Updated: May 9
(or Seven Mistakes of a "Bad Russian")
“By the way, most of them aren’t really bad. They’re victims of difficult circumstances, which lead to a hardening of the soul and militant selfishness.” - Eldar Ryazanov
On February 24, 2022, the Russian Federation heroically repeated Nazi Germany’s greatest feat, and, without prior notice, invaded the territory of sovereign Ukraine. The tension of months was released in a second, elevating yesterday’s misanthropically inclined autocracy to today’s aggressor, sadist, and enforcer. Interestingly, most inhabitants of the empire were neither horrified nor taken aback by this change of fortune, rather reacting somewhere between enthusiasm and indifference.
This applies not only to those on the fringes, for whom the Sun obediently revolves around the Earth, and not even to the “telezombies,” but to those whom you would think are “overall, very pleasant.” Precisely these people — the last to be suspected of the absence of a head on their shoulders — will explain with a pleasant half-smile that the goings-on in Ukrainian territory are really not that bad and far from the worst possible evil, and the reserved reactions of those around them are not really enough to justify removal from their circle of relations. In other words, “there are more important things than peace.” These mind games can no longer be explained as a symptom of total propaganda or a sudden clouding of reason; here, something else is at work.
Generally, any attempt to explain the reaction of Russian society (putting aside that this verbal construction sounds overwhelmingly oxymoronic, as if to say kosher lard or Turkish Easter) as a success of multi-million-budgeted propaganda poured over the heads of our compatriots is not particularly persuasive. It is clear that those who planned the military aggression against Ukraine had calculated not so much for the active but rather for the passive support of the majority of the Russian population. If those devotees to the "Z" represent a smashing victory for propaganda, then who is to thank for all the lips that remain sealed? An ingrained fear, passed down through generations? The eternal anxiety that something might happen? Certainly — but not only that.
The conscience of the majority, in whose name the greatest war crime of the 21st century is being carried out, has been prepared for this mission by long experience. Moreover, it was so perfectly prepared that all that is left is the ritual placement of the final straw upon the back of the camel. A password, a keyword, a shibboleth, immediately transforms at least fifty percent of Russians (“so kind, what large and open hearts”) into, if not gleeful accomplices, at least “the indifferent, with whose silent consent murder and betrayal exist in the world,” though today’s emotion is closer to resentment and gloating than to indifference.
What, then, are the intrinsic properties of that nation of Putin-allowers, those millions who, at a snap of his fingers, were ready to sing Scheherazade Stepanovna’s great aria “I am ready” in chorus? What is going on, of course, awaits sensemaking by means of the social sciences. We can permit ourselves to discuss this purely as publicists.
1. Mournful unconcern
“What is the difference between the young men of the 20s and 70s? The first gave a shot, the second didn’t give a shit... " - Anecdote of the Soviet era
The pop psychology of previous decades has widely proselytized the importance of empathy, inner space, and personal limits. As such, it comes as no surprise that denizens of the attacked and defending state expected from Russians, if not help, at least sympathy. The expectation of help is a natural, reflexive human reaction to tragedies such as the death of children, houses on fire, and museums exploding.
Clearly, this expectation was in vain. The lack of empathy towards another human is a requirement to survive as an individual without power in a state without law. The sacramental “you die today, and I’ll go tomorrow,” which has been ripening for centuries in the depths of the Russian soul and refined in the era of the Gulag, is not particularly conducive to the perception of someone else’s misfortune in the same terms as one’s own.
We won’t treat the maxim “human life has never been expensive in Russia” as sufficient explanation for the situation. Let’s put aside the centuries of negative selection and speculation about learned helplessness — but let’s remember that the very knowledge of these historical and psychological features has allowed our most beloved president to build that same diabolical social contract, thanks to which our “immoral majority” remains both immoral and a majority.
The poverty- and hunger-stricken existence of the majority of the Russian population throughout the ages is no secret. The “age-old dream of mankind” — to have an apartment without waiting in queue for thirty years, or one’s own car without first a decade of labor in the mines, or the use of home furnishings or a mobile phone without, in fact, having yet paid in full for these items — became possible in tandem with skyrocketing oil prices. “I have come to give you freedom,” Putin could say in the vein of Shukshin’s Stenka Razin, keeping in mind that our immoral majority has never demanded any other sort of freedom. The experiment of the 20th century, carried out under the slogan of “land for the peasants, factories for the workers,” turned out quite poorly, and so it was noted in the collective unconscious that the workers and peasants are not particularly skilled at management, and the burden should perhaps rather be delegated to some better-prepared individuals. It’s quite another matter, though, to assert one’s right to the national product, in unlimited quantities, at a reasonable price (the hard ruble!), with a good installment plan at an acceptable rate — only an absolute Myshkin would refuse.
