The Hubris of East Europe's Peasants
By Sam Vaknin
Author of "Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited"
"It is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows."
The denizens of the former Soviet and socialist countries are marked by their resistance to learning from others. Now that the West is mired in multiple troubles and failures, they feel that their way of life and their mentality, their choices and their policies have been vindiacted and are superior to the West's. Smug hubris is everywhere I look. Add to this access to the Internet, this great equalizer of the stupid, and everyone in these shabby countries - from Macedonia to Russia - holds himself or herself to be a genius and not in need of further edification.
But the truth is that these inhabitants of the wrong side of the iron curtain reject newfangled knowledge and good advice not because they are traditionalists - but because they are craven and because they are pragmatic.
In the paranoid and surrealistic landscape of the former Soviet Bloc, to admit to ignorance is to publicly acknowledge a deficiency, a personal defeat, and a shortcoming. It is to hand your foes a weapon. It is not only a narcissistic injury (and that it is), but also a guaranteed professional suicide. I have yet to hear anyone in these backwater lands utter the magic words: "I don't know".
Thus, in the interest of self-preservation, it is more advisable to invent "facts" than to search for them; to claim education than to seek it; and to feign erudition than to acquire it. Ill-informed professors pass on their half-baked notions and inane "theories" from one molested generation to another in a vast conspiracy aided by the lack of access to foreign texts and outside experts.
Insecurity bred by nescience yields conformity and rigid "conservatism". Toeing the line is a survival strategy, not rocking the boat a religious principle, the boorish quid pro quo of Luddites, quacks, and conspiracy theorists the only form of "higher education".
Inevitably, as a purely defensive posture, a monopoly of "learning" has emerged in all these geographical domains. Real knowledge, propounded by genuine (typically, Western) experts threatens to unravel this unholy cartel, counteract the vested interests it reifies, and shatter the ersatz "scholarship" it is founded upon. Hence the fierce objection to any outside "interference" and "intrusion". Provincialism and obscurantism are elevated to the level of an ideology.
Nor is there a grassroots movement of minds eager for intellectual enlightenment and cross-fertilization. Education is a loss-making proposition. Formal training goes unrewarded in these nether regions. Nepotism and cronyism reign supreme. One's advancement, future prospects, and career depend on one's connections or family of origin. One's peers are perforce disqualified to judge one's progress and accomplishments, having been educated by the same inapts and oil snake salesmen that here pass for "professors". Indeed, why bother with textbooks and exams when "social networking" gets you places faster and far more securely?