11 January 2015

Russia today or one hundred years of ignorance

The article translated here from Russian (with some assistance from Google) was written by Vladimir Pastukhov, who is currently an independent researcher and a legal adviser in London, a visiting fellow at St Anthony's College, Oxford. His prior career in law included academic work in Moscow and a position of adviser to the Chairman of the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation.

A few links were added for readers' convenience.


Those who closely follow developments in Russia, can't miss the qualitative changes in the Russian "cultural layer". These changes appear, to start with, in the dominant "cultural type". Although purely "quantitative" changes also matter. Lowering of the 'absolute' cultural level in Russia is a frightening trend that obviously can't be ignored in the future.

It should, however, be qualified that it is not some new trend, but a continued movement along a path defined by the Bolshevik revolution almost a hundred years ago.

Reverse conversion

Matthew Bourne's ballet, based on the novel of the Nobel laureate William Golding's "Lord of the Flies", which was just presented in Canterbury, once again made me think about the state of Russian culture. I can not even imagine that someone could so clearly and vividly simulate the process of reverse evolution of man into an ape, using dance.

It is known that the human genotype differs from ape's genotype in very few insignificant details, but these details are enough to draw an impassable boundary between apes and humans.

Matthew Bourne clearly proved that the same proportion of insignificant details distinguish human society from wild herds, and the reverse conversion of one into the other can occur quite rapidly.

Kremlin policy, formed on the basis of resistance to the West in the struggle for influence in Ukraine, is fraught with serious cultural risks, unlikely to be taken into account by the architects of the new Kremlin policy. The chances are that, unwittingly, the Kremlin might trigger "decivilization" of Russian society, which, if some extraordinary measures are not taken  timely, may be irreversible.

Much of what is happening in Russia today - and what causes indignation of the liberal-minded educated public - is not a direct part of some sinister "Kremlin plan". It happens "automatically", it is a part of a lively "creativity of the masses", which spills out the irritation accumulated for many years.

And this is the most frightening part of the whole.

Where is the "thinking reed*"?

There is leaching of cultural elements from the political layer. This resembles the loss of bone calcium in osteoporosis - in appearance it is the same bone, but it is hollowed out inside.

The places at the top of the political pyramid are increasingly occupied by half-educated provincials. From some unknown political cracks emerge dense, ignorant people who have the vaguest idea of the history and culture of the civilization whose dignity that they have undertaken to protect. Many public statements by government officials of  "the new wave" cause shock not so much by their reactionary contents (which still could be understood), but by their ignorance.

Of course, Konstantin Pobedonostsev, adviser to the Russian Emperor Alexander III (who buried the reformist course of his great father), was no less reactionary than many of the current leaders of the Russian Duma, but, at least, he can not be suspected of a total lack of culture.

Unfortunately, that which is happening in Russia today is not without precedent in the history of world culture. Something similar was anxiously watched by many intellectuals in Russia and in Germany in the 30s of the last century.

Ehrenburg in his memoirs repeatedly addressed the topic of "thinking reed" - a very thin layer of the elite that keeps society from returning to a state of primitive savagery.

Great social psychologist Reich, who had the sad privilege to watch the descent of the Third Reich into the abyss of madness, wrote that it's enough to break a thin dam in man's consciousness that retains repressed instincts and complexes languishing in his subconscious, and he instantly turns into sick and vicious animal.

The "fear of thought" trend

The general lowering of the level of culture, observed today in Russia, fits the trend already demonstrated by the Bolsheviks. Paying tribute to their achievements in promotion of cultural "breadth", we can't be silent about the fact that they struck a fatal blow to the very thin and vulnerable Russian cultural layer.

Part of this layer, however, survived and helped the so called "Soviet intelligentsia" to survive.

However, social orgy of the 90s of the last century, which led to total criminalization and pauperization of the Russian society, put an end to the "Soviet intelligentsia". Its scattered remnants continued (by inertia) to have some limited impact on public life in Russia in the next decade. But it seems that the effect of the inertia is now coming to an end, and to the forefront of Russian culture comes a new, ignorant, hero.

Until now, the demographic crisis was seen as a major strategic threat to the existence of the Russian civilization. But there is another pressing threat - the thinning of the "cultural layer", which is faster than the depopulation - a result of Russian low birth rate and high emigration.

Dystrophy of the culture seems to have become a chronic background for all future Russian crises. In this case, a chronic disease of Russians, the fear of thought - about which so much has been written in Russia at the beginning of the last century, when Bolshevism has outlined the new cultural trend - manifests itself in its full force.

On the tail and the dog

Fear of thought goes hand in hand with social infantilism. Many Russian minds are brilliant. This is proved, among other things, by the results achieved by Russian expat scientists in European and American universities.

But perhaps nowhere but in Russia the high professional ("technical") culture could so grotesquely coexist with social irresponsibility and "humanitarian disability" in one person. Smart and very business-savvy people instantly turn into barbarians, when it comes to resolving social conflicts, whether it is a dispute between neighbors in the apartment house block or a war with Ukraine.

The ignorant and coarse mass of people, which has escaped from the cultural layer, in a state of permanent affectation, threatens to turn into the proverbial tail that wags the dog in Russia.

Kremlin mistakenly believes that it can easily manipulate the mood of people. But this is a one-way street. "The patriotic enthusiasm", initiated by the Kremlin, had a very unpleasant side effect, unleashing dark social instincts - Nikolai Berdyaev figuratively called them "the dark wine of the Russian history."

These passions, freed from the control of reason, can not be curbed "by order", whenever you want. Instinct is not a sparrow, if it flies away there is no catching it.

You can deliberately provoke a tantrum, but but you can't exit the tantrum deliberately. To do this, shock therapy is usually required. For Germans in the last century it took a defeat in a terrible war. Russians were cured by victory, equal in its price to a defeat.

(*) A reference to Pascal.


Sennacherib said...

Though Sennacherib liked this article, he has some serious reservations about some of the central claims made therein. Before commenting further I must do some reflecting at the Ziggurat.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

Long as Ziggurat is properly warmed, no objections. I hear the Ziggurat neighborhood is under serious cold front...