Of course, any deal includes obligations on the parts of both parties. The obligation, though, seemed so insignificant, even ridiculous, that the Russians simply couldn’t believe their luck. This obligation, such as it was, was thus: to refrain from any form of public life, including political, and to enthusiastically support the authorities, in places designated for support, on days designated by law. Vote in the morning, and you’re free for a year! It looks perfectly in order: “the bank doesn’t grow corn, and I don’t give out loans.” Is it to be expected that a people in whose consciousness social activism was in no way connected with well-being (more so with hard labor, billy clubs, industries ruined and villages destroyed) would find this a matter for concern?
This division of labor – I rule, you consume, and we try not to interfere with each other – eventually led to a complete parallelism of authority and society (parallelism, here, meaning the establishment of a common vector of movement while minimizing points of contact — pardon my French!). Elements of the new mythology quickly entered the social register: “we’ve never had it as good as this,” “freedom is when they’ve got three hundred types of everything at the store and your refrigerator’s already full at home,” “the most important thing is that we don’t interfere,” and so on. Importing new ideas endangers the entire structure and will be seen as a threat to well-being by our immoral majority: “What else could you possibly need? Do you want to go back to the sausage trains and ‘2x2 = 125?’ Don’t cause problems. Hooray for Putin!” Henceforth, apoliticality was the citizen’s greatest virtue (the greatest virtue of an official is to be a skillful manager, not a politician — God forbid!). Politicization and the resulting polarization of society were declared vestiges of perestroika, that great evil whose inevitable consequence was the “monstrous, careening,” and the, in truth, rather hungry, 1990s.
The conviction that life in Russia had finally gotten on the right track, confirmed by the cult of the leader’s personality, released Russians from all moral responsibility. If someone asks for, somehow, more freedoms, that’s a sign of infirmity. If the President looks at America in some type of way, that’s America’s fault. If a girl is raped on the street, that’s what you get for wearing a short skirt. Any action by any authority is a step further in the great rise from the mud, any criticism against them an undermining of the national interest. The transformation of the nation and the what-could-be-a-society into a mass of consumers, loosely united by place, time, mentality, and legends of the past, can be considered the apotheosis of the current regime.
It is not surprising that, in such a situation, the contents of one’s plate, the achievements and wellbeing of one’s children, numerous loans, and ways to repay them, have become the main content of all communicative acts. The imitative nature of other interests can be judged by the speed with which almost any conversation is reduced to that simple set of themes. The atomization of society, accelerated by the absence of a unifying national idea (not an ideology, but the idea itself), has led to a narrowing of all fields of perception, including emotional, to the area of the aforementioned plate. What will happen to the Motherland and us? — a pure rhetorical question. What will I have to feed my children tomorrow? sounds quite Shakespearean.
The challenges faced by subjects on the fringes of society really concern people the least. By the way, already by 2004, the moment of the first Ukrainian Maidan, the situation in the neighboring state — with almost no propaganda! — evoked in our immoral majority not sympathy, but something between amazement and irritation. Well, why don’t they live like humans over there (not like us, in translation)? Why vote for anyone random, and consequently suffer (this is what happens when you’ve got no Putin)? Why talk about their European choice, when there we are, Russia, the finest example of how well they could live? Sometimes they even deal with America(!), although everyone understands where America is and where the interests of Slavic brotherhood lie. And, of course, gas. They steal our gas!
From all the Ukrainian attempts to build a sovereign state and a democratic society, the optics of an inexperienced Russian could register only a regular (too frequent!) change of the country's leadership, weakness of power, an uncontrollable oligarchy, and a poorly concealed unwillingness to love and respect the Russian Federation as an older brother. They must be crazy.
However, the Russian authorities would not be themselves if they did not lead, organize, and direct the formation of a negative image of Ukraine and Ukrainians with a clear goal: to provide a contrasting background for round-the-clock broadcasting about their own advanced development. Since roughly 2006, events in Ukraine were an integral part of Russian news and analytical programs. The Nazi topic of the unterland (and the untermenschen inhabiting it) received a joyous revitalization, while the Russian media played and re-played the nationalist card, especially after Yushchenko’s official declarations of Roman Shukhevych (2007) and Stepan Bandera (2010) as Heroes of Ukraine. The ideologeme of ukrofascism had begun to live its own life. And yes, the Russian collective consciousness is merciless towards fascists of any kind. However many times you see him — that many times you’re to kill him, as the greats say.
