“If our lives are dominated by a search for happiness, then perhaps few activities reveal as much about the dynamics of this quest – in all its ardour and paradoxes – than our travels.”
“Journeys are the midwives of thought.”
– Alain de Botton, The Art of Travel
He wonders why he is here. Why did he flee from such comforts? Why forgo the hot, pressurized water, the ever-present super high-speed Internet, the machines that do the laundry and dishes for him, the voicemail, the ubiquitous coffee to go, the gargantuan stores that supply his every need, the clean, comfortable, safe lifestyle, and the obese GDP? Why go from the rich to the poor?
The Traveller’s story is a tragic one. He will never catch what he is chasing, never escape from what pursues him. Telling himself that home is everywhere, he fears it is nowhere. As though there are hot coals beneath his feet, he cannot stay in one place. Like the Flying Dutchman, he is doomed to sail the seas forever. His tortured soul is disillusioned, disappointed, distant. He chases a mirage. He is condemned to travel.
So many times, I’ve heard people recently returned from the Developing World crying crocodile tears about how “guilty” they feel for living in the West. Guilty for what, exactly? For the fact that we live in such amazing countries and those outside the West do not? How obscenely, nationalistically, ethnocentrically self-congratulatory.
There is a word in Russian for which there is no translation. The word is toska, and the complexity of its meaning is enough to set a linguist’s heart aflutter. Indeed, every linguist worth their salt knows this word, as it is legendary in the world of languages in its stubborn disobedience to translate. It is in fact so complex and nuanced in its meaning, that it would take an English-speaking Russian literary genius to properly explain it. Fortunately we have such a luxury.
One of the reasons that Vladimir Putin has managed to secure such a strong following in Russia has been the state’s control of most television news. Under Putin, TV news is, in the words of former Moscow correspondent David Remnick, “exquisitely monitored and unwatchably bland.” The Russian state directly or indirectly controls all three of Russia’s national channels. Eighty-five percent of Russians use TV as their primary news source, yet only 17 percent believe TV provides a complete and objective picture of the world, and 63 percent believe it is censored by the government. The most popular newspapers also tow the Kremlin’s line.
A Timeline of Recent Events
On September 24, 2011, it was announced that Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin, who served as president from 2000 – 2008, and has been prime minister since 2008, would once again run for president in March of 2012, with current president Dmitri Medvedev to serve as his prospective prime minister. This effectively meant that Russians would be faced with 12 more years of Putin, since there are no viable contenders for president. To add insult to injury, Putin also added that this arrangement had been the plan all along, and was decided “several years back.”