Romantics and pragmatists

(From the introduction to Peripatetic Alterity: A Philosophical Treatise on the Spectrum of Being – Romantics and pragmatists)

Many of us are concerned with various aspects of freedom, equality, justice, happiness or other ideals. We talk about them with our friends; we read articles in publications and books related to the subject. Some of us get a degree in a field.

Another – probably larger – group of us try to survive. That’s it. That is all there is: Nothing but holding out. On occasion, sure, we discuss ideals, but when the struggle subsides for a moment, we generally prefer humor, stories (oral) or entertainment.

These two types, referred to as pragmatists and romantics can be found in every North, South and Central American country as well as all European countries (including Russia). The existence of both does not mean that they are equally represented in our consciousness, public discourse, policy, the church, arts or academia. In countries with a middle class that perceives itself to be affluent and successful, the leitculture, that is, mainstream culture is often dominated by pragmatists through various institutions.

Romantics are largely sidelined in this society: Whether they are extremely wealthy (where survival is then largely perceived in the form of a Hobbesian battle) or live on the fringe, their behavior, views, opinions are too much at odds with those of the pragmatists. In the few influential countries dominated by romantics, the voice of the people is distorted by fringe elements with agendas that are unappealing and unacceptable to pragmatists.

We will define and look at these pragmatists and romantics in more depth later, but it is important – critical in our time – to note a few aspects of these archetypes:

Firstly, these categories are not based in any way on race, class or nationality. Anyone can belong to any archetype (or gravitate in the direction of a given archetype, since, as we will see, the model involves a sliding scale in the form of an open circle or ensō[i]), and it is very common for children’s position to differ vastly from their parent’s as well as their own personal one at a past time in their life.

Secondly, each group enjoys distinct advantages over the other group when this hippocrepiform scale is superimposed on both a scale of states ranging from despair to nirvana and a scale of materialism. There is beauty in the lives of pragmatists and romantics.

Thirdly, an understanding of these two cultures living side-by-side in our countries will allow for greater acceptance of romantics in pragmatically-defined societies and reduce domestic social tension and international tension between different leitcultures.

Fourthly, it will provide a conceptual framework for a counter-ideology, namely an anti-materialist or metaphysical ideology that pragmatic idealists can embrace in their renunciation of the status quo.

Fifthly, an artistic approach is explicitly adopted by us not to question the benefits of science, but to demonstrate that non-scientific methods have at least commensurate value, which is likewise consistent with romantics and the relationship between romantics and pragmatists. The artistic method also allows us to address the topics as a work of literary fiction would: that is, from a point of view that may be historical, social, psychological…

Sixthly, the references and examples will show the consistency or transposition of these archetypes over time and across countries.

Seventhly, in the context of our perypatetik project, particularly the emblems in The Anthology of Global Instability Transposed, The Codex of Uncertainty Transposed, and The Syncretion of Polarization and Extremes, this framework allows us to present work by authors from diverse backgrounds on one platform without the discrimination, bias or elitism characteristic of established authors, philosophers, thinkers and publishers. These authentic reports serve as the documentary basis for these archetypes.

What we are saying here is not a new development or discovery. We are simply defining a universal empirical phenomenon that has existed for a longer period of time and has been ignored to such an extent that we are having tremendous difficulty understanding recent and current events.

It is not easy to judge the time one lives in. Comparison with a generalized and – usually – idealized past is problematic since we cannot live identically in two times at once.

Nonetheless, it does seem possible to make some statements about our age. For example:

If we recall the influence of organized religion, the church, in the centuries preceding the 20th, then we can call our post-religious age of money, property and success materialist.

Relative to most of the twentieth century when attention was drawn to competing materialist systems – Soviet communism and American capitalism – the economic system in almost every country today is capitalist.

Within capitalist societies, the previous balance between capital and labor has swung greatly in favor of capital.

Almost irrespective of our situation, we sense and often participate in technological development – primarily through the computer and cell phone.

In urban environments, various forms of intolerance (racism, sexism, discrimination) are not accepted, and all environments – from lines for concerts to corporate offices – are far more diverse than fifty years ago.

Despite these differences, many aspects remain the same:

Most of us will work for almost all of our productive adult years.