Crimea and the near-Crimean hysteria served only to reinforce this attitude in most heads, and then COVID taught them the indifference to mass deaths. Did you hear, Angelina Vassilyevna died... - Wow, what a pity! Who will her cat stay with now...?!
2. Trust, don’t check
"No one can be trusted these days, sometimes even the man himself. But I can!" - Heinrich Müller
It happened such that, of the two basic ways of spiritual interaction with the world, faith and knowledge, our immoral majority stubbornly prefers the first one. The call for a thesis’ empirical or logical proof, in the eyes of believers, kills its sacred value. The main instrument of knowledge is doubt, while faith is a classic example of wishful thinking, accepting the world not as is, but as one would like to see it. It is not surprising that people in Russia believe in this or that statement more willingly if less theoretical basis is provided. Proving means justifying, justifying means lying – that’s clear!
It would seem that trust should be given to two categories of source: close ones and trusted ones. The close ones by default are not interested in misleading us, and the rightfulness of the second has been confirmed by the course of life. But this is only in seeming. In reality, alas, the formula attributed to Goebbels, and belonging to his boss, continues to work rigorously. If you are eager to believe, believing will be easy.
There is a great temptation to attribute habitual faith to the devout religiosity of the Russian people. This level of faith only exists in theory. Strict sociology tells us that, in 2010, according to various estimates, truly practicing Orthodox people in Russia made up about four percent of the population. It can be assumed that the remaining 96 percent think that they’re truly practicing Orthodox people, but that discussion belongs elsewhere.
By the way, one of the most quoted verses in recent months and years has been a verse from St. Paul to the Romans: Let every soul be subject to the higher powers, for there is no power except from God; the authorities that exist are established by God (Rom. 13:1). Moreover, it’s quoted in the most vulgar of all possible interpretations: any run-of-the-mill, creeping ghoul-boss is delegated to his post directly by the Almighty. The simplest counterarguments, such as pointing out that Satan is also from God, because his reign on Earth was allowed by the Creator, puts amateur theologians into a stupor because it requires the turning on of a critical apparatus in a sphere where any statement is a priori axiomatic in nature. For our immoral majority, this is about the same smoke and mirrors as economics.
It is infinitely insulting that such superstitions are actively supported by churches, including the Russian Orthodox one. But that’s crying over spilled milk. The contemporary church has perverted the deep essence of, perhaps, the most freedom-loving of the existing world religions so skillfully and glitteringly that one thesis less, one thesis more is no difference. Preaching war from the pulpit is sufficient to close the book on the question of the Christian mentality and its influence on the essence of Russian public life for a very long time.
A simple idea that goes back to Francis Bacon – that if you have God to trust, then everything else is worth studying and rechecking periodically, and that faith acquires its true spiritual power only in dialectical unity with knowledge – seems blasphemous to millions of compatriots. The only example of reasonable doubt in the gospel story – the Apostle Thomas (a.k.a. “Doubting”) – looks slightly caricatured against the background of truly tragic figures — a repentant Judas or a thrice-forsaken Peter.
One way or another, it is fixed in the nation’s memory: if authority is from God, then it is somehow out of order for us to control it. They know better, they’re highbrow, they have more data, and anyway, the authorities wouldn’t lie to us, would they? And it’s also acceptable if presumption of honesty and good intentions results only in the personal gain of the hundredth generation of officials. The problem is that, in fatal moments of history, it directly affects a population decrease, either in Russia or in neighboring states.
Let's go down the list. 1937: In the USSR, the innocents are not shot! 1992: But they couldn't have let them rob so many people! 2022: Putin would never bomb peaceful cities! (On this last statement, our immoral majority’s greatest and deepest astonishment is yet to come). At the same time, there is an invariable side effect: doubters are the first to go, either under the axe of power or the guillotine of collective opinion.
Incredibly, the dark side of this frivolous, reckless faith in authorities is a distinct lack of trust in each other. Ah, if loved ones were trusted as implicitly as candidates, how beautiful the world would be! However, no. Suspicion in personal relationships sometimes reaches infernal depths – including complete destruction of intimacy.
Let’s recall the situation from the famous Russian movie [The Irony of Fate]: the hero comes to his beloved’s house on a festive evening and finds a drunken man on her bed. The woman tries to explain the circumstances of his appearance and is met with a viciously suspicious rebuke from the one whom she considered the closest and most reliable, a protector and a confidant. The moral to follow: why need to think if everything is quite clear?
