Psychological connections

For whatever reason, a single subject keeps cropping up in my readings of late – the alleged psychological deviance of the Russian people. I’m not quite sure how to thread it all together, so I plan just to ramble through some of the things I’ve come across, and hope that something coherent comes out of it.

A while back the journal Russian Review asked me to review a book by Moscow academic Sergei Medvedev entitled The Return of the Russian Leviathan. The review appeared in print this week. Medvedev is an outspoken critic of the ‘Putin regime’ and, as one might expect, his book – which is actually a collection of op-ed articles – is relentlessly negative in its depiction of Russia. This is clear from the very first essay which tells readers that, ‘All around there are ever more dead villages … The people you come across are increasingly wretched. They wander aimlessly along the roadside … with a look of hopelessness … everything is dissolving into oblivion.’ That’s modern Russia for you! Everything is ‘hopeless’.  As you can see, Medvedev isn’t exactly even-handed in his approach, although it must be said that he does write extremely well. I note in my review that, ‘As op-eds go, those in this book are exemplary – colourful, hard-hitting, and penetrating.’ ‘But’, as I also say, ‘an op-ed is not a work of scientific research, and readers should treat Medvedev’s arguments with caution.’

If there is a single argument running through Medvedev’s book it is this: that there’s something deeply wrong with the Russian psyche. Medvedev writes of the ‘mass infantilization of public consciousness’, an ‘embittered, alienated and provincial consciousness’, ‘an undeveloped mass consciousness’, and the ‘archaic, pre-rational and mystical condition of our national consciousness’. Russia, he says, is ‘a society mired in lies, cynicism and lack of trust, having lost all hope for the future.’ Its defining characteristics are the ‘syndrome of trained helplessness’ and the ‘condition of resentment,’ defined as ‘the moral of slaves.’ You get the theme: Russia as a whole, says Medvedev, ‘is in desperate need of collective therapy.’

It turns out, though, that he’s not the only one saying this. If you go the book section of the latest edition of the Russian Review, just above my review of The Return of the Russian Leviathan you’ll find a review of Andrei Kovalev’s memoir Russia’s Dead End: An Insider’s Testimony from Gorbachev to Putin. Reading it, I had an odd sense of déjà vu, as all the same criticisms as I had made of Medvedev popped up again. Kovalev is a retired Soviet/Russian diplomat of what one might call ‘liberal’ inclinations, who like Medvedev is keen to expose the evils of modern Russia. In the process, comments reviewer Robert English, he ‘engages in some questionable psychiatry of his own’. English cites Kovalev as saying that, ‘Russia is sick. Its illness is complex and psychosomatic in character. This presents itself, among other ways, as manic-depressive psychosis accompanied by acute megalomania, persecution complex, and kleptomania, all compounded by dystrophy.’ Kovalev’s position, according to English, is that ‘The opinion of most of the population is irrelevant since their “slave psychology” makes them easy to brainwash and everything is decided by the KGB-silovik elite in any event’. ‘It would make any but the most extreme Russophobes blush’, English concludes.

What Medvedev and Kovalev have in common is their belief that Russians have ‘the moral of slaves’ (as Medvedev puts it) or the ‘slave psychology’ (in Kovalev’s words). This is a centuries-old trope, dating back at least as far as the sixteenth century writings of Sigismund von Herberstein, but as I found out in something else I read this week, the idea got a more general boost from the infamous Frankfurt School of scholars, which came up with the concept of ‘The Authoritarian Personality’.

This was the title of a book published in 1950 in the United States on the basis of research originally conducted in Germany in the 1930s before the School’s members fled from the Nazis. Supposedly, the authoritarian personality reflects ‘personal insecurities which result in the superego adhering to externally imposed conventional norms, and unquestioning obedience to the authorities who impose and administer the social norms of society (authoritarian submission).’ From this theory emerged the ‘F-Test’, which supposedly reveals how disposed one is towards fascism. Unfortunately, when the F-Test was tried out on Nazi war criminals, they didn’t score particularly highly, but that rather significant snag didn’t stop it having some influence, and the idea spread that authoritarianism could be explained by a certain personality type.

I wasn’t previously aware of this, and it goes some way towards explaining the logic of Yuri Levada and his research into the ‘Soviet man’ (Homo sovieticus), which is a sort of social scientific effort to measure the allegedly authoritarian personality and ‘slave mentality’ of the Russian people. Levada died in 2006, but the research centre which bears his name continues his work, and this week it issued a new survey as part of its ‘Soviet man’ project, with results which are either somewhat encouraging or somewhat alarming, depending on your point of view.

According to the latest survey, Russians have become more tolerant toward groups such as gays, prostitutes, and feminists, but less tolerant toward religious sects such as Jehovah’s Witnesses. On the one hand, only 32% of respondents said that gays and lesbians should be ‘isolated from society’ compared with 37% five years ago, thus giving rise to the headline of ‘increased tolerance’ (although it should be pointed out that another 18% think that gays and lesbians should be ‘liquidated’). On the other hand, 41% think that members of religious sects should be ‘isolated from society’ and another 21% think that they should be ‘liquidated’, an increase since the previous survey.