All of us are easily replaceable (as partners, spouses, parents, friends, employees, managers, etc.).

Almost nobody will be extremely successful or get rich.

The world has not come to an end (nor has work).

Life is difficult, or difficulties in life continue to surface.

There will be no permanent state of happiness, despair or otherwise for any of us.

Judging the present day is particularly difficult due to the role of the mainstream media. They have a near monopoly in terms of shaping public opinion, with other institutions such as the church, the arts (mostly film and theater) and academia being totally overwhelmed by the pervasiveness of moderators, pundits, journalists and op-ed writers, whose content also dictates what we find in alternative media for the most part.

Media’s primary objective as a commercial business complicates the picture even more. They must generate profits. By polarizing almost every topic to draw attention, the media business model tends to exacerbate and reinforce existing differences. This approach, coupled with our tendency to trust our preferred sources of information, is bound to increase division. As people in society have fewer social encounters with a small group of people, the infrequent gatherings between near strangers require common topics that everyone can discuss: The only common denominator consists of topics in the news.

By contrast, our diverse society – with people across the archetypal spectrum constantly coming into personal contact with each other – acts as a counterweight to media divisiveness.

Our perception is also guided by social, economic and political factors. In stable countries such as America, France, Germany, the UK, Italy – to name but a few – entrenched stakeholders in the form of investors, lenders, boards, employees, association members and their associates informally exercise immense influence. The lengthy period of stability in Western countries has allowed them to consolidate their grip by having senior stakeholders informally vet subordinates and prospective managers. The future generation of leaders is therefore determined by the preceding group, ensuring continuity not only in business, but also in the mission or orientation. In America, we see this in the material (i.e. profit) orientation of companies. In another sense, we have witnessed this in the hesitant and slow diversification of management throughout the world.

In this constellation, society as a whole should not be forgotten. While its interests are primarily monitored by parties looking to take advantage of and manipulate it (usually by extracting its money through consumption), there are cases of outrage that resonate with the public and require stakeholders to react. In 2017 and 2018 we saw this dynamic in various sexual harassment scandals involving thespians, entertainers, corporate officers and directors.

The distinction between romantics and pragmatists can be crudely summarized – for the time being – on the basis of rough artistic generalizations as follows:

Pragmatists shape their fate, are focused on the end of the process rather than the process itself, are optimistic about the future, consider education to be critical, success and achievements as proof of personal value, are frugal and cautious with money, network and are basically moralists with an intellectual sense of humor, work constantly, do not think quickly, but act consistently, prefer activity to breaks, like (primarily social and financial) obligations, embrace materialism, consume and manage and do not tolerate excessive non-conformity.

Romantics can be said to accept fate, view life as a process, not worry about the future (but have a more pessimistic outlook), disregard education, success, achievements and money, be less open to strangers (not in the sense of immigrants/refugees, but rather people outside of their immediate circle of friends and acquaintances), have a sense of humor, relax, rest and enjoy their leisure time, have polarized minds (swinging from very active to complete lethargy), think quickly (but are erratic in terms of acting), love freedom, live existentially, produce, work and are nearly boundlessly compassionate.

Graphically, the open ensō of archetypes for pragmatists and romantics looks like this:

When we superimpose the degrees of materialism and the metaphysical/spiritual on the open ensō of pragmatists and romantics, then we see the respective archetypes tend to be associated with different kinds of wealth:

<———————————>

Greater pragmatism               Greater romanticism

<———————————>

Greater material wealth              Greater metaphysical/spiritual wealth

Fundamentally, as we will see in the following chapters, a pragmatist is likely to enjoy greater material prosperity and lesser metaphysical/spiritual depth. The reverse naturally applies as well for romantics. Should we be more romantically inclined, we will experience the depths of the metaphysical or spiritual, but will experience greater material hardship.

However, this paradigm should be conceived on the ensō above. This is particularly important because it can by no means be assumed that all (extreme) romantics have less material and more spiritual/metaphysical wealth. Likewise, all (extreme) pragmatists do not live the material high life in spiritual depravity. The ensō form has been chosen to depict this concept graphically precisely because the ends of extreme pragmatism and romantism may not be connected (the circle does not close), but they are relatively close to each other – a point we will get to later. At this stage, we should note that it is possible for people to cross directly over the gap from extreme romanticism to extreme pragmatism or from extreme pragmatism to extreme romanticism.