Why is the immoral majority ready to believe the imperious message much more willingly than the testimony of loved ones? A possible answer lies in plain sight: the distinct presence of the Stockholm syndrome as relates to those in power. Firstly, they are great, and secondly, they have weapons! We’ve got precedent to spare for different severity of punishments across history, and in recent months, a dozen new Russian laws, senseless and merciless, have been adopted. So, while they still don’t affect you personally – just smile and wave, boys. Just believe. In Ukronazism. Or in the Sun revolving around the Earth – any whim for your money.
Perhaps it would not be going too far to say that it’s the habit of forced trust in the authorities of any level (plus the lack of natural skepticism developed by negative selection), that regularly ensured the rising of cannibalistic regimes in Russia – each one sweeter than the last. That is a necessary reason (though not a sufficient one) for what is happening today in Ukraine.
3. Hey, citizens!
“How can I, a long-eared hedgehog, Figure all this out?" - Marina Kulakova
Due to the above two habits of our immoral majority, the event that democrats of all stripes have been dreaming of for more than thirty years — the birth of a civil society — has not yet happened in Russia.
The basic difference between a person and a citizen is his vital interest and, as a result, his deep involvement in the life around him. A citizen needs laws, and therefore it is extremely important to him who will create and execute these laws, and on what terms. A citizen needs a strong and fair power, with which he associates himself, and the source of which is deeds, not words. A citizen needs self-esteem – the natural motor of any social progress, the voice that constantly whispers in your ear: "You just shouldn’t live like this." A citizen needs property, which, on the one hand, ensures his material existence, and on the other one, nourishes his dignity. Finally, a citizen cannot help but be interested in the status of the world in which he lives, its economic, environmental, moral and ideological dominants. He takes care of his house — large and small, thereby protecting himself, the fruits of his work, and ensuring a prosperous future for posterity.
As it turns out, none of that is necessary for an average Russian to feel happy in 2022.
The layman most often learns about the laws, and their peculiarities of application, when encountering it personally. For some reason, a cause-and-effect relationship between a particular legal act and the last election’s outcome is, as of yet, not firmly established. A visit to the polling station most often has a ritual nature, an air of checking off the list. Render unto Caesar, et cetera – I was there, I fulfilled my duty, what more can you want of me?
Today’s Russian, as already mentioned, lives in absolutely parallel universes with any power, either legislative or executive. He has a very vague idea of its real strength and/or its (in)justice. However, he firmly believes in Putin's pact: do what you have to, don't do what you don’t have to — and you will stay free, most likely. No other forms of interaction (except for ritual pleading for some new veterans’ hospital, in direct TV broadcast) are called for, or wanted. But who cares?
Dignity is one of the biggest problems. To stand under the whip, or to push your neighbor in its path, was never a problem. You may wonder how negative selection could achieve such a brilliant result, but the fact is: millions of Russians do not march out to the streets when the very existence of civilization is threatened. It goes beyond the contents of one’s own plate.
Private property. A heroic attempt in this direction was made by [Anatolii] Chubais in the early 1990s. Today, three decades later, it becomes increasingly clear that the process of enterprise and real estate privatization was intended not only to turn the population of the country into small proprietors, but also to give the primary impulse for the development of a normal citizen’s sense of self-worth. It was a rather timid attempt to build a civil partnership. Each citizen would have a small piece of his own birthright in his hands — of course, with the full right to exchange it for lentil stew. And, as often happens, three percent of the population bought the birthright from the remaining 97, as a result of which a class of owners, in the most purely factual sense of the word, arose in the country, but a class of citizens — not so much.
And, of course, our immoral majority displays the most impotence when it comes to quality of management, both of the world and society. The average Russian lives with the naivety of a child, voluntarily delegating all his rights somewhere above, sincerely confident that nothing’s going to get worse, and Putin will cope. It’s not that hard to understand! After all, if even the prospect of nuclear annihilation does not inspire sacred awe in the vastness of the soul, what kind of ecology can we talk about, for God’s sake?! Sell the cow, sell her milk, they say. That's right, that's the true Russian way. Why bother? We’ll die somehow, someday.
By the way, the lack of a clear position on fundamental issues gives a very curious effect: constant need for communication as an act of checking one's own opinion against someone else's. Indirect evidence of this can be found in the constant attenuation to the smartphone’s display, the constancy of dialogues even in uniquely inconvenient places and situations, and the most striking one — the addiction to the background mumble of the TV. The fact that television programs are used in situations where music was used some two decades ago reveals a great deal about the Russian informational metabolism.
