The Millennium Child

The KONDRATOV had grown up with a strong but diffuse sense of empowerment. “You can be anything you want! There is a world of opportunities waiting for you!” were the mantras of their upbringing. Their son in particular was a victim to that unfortunate mixture of naive zest for action and subtle delusions of grandeur with a feeling of being completely overwhelmed with the countless contingencies of life as a 1990s child.

The young son lived at a time when popular culture seemed to suggest there were heroes behind every corner. Everyone was the chosen one for something. All you had to do was find the one thing you were best at. The notions of discipline and hard work were substituted with opportunism, luck and naıve self-confidence not rooted in one’s abilities. Beyond the latently megalomaniac tendencies common in many of his peers, there was a vague notion that KONDRATOV was “the kind of guy who would be successful in life” for all of his life he had been told he was quite bright and people were not rarely rather impressed with his ability to express his thoughts and with their unique content and intricate nature when conversing with him.

Early on in his childhood, it was recognized that he appeared particularly gifted in a variety of disciplines, and measures were taken – necessary and unnecessary – to ensure he would never receive less than a constant minimum of intellectual stimulation. Language classes, piano lessons, classical dance and competitive fencing for recreation. All of this, along with his continued academic performance, gave him quite a bit of confidence, although there was this feeling he had that to base ones confidence on these assets was a dangerous thing to do. To base ones status on these factors would mean that he would have been superior to his father KONSTANTIN in many ways, yet he could always feel his father’s absolute authority, despite his lack of understanding of conventional hierarchy.

The family father, KONDRATOV KONSTANTIN KIRILLOVICH, had been born as one of five children to a family of farm workers from the west of the country. KONDRATOVA ELENA SERGEYEVNA, born as the daughter of a Russian consul, had been silently ostracised from polite society for her decision to marry KONDRATOV who – despite the remarkable wealth he had acquired – remained the son of peasants.

The KONDRATOV led a marriage like hundreds of millions of regrettable others. What was initially love and affection soon turned into the traditional exchange of a naive set of promises: The promise of love and eternal faithful- ness, the promise to forever appreciate and value one’s spouses contribution to the partnership called ’Marriage,’ a promise that is not usually kept and was instead silently substituted with opulent wealth. It was clear without discussion that the KONDRATOV were going to follow the traditional model of marriage, with KONSTANTIN taking care of the – not insignificant – financial needs of KONDRATOVA and her children, while she would focus on raising them. As in most marriages, it soon became clear that a monetary contribution is easy to quantify while a mother’s efforts in raising her children rarely are. Raising children rarely is successful to a degree that satisfies a parent so it became clear very soon that ELENA’s continued endeavours were not valued as highly by her husband as his own accomplishments and the successes of their children were attributed to him or to luck rather than to KONDRATOVA.

It was winter in Kiev. Father KONDRATOV KONSTANTIN KIRRILOVICH had purchased the extensive premises of the old orphanage of Solomensky in the south-west of the city and converted them into an industrial complex. The factory building, the original orphanage – a six-story red brick building to the east of the KONDRATOV residence – eclipsed with its shadow the estate in the morning, so only the evening sun ever reached the extensive lawn in front of the residential part of the property. KONSTANTIN had newly erected the family residence; a monumental structure of concrete and glass. An unobstructed view on the park covered in thick layers of snow; dozens of chimneys visible in the background in any direction, pouring fumes of thick black smoke into the night sky where they seemed to merge with the clouds.

The KONDRATOV had moved to Kiev from the country six years ago to accommodate the aggressive expansion of the family business. KONSTANTIN although a farmer by origin had traveled extensively and eventually became acquainted with polite society; increasingly containing his previously emotional character. He was now a large-scale producer of foodstuffs; the core business being the industrial production of chicken eggs. Twelve thousand units of battery cages on each of the factory’s floors; the cackle of the chickens was unbearable. A confluent noise in which the individual sounds disappeared completely, giving rise to a constant humming like that of large, rusty machinery ceaselessly operating somewhere in the distance.