Finally, there is one more stratum to add to this model, but it cannot be directly correlated with the ensō. This stratum comprises the spectrum of core states that a human being experiences. They are: despair, depression, sadness, frustration, anger, neutral, joy, happy/fun, love/in-love, sublime, nirvana. We can visualize it not as a continuous spectrum, but something like this:

Legend: -5 Despair, -4 Depression, -3 Sadness, -2 Frustration, -1 Anger, 0 Neutral, +1 Joy, +2, Happy/Fun, +3 Love/In love, +4 Sublime, +5 Nirvana

As we will attempt to show in examples later, a person’s orientation as a pragmatist or a romantic has an effect on the states that they experience. The fundamental conditions of pragmatism, for example, predispose a pragmatist to spend more time in certain states, while likewise the underlying structure of romanticism determines a romantic’s relationship to these states. As we will see, social, historical, biological, psychological, economic and other factors account for these inclinations, that is, similar to the logic behind the protagonist’s actions in a novel, we can understand behavior from an artistic, i.e. diverse point of view.

It is important to point out that these are tendencies rather than absolute laws. Romantics may be more inclined and/or fated to spend their lives fluctuating between polarized states of extreme positive and extreme negative, although they repeatedly return to equilibrium. By contrast, pragmatists, with their appetence, hover closer to plus 1 or 2, but do not experience more extreme states as a result.

As we mentioned before and will discuss at length in chapter eleven, the romantic orientation tends (but does not have to) lead to greater metaphysical-existential-spiritual well-being and less material wealth. Of course, we will define and look at metaphysical existence more closely throughout this book, but let us reserve ourselves here to understanding this phenomenon as harmony with the diversity we experience in life.

In some instances throughout this book and in our work, the language seems to indicate that the terms pragmatist and romantic or pragmatism and romanticism are being used as metaphors for class or political differences. This is absolutely false. To the extent that generalizations can be made in these regards, pragmatists tend to be financially in the middle or at the top, while both poles are filled many romantics. However, moderate romantics tend to be workers (rather than managers), which causes them to drift toward greater material wealth, as the spectrum suggests. The one very rare constellation is an extreme pragmatist with little material wealth.

Politically, almost no statement can be made. Extreme pragmatists probably tend to vote for liberal politicians, but extreme romantics in urban environments also gravitate toward liberals, while rural romantics prefer conservatives. However, because everyone is constantly shifting on a spectrum and most people are moderate pragmatists or romantics, they end up being in the middle, making them open to both political parties.

Here and there in this treatise we will refer to the «rolling stone» concept to remind readers of the existence and precariousness of romantic affluence. This term is derived from Bob Dylan’s song Like a Rolling Stone. Dylan is talking about an affluent romantic here (as opposed to an affluent pragmatist), which we see, among others, in the last strophe:

Ahh princess on a steeple and all the pretty people
They’re all drinking, thinking that they’ve got it made
Exchanging all precious gifts
But you better take your diamond ring, you better pawn it babe
You used to be so amused
At Napoleon in rags and the language that he used
Go to him he calls you, you can’t refuse
When you ain’t got nothing, you got nothing to lose
You’re invisible now, you’ve got no secrets to conceal

How does it feel, ah how does it feel?
To be on your own, with no direction home
Like a complete unknown, like a rolling stone

(Dylan 1965)

His or her precipitous fall from romantic grace to a state of materially impoverished romanticism is a characteristic risk that affluent romantics face. Romanticism is a world of extremes where you constantly perceive that the end is near and a dramatic fall at hand.

This treatise aims to outline the broader framework of our work, especially in the perypatetik project. It accepts the views of pragmatists and romantics as documentation of what they perceive as advantageous for themselves and regards these positions as positive in their respective context. This applies in particular to romantics, romanticism and the worldview of people who ascribe to this way of life. It is assumed that the readers of this book are primarily ardent pragmatists, defenders of the pragmatic way of life or defecting pragmatists looking for an alternative, change, even a revolution. This assumption naturally means that the representation of being in this book is skewed toward an explication of romanticism.

To help with orientation, we have provided a detailed table of contents and broken down the perypatetik topics into largely self-contained chapters. It should be possible to understand one chapter without reading the others.