As a matter of fact, our immoral majority's whole life is carried out in accordance with certain socially approved standards — whether it's a wedding, a trip to a resort, or an attitude to a special military operation. With even a little thought, it becomes clear that the traditional template “to live no worse than other people!” and the pro-war slogan “I am with my state!” sprout from the same seed. Any dissent – even in the most everyday issue – is perceived as an attempt to disrupt the work of a transparent and well-established scheme. One of the consequences of such behavior is an unconscious orientation to the worst behavioral patterns: if they can, why can’t we? Actually, it fully explains the general degradation of public life, which can be understood as the penetration of criminal behavioral patterns into all possible areas – from popular music to career diplomacy.
Answering the topical question — guilt or responsibility? — the average Russian generally is not able to understand what is at stake. To them, someone else is always to blame, and someone else will always be answerable: his mother, father, a Johnny-next-door, his wife, his mistress, his president, his president’s cronies, or NATO and the Ukrainians. You say I’m guilty? ME?!
4. In an unreachable position
“As an honorary great martyr, an honorary saint…” - Grigory Gorin
A typical distinguishing feature of a member of our majority, since the age-old formula of the Third Rome is an indecently high opinion of the self, and not by value of personal merit, but by the very fact of belonging to a large social group. I am Russian, I am a worker, I am older, I am a woman, I am a Putinist, I am with my state — all these markers accompany a claim to some special position in the world hierarchy, and automatically place the opponent in the position of a debtor.
No rational justification, except for the heroic past, is required for such arrogance. Particular consequences inevitably follow from the general rule, therefore our majority member loves everything in himself — both good and bad, and a tendency to cunning and lies, and aggression, and alcoholism, and the Bonaparte’s trembling of his left calf — for everything, an existential explanation. Above all else, of course, they love what elevates them in their own view, and they prefer to exclude or simply deny what lowers them.
In the author’s early childhood, both his family and his school very convincingly enforced the key unit of ideology of the current propaganda — Russia has never attacked anyone. This idea dazzled with beauty and nobility — exactly until the second half of the 1980s, when newly discovered historical sources delivered shocking statistics. It turned out that, during the 20th century alone, Russia attacked Poland (1919-1921), attacked Finland (1939-1940), attacked Poland again (1939), sent invading troops to Hungary (1956), attacked Czechoslovakia (1968), attacked Afghanistan (1979), once more attacked Poland (1981), attacked Ukraine (2014), and attacked Syria (2015). Each time, this was covered up with cunningly crafted formulations such as “suppression of the rebellion”, “anti-terrorist operation”, “restoration of constitutional order” or “international debt” (the latter rhymes well with the current Kremlin’s idea that Russia has no rigidly defined borders).
"From anyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and to whom much is entrusted, more will be exacted from him," as Christ taught. In the funhouse mirror of Russian reality, this idiom has met a bizarre reflection: we are special, we are allowed. Everything made by our hands, contrary to the well-known joke about children, is beautiful by definition. (Post-)Soviet means excellent. The more actively this self-conceit develops, the worse the quality of life turns out to be in reality, acting both as an anesthetic and as a compensation mechanism.
It’s just a stone’s throw from here to xenophobia: “Our butter is the most delicious (movie is most interesting, bread is most clean, kvass is most sour), and foreign butter is the worst kind of shame!”, “They won’t do this to you in any San Francisco for any dollars” … What began as a sweet joke, in the run of one generation’s life, grew into a pronouncement of one’s worldview, filled with extreme seriousness and confrontation. In their dreams, our majority fulfilled Khrushchev’s dream by having overtaken America in all respects. And if we consider Russians’ notorious spirituality, unselfishness, the ability to love and sacrifice for oneself, we can say, there has been no such marvelous nation in all of history!
With such a first-rate mythology, no reality can truly satisfy; the only thing left to do is to propagate the fairy tale. Life as a miracle. Any more realistic approach to the Russian land, its people and their habits, is declared a mark of crudity and ill humor.
For a person living in a fairy tale paradigm, the historical and factual basis is not just dull, but annoying, constantly reminding of the vulgar “Marxist” matter from which they are trying to escape. In this way, any rational argument becomes an example of malicious deception to deprive people of faith, hope, love, the kingdom of God, eternal justice and miracles.
The opposition of “ours and theirs”, the birth trauma of our majority, lies precisely here, along the axis of the transcendent and immanent. Everything higher is ours, everything material, doubtful and sinful – comes from there. Ivan is a native Russian name, not Hebrew at all. Our Stirlitz is a scout, their Bond a spy. Our president is a known champ, theirs is a buffoon (regardless of whether “theirs” means Zelenskiy, Trump or Macron). Some forty, or even a hundred, years ago, this dichotomy looked approximately the same, so we wouldn’t see here any special result of modern propaganda.
