Philosopher, Professor Mikhail Vishnevsky: ‘The wave of change passes through us’
[b]To where is Belarus moving and how can our nation succeed in this complex and ever changing world? We often contemplate this without realising that we, Belarusians, are individually responsible for our historical path. On understanding this, we can’t but view the matter differently. What matters to you? What are your ambitions? What are your skills?[/b]
‘Nation’ and ‘people’ are just words, as are ‘God’ and ‘life’. Modern philosophy tells us that there is no reason to be categorical about God or the meaning of life. You either believe or not; abstract thoughts have no relevance. We can only take our own journey through life
Over its 20 years of independence Belarus has made a few errors of judgement, failing to act in time or choosing a wrong path. It’s easy to say this in hindsight. Correspondent Nina Romanova here interviews the first pro-rector of Mogilev State University, Doctor of Philosophy, Professor Mikhail Ivanovich Vishnevsky.
Mikhail Ivanovich! Today, in our country, there is lively debate on the role of social disciplines and the humanities. Surely, state paid philosophers should provide us with a clear picture of the world. Can you do this?
I think that creating a single world vision is not only impossible but dangerous. There was a time when institutions existed to do so: the church (which punished those who failed to comply); and Marxist-Leninist ideologists (who took decisions for everyone). These collapsed, as it was impossible to make everyone think identically. Modern philosophers aim to encourage individual thought, so we build our own picture of the world.
General schemes are dangerous, as they create the illusion of complete clarity, while life is ever changing. We need to keep a fresh outlook, promoting creativity.
Is this the ‘creativity of the masses’?
The masses do not create anything; specific people do. Those who succeed are able to adapt to circumstances, thinking widely and seeing that order and chaos are closely related. This isn’t my own idea; this is synergy — a broad scientific conception. Absolute order is as dangerous as absolute chaos.
Should the state act as a regulator, promoting a certain sense of order?
It must support reasonable order while taking a step back, since excessive regulation hinders development. People may make mistakes but let them learn from experience. The same is true for children, who need the opportunity to make their own mistakes in order to learn. Without this, we hinder their development.
Diogenes said to Alexander the Great, ‘Do not stand in my sun’.
Alexander the Great was a successful conqueror but he didn’t create a secure state. As soon as he died, the Diadochi divided his power and all his great deeds came to nothing.
What can we learn from that?
I suppose… that he didn’t understand the overall dynamics of development. Some rulers left a more defined legacy — such as Genghis Khan. His Yassa (law) was followed by the Mongols successfully. Alexander the Great had only his personal vision and authority rather than a system to continue after him. Society needs to be organised in a way whereby other people invest their will in continuing a system.
I think that the effectiveness of those in authority has been brought into question in Belarus...
There are many examples of inappropriate working, which brings the authorities into question. To be frank, its representatives are neither respected nor feared. Our modern world requires an entirely different level of efficiency; we have too many guidelines and documents. Why bother to ‘simulate’ effective administration to no end? We need to develop self-government and, dare I say it, certain people should be held responsible for the devaluation and depreciation of our currency, which impacted on people’s incomes. Either inaction or incompetence was the cause.
On the other hand, shouldn’t we also take responsibility? Before the crisis, were we really earning our salaries? Did we create new production lines or create an innovative economy, generating income?
I also criticise myself, as a ‘master’ if not an ‘owner’ of our country. Of course, it is painful and disappointing when a spirit of discord appears; it can disrupt society, undermining its cohesion. However, this isn’t a disaster — simply a common mistake needing fixing. When we see that a situation is worsening, we should explain that it is time to act more cautiously. Of course, everyone wanted to receive more than they had invested, but such a course cannot lead to anything good.
Probably, we behaved like typical Europeans. One look at the European Union is enough to see how the crisis exposed serious problems...
I understand your subtle irony. However, I found it shocking to see the civic feelings of many Europeans disintegrate so severely. They had no wish to ‘share’ what they had acquired, despite the crisis situation; some compromise and sacrifice was needed to avoid collapse. This striking selfishness (where sacrifice was once evident) was unpleasant to witness. The Greeks fought for independence, sacrificing their homes and, even, lives, while France also fought hard. Today, people have no desire to sacrifice anything or pay anything — unwisely and sadly. We Belarusians are not the same.
Sacrificing your life for independence is surely ‘easier’ than sacrificing your bank account and home. The spirit of discord you mention was connected with the idea of nobody wishing to suffer at the expense of their neighbour. How can we avoid such inequality?
I am not an economist or businessman so I can’t give economic prescriptions but, if we compare Belarusians with others around the world, I feel satisfied. In our difficult situation, we did not express utter exasperation or a desire to destroy. Rather, we showed wisdom, looking to the future with confidence. Our countrymen are not inclined to extremes; they know how to watch, wait and learn. We hope to adequately respond to challenges, developing civilization. We need such challenges in order to find effective responses. I’m an optimist.
Is the same true across the whole country?
The nation is more than any one individual; it is an entity of historic, historical and cultural value, existing across the generations. People come and go but the country remains. On the other hand, our nation thrives thanks to the efforts of individuals. The wave of change passes through us. We are like a chain connecting past, present and future. Our children’s future perceptions depend on our responses to today’s events and the lessons we learn. We should avoid splitting society, being sensitive to change and responding appropriately. We all want to live in harmony, with good understanding of one another, avoiding spoiling our own and others’ lives with careless or irresponsible actions — as explained by Heidegger, an interesting philosopher who believed we were concerned for our place in the world. Belarus is the subject of our common concern.
Do children need to be encouraged in having public spirit?
I have given various suggestions, which have been partly used in designing the school syllabus for social science. I’m on a Ministry of Education working group which is updating socio-humanitarian education.
As I understand, we don’t impose values?
It is an illusion to believe that we can offer an interpretation of the world which people can accept readily. People can use the most significant ideas of the past and today in shaping their own thoughts. We should trust people’s ability to interpret information; they are not babies needing to be fed from a spoon. Individual responsibility is vital through our entire society — from top to bottom.
Thank you for the interview.
By Nina Romanova
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