Chapter one contains this general introduction.

In chapter two we will examine the main characteristics of pragmatists. You will find many citations from the perypatetik project, primarily related to the collection of pragmatists’ and romantics’ views of our contemporary neobaroque gilded age. These are complemented by some empirical findings in daily life, as well as a few brief remarks on historical, social and psychological dimensions shaping these characteristics.

This is followed by the main characteristics of romantics in chapter three. The structure and content mirrors that of chapter two. Each subsection of chapters two and three represent essentially dualities, but without necessarily meaning that the contradistinction entails the polar opposite position. For example, if romantics love freedom, it does not mean that pragmatist embrace slavery or serfdom or perpetual servitude; rather, the pendant is commitments.

As alluded to in the title of chapter four, «The essence», we attempt to show the fundamentals of romantic existence. Since the leitculture in America is defined by pragmatism, while the leitculture of Russia is shaped by romanticism, this chapter discusses (primarily positive) aspects of romanticism on the basis of Russia.

Chapter five is devoted to the topic of perception, especially the role of the media and social circles in guiding our perception. Once again we will examine historical, social and psychological aspects of this phenomenon. It will be proposed here that literary fiction should replace the mainstream media and social circles as the source of information for shaping our perception since literary fiction is the field best suited for accommodating the diverse disciplinary frameworks informing our knowledge.

In chapter six we return to the various traits of pragmatists and romantics. We start by sketching out the life of a romantic in the context of pragmatic surroundings. The second part of this chapter circles back to the 15 characteristics of pragmatists and romantics, with a direct comparison, mostly based on the specific cases of a manager and an electrician.

The book continues, in chapter seven, with counterarguments in defense of romantics. Here, it is assumed that certain aspects of romantic existence are inferior modes of being. A hypothetical romantic even accepts it. But they defend their culture anyway.

Chapter eight delves into some criticism of pragmatists and explores beautiful aspects of romantics. Here we return to the spectrum of states discussed in this introduction, positing that pragmatists find themselves largely just off of neutral (to the upside and downside), while romantics spend most of their life in neutral, but swing out to wild extremes (in both directions).

In chapter nine we examine similarities and differences, again taking Russia as the basis for a romantic society and America for a pragmatic one.

The concept of transposition is introduced in chapter ten to demonstrate the continuity of certain (divergent) types in romantic and pragmatic cultures. Presidents, specifically the images they present to the public, are examined as a reflection of desires in each culture. Romantic existentialists admire different traits in a leader than pragmatic idealists. In this chapter, we will also fall back on the different fields shaping our perception (of leaders in this case) to show how the natural interdisciplinary approach of literary fiction is ideally suited for gaining knowledge of contemporary society.

To close out the body of this treatise and offer modern-day dissidents a novel counterideology that is not a regurgitation of failed ideologies of the past, chapter eleven discusses the potential for romanticism to become such a counterideology. In particular, as is evident throughout this book, we will point out that the revolution desired by today’s dissidents requires nothing other than a change in perception – above all, an abjuration of materialism and consumption. Aside from this revolutionary potential, the penultimate chapter aims to elucidate the immense benefits for everyone, including any opposition, to having strong, self-confident and influential romantics with an existential, i.e. anti-materialist worldview (rather than their current marginalization). In part, this is examined on the basis of the standard-bearer of romanticism – Russia – in the international community; in part, we look at more modest, everyday benefits that currently exist in each society as a result of romantic existentialism, but are not acknowledged as a result of pragmatists’ materialist orientation.

In chapter twelve, we conclude with the prospects for this aesthetic ideology. The equality of pragmatists and romantics on the basis of this treatise is summarized once again by referring to a transposing emblem on India. The spectrum of states as found in Leo Tolstoy’s novel Anna Karenina concisely rehashes the remarks on transitory being scattered throughout the book. Finally, we outline the transition from rejection to acceptance of romanticism, especially its potential as a counterideology and promising future for material dissidents.


[i] Think of something like a horseshoe / hippocrepiform. This will be discussed more below and in chapter 11, but please note that the use of ensō is not meant to subtly or overtly suggest any association with Zen Buddhism. It is merely a more poetic image for what we are trying to describe.