All this talk of ‘liquidation’ and ‘isolation from society’ doesn’t suggest a very liberal state of mind among the Russian people (75% think paedophiles should be ‘liquidated’, 9% think the same of feminists!). If you take this survey at face value, it’s more than a little scary. The question therefore arises of whether one should take it at face value. As I mentioned in a previous post, Levada’s methodology has been criticized as ‘colored by a critical and even moralizing stance that resulted in accentuating the attitudes and predispositions of the survey designer’. Unfortunately, I’m not qualified to say how true that it is, but one does wonder what Russians think they are saying when they reply that they want to ‘liquidate’ people, and one also has to wonder whether 21% of them really would want to ‘liquidate’ Jehovah’s Witnesses if some survey didn’t ask them to consider it. It could be that their attitudes really are quite scary. Or then again maybe not. I’m not sure.

In an article in Kommersant, political scientist Aleksei Makarkin commented that the language and practice of isolation and liquidation comes from Soviet times, but a really interesting book I read last week suggests an even earlier, and perhaps more surprising source, positing that the Soviets got the language from pre-revolutionary liberal psychiatrists and sociologists. In short all this talk of ‘isolating’ people has its origins in the liberal human sciences.

In Renovating Russia: The Human Sciences and the Fate of Liberal Modernity, 1880-1930, Daniel Beer examines how late Imperial liberal intellectuals took on board Social Darwinist ideas of ‘degeneration’ and argued for the need for drastic measures to restore the health (ozdorovlenie) of the Russian people. According to their logic, social conditions had the effect of producing forms of social deviancy (crime, alcoholism, laziness, etc), which were then reproduced in offspring (through a Lamarckian system of biological evolution), leading to the gradual degeneration of the nation over several generations. This process applied to the richer classes (whose privileged lives produced degenerate people) as well as to the poor. Making matters worse, a process of ‘moral contagion’ meant that the degenerate morals of the deviant tended to spread to the healthy elements of the population, gradually infecting all. The only solutions were a) a radical altering of the social and economic system, and b) measures to ‘isolate’ the morally degenerate in ‘special institutions’ in a type of ‘indefinite preventive detention’. In this way, liberals became supporters of decidedly authoritarian measures. According to Beer, the Soviet regime then picked up on these theories and ‘began to universalize the principle of social defense’, in which society defended itself by isolating ‘corruptive elements’ from the rest of society.

Thus, concludes Beer, ‘Russian liberalism … proved to be the unwitting architect of significant features of the project that triumphed over it.’ If so, it may not have been a coincidence. As Isaiah Berlin argued in his famous essay ‘Two Concepts of Liberty’, if you take the line that people can’t be free because they’re not able to reason properly, then you can justify all sorts of repressive measures. In this way, the pursuit of liberty leads to its destruction. It’s an irony worth bearing in mind whenever the talk turns to the moral failings of the people.

50 thoughts on “Psychological connections”

    1. “Marxism Leninism froze thought development in the USSR.”

      Mr. Armstrong, please, could you elaborate here? What you mean exactly by “froze thought development”? What you even qualify as “thought development” in the first place? Does ultra-modern Western developments in degeneracy qualify according to?

      I’d really appreaciate your answer.

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      1. Well, it’s a partially developed theory based on thinking about anecdotes and others that I have forgotten. So don’t get all excited (PS I use my name, why don’t you use yours?)
        1. 30ish years ago at an academic conference hearing a Georgian quote Hegel. I mean, holy cow, who quotes Hegel these days? Then he babbled on about how national consciousness was The First Thing.
        2. 30ish years ago a Russian proudly showing me a Russian book that came out after the USSR went down which has, all in one place, Masons, Templars, the Pyramid, flying saucers and every other bit of mental flotsam and jetsam of the West for a century.
        3. 20ish years ago another Georgian showing me a book with all that stuff including that Noah’s Ark was at the Omphalos of the world (located in Georgia natch).
        4. 25ish years ago a Ukrainian telling me that Noah’s Ark was Ukrainian and so was The Beginning of Everything (Hadn’t read Gimbutis then so had no idea what he was half understanding)

        These puzzled me, so I came to that conclusion. So there’s PR talking about progressives and Social Darwinism. Well that was The Big Thing in the West in the early 1900s. That put me in mind of this.

        If you want to talk further I’m happy to. You can find me; as I say I use my name. But I want your real name.

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      2. “Anecdotes”. Ah, okay.

        “30ish years ago at an academic conference hearing a Georgian quote Hegel. I mean, holy cow, who quotes Hegel these days?”

        I fail to see anything wrong here. Hegel influenced Marx and Engels, which, naturally, resulted in him being studied in the USSR (at the expense of, say, Nietzsche and right wing ideologues). Quoting Hegel is bad? Unacceptable in the Free West?

        “30ish years ago a Russian proudly showing me a Russian book that came out after the USSR went down which has, all in one place, Masons, Templars, the Pyramid, flying saucers and every other bit of mental flotsam and jetsam of the West for a century.”

        Uh-huh. This is also a sign of Russian “backwardness” to you? Gee, I wonder what you gonna say about this an all-American (filmed mostly in Canada) TV series from the 90s with a cult following around the world:

        “20ish years ago another Georgian showing me a book with all that stuff including that Noah’s Ark was at the Omphalos of the world (located in Georgia natch).”

