“Aristotle maintained that women have fewer teeth than men; although he was twice married, it never occurred to him to verify this statement by examining his wives’ mouths...”
A foreign lecturer asked novice entrepreneurs the following question: “Where is it more profitable to set up a fast food outlet – in a bedroom suburb, which is very far from your rivals, or at a busy crossroads full of fast food pavilions of all brands?” The majority of the audience opted for a suburb instead of a location in the real market’s animated environment. But even the old women who sell homemade cakes know that, despite the bustle and the risk of being accosted by policemen, an hour of standing by a subway station brings as many earnings as a day of walking down a quiet street. Yet stereotypes are always stronger than common sense. The fear of competition is an innate phobia of the person who is launching their business in a country of victorious monopolism – this is why we always look for a coin under a lamppost rather than where it was dropped.
A human being consists 70 percent of water and 90 percent of stereotypes. The latter surround us everywhere, occupying our consciousness and shutting our eyes with reality-warping multicolor lenses. Business took them up in a fight for consumers’ affection and made them the motive force of advertising. Politicians are turning social cliches into ballots to be cast into their ballot boxes. Some of the “postulates” were born hundreds of years ago, some quite recently. Men are more hard-working than women, the Jews are stingy, all the blacks are singers or athletes, the Arabs are terrorists, the French are the best lovers, the blondes are stupid, the Russians are openhearted, our sausage is better than the imported one, etc., etc. In this realm of cliches, an airliner is always silver-winged, Cinderella always waits for her prince, policemen never make mistakes, and socialism is equated with paradise.
A few years ago a Bulgarian designer, Yanko Tsvetkov, depicted the world as an atlas of stereotypes, telling in a jocular manner about how silly the people’s trivial judgments look. On a map of myths and prejudices (http://alphadesigner.com/mapping-stereotypes), Ukraine is called a buffer against barbarity, a country of gas transit, a supplier of girls to brothels, and, in general, a terra incognita that spreads north of the Black Sea. If people with this kind of platitudes in their minds were ruling European states, we would hardly have a chance to negotiate with them at international forums. But, thank God, the functions of human cerebral hemispheres have no constants and tend to change under the influence of experience. In the third millennium, we no longer fear crusader knights and derail no German trains in a thick forest. Yet nostalgia for the images that have sunk into oblivion is still haunting the media space. It fills radio and TV waves and speeches of the well-known people who think they are passing expert judgments. These days, the main topic is the upcoming Ukraine-Europe rapprochement. Likely rapprochement has been a bugbear over the past few centuries. More often than not, we are scared with the inevitable surrender of our foodstuffs to foreign pressure – the European Union subsidizes farmers and, therefore, they can essentially cut prices to capture the market and then raise them as they please. You don’t have to be an economist to see that it is a case of transplanting our behavioral patterns onto the European ground. Harvesting the crop of berries, vegetables, and fruit in Italy, our citizens earn as much in a month as they would not manage to do in a year if they worked righteously in their native village. Why should we be afraid of European subsidies if wages and, hence, cost price advantages will fully make up for them? And why those who paint a horrible picture of the European economy in our media are Russian spokesmen who haven’t the slightest idea of civilized business and Ukrainian professors who very recently taught the economics of developed socialism? If you compare what these people say with the opinion of our businessmen who have launched businesses in, for example, the Czech Republic, you will see the point of playing the old accordion of an isolationist economy. It is worse to sell goods on an empty and dark provincial street than on a well-lit square bustling with shoppers and salespeople.
Ukraine is a sluggish country which blindly follows the stereotypes that stand in our way and hinder people of all walks of life from seeing the prospects. We dislike Europe and love Russia. The capitalists will come and buy off all the land. Petliura is an enemy. Kosior is ours. We admit the Holocaust but reject the Holodomor. Western Ukraine is populated with lazy nationalists and eastern Ukraine with hardworking internationalists. In spite of living for 22 years without Soviet-era ideology and dogmas, a considerable part of our citizens prefer to follow antediluvian traditions without looking into the history of their origin.
A young husband once asked his wife why she had cut the goose by half when cooking the Christmas dinner. She said she had borrowed this from her mother. Then the son-in-law inquired his mother-in-law about her culinary secrets. She referred him to grandmother, and the elderly woman confessed that she had had a small oven that could not comprise a whole goose. Social psychologists often give this example to explain to people the absurdity of stereotypes. Why do our citizens fail to turn into meticulous sons-in-law and dig up the true reasons why the goose of our history was cut into pieces on which the present-day reality emerged? Why are so weak the voices of those who speak of the Ukrainian roots of a huge layer of what is now called Russian culture and the memory of those who began to speak of this is being axed by illiterate boors?
According to the academics who tackle this problem here and in the West, it is incredibly difficult to eliminate the false systems of persuasions, for they emerge at an early age. An individual associates with them his or her ego, a considerable part of the closely-guarded impressions of their childhood and youth. Whoever remembers Chyngyz Aitmatov’s novel The Day Lasts More than a Hundred Years must have been shocked by the legend about “mankurts.” Captive youths were zombified by means of a camel’s raw udder which was put on their shaved heads so that the tough Asia hair grew through the killed animal’s skin and turned the latter into an irremovable headgear, which caused an unbearable pain in the head and could drive the man crazy. After the torture, the “mankurt” could not stand his head being touched and was ready to kill anyone who stretched his hand to him. The bearers of the long-abandoned truths and heartwarming delusions resemble the hapless who wear a camel’s dried-out udder. Instead of changing their behavior and perception, logic, facts, and artifacts will only embitter and scare them.
Anti-stereotypes, i.e., values created to counterpoise the previous ones, also whip up societal tension. The Kruty heroes and Pavka Korchagin will never meet halfway, even though they lived in the same historical epoch and were similar in their emotional outburst. The guerrilla units of Roman Shukhevych and Sydir Kovpak have been classified as forces that pursued entirely different goals, although they fought against the same enemy. Cliche-ridden awareness cannot possibly bring them all closer to heart. This awareness rules out disobeying the rules of bygone life and fuels the fire of old-age bitterness in the elderly and the energy of hereditary hatred in the young.
This epoch of worshipping warped ideals will not vanish by itself unless society wishes to change the comfortable but shabby padded jackets, which it is a shame to wear in public, for the suits that befit the present time and circumstances. And when new school uniforms cease to be made from the rotten cloth of savage morals, we will stop being afraid of the signs of civilization and looking at the world through the glasses of stereotypical vision.