The KONDRATOV were a family of entrepreneurs; an industrial family; the type of family that develops academic ambition only after having acquired substantial wealth, while doing everything not to appear nouveau-riche. A contemporary family in a sense, yet with a disturbing neoconservatism that instead of the now feasible liberalization on the basis of the absence of financial issues, was perverted into the imitation of an older, more established financial and social elite; a framework sometimes even more restrictive than the previous threat of poverty.

Typical of families like this was a specific kind of ambition not without a certain risk of being misguided on the basis of its primarily monetary incitement. It was the kind of ambition that – given the advancing age of KONSTANTIN KIRRILOVICH and ELENA SERGEYEVNA – was no longer met with self-reflection, but was instead deflected onto their children. The seemingly well-intended abuse of ones offspring for the realization of one’s own aspirations. With his family’s intense support came a number of equally high expectations towards their son; expectations which a parent can rarely dis- miss, but which KONSTANTIN enforced by the unambiguous implication of conditionality for the further provision of financial means to his son. His father had a peaceful but intense authority that made him feel uneasy whenever KONSTANTIN so much as walked past his room.

Cynically, his father would at any opportunity emphasize how he valued openness within the family, when every attempt at opening up was punished with his silent but all the more brutal rejection. It was a glass house that the KONSTANTIN lived in. He had built the house; paid for it; he owned it, including his son’s room. In KONSTANTIN’s view, his son had no right to restrict his parents’ freedom of movement within their own residence for the sake of his privacy. The comfort of the KONDRATOV residence was an illusion of freedom. He recognized too late that he had to comply with KONSTANTIN’s ideals obediently if he wanted to continue to rely on his parents support.

Only upon realizing that his family’s support was not unconditional he became quite envious of those who seemed to clearly know what they wanted to do with their lives. These people wouldn’t need material comfort if they were passionate about what they were doing, he assumed. Many of his fellow students didn’t seem to ask themselves the questions that plagued him. Either they had already been answered, or they simply did not occur to them. The world seemed so easy to other people; they chose a path that seemed fruitful and pursued it with all the consistency and perseverance they could summon up. Sometimes it would suffice, sometimes it wouldn’t. Was it really that simple?

The young KONDRATOV feared that his father would be willing to fully accept him only once he had independently made twice his father’s fortune. This was not an expectation that could be met with a merely good decision for a career path. Ironically, the blessing of theoretically being able to do anything with his life had been silently perverted into a curse of complete disorientation, as being able to do many things came at the price of being forced to take consequential decisions under high pressure while meeting his family’s vague yet great expectations. But this was a first-world problem, he told himself. The experience of suffering due to the presence of too many options to choose from? It was ridiculous! And yet he suffered. It seemed that while many others also lacked orientation, they found themselves powerless and developed a kind of indifference that he was not capable of. It must have been possible to identify all the determinants of success and manipulate them accordingly; if he only took all variables into account he was sure he would find his place in the world one day.

The young KONDRATOV did not believe in God. He saw religion as a mere mechanism to overcome the contingencies arising from existential questions; the existence of the world, the purpose of life, and all of that which he would refer to as “petty, stereotyped gibberish.” Even this reaction he could explain rationally; it was an understandable reaction, albeit a naıve one: When faced with contingency, people sought to contain whatever question had opened up by externalizing it; finding a reason outside of their limitedly rational view of the world by simply declaring that ”God did it.” This came at the price of tremendous intellectual incapacitation to him, people were so scared of un- certainty they preferred voluntarily patronizing themselves with a paternal notion of God to dealing with these questions intellectually. To him, it seemed perfectly sufficient to contain the few questions permanently not answerable to him within a box labelled ”miscellaneous contingencies”; not God; not Religion; not Faith. He did not believe in talent either. Performance was merely an output function primarily dependent on effort. The notion of talent was very dangerous to him. It suggested powerlessness where all there was was fluctuation and it could very easily be abused to excuse the poor performance of a lazy person. Of course, there was a certain weight assigned to different variables which might well differ across people, but while some people were certainly more efficient in their conversion of input into output than others, talent was merely a coefficient here, not a variable in any meaningful sense.