        Another Georgian (West’s best friends till the Ukraine in 2014) example. This has, probably, more to do with the newly found excess of nationalism and desire to “discover” an ancient history for the self-validation reasons. Choosing Noah’s Ark for that is also a pointed jab at Armenians.

        “Well that was The Big Thing in the West in the early 1900s. That put me in mind of this.”

        Mr. Armstrong, are failing to understand what these examples really are? Don’t you know that capitalism and nationalism come hand in hand as well as their excess? Finding your own personal “Ultimate Thule” is not a “thought development” (c). It’s a ploy and a tool in the arsenal of the newly established capitalist nationalist regime, throwing at the wall of the Nation Building everything and seeing what will stick. Does it never occurred to you?

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      3. “Well, you did get all excited.”

        No, just providing counter arguments to your “anecdotes”. Or does your ability to diagnose other people’s mood over Internet’s vastness also based on valuable unscientific examples of “anecdotes” happening 25-30 years ago?

        If you are such a fan of Holy 90s, Mr. Armstrong, then, surely, you ‘re familiar with this old slogan from the “Stimorol” commercial:

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      4. 30ish years ago at an academic conference hearing a Georgian quote Hegel. I mean, holy cow, who quotes Hegel these days? Then he babbled on about how national consciousness was The First Thing.

        I wish I had a better grasp of history and/or German history and thought more generally. But since Georgia no doubt sticked out in the post 2001 universe much later, why not.

        Concerning “national conciousness” you may want to start with Herder. I have met literary scholars who felt they were able to draw direct lines from Herders writings and thoughts to the Holocaust as something deeply hidden in the German super-ego.

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      5. I have met literary scholars who felt they were able to draw direct lines from Herders writings and thoughts to the Holocaust as something deeply hidden in the German super-ego.

        It’s interesting they’d do that; if it were true, then logically speaking the Holocaust would have happened much earlier than 1933.

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    2. Equally lots of Marxism Leninism survives in modern Russia in one way or another, and not just confined to the KPRF. The conception of war, foreign policy, and even a lot of economic development is infused with Soviet thinking and ideology even if some of it is often merely rhetorical. You and Professor Robinson are indispensable sources of analysis for contemporary Russia. My profound thanks to you both.

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      1. Yes, Mr. Armstrong! How can we forget your New Year’s “coming-out” post on that site, when you suggested this as a “good deal” for Russia and the West in the 90s:

        “So, the question is this: how do we make a settlement to the Cold War in which NATO, the former Warsaw Treaty, former-USSR and Moscow all feel secure at the same time? Fortunately, at this unrepeatable moment in world history, the NATO leadership is replete with wise, knowledgeable and thoughtful people, well-informed about past errors, determined to do better, with the vision, modesty and ingenuity to square the circle. (I warned you it was counterfactual). They figure it out:

        1. They tell Warsaw, Prague, Kiev and the rest of them to form an alliance (Central European Treaty Organisation or some such name) grounded on NATO’s Article 5 (an attack on one is an attack on all).
        2. They get a formal, signed, ceremonial declaration from NATO that, should Russia attack any member of the Central European Treaty Organisation, NATO will come to its defence.
        3. They get a formal, signed, ceremonial declaration from Moscow that should NATO attack any member of the CETO, Moscow will come to its defence.
        So, between NATO and Russia, there would have been a belt of neither-one-nor-the-other-but-guaranteed-by-both countries. CETO would have lots of weapons and a high degree of interoperability and command structure left over from the Soviet days; therefore they would be able to mount quite effective defences with what they already had. Their weapons, being Soviet and very rugged, would work for years to come so they wouldn’t have to spend much on their defence.”

        One has to wonder out loud, Mr. Armstrong, given that you, indeed, made such a suggestion, whether you are:

        A) The most cynically craven True Son of the Thousand Year “West”

        or

        B) An naïve simpleton with no understanding how the world woks.

        Because what you offered here, in your coming-out “fantasy” article, would have amounted for Russia to legally bind itself to admitting a pack of pro-Western hyenas on its border dominated by the Western big business and always ready to renege on its previous promises. Meaning – hastening the results of 2014 “spat” between Russia and the “West”, but this time with Russia severely undermined and thoroughly surrounded.

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    3. Hegel was an important thinker and German philosopher. Why shouldn’t his books be discussed and taught in college?
      To dismiss him just like that seems to me as anti-intellectualism.

      Also, Marxism-Leninism didn’t “end”. Marx especially and also Lenin’s books and theories are even more relevant now than ever, which is why they are still taught and discussed. Is Capitalism is not still a thing? Is Imperialism not still a thing? Are we not entertaining you?

      Now, if you want “frozen” or “dead” German philosophers, well, that would have to be Schopenhauer or maybe Heidegger. Who, as everyone knows, was a boozy beggar who could think you under the table…

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      1. Schopenhauer or maybe Heidegger.
        the father of a friend, who had to substitute for his wife, which was in hospital at the time–Curious scene, I’ll probably never forget. He was wearing his wife’s apron while serving us coffee. Then suddenly hastened off with one of the cups mumbling Spülfehler/dish washing error.–

        I do remember this scene much more vividly then the only other detail on my mind. He recommended I should study Schopenhauer, I never did.

