Tag Archives: Edwin Bacon

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!