A change of mentality

00f September 18, 2013 -- (asphalt)

In the last five years or more, I keep hearing of such a thing as the need for "a change of mentality", in connection with all sorts of post-1989 Romanian stuff. Since we're here, I'll have to digress a bit.

Romania is a fairly young country. We've been attempting (with more or less success) to remain cohesive since the 1800s and have been growing in the early 1900s, only remaining stable from the points of view of territory and population after the Second World War. There have been said, more or less crackpot-theoretical attempts of "some powers" to destroy this cohesion in 1989 and the first few years after, without any clear success, so Romania looks pretty much like a unitary state at the moment.

Anyway, after almost fifty years of comunism, a lot of the post-89 events came like major blows to the head of the masses. For example, we saw that once markets opened, most local industries proved to be uncompetitive, so they became extinct1. Similarly, many banks were nothing more than Ponzi schemes run by crooks who became rich in a really short period of time, and other businesses were started by ex-secret services guys that well, had the info, while the stupid masses did not. Long story short, the last twenty-four years or so of "Romanian democracy" have been some kind of bizarre circus, and now things don't seem to head in any clear direction.

So, as I was saying, in this context people start suggesting changes, most notably "a change of mentality". It certainly sounds good to people who've never been abroad but somehow seem to think that the countries to the West are more "civilized", and everything is just great there and dogs are running with pretzels on their tails2. People there seem to have so much better mentalities, at which point Romanians start believing that trying to mimic them would be a pretty good idea. As a matter of fact, it's a really bad idea. The why behind it might not be obvious, so I'll have to explain.

Changing a collective mentality as a whole would be a good idea if it didn't destroy the subjects, at least from a cultural point of view. It's similar to what Orwell was describing in 1984: modify concepts, news and everything else so that people start having a new conception of life. It's the exact opposite of what nationalists aim to do, replacing the Romanian person with its German or Swedish or Whateverish equivalent. The thing is, mentalities do change in time, only they do it really slowly, so we rarely take the time to notice how much the mentality of your average Romanian has changed since 1989. Supermarkets, television, Internet, all the "un-Romanian" things changed Romanians' mentalities more than one would expect. Yesterday's Cartoon Network kids are today's English-speaking (almost-)adults who pay taxes. Eighty-year old grandmas spend a couple of hours a week on Skype, chatting with their nephews in Spain, which, I'll tell you, was unimaginable twenty-five years ago. And I could go on and on with the examples, but I'll stop here.

The thing is that absolutely no one wants to completely destroy Romanians' national identity, not even anarchistoid youngers who deserve a good beating for being such hipsters. Surely, the state is bad, politicians are bad, but do we like Romanian food, nature, pussy and other stuff that them westerners only wish they had3.

Besides that, after working for some time with technology, I've learned that paradigm shifts almost never lead people where they expected. What I mean is, back in the '70s computers were used mainly for maths and no one could have conceived then that pockets could fit a machine capable of games, music, movies and instantaneous communication forty years later. I'll consider this example relevant, however unrelated it might seem.

In Romania's case, the sudden shift from communism to democracy was exactly that, a major paradigm shift. As I was saying, we still have problems dealing with it. So there you have it, our dearly beloved paradigm shift, that's changing our mentalities whether we like it or not. Is that any good? We seem to think not, but we're forgetting that in '88-'89 people were sitting all day long at queues fighting over two kilos of expired meat. Is that any bad? Maybe, but once again, we're forgetting that Romanian education kept the bar high in mathematics, engineering, gymnastics and a few others, which is a great performance for a country of twenty million people.

My opinion and mine only, and you can do with it whatever you wish, fellow Romanians, is that you can stick your "change of mentality" in places that hurt. It's ceased to have any relevant meaning, all we need now is to focus and maybe get out of this mess we're in.

  1. The same crackpot theorists believe that "some powers" from the West systematically sabotaged Romanian industry, agriculture and pretty much everything that was productive in the country. I, for one, believe that we sabotaged ourselves, mostly due to the fact that we had, and still have, no idea in the world of how the so-called "Romanian democracy" is supposed to work.

  2. The saying is a rough translation of a Romanian expression, "fug câinii cu covrigi în coadă". You might have an idea of what that means if you've ever been to Bucharest: it's one of the cities that are choc-full of dogs; now, if only they had pretzels on their tails, every lazy ass could get a piece to eat. Basically, it's a popular representation of socialist utopia.

  3. Yes, these are mostly fallacies. It's not like Romania is the only country in the world where they serve good food.