5. Opinion, the first and only
“Truth is always the same. This is what Pharaoh said. - Ilya Kormiltsev
The perception of the group as most important leads to the priority of group experience over personal one, and, as a result, to complete dissolution of the particular in the general. “We” is used by our majority much more often than “me” is, no matter what heresy is uttered. The congruence of personal views and positions with those of the masses grants a feeling not only of protection and patronage from compatriots, but also of the historical fidelity of the choice made. Millions of flies can't be wrong.
As from love to hate, there’s a single step from being to absence in the Russian consciousness. The introductory words like usually, most often, for the most part quietly left the Russian speech, giving way to more radical forms — always and never, everyone and no one, everywhere and nowhere. A feature long noticed by non-Russian interlocutors: our majority regularly gifts its value judgment with a status of fact. Where an American or European says I don't like it, very likely a Russian would say No one likes it!
That which doesn’t fit life’s standards is perceived as an unbelievable thing, a simulacrum or optical illusion. White mice do not exist. The Americans did not fly to the Moon. This cannot be, because ... The inner child of a conservatively oriented person is genuinely afraid of the unfamiliar. Hence, intolerance to the opposite opinion, and the inability to acquire their rational argumentation: I expressed my point of view, but do not impose yours on me. It is only one step away from attributing negative motivations to the opponent.
In the conditions of fixed truths, ready-made templates and patterns are willingly used. Concepts like generally accepted, normality, adequacy are processed through the value system, and are interpreted, to put it mildly, very subjectively.
The COVID epidemic has brilliantly highlighted the problem of experienced opinion: our majority does not trust scientists, specialists, or experts (in the original meaning of the word), but seizes on that which has been read from the most dubious source, allowing it to modify their own picture of the world. Under the slogan opinions are as common as people, the doctor and the fortune teller have equal rights. And come to think of it, how can you trust doctors if they affirm one thing today and another tomorrow?!
At the same time, the Russian immoral majority is by no means deaf to expressions of interest in them. Actions from the outside, demonstrating respect, fear, or at least curiosity, cause natural pride. When the island of Niue issues souvenir coins depicting the holy righteous John of Kronstadt, our people see the event as an act of fair retribution according to merit. It never occurred to question where Alofi is and where Kronstadt is. But woe to anyone who tries to desacralize these signs — to interpret them in a mundane (i.e. realistic) way.
A simple and clear example. In Russia and its immediate environs, it is generally accepted that actor Vassily Livanov is the best Sherlock Holmes on film, and that this fact is recognized even in the great detective’s homeland. Confirming this, Livanov himself repeatedly referred to the presence of such a diploma, and characterized his awarding the Order of the British Empire as follows: “... it is written in the royal decree that she awards me as the best Sherlock Holmes in world cinema.” However, elementary (Watson!) fact-checking establishes that the actor was, in fact, awarded as an honorary member of the Society of Admirers of Sherlock Holmes, and joined the order “For service to the theater and performing arts”. Gratitude for the errant version of the “main Holmes of all times and peoples” should be given to Russia’s Channel 1, which reported information not correspondent to reality.
What kind of reaction has the investigation invoked? “It’s not too lazy for you to dig!”, “It’s true, it’s not true, what’s the difference?”, “Why did you write all this?”, “The author simply does not like Livanov”, “Livanov is the best, the reward’s for this, don’t give a damn about the rest!”, “The author is trying to be arch-objective (!)”, “This is envy, not the truth”, “Our “10 Little Indians” and “Hamlet” are definitely recognized as the best in the world”, “Our Holmes is a living person, and the rest are schemes”, "They trampled on the legend with their dirty boots (!!)." Well, and the apotheosis: “Author, where did you get the habit of digging into deep shit?!"
If we can agree that a second opinion constitutes additional information and, consequently, an additional degree of freedom, then, in the circles of dogmatic faith named after our own comrade Orwell — this is a factor in the destruction of the image of the world. It’s rather obvious, isn’t it?
The truth is, starting almost from 1991, Ukraine de facto acted as one great second opinion for the Russian Federation. A nation which, despite all the ethnic (which we take as a given) and mental (which, as we’ve demonstrated, is far from the truth) similarity to Russia, allowed itself its own ideology, its own history, its own attitude towards power, its own way of solving problems and, which is especially insulting, its own image of the future. A nation, which granted our majority the most terrible gift — a doubt: wait, it could have been like that?! The possibility of the current Russian government’s reaction to this being other than with bombs and rockets, for the edification of posterity and the avoidance of further temptation — a rhetorical question.