        Although, while studying in Freiburg university, obviously, I went off my field’s classes to take a look in then current classes of the Heidegger scholar at the time. To the extend I recall correctly also the dean of philosophy at the time.

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      2. Hi, moon, yes I think he is saying that Hegel is irrelevant because Marx is irrelevant (in his view); given that Marx was so influenced by Hegel.
        I personally think that Marx is VERY relevant, perhaps more than ever; and so perhaps by inductive reasoning Hegel is also very relevant?

        I have to admit, thought, that I never understood Hegel, even though I consider myself to be a Marxist. It’s not that Hegel is wrong, it’s just that I am not smart enough to understand him. I think you need an IQ of at least 150 to read Hegel properly, and I don’t meet that bar!

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  1. Well, the Medvedev piece sounds really stupid. It’s stupid and unfair to characterize whole societies that way. I could replace every occurrence of “Russia” with “America” and it would sound equally plausible: Helpless, hopeless people dragging themselves through the miserable streets, etc.

    In other news, in my endless quest to find new American borrowings into Russian, today I give you фьючерсы (“futures” as in financial futures). Argg! when will this end? l’m not opposed to borrowing words, but this is getting ridiculous now…

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    1. Well, what would you call futures in the commercial sense? There is also деривативы, дилеры etc. It’s not like Russian has its own market lingo free of foreign borrowings. Older terms like акция, облигация, прейскурант are hardly Slavic either.

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      1. True! But Russia could make up some words using Slavic roots, like the Germans do (using German roots). For example, “futures” could be something like будущие !

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      2. like the Germans do (using German roots)
        You are heavily misguided here. And strictly I assume it not a superficial marketing phenomenon either. Although? But it does take occasionally absurd turns on my home ground with neo-English coinages that no speaker would immediately be able to understand.

        I basically would assume that the French or more generally les langues romanes put up better and stronger defenses both concerning language and culture.

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    2. with neo-English coinages that no speaker would immediately be able to understand

      Not sure if this is a good example, but back in high school, every day we would be at a computer lab using Rosetta Stone software to learn foreign languages. While I was studying Spanish, I was sitting next to a classmate who was studying German, and on his screen was the use of ‘das Baby’ to refer to an infant, pronounced the exact same way as in English.

      The concept of infancy must certainly be as old as the German language itself, so there must’ve been an older, native word that got replaced with Baby. Since I left school, I initially believed that the use of Baby instead of Säugling was a West German thing, but a Reddit thread I came across says that Baby entered the German vernacular in the 19th century, so it wouldn’t surprise me if it were used in the GDR as well.

      Now here’s the real deal-breaker for me: Baby is one of the foreign-origin words in German such as Computer, logieren (to lodge/visit), and Jeton (chip/token) that retain their original spelling instead of being respelled to match the native German orthography. And it’s not only in English and German; it seems to be the case in many languages that use the Latin alphabet given the divergent pronunciations of the same letter in each language. What I love about the Russian language is the way foreign words and names are automatically respelled in Cyrillic to match the pronunciation, such as yalensis’ example фьючерсы for “futures”.

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  2. I may have an explanation for the survey results.

    The question asked was “In our society, there are people whose behavior deviates from social norms. How do you think they should be dealt with”? The question, especially coupled with such extreme option as “liquidate”, implies that this person poses a *problem* and, therefore, a solution is needed. A Jehowa’s WItness who kills his kid by refusing blood transfusion: a problem. A schizophrenic with a murderous side: a problem. An alcoholic who beats his wife when drunk: a problem.

    A big hint that this is indeed how the question was seen by respondents is the “paedophiles” section. The word itself is used both to describe sexual offenders against children, and simply the disorder itself, harmless when not acted upon. But given the 97% favor for repressive action in the survey (75% for “liquidate” at that), only the first reading was considered.

    As such, I don’t think the survey is indicative of actual attitude towards listed groups (with a notable exception of terrorists, since the group and the problem overlap fully).

    P.S. The question was indeed about “behavior”. Then they go and include HIV-positives in the list. What the hell?

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  3. In the now justly nearly forgotten* Disney’s animated TV series “Recess” there was this recurring character – Randall J. Weems:

    Randall is a snitch, a coward and the most hated kid in school. He’s also a true son of Leonard Weems, also a snitch (both during his childhood and even now in the daily matters, even when dealing with his son):

    Now he’s stay at home dad married to an attorney. He imparts on his offspring one crucial life lesson – never lie to Authority… unless currying the favor of a Bigger Authority.

    Despite being all-round unlikable character and oftentimes a foil to the protagonists, Randall Weems got several episodes devoted to him – including the “Stand Up Randall”, which introduced him for the first time. The plot kicks with Randall being awarded (by the school) for snitching on kid drawing a chalk picture on the pavement with the access to of school’s last year’s Lost and Found box, from which he can take one item. He chooses “The Big Book Of Jokes”, and thus begins his short lived attempt to overcome the reputation of being a tattletale, snitch, loser, and having rotten food thrown at him.