KONDRATOV was not like other people. In his childhood, he had often felt isolated. He never quite seemed to master the art of social interaction with the ease that others displayed. After many frustrating attempts to engage with his peers and many experiences of rejection, he initially withdrew from social play, assuming the role of an observer for some time. The way others communicated was often peculiar to him; they seemed to understand each other with or without words. It was much easier for him to observe and imitate. In school he was taught to ‘look people in the eye’ and while this seemed to be a simple rule, it caused great confusion for him. What was meant by this? One could only focus on one object at a time; was he supposed to look into one of the eyes; the right one? The left one? Perhaps between the two? When trying to answer these questions nobody else seemed to have, it became impossible for him to focus on what was being said – let alone how it was being said – on body language or facial expressions. These things he had to carefully teach himself; observe how others did it, and imitate. He eventually became better at recognizing a variety of social settings and acting accordingly. Clearly, he was an actor; with painstaking accuracy, he began imitating other people’s tones of voice, posture, tiny hand movements. From his increased social success resulted a remarkable arrogance. He had a deep conviction that he was better than most people and he very rarely met someone he trusted to be more competent than him in any field. He was a friendly person, for he had learned progressively that openly exhibiting his sense of superiority would not usually get him as far as a friendly – albeit not authentic – attitude. One had to make compromises. Every setting had its rules and he knew he would function in a variety of them if he was familiar with the situation.

He had been at the Institute for Advocacy for a little over a year now and while he was relatively successful with his usual strategy of imitating and extrapolating the behaviour of those who were seemingly doing well, he couldn’t help feeling superior to his peers when witnessing their trivial conversations about girls or sports. They seemed terribly mundane, dry, worldly, and utterly barbaric. They were like animals, sharing and laughing at vulgar anecdotes of sexual escapades. Hormone-driven fertilization machines eager to procreate, constrained only by the norms and conventions of society. Most disturbing about their masculine affectation to him was the clearly homophile nature of their behaviour in other situations, which was in stark contrast to the attitude his fellow students openly exhibited towards the issue of homosexuality. While any sign of effeminate behaviour was unanimously frowned upon and not rarely met with brute aggression, rites of passage at Shevchenko University told a story different from that of the perfect heterosexual. The playful near-fetishisation of one’s masculine body in the locker room; apparently a demonstration of heterosexually aggressive manhood had always appeared homoerotic to him. On the Thursday night of his first week at the institute, he fell into his bed with a peculiar taste lingering in his mouth; full of disillusionment with regard the character of the country’s elite.

TIMOFEY was an exception in many respects. He – like the young KON- DRATOV – had an inclination towards hedonism not unknown to the men of Kiev’s young upper class, albeit less vulgar; he was quite extravagant in his appearance, yet without visibly exerting himself for it like other people did with less success. He read Economic Theory and always seemed to know precisely what he wanted, employing his ratio in impressive ways. A skinny young man of 23 years with a morbid charm and an expressively loud laugh. He had an emaciated but immaculately beautiful face and the most captivating eyes KONDRATOV had ever seen; a yellowish shade of light brown, almost resembling wood bleached by the sun. TIMOFEY did not aspire to prove anything to anyone. This appealed to the young KONDRATOV; it was so far away from the self-denying and destructive hypocrisy of most other students.

KONDRATOV still remembered the first time he had spoken to TIMOFEY; the first time he had heard his voice, concentrated on his peculiar accent. “I have been trained from the first day of my life in the applied counterpart of what economists at university call utility maximization,” he had explained matter-of-factly. “I am perfectly capable of solving complex optimization problems to achieve the highest possible degree of personal satisfaction; in a particular situation, for that moment. This means that when it comes to the mundane questions of consumption and the acquisition of luxury goods, I have a ridiculously differentiated set of preferences that I am capable of taking into account; a utility function of hundreds of thousands, possibly millions of variables which I am somehow able to process with ease in what is perceived by others as intuition or my ‘great sense of style’.” KONDRATOV had been instantly drawn to his vulnerable, magniloquent arrogance which seemed to shield so much confusion, insecurity and brilliance.