6. Art in massive debt
"It may be smart, but it's way too incomprehensible." - Woland
Another reason — not the last! — for the majority’s vision distortion is a distaste (turning into inability) for abstract thinking. A direct consequence of this feature is incapability of the proper decoding of artistic images. In other words, the generations of the Russians living today, on average, perform significantly worse with reading between the lines and obtaining non-verbal information than did their compatriots 40 to 50 years ago.
Art, which by its nature is a charade and requires active co-creation from a reader, spectator or listener, turns into one more abracadabra or double-dutch. Not because some incredibly complex things are encrypted there, but because the consumer's attitude to the creative product has drastically changed. Today it is a kind of rest, entertainment, show-me-something-pretty. Anything that requires any effort to understand is rejected as abstruse, and therefore hostile. Aren’t there enough worries at work and at home to pore over a book and strain in front of the screen?
Due to the mythological nature of thought, the majority prefers to interpret and retain the superficial layer from works of art: either the simplest utilitarian-realistic plot, or a deception elevating us. When criticism tries to carefully convey the spectator that the artist had in mind something more than to stroke them the right way, they burst into invectives: why dissect all this, you don’t need to analyze what gives you a pleasure, don’t destroy the charm ...
Art in a frame, accordance with the golden ratio, the language of flowers, the mysticism of the sign, the kaleidoscope of allusions and reminisces transmogrifies into an entirely superfluous, and in some cases annoying, aestheticism. For the ordinary layman, this nuance doesn’t give a shit (hereinafter, the quotes are original). Do you want to cause a spontaneous attack of vomiting to an ordinary layman? Tell him that the imagery of Rabindranath Tagore's "The Last Poem" is generously saturated with details of the Hindu funeral rite – cremation, pouring ashes into the Ganges and its further journey from coast to coast, from shallow to shallow.
But that’s only half the trouble. This surface-level interpretation results not only in missing details, but also in readiness for manipulation. When every evening one is provided with, in clear language, the explanation that this is white, this is black, here are friends, and there are enemies, don’t get it mixed up — all that’s left is to put the pieces of the puzzle together.
In a deficit of figurative thought, any narrative becomes unreliable, and any interpretation of plot, place, and time of action becomes an attempt to eliminate even the concept of how it really was. A work of art becomes a document, a narrative, and not in the slightest a manifestation of the author’s thoughts of feelings.
An open ending is entirely incomprehensible to the individual of the immoral majority. The number one question, upon interaction with a polyphonic work of the criminal genre – so, who’d he kill (or why, or for what)? Attempts to zero in on a possible answer by clarifying from whose point of view — author, narrator, protagonist, antagonist? — causes a fit of mystical horror and sincere compassion for the foolish interlocutor. What “point of view”?! Truth is always the same (see above).
The interaction of the majority with the most democratic arts – cinema and television – most clearly demonstrates the defects of mass perception. Is it accidental that visual images are the main active substance of modern propaganda?
A remake of a previously released movie is felt (at least at first) as an assassination to the original source, since it is perceived as a starting point, a kind of tuning fork, as how it really was. An alternative vision causes anger: in fact, everything was not like that, we know!
But the sequel may change the accents, and in retrospect, the perception adjusts. So, that is what they ended up with!
Against this background, it is not at all surprising that an actor is totally identified with the character, and this identification continues to live far beyond the work. If, for instance, the heroine has sex in a film, our ordinary layman sees the passion and emotion not of the portrayed character, but of the portraying actress. So, after watching the scene to the end, he goes to the favorite movie forum and bursts out with a post about what she allows herself there! and whether her husband, also a well-known media figure, doesn’t consider such behavior public adultery.
Generally speaking, the very concept of creative freedom constitutes a factor of anarchy and disorder. Write-draw-film what he wants and how he wants — who does he think he is?! Following misunderstanding and rejection, depreciation arrives: no doubt, any person can shoot better than this squalor! Not a man — a chicken in the director's chair would have done better!
In the understanding of the majority-as-audience, the art should be patriotic, meaning it should praise and flatter. The next logical step: since they praise and flatter me so much, I’m simply the best! The expanded reproduction of the fantasies is now in great demand, while isolation from the outer world increases. Any other approach to the mirroring of Russian life, the Russian way of thinking and acting, causes the previously-discussed reaction, from passive rejection to open hostility.
Lies, gossips, savoring shit — these are the epithets used on the Russian Internet after the premiere of Andrey Zvyagintsev's "Leviathan" in February 2015. A similar reaction was elicited by the same author's “Loveless”, published two years later. The immoral majority cannot stand even a simple unadorned image of the reality close to them, not to mention its deep analysis and deconstruction. Evaluations of the view as boring and uninteresting often mean that the author has touched a problem that is a) well known to the spectator and b) the resolution of which lies beyond the spectator’s powers. Any extra hint of personal or social impotence, of course, is perceived painfully, and implicitly calls for revenge.
