The Importance of Being Honest (Notes on Russian Cultural Identity & Moral Superiority)


Steve Jobs lubok style

War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength (George Orwell).

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A liar should have a long a memory (English proverb).

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It is my third post in ‘Russian Propaganda’ category… The Russian Mafia told me it doesn’t exist. Probably, that vodka I drank for inspiration had some pentothal fly agaric in it. So it was just a bad Russian trip. I had to find some REAL sponsors for this post. Fortunately, I found freedom fighters terrorists from ISIL. Thanks, guys!

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The problem with propaganda is that it works both ways. “Water is wet and Russia is bad”. Common people start to question bullshit ‘variable interpretation of reality’ which is positioned as ‘objective facts’ by the mainstream media. In our postpostpost…modern world ‘reality’ copies Art ‘cinema’, see e.g. “Wag the Dog” film (just replace ‘Albania’ with ‘Ukraine’).

What is often ‘lost in translation’ in West-Russia relations by the West (or at least Western elites act like they don’t get it or don’t care) is that what the former sees as a VICTORY in the Cold War I, the latter sees as an ACT OF GOOD WILL TREASON OF NATIONAL INTERESTS by the Soviet elite which resulted in a social, economic, political and identity crisis that included local wars, conflicts, ethnic cleansing of Russians in former Soviet Republics, etc. Vae victis!

The most powerful weapon the West possesses has nothing to do with technology. It is the Idea, the Discourse. “Who owns the discourse, runs the world”. Western messianism sense of moral superiority was a background for ‘Christianization’ (in the Western fashion) or more recently – ‘democratization’ (in the Western fashion).

The West ‘won’ the Cold War I due to soft power, the Idea. Belief which ‘nobody’ shares is defined as ‘madness’. During the late Soviet times ‘nobody’ believed in the Soviet project from nomenklatura to common people. A fish rots from the head. To put it simple, Soviet elites wanted to exchange Power-money they had for Money-power in their own small feudal principalities sovereign states. The rest is history.

I was born in 1984 and George Orwell named his book after me. I don’t remember anything worth mentioning because in the early 90s I lived in India with my family. I was the happiest kid in the world! I had a 16 bit Nintendo system, a VCR, “Star Wars” videocassettes (in English) and a videocamera… We couldn’t didn’t return to the same country we left. We returned to another country instead – the Russian Federation. Eternal return. Enough for nostalgia (no, I’m not a communist).

For better understanding let me say something about the Russian cultural identity. Let’s rewind to Peter the Great times. To make a long story short, during his reign (roughly first quarter of the 18th century) Russia reinterpreted itself as a Western-oriented and, finally, Western country. There are two sides to every coin and besides positive aspects of this geopolitical and cultural orientation there was a negative one. Among the consequences of this forced Westernization was a sense of identity loss which led to ‘double consciousness’ to coin a term by W.E.B. Du Bois. To rephrase Du Bois, Russian double consciousness is a sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of Westerners. In a heavy case it could result in an identity crisis, homegrown Russophobia and self-hate combined with uncritical perception of all things Western.

The term Russophobia was probably first used by the famous Russian poet and diplomat Fyodor Tyutchev who wrote in a 1867 letter to his daughter (I quoted the first sentence in my post on Russophobia):

It is possible to provide an analysis of the modern phenomenon which becomes increasingly pathological. It is Russophobia of some Russian people who are highly respected by the way. They used to tell us (and they really thought so) that what they hate about Russia is injustice, lack of freedom of press, etc. That’s why they love Europe so tenderly for it indisputably possesses all these features which are not present in Russia. And what do we see now? As Russia’s achieving greater freedom asserting itself more and more, these gentlemen’s dislike of Russia is only getting more intense. In contrast, we see that no violation of justice, morality and even civilization allowed in Europe does not reduce their predilection for the latter. In short, a phenomenon I’m referring to is all about instincts not principles and it is the nature of these instincts which should be sorted out.

It’s no surprise that Western klyukvification particularly in its vilifying Russophobic version affected Russian collective self-image. In social psychology there’s a concept of looking glass self, i.e. the self-image a person constructs based on how other people view him/her. From this perspective Russian double consciousness can be treated as collective looking glass self dependent on the Western view of Russia. Of course, Russian identity cannot be limited only to Russian perception of the Western perception of Russia. I just wanted to underline a certain trend.

It’s time to return to ‘moral superiority’. Imho it won’t be a big exaggeration to say that the majority of Russians at the time of collapse of the Soviet Union felt the Western moral superiority as the “objective reality given to them in sensation” (V. Lenin). ‘Democratical bombings’ of Serbia severely undermined this ‘moral superiority’ (i.e. idealized image of the West) in Russian mass consciousness. The West’s Ukrainian policy was the final nail in the coffin of this ‘superiority’. After the disillusionment Russian society started to see itself as morally superior to the West (it feels good tbh).

[…Where other nations have a normal sense of national pride these barbaric totalitarian Ruskies have “quasi-mystical chauvinism” (Z. Brzezinski). ‘Sense of moral superiority’?! GTFOH!]

Russian double consciousness was a psychological background for Westernizer and Slavophile movement. Contemporary Russian ‘liberals’ and ‘conservatives’ can be seen as their descendants correspondingly. Broadly speaking, Westernizers criticized the pre-Peter the Great Russia as ‘savage’ and ‘uncivilized’, were pro-West and often felt ‘foreign’ in Russia while Slavophiles advocated for focusing on ‘authentic Russianness’ and supported ‘traditionalism’. Ironically, liberalism in Russia (especially in its radical form of ultra-liberalism) sometimes resembles a ‘cargo cult’ while moderate conservatism looks much more ‘Western’ despite its political critique of the West. Moreover, Slavophile movement was a movement of Westernized Russians and it reminds of European Romantic nationalism.

‘Westerness’ as a part of Russian cultural identity proved to be tenacious of life. The ‘West’ was ‘instilled’ in Russia and became an inseparable part of Russian psyche, sometimes even playing the role of (some) Russians’ super-ego. This phenomenon has an interesting side effect – a ‘cargo cult’ practiced by Russia’s (ultra)liberals and uncritical occiphiles: Western products are more valuable due to their ‘Westerness’ than other characteristics (iPhone as cross, iPad as the Good Book and… iCon of Steve Jobs). Good old conspicuous consumption is also present here but this ‘cargo cult’ has more to it. Possessing these products gives their ‘converted’ owner a sense of civilizational superiority over other Russians.

To be or not to be continued.

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7 thoughts on “The Importance of Being Honest (Notes on Russian Cultural Identity & Moral Superiority)

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