    Other kids love him telling other people’s jokes and thus he becomes quite popular – for a time. Unfortunately, soon Randall runs out of jokes to tell and starts repeating himself, and the crowd is no longer amused. But then in a stroke of genius, he decides to “reboot” his career of a would be stand up comedian – from now on he repeats all the same old jokes, but makes their target not some abstract and unnamed people, but one of the kids in school:

    Mikey is one of the six main characters of the series. Mikey is a friendly, kind, polite, cheerful, peaceful, with a good singing voice, but mighty naïve kid. Naturally, because of his height and weight combo, he’s assumed by others to be either a bully or dumb. Kids like him are fairly often and natural occurrence and can do next to nothing with the hand dealt to them by the nature. They can either shape up and turn all that excess fat into the muscles (thus giving more reasons for others to suspect them of being bullies)… or they’d have to suffer through other, often much weaker kids barbs and dissing, seeking a really “soft” target.

    That, my fellow members of commentariat, was rather whimsical, but to a point, Aesop tale, drawing attention to the essence of the so-called “Russian” so-called “Liberals” and the everyday pain of their existence between the two worlds: the very much objective reality, that includes the “Mordor” of Russia, and pretty much imaginary “Valinor” of the West, of which they constantly try to curry the favor. There times, when card-carrying members of the “Russian” “Liberal” masses desire to be accepted in both of the worlds… while keeping their elitist and snitching ways. The resultant failure, naturally, leads them to the “only” possible conclusion – “народ не тот” ™.

    But becoming a “court Russian” is also a way of early a living and enjoying a somewhat better (and easy) lifestyle in the West. Russians are acceptable targets. Deep down, the enlightened Western public is still rabidly racist – it’s just not allowed to express its racism at the targets they used to. Russians, OTOH, are totally acceptable targets. Here everything goes and everything is normal, because “Russians are not the race” (c). Now make a mental experiment – replace the Russians in the writings of these two men of letters with the POCs. Would that be racist, especially in the US of A, where there used to be a real, enshrined in the law slavery?

    P.S. The fact that our dear Professor says nothing about his moral stance as to whether it is acceptable to disparage entire ethnicity (Russians in this instance) using the most wile language of hatred, and that those who resort to it must be deplatformed* – immediately – is very telling. Turns out, concerns for personal financial and career well-being for someone, who tries to be objective and apply standards and assumptions about “Western values” ™ evenly, are very much real. Keep it all in mind, when some shy and conscientious intilligent will try to lambast Russia for “repressions” or “censorship” next time.

    _____________
    *) Too 90s.
    **) Canada!

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      1. “sometimes, I would like to strangle you single-handedly

        Dear userperson “moon”. Due to my upbringing and education, I can not bring myself to disparage and respond in kind to someone, who, by her own words:

        A) Is of very advanced age

        B) Could be suffering from mental issues.

        As for your wish: “With Focusing and Positive Thinking You Really Can Achieve Anything” (c)

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      2. B) Could be suffering from mental issues.

        Not sure if epilepsy and/or its minor forms would be medically categorized as “mental issue”, but no doubt it concerns the brain. Otherwise, yes, mentally deviant from multiple perspectives, worse, seemingly also therapy resistant.

        But yes, I like clarity and bluntness vs conventional, superficial up to calculating politeness.

        I find your two last paragraphs worthy of a larger discussion, on the other hand it feels Paul Robinson is circling the topics/themes you raise in his own ways too. Maybe you could let us nitwit observers know in what precise ways he fails? Provides no easy solutions?

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  4. For amateur psychologists, here is a pet theory: the Russians and the Westerners are so culturally close that the minor differences trigger the Uncanny Valley Response (Wikipedia definition: “In aesthetics, the uncanny valley is a hypothesized relationship between the degree of an object’s resemblance to a human being and the emotional response to such an object. The concept suggests that humanoid objects which imperfectly resemble actual human beings provoke uncanny or strangely familiar feelings of eeriness and revulsion in observers”).

    But seriously, what an irrussional topic… So some people – again – claim that the Russians are psychologically deviant… how can you even approach this rationally? Is DCM-6 edition for nation-states out yet?

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    1. “But seriously, what an irrussional topic… So some people – again – claim that the Russians are psychologically deviant… how can you even approach this rationally? “

      Dolores, you are a vivid example of why one should never underestimate predictability of the Russian liberals (ака. “терпилы” ака “на Украине фашизма нет”). These two elitist douchebags, referenced in the original blogpost, are what’s now called “influencers” or “the master of discourse”. They are both the result of the propaganda and it’s amplifiers/repeaters, whose activity has a ripple effect throughout the world.

      This kind of ordinary, commonplace Russophobia, to which you “graciously” offer no reaction at all, is a direct result of the long time normalization of negative discourse about everything Russian or Russia related in the West. Don’t want to read about two ex-Russian douches? Fine. How about all-American member of the artistic intelligentsia instead?

      “Worst most barbaric peasant food”. I guess the most offensive term in her view is “peasant”.

      If she’d be talking about “liberal holy cow” nation, that’d the end of her career.

      If you are thinking that her other twitts are “normal” or “innocent”, think again:

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      1. Above is an example Of some social media posts which in my view contain racist tropes against Russians

        Recently two students in Georgia in the USA were expelled from school for making a racist video about black people.

        It featured many negative racist tropes about African Americans

        One of the racist comments concerned food they allege black people eat.

        You can look it up – Stephanie Freeman and Jeffrey Hume

        Azealia Banks comments are exactly in the same vein as those that those two posted about African Americans.

        Professor – this whole article is in my view racist – just because it is written by two Russians does not make it okay.

