A wise man had this to say about change: “It must be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to plan, more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to manage than the creation of a new system [Change.] For the initiator has the enmity of all who would profit by the preservation of the old institutions and merely lukewarm defenders in those who would gain by the new ones.” The Prince, Machiavelli, 1513. Three things have happened in the past few weeks that illustrate that astute statement.
The first is the explosion in the news media when it was discovered that parts of Rupert Murdoch’s gigantic News Corporation had been using illegal and immoral tactics to gather information for their politically oriented newspapers and journals. Now we hear all sorts of predictions on how these discoveries will affect the whole press world which has been growing biased over the last twenty or so years. Media veteran Lowell Bergman gave a talk at a local public library a few years ago about “The end of news, as we knew it” and identified the end of impartial reporting in America to the last years of the Reagan administration when the Supreme Court changed the long held interpretation of a part in the U.S. Constitution concerning independence of the media. They reversed the restriction of monopoly private corporate ownership of the media (press, TV, radio) which allowed all the media in any market to be owned by one company. That is when Murdock came to America and founded Fox News. That corporate, and therefore political, control of the media has had a big impact on the voter, and therefore government. According to many, that is now the cause of the dangerous polarization of American politics today.
The second is the recent Oslo bombing and mass murder of young men and women at a camp in Norway by a right-wing political extremist Anders Behring Breivik who called himself a fundamentalist Christian. He said he is a supporter of a “monocultural Christian Europe” – all this in face of the change in Europe toward a secular society. In no way can his murderous insane actions be prompted by any commonly held understanding of the teachings of Jesus. But the result is to encourage right-wing extremists in Europe, Russia, and elsewhere who are against whatever the mainstream direction and want change—their own violent change. Norway’s apparent decision to continue “being Norwegian” is a strength to that fine nation.
The third is, believe it or not, the Volga cruise ship sinking tragedy. That river disaster, and the more recent one near Moscow are clearly the result of opposition to change, in this case, the moral responsibility to protect others in the conduct of their business. That “what’s in it for me” attitude so burdening many Russians absolutely must be understood and corrected. It’s hard to change century-old national thought patterns. But nothing good will be lost and there is much to gain in the conscious individual rebuilding of the foundation for personal and national success. Further, while not taking away from the Russian character, or “soul,” Russia’s otherwise colorful history will be enhanced and internationally recognized, appreciated, and popular.
What do these three events have in common? First they were all instigated directly or indirectly by personal interest and a lack of a true sense of societal and human responsibility. In Murdoch’s case it is money and at anyone else’s price. With the Murdoch types, the only judgment is the “bottom line.” Hurting people is a small price for someone else to pay for one’s personal enrichment.
In Breivik’s case it is personal importance at any price. So pertinent is the tale from the foreword of Lajos Egri’s “The Art of Dramatic Writing” where, in classical Greece, a young man is caught for defacing major statues. He is asked if he knows the penalty is death. He answers, "I am a nobody. All my life I've been a nobody. I've never done anything to distinguish myself and I knew I never would. I wanted to do something to make people notice me . . . and remember me." After a moment's silence he added, "Only those people die who are forgotten. I feel death is a small price to pay for immortality!" Breivik will not be forgotten.
In the Volga sinking case, those who could have saved the lives of so many men, women, and children hid from their knowing negligence with that Russian excuse of “It’s not my responsibility.” They had successfully ignored the rules before and hadn’t suffered, so why not again? The irresponsibility of the owners, the managers, the inspectors and other officials that let it all pass by, with their hands out, must be corrected.
It’s all about responsibility, so critical at this time of rapid change. Machiavelli is right today as he was about 500 years ago. Change is not popular, but unavoidable and we have to learn to manage it. “For the initiator has the enmity of all who would profit by the preservation of the old institutions and merely lukewarm defenders in those who would gain by the new ones.”
The views expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.
The column is about the ideas and stories generated from the 20 years the author spent living and doing business in Russia. Often about conflict and resolution, these tales at times reveal the “third side of the Russian coin.” Based on direct involvement and from observations at a safe distance, the author relates his experiences with respect, satire and humor.
Frederick Andresen is an international businessman and writer with a lifetime of intercultural experience in Asia and for the last twenty years in Russia. He now lives in California and is President of the Los Angeles/St. Petersburg Sister City Committee . While still involved in Russian business, he also devotes time to the arts and his writing, being author of “Walking on Ice, An American Businessman in Russia” and historical novellas.