Self-fulfilling prophecy

I’ve just finished reading Edwin Bacon’s book Inside Russian Politics, which is a succinct, readable, and remarkably balanced analysis of contemporary Russia. Towards the end, Bacon, who teaches at Birkbeck, University of London, mentions a short story by Ray Bradbury entitled The Toynbee Convector. In this, the eponymous protagonist, despairing of all the doom-mongering among his contemporaries, fools everybody into believing that he has travelled 100 years into the future where he supposedly found mankind living in something approaching a utopia. Inspired by the belief that the future was bright, humankind worked toward making it so, thereby turning Toynbee’s fictional future into reality.

Life, in short, is often a self-fulfilling prophecy. Bacon uses the example of the Toynbee Convector to caution against the relentlessly negative portrayals of Russia so common in the Western media, and in particular the insistence that Russia and the West are at ‘war’. I believe he is right. The negative language so prevalent today on both sides of the international divide induces policies which accentuate international tensions and in the end may even create the very dangers they are meant to be protecting us against. Inappropriate historical analogies (generally of the Hitler, Munich, appeasement variety) exacerbate the problem. If we want a peaceful future, then we must imagine one and refrain from bellicose rhetoric, avoid exaggerations, and accept a much greater degree of nuance.

For the three years of its existence, this has been Irrussianality’s aim. This blog has sought to debunk all the talk of world becoming ever more dangerous (it isn’t!), and of ‘war’ between East and West (be it information war, hybrid war, chaotic war, or whatever other hyperbolic phrase pundits come up with). It has also sought to introduce some balance into Western discussions of Russian politics, and to oppose policies (such as economic sanctions) which seek to reduce the points of contact between East and West. I can’t say that this has had any impact on public opinion, let alone public policy, but it has found an audience, which has grown year on year. I will therefore continue in the same direction in the year ahead.

If we insist on viewing international relations in terms of conflict, then conflict is what we’ll get. If, on the other hand, we are willing to look at the world in a more positive light, then more positive results become possible. Vegetius famously said, ‘Si vis pacem, para bellum’. He really ought to have said, ‘Si vis pacem, para pacem’! As we move into 2019, may this guide the thoughts of those hold the fate of the world in their hands. Happy New Year!

9 thoughts on “Self-fulfilling prophecy”

  1. This blog is a good resource so thank you for that. I must have found it right around the time when it started if it’s only three years old. Happy New Year as well, though this post did remind me of that news five years ago when the pope released some peace doves, right when the Arab Spring was in full swing and before Ukraine, and they were attacked immediately by a crow and seagull. If you want signs from a higher power, it can’t really get much clearer than that…

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    1. ok, I had Fahrenheit 451 in mind, which left an imprint on my juvenile soul, but “The Toynbee Convector” Bradbury’s looking back time machine wasn’t a novel but a short story.

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  2. I’m a regular reader and enjoy your blog. But I have to say that while it is objectively true that on the international relations front the world is indeed more “peaceful” at the moment than it has been for much of modern times, that is only because the neoliberal world order, as enforced militarily and economically by the U.S., has not yet imploded.

    All of the signs are there, however, that neoliberalism as an ideology has been discredited and that the globalized order enforced by the U.S. is on the verge of collapsing. The primary reason for this is not deteriorating relations with Russia, which is instead merely a symptom, but has to do with the imminent political and economic collapse of the global hegemon itself.

    I don’t think people who live outside the U.S. truly grasp just how bad life here has become for the vast majority of Americans. Many observers seem to think that once Trump passes from the scene, America will return to “normal,” but the fact is that even had Hillary won it is likely that the only real difference is that incidents of right wing political violence would be far worse than they are now.

    Americans by and large are overworked, stressed out, angry and often living paycheck-to-paycheck. Most of the many mass shootings in the U.S. do not even have any political agenda behind them–they are merely people “going postal”–which really means committing suicide while taking as many other people (even a classroom full of 6-year-old schoolchildren) down with you.

    I could go on for pages with examples of America’s slow-motion implosion, but there are two recent statistics that really say it all: 1). for three straight years, American life expectancy has dropped–the first time that has happened in a century in the wake of WW1 and the Spanish Flu epidemic. 2). 60% of all American jobs no longer support a middle class lifestyle, meaning that the “American Dream” is officially dead and buried. The blame for the first can be places squarely on “deaths from despair” (suicide, heroin & meth overdoses and the like). The blame for the second is due to the fact that America has become an oligarchic kleptocracy in which the rule is: socialism for the rich and predatory capitalism for everybody else. Wealth inequality has exploded to the point where it is now worse than it was during the Gilded Age. Recall that life expectancy in Russia plummeted after the Soviet Union fell apart.

    Just about every negative social trend is getting worse in America, usually at an accelerating rate. What’s worse is that there is no political will to change or reverse course. Had Hillary won, she would have merely run Obama’s third term, in which his coddling of the wealthy while throwing the rest of America to the wolves did so much to create the political climate that allowed Trump to ascend to the Oval Office.

    And all of this doesn’t even include what is happening in France, Great Britain, Brazil and other countries where the political classes are are also rapidly losing legitimacy. My belief is that the final two years of Trump’s first (only?) term are going to witness a major turning point for the U.S. and the rest of the world. As an American with what I think is a pretty good grasp on the mindset of my fellow citizens, one thing I don’t expect is that America will choose to go down as passively as the Soviet Union did. There are no Gorbachevs here willing to do the right thing for humanity’s sake.

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