        They in my view know that prejudice against Russians sells and have decided to monetise their hatred of Russia.

        I have read it twice and felt my blood boil that such writing is treated as serious discourse.

        I don’t know why you are treating it as such.

        Using opinion polls by Levada to try and give it credence is also questionable.

        Opinion polls are weapons to shape opinion not measure it.

        Lord Ashcroft who is runs a polling organisation herein the UK always says polls give you a snapshot in time and are not to be seen otherwise.
        He uses other methods (observation, focus groups etc) alongside opinion polls to gather information.

        He was one of the very few that predicted Brexit vote in 2016- which shocked the establishment. Led to 4 years of divisive politics that is still going on!

        The vote that went against liberal ideas of what the UK is. and led to accusations that’s majority of the English are racist!!!

        It is clear polls taken over the years never asked the right questions !!!!

        It’s still unclear why the English voters Ed so heavily to leave the EU

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    2. Dolores, I never heard of that theory before, but it totally explains why I have always been repulsed by monkeys and apes!
      Because they share most of our DNA but are just a little bit different.

      I know some people regard them (especially monkeys) as cute, but I never did. Is it wrong to be revolted by certain types of animals?
      It’s not like I would ever act on such feelings, so don’t worry, I am actually an Animal Rights supporter!

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  5. As for liquidation/isolation… people are scary creatures, and the Russians are no exception. Someone studying history, and especially military history, should be well aware that the veneer of civilization is thin. Let’s not forget that the atrocities of Holocaust, Khatyn, and Mỹ Lai were committed by regular folks. I’d say about 5-10% of any population would happily participate in a massacre if properly conditioned.

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    1. That’s true, but at least Russians are not as sanctimonious and hypocritical as Westies. So many Westies are absolutely convinced that they are superior. Their hypocrisy is sometimes more maddening than their actual misdeeds.

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      1. Olivegreen above:
        Many so-called Russia liberals seem to be among the least liberal people in Russia, and they are quite open about it.

        I would be quite willing to agree that “Russian dissidents” get a rather high attention share in the West. And surely to the extend they do, shape overall Western perception.

        but at least Russians are not as sanctimonious and hypocritical as Westies.

        you want to reflect on that? Or can we start from here and design questionaries to prove or test your point?

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  6. Unfortunately Professor Robinson, you have shown yourself to be no better than the Russian liberals you quote in your piece, when you rather ignorantly criticised the proposed resetting of term limits in Russia

    If Putin does a good job upto 2024, and Russians want to re-elect him based on this, what on earth is remotely anti-democratic or “institutionally weak” about the Russian people doing what they want?

    Are you implying that a basket-case of a country like Ukraine, frequently rotating their ( American controlled) President is a sign of “strong institutions” and democracy?

    What’s immensely irritating is that you made these comments, completely disregarding that Russia had just had a very successful transition – the Medvedev government replaced by the Mishustin government. All cabinet members not retained, left without out any disgrace and onto other state positions.

    As for the “weak institutions”, a solid outstanding government official was able to be promoted to PM based on his work in office – purely merit and not any scattergun, “grand-bargain” appointment as in Ukraine.

    The way you portrayed the Constitution initiative as not a chance for Putin to put something forward with his name on it that could be a framework for Russia for the next 30-50 years…..but as a clumsy power grab, is disrespectful. How wrong can you be?

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  7. Does anyone else thing that, on a purely individual level, Russians are more westernised or western-like than practically all the central and Eastern European states that were admitted into EU and NATO in the last 20 years?

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      1. Influenced by western popular culture and technology or various western fads in their daily lives . Primarily from Anglo-US, though I suppose you could include Germany too.Everything from feminists, television, to Emo weirdo’s, rappers,tribute bands to 1970’s UK prog-rock groups or whatever type of copycat movement or music from the west – it is no less ( or badly!) mimicked in Russia than it is in the rest of former Warsaw pact. Alot less kitsch in Russia than in those other countries.

        I mean does the American or Brit who visits Moscow and talks with anyone there,, think they are talking with people who are less “western sophisticated ” than somebody in Vilnius, Bucharest or Warsaw? Even with people from cities that should be considered western but maybe aren’t, such as Prague and Budapest?

        If we go from individuals to some unofficial practices, then maybe there are more unscrupulous taxi drivers in Moscow, but it is practically a myth nowadays that tourists to Russia are confronted regularly ( or at all) with having to pay bribes.

        The funny irony is that propagandists in the Baltics like to point out some of the the supposedly less-developed regions in Russia that border them as sign of how “western ” they are, completely forgetting that the reason there might be this disparity is because the central government put money and resources into their development when part of the same country, ahead of bordering regions to them like Pskov and Bryansk over several decades. They wouldn’t be propagating the same drivel and presenting it as Russia as a whole if Ekaterinburg, Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Kazan, or many other places ( with populations bigger than any Baltic country) were next to them.

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      2. “Influenced by western popular culture and technology or various western fads in their daily lives. Primarily from Anglo-US, though I suppose you could include Germany too.”

        As Everybody Knows ™ – everything foreign was banned in the USSR. That’s why ordinary Soviet people knew/were fans of:

        1) French movies (everything from Louis de Fines comedies to J-P Belmondo’s “action” movies), novels and music.

