the west won the so-called Cold War; that “capitalism” was more successful than state “communism”. (In a decades old open public discussion group in California, where we tried to make sense of the world, we were only slightly joking, when we said that since “greed” seems to be a better motivator of human activity than “altruism” – thus capitalism won.)

But anyone who knows the realities of life in the USA today, knows that there are very deep and broad social problems there permeating the society. Though I see that Russians copy America nevertheless – not learning from our experience.

But the point I want to make now relates to the famous speech which Dostoyevsky made in Moscow at the unveiling of the Pushkin monument, where he said that the Russian soul is pan-European. Now the Russian soul must also be pan-American. It must absorb “American” into itself, as it did before German, French, etc.

One of the ways that Russians can help Americans is to expect Americans to know their own countries history – intellectual, spiritual, cultural. We have seen how the man who coined the expression “American dream” said that someone who pursues “merely material plenty” instead of having physical comfort as a means to a higher inner life, are “barbarians”. So Russians can help Americans, by expecting Americans to achieve, upon their material success, the higher, noble American dream. If these people have time and money; they should also be expected to spend it on their own cultivation and inner development, and not only on more physical comforts, entertainments and distractions, and meals in restaurants. It is often said that America is the most free and prosperous land in the history of the world (this has been asserted since 1926 by the way). Fine. Let us just accept that this is true. But since Americans do not want to be considered “barbarians”; Russians can help them by studying and discussing.

Moscow, March 1996 (unpublished)