TIMOFEY had not waited for any response, but had instead smirked as though in disgust after raising his eyebrows and remarking, “I do not believe in intuition. It seems to be a term used to cover all those decisions made without a true understanding of their logical foundation. It’s a term for those who don’t know better; the weak ones.” He explained that the complexity of preferences – which people were rarely critically aware of – led to emergent phenomena called intuition, empathy, gut feeling; but even then, there was always a rational basis for things to be evaluated on. He was a snob, clearly, but more than just that. KONDRATOV agreed wholeheartedly and loved this complexity, because only he was able to process it in similar ways. He had been fascinated by TIMOFEY’s apparently autistic nature of speaking to others as if he were alone, expressing himself without the slightest hesitation or fear of exposing who he was. KONDRATOV almost envied him, seeing so much of himself in TIMOFEY’s eyes; the part of himself he felt was most undeveloped.

In stark contrast to TIMOFEY, many of KONDRATOV’s peers seemed to consume rather for the sake of consumption. A demonstration of wealth that they knew girls at Shevchenko were looking for. It was a tacit but clear deal. He was sometimes surprised that this seemingly outdated model was still alive and well. It was a few nights after, on a freezingly cold January evening that he told his mother about TIMOFEY. He had been raised to be tolerant outwardly, a position that he would later know his parents simply imitated in their striving for a contemporary education for their children without truly adopting this point of view for themselves. There must have been a vague consciousness in ELENA that it was no longer fashionable to condemn such things, which was reflected in her approach to parenting, even when she abhorred the notion. He hated hypocrisy. “Mother, can I speak to you for a moment?” he trusted her in naıve expectation. He sat down with ELENA SERGEYEVNA at the long, low, glass table dividing two red baroque divans which she had brought into the marriage; the last bastion of maternal warmth after countless unsuccessful attempts to realize her preference for antiques in the family residence. KONDRATOV KONSTANTIN KIRILLOVICH had a clear preference for glass, steel, concrete and rather sterile Bauhaus furniture which he enforced aggressively. Over the years most of ELENA’s favourite pieces and heirlooms had been gradually replaced with more minimal counterparts. It was unnaturally cold in the room albeit the warmth of the fire.

The young KONDRATOV had planned to tell her for a long period of time now. He had wondered aloud on many occasions whilst sitting in his bed at night staring up at the ceiling. He had pictured her expression, the colour of her cheeks; the diameter of her pupils. When he told her, there was a long silence as the world around them froze. His mother’s face was unreadable and passive as everything sank in. All of a sudden all of her remaining motherly warmth started to vanish from her face; her expression resembling fear, then disgust, fear again and for a moment all that could be heard was the crackle of firewood bursting; Mozart’s Requiem in D playing in the background. Suddenly anger – the cold sensation of her emaciated, beringed right hand on his cheek, the hot reverberation of a slap he had not expected; her skin appearing pale and old. “For God’s sake!” – she suddenly seemed a vulgar woman to him; for the first time in his life he looked down on her in the way one views a child. Her expression of disgust and anger lasted only a second; enough time for the sound of the slap to fade away and blend with the suddenly deafening music. He now recognized a dominating fear in her eyes. Elena – seemingly suppressing hysteria – took his hand. “We don’t have to act on all our urges, do we?” she became increasingly vulnerable, helpless and incoherent, her desperate aggression observed by him like the incessant cackle of the chickens in his father’s factory, confined to the laying battery. His mother’s desperate accusations like white noise in his ears, he sat staring into space while she slowly stood up from her seat. “Don’t tell father,” he said calmly as she left the living room; he knew she would. There he sat – the nameless protagonist of his own biography – for one, maybe two hours after she had left. That night, he lost his parents.