        2) Italian movies and novels.

        3) Scandinavian kids literature.

        4) Old-timey all-European literary classics (yes – even “Decameron”).


        ^Yes, even Karl Friedrich Hieronymus Freiherr von Münchhausen is reading “Decameron” , in this stop-motion animated kids movie of 1967!

        There was a tiny minority of Anglophiles, due in no small fact of the tiny minority of the Anglophones. Since the “Holy 90s” situation became to change, but even then there were Hélène et les Garçons and Alizée, “Commisar Rex” and RAMMSTEIN, etc.

        I don’t deny that there wasthis hyyyuuuuge wave of craving everything previously “forbidden”, which, it just happened, came from the newest World Workshop with its conveyer-belt industry of Hollywood. But: a) The novelty by now is long gone; b) The satisfaction of these cravings was very, very uneven. So:

        “I mean does the American or Brit who visits Moscow and talks with anyone there,, think they are talking with people who are less “western sophisticated ” than somebody in Vilnius, Bucharest or Warsaw?”

        I have to borrow the expression used by Dolores in the post above – the “uncanny valley-ness” of Russia for such Anglophone will be tremendous. He or she would find out, to their great shock and dismay, that “it is highly likely” (c), that no one has any ideas about “Peanuts” in Russia. Or about Doc Seuss. Or ever head about “Casey at the Bat”. Or a million and one other little things, that make up “Westerness” (according to this particular breed of westerners, who consider themselves to be the Kings of the World).

        Pop culture? Sure! But, again: a) The patina of pop culture is a thin one; b) Due to the enormous differences in upbringing and, therefore, worldviews, the perceptions will be too different.

        That’s why in Russia the Galactic Empire had been always more popular, than the Rebels (and practically no one knows what’s this StarTrek thingy is anyway).

        “[B]ut it is practically a myth nowadays that tourists to Russia are confronted regularly ( or at all) with having to pay bribes.”

        I, ah, “had a very sensible chuckle” (c) upon reading that. On the one hand – yes, of course it’s true. On the other – just recently I’ve listened to the podcast of two Russia-watcharesses (one in NY, one in St. Pete, both all-too-American). They are typical 20+ urbanites, who participated in pro-Navalny rallies, get their news from Meduza and the like, and 100% are against “Crooks and Thieves”. They are also empty headed dummies, who failed to mature while becoming technically adult, and their survival skills on hostile environment (like, I dunno – a foreign country during epidemic lockdown?) are lemming-like. So it came as no surprise (to me) when the one currently in Russia screwed up big time and failed to re-register properly and in time her residence permit, which was 100% necessary for acquiring a car-plate numbers in Russia. So she had her “significant young man” (a Russia) to unscrew the whole mess for (according to her claim) a pittance of 5000 rubles.

        Paradoxically, all rhetoric about “Crooks and Thieves” was absent from that podcast. But there was much laughter, as in “A-ha-ha-ha, I’m such a dummy! Good thing, that it happened in Russia, otherwise I’d be fu…”

        The problem with the foreigners, is that they either are, indeed too dumb to learn Russian laws and customs, or they don’t care.

        ***

        So, back to your question – the Westerners would be the first to proclaim, loud and clear, that Russians are very un-Western in the most critical, off-putting ways. As the years go by, more and more Russians gonna agree with them and fail to see any problem.

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      3. As Everybody Knows ™ – everything foreign was banned in the USSR. That’s why ordinary Soviet people knew/were fans of:

        And the list goes on! A lot of other things were borrowed from other countries, particularly in Europe, before the Bolshevik revolution and continued to be used even during the Soviet era.
        The biggest things I can think of are the metric system, Hindu-Arabic numerals, soccer, and words borrowed from French and German (such as режиссер, for producer, and картофель, for potato). Peter the Great even drew inspiration from Latin letters and contributed to standard Cyrillic letters looking like they do today. Given their foreign origins, that they weren’t banned in the USSR should probably put to rest the notion that foreign things were banned out of xenophobia.

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      4. “such as режиссер, for producer”

        Ah, no, “режиссер” is Russian for the “[film/stage] director”. Russian for “producer” is… “продюсер” :).

        It’s good that you mention Peter the Great and his borrowings from Europe, because it also highlights the “uncanny valley-ness” that Anglo’s gonna feel when coming in contact with Russia. E.g., Peter the Great have been using as a template for his newly created fleet the Dutch/Northern European system – not the English one. It’s “small” things like this one which contribute to the Anglo-American feelings of Russia’s “wrongness”, and “failure” to become more like them.

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      5. Ah, no, “режиссер” is Russian for the “[film/stage] director”. Russian for “producer” is… “продюсер” :).

        Oh yeah. My apologies.
        On Yandex Translate, режиссер yields producer as the first choice, with director somewhere down the list, while director yields директор, and режиссер is below it on the list. Then again, without the proper context, one can get lost in translation.

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    1. I am not too well versed in high politics, wasn’t even interested in it until rather late in life: from the 90s onward (?) and heavily after 2001.

      But from that by now longer time span–short considering my age–I learned that even one party with not quite the same leader installed for too long in the local context may have the tendency to establish ‘old-boy networks’. As a friend who works organized crime and corruption calls it, just like the man in the street. … On the other hand?

