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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

We All Need To Believe In Something

Russians these days seem to want desperately to believe in miracles. From overnight riches to wonder dietary supplements, almost any scam that promises health, wealth and happiness has a good chance of succeeding.


There are, of course, gullible folks everywhere. I am sure that P.T. Barnum's famous dictum "There's a sucker born every minute" was not written with the land of the tsars in mind. But if he were in Moscow today, the irrepressible Phineas T. would probably want to amend his time frame to something like "every three nanoseconds."


This is not so hard to understand. For many Russians, this is a time when everything they used to believe in has been stood on its head. The Soviet Union is no more, Communism has been toppled, and even their stirring national anthem has been discarded. Many people welcomed these changes, but even the most ardent democrat may feel a bit discomfited when the press talks openly about sending the national icon, Vladimir Lenin, on tour in the West to drum up some much-needed hard currency.


Yesterday's god is today's clown, and the effect this has had on the national psyche will be the subject of doctoral dissertations for decades to come.


Russia's psychological heartburn has taken some rather interesting forms. Take the ekstrasens phenomenon. Regular appearances by these psychic-energy specialists promise -- among other things -- freedom from stress, perfect health and mass orgasm


Even my old friend Fedya, the New-Russian businessman who I thought had both feet firmly anchored on the ground, seems to have fallen prey to the "get happy quick" ethos. He called me the other day, full of enthusiasm for some three-day self-actualization seminar.


"Masha went to it, and I hardly know her now!" he bubbled into the phone.


Masha is his latest mistress, who has faithfully kept up with every craze from shaping to Herbalife. I impatiently waited for him to go on.


"It will help you figure out who you are. It will help you figure out what you want in life, and how to get it."


I suddenly realized he was talking about me.


"What do you mean?" I sqawked indignantly. "I know who I am. As for what I want -- I'll take care of that myself, thank you."


He was patient. "You know how you are always saying you want to write a book?"


"So I'm going to write at this seminar? In three days?" I inquired sarcastically.


"No, but it will help you focus."


"Will it give me $30,000 so I can take a year off to get the book done?"


He gave up. "No, in fact the seminar itself costs $200. All my friends have gone, and they say it's well worth it. I'm going, and so is my wife. I guess you just don't want help."


I fleetingly wondered if Fedya were getting a group discount. I mean, if he starts inviting current and former girlfriends, they'll have to hire a bigger hall. Maybe, I thought hopefully, he's getting a percentage of the take -- at least that would be the Fedya I know and love.


But what if it works? While my overdeveloped American skepticism balks at the idea, my more mystical Russian side is a bit curious.


Give me another year in Moscow, and I'll be drinking psychic-energy water.