Streetwise Professor

January 28, 2009


Filed under: Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 6:09 pm

This article from Nezavisimaya Gazeta, by Dmitriy Furman (courtesy JRL, no link) expresses something I’ve often thought.   Namely, the pronounced neurotic–and self-destructive–tendencies in how Russia relates to the world:

We do not have separation of powers or even a diarchy. We have highly hampered powers.

Another scandal has broken out in the European home. Everyone lives in tranquility in this home and everyone is friendly to some extent. Wailing can always be heard near the eastern entrance, however. Many people live on this side of the building, but when the shouts are heard, everyone knows it is not Ukraine bickering with Belarus, not Latvia fighting with Lithuania, and not even Armenia arguing with Azerbaijan (they were at war and they still “do not say hello to each other,” but they do not start any scandals either). It is Russia “getting up off its knees” and fighting with one of its neighbors.

We Rail Against the Social Order

This happens for a variety of reasons — because Estonia moved the Bronze Soldier, because we do not like Moldovan wine, because we support the separatists in Georgia, and certainly because of the prices of the gas we deliver and the transit fees for this gas. We are more or less accustomed to gas controversies, but this time the scandal acquired colossal dimensions, affected all of the people in the building, and is being discussed in every household.

The argument that these scandals are neurotic in nature and give Russia exactly what it does not want (the anger of its neighbors, who dream of being less dependent on it and having less to do with it in general, and the Western countries’ treatment of it as a “problem state,” with   which “something has to be done”) is self-evident.

The connection between this policy (if it can be described as such) and the evolution of our social order is also quite obvious. On the one hand, our order is the main cause of our isolation and the reason for the impossibility of our integration into the alliances of the developed democratic countries and for the danger of the expansion of these alliances. On the other, the disappearance of the opposition in our country and the total unanimity of our main media outlets are a sign of the atrophy of critical thinking, which can restrain neurotic impulses and correct behavior. All of this is understandable, but something else is less understandable: the reason that our conflicts with our neighbors acquired this unprecedented intensity after Putin left office as the president.

The self-defeating nature of this behavior seems pretty evident (though I am sure that certain enablers will deny this–you know who you are!   Put down the KoolAid!;-).   Russia has so many problems at home it doesn’t need to go (to the near) abroad chasing monsters–or inventing them.   But it does, even though it seldom turns out well.

Furman’s discussion of the atrophying of critical thinking in a political and media monoculture is particularly on point.   A vibrant, contentious, civil society and political system, as disorderly as they may appear, are essential checks on power, and the tendency of those in power to make mistakes.   Every system needs a feedback mechanism.     Societies that suppress this mechanism in the name of order may appear placid and stable, but they are very brittle, and more vulnerable to catastrophic error and collapse.

Those who obsessively strive for control inevitably lose control, and in a system run by such obsessives, self-destructive neuroses can run rampant.   This is not recommended for healthy social development.

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  1. “On the other, the disappearance of the opposition in our country and the total unanimity of our main media outlets are a sign of the atrophy of critical thinking, which can restrain neurotic impulses and correct behavior.”

    Hey, he’s right on that and who put themselves there. Feeling encircled and abused and lashing out at improbable outside enemies from a media that they all know is pure propaganda has always galvanize the Russian masses even when their elites are crushing their skulls. I wasn’t shocked visiting liberal blogs on today when most of the comments were in sympathy for shooting the poor kid that defected in Georgia and that was after acknowledgements of how bad it is for a conscript in the Russian military.

    Russians have a few more chances as their economy collapses to redeem themselves or be a failed society. They are increasingly starting to look like Palestinians as the model for a failed state where the insanity of what hasn’t worked gets repeatd endlessly.

    Comment by penny — January 28, 2009 @ 7:31 pm

  2. Just so.

    Comment by elmer — January 28, 2009 @ 10:49 pm

  3. In case you haven’t already read this related piece by Yury Afanasiev go to

    Comment by Dixi — January 30, 2009 @ 3:44 am

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