      But yes, strictly we don’t have two term limits in Germany for our chancellors. … If I recall correctly Kohl or pear as we called him could have been reelected till he died.

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    2. I would define “westernized” as being hip to European high culture. Like literature, opera, music, that sort of thing.
      The Soviet period was superior for that, as true high culture was encouraged and crass low culture more frowned upon; and rightly so.

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  8. This is a centuries-old trope, dating back at least as far as the sixteenth century writings of Sigismund von Herberstein, but as I found out in something else I read this week, the idea got a more general boost from the infamous Frankfurt School of scholars, which came up with the concept of ‘The Authoritarian Personality’.

    I am curious what it was you read and suggested this connection.

    Surely the Frankfurt School ‘crowd’, at least those who made it, brought along earlier studies and reflection from the world they fled. But, am I wrong the study wasn’t exactly done by the Frankfurt School in exile, only Adorno joined them? The methods were somewhat innovative and may have been inspired by former Frankfurt reflections plus not least former IfS ally/colleague Erich Fromm …

    But from the 15/16th century Austrian empire Sigismund von Herberstein to the Frankfurt school’s Russophobia? Is that your suggestion tentatively?

    Slaves, serfs … authoritarian character?*

    * made a lot of sense to us,

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    1. … authoritarian character?*
      minor correction:
      authoritarian character*?

      ok, us would be me. I doubt I could have ever been lured into shocking Adorno with bare breasts. But that is another story.

      Well today we have the Femans. 😉

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  9. It simply enrages westerners – and Russian liberals, obviously – that Russians are content with less. What kind of life must you be living if you are as happy to go for a walk beside the ocean or in a local park as you would be to attend a monster-truck rally, and watch grunting machines clamber over one another, while the crowd screams in an ecstasy of destruction? Why are you content with a simple meal at home, when you could strive for a better job and upward mobility, and perhaps dine out at a fancy restaurant where you can pretend to sniff the cork before they pour your wine? Westerners are simply inured to believe that whatever they have, they deserve better. Russians believe you should make the most of what you have. The ones I know do, anyway. The dull passivity that makes Medvedev dance with frustrated fury may well just be contentment. Is it a coincidence that discontent runs through Russian liberals like a common vein?

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  10. Two can play this game. What is wrong with the American psyche that they need to find an external enemy to blame for their problems? I can’t think of another country which went all in with the “coronavirus is all evil China’s fault” narrative, hot on the steps of Russiagate. This is genuinely baffling from outside the US.

    Russian liberals supporting authoritarian measures? You don’t say. Many so-called Russia liberals seem to be among the least liberal people in Russia, and they are quite open about it.

    Unquestioning obedience to the authorities is currently on full display – the streets are filled with people who are ignoring the self-isolation regime and will continue to do so unless there is a policeman on every corner. They are not doing it to spite the authorities either, they just honestly don’t care.

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  11. My own take on actual “Authoritarianism in Russia”.

    Frankly, how quickly or rapidly people are willing to follow the orders of someone above is a spectrum. Secondly, it is one where perception, both foreign perception and self perception, may be quite massively different from reality.
    Something else that is frequently lost in translation is the reasoning employed to by the authorities to justify their orders, it is not just that the reasoning Russian authorities use would be rejected by “western liberals”, more frequently these liberals are unable to understand that such a reasoning exist, and then attribute to forced heavy handed compellance which was actually a case conversation and then people being convinced that these orders were good ideas.
    The stereotypical Russian liberal cannot get that. The “Peaseants” actuall second guess Putin all the time, frequently dont think that highly of him (but still much more highly then they think of every alternative remotely palatable to a stereotypical Russian liberal), actually recognicing that would mean that the stereotypical Russian liberal has to understand why Putin/the state is being followed, so he has to understand that the State has done a lot of good for the people, and this is fundamentally imcompatible with being a current stereotypical Russian liberal.

    If an order is stupid, a Russian is in my experience at least lilely then a westie to disregard it, but in a way that does not run roughshod over the fact that someone needs to give orders and these typically need to be followed. Russians are “afraid” of breackdowns in command and control, and for good reason.
    The Putin government rarely gives stupid orders, which is pretty good in itself, and also a reason why normal Russians give Putin the benefit of doubt when he orders something where said normal Russians do not or cannot know if its a good idea or not.

    I think another reason for the elite engineered western Russophobia (which I see as something different from the f.e. historical butthurt induced Polish Russophobia) is that Russian Elites, in several metrics (such as population life expectancy increase divided by ruling time, security divided by prisoner population percentage, succesfull infrastructure programms, and accountability) outfperform western Elites.
    Demonizing Russia, and Russian Elites, becomes important to distract from higher Russian Elite performance.

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  12. For students of Russian history:
    There may be some interest in my latest series , a 3-part blogpost about a very little-known cholera epidemic which hit the southern parts of the USSR in 1970.
    The epidemic (most likely caused by a contaminated water supply) started somewhere near the Caspian Sea, spread westward to the Black Sea, crossed over from Kerch to Crimea, and all the way up to Odessa.

    Several major cities were quarantined, including Kerch, Astrakhan and Odessa. The epidemic took a couple of months to quell and employed major government resources, including police and army. Despite which, it was all done very quietly and secretively, with no publicity nor panic!

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