And here begins what Dmitry Bykov accurately called the ecstasy of falling down. They say: Tarkovsky is watched by people with a perverted perception. Black and white cinema is physically impossible to perceive. Those who care about some incomprehensible aesthetic criteria are simply retrogrades and conservators. The true good is what I like.
This is almost a call to smash degenerate art. It is extremely important to specify the culprit of all this discomfort — it can be Jews, cyclists, aliens, damned hirelings of the West or Ukrainian Nazis, you name it. The main aim is to correctly utilize the readiness to dehumanize. And after that, propaganda delivers the coup de grâce.
7. Amores perros
"I will love you more, dear, Like Pol Pot [loves] Cambodia." - Folk saying
In the Russian collective consciousness, love is necessary and sufficient motivation for any actions, including the meanest ones. See the fairy tale "The Frog Princess" or Galina Shcherbakova’s novel Could One Imagine? Love is expected, it is achieved, earned, justified. From a stimulating state, from a way of changing life and mind, it turns into a goal. Often it’s an end in itself: I love you! – and let the rest of the world go up in flame and down into the abyss. From a means of harmonization of being, the love of the immoral majority has turned into a cross to bear heroically through the rest of life.
In the Russian world, people fall in love, get married, give birth to children, join the army, go to college, grow old and die, not because it is what they really need, but because it’s what’s done. You’ve done it — you go in peace. Love as a part of life's routine...
The Russians are a nation of C students with the psychology of A ones (it would be better vice versa, but nothing to be done). Here it is customary to follow any path (before bringing it to a complete self-denial) earnestly and eagerly. The archetype doesn’t consider circumstances. There are no temporary alliances or political interests. There are but eternal values: the Earth rests on three whales, the Sun revolves around it, Oceania is at permanent war with Eurasia. Now, and forever, and forever and ever, amen. Interpretations can change, but laws never.
Coupled relationships, of course, also have their own laws. And the most important one: they should be for forever. In reality, everyone actually understands that this, most likely, will not work out. But the stage has been set for neurosis. No one should be free among this mortal love, everyone is obliged to suffer — some in pursuit, others in gain. No separations, no, God forgive, divorces! The immoral majority is terrified of any connections’ breakdown, even the most nervous and ailing ones.
At the same time, the number of couples retaining normal human relations after a breakup is noticeably lower among Russians than in other nations, and the breakups themselves quite rarely occur in the manner that is commonly called civilized. Letting a partner go in peace is Putin leaving Ukraine in peace: you’re not a man anymore by doing that! Public admittance of a mistake by a politician is like shipping the populace en masse to the Maidan, complete with postage stamp. So, be calm, be patient, die if necessary, but never accept defeat! By the way, this also applies to Putin’s election. We personally, opened this box of Pandora's, we voted for him once, and twice, and even thrice. Now be patient, my beauty.
One more reason to mention "The Irony of Fate," which a significant part of Russian society traditionally perceives as a ritual, holiday night show — not even for consumption, but as background for cooking New Year's Russian salad. So, when one of the RuNet resources supposed that this might be not much of a Christmas fairy tale, but rather a story of collapsing artificial, untenable relationships, and attempting to create new, real ones, all the thunders of heaven fell upon the author of the review, despite the fact that this argument is convincingly supported by the placement of lyrics throughout the film. Alas… our majority knows how to sing, but has no idea how to listen.
The secret assurance of the primary choice’s uniqueness — albeit a violent, stochastic, pathological uniqueness, with a lack of information – can explain the general distrust of psychology and psychoanalysis, as well as fear of psychiatry. The immoral majority is afraid not of brain pollution, but of its cleansing. Those who are aware of their unhappiness are always less happy than those who live in blissful ignorance.
Where people of Western civilizations have quite a flexible picture of the world, the Russian immoral majority, like an electric switch, has only two options: love or hate, acceptance or rejection. Acceptance of the accepting martyr, and rejection of the one who rejects torment. There is no middle ground, and all this European polite indifference is completely alien to us. Generation after generation was taught, starting from kindergarten, that there is nothing worse than indifference; so is it any wonder if the last offspring of Soviet civilization have sprouted hatred in the place of conscience? And, to be quite clear, this hatred is directed primarily – sincerely, earnestly, fiercely – to those ones who reject our love. We, so wonderful, opened our hearts towards you, as brothers, and what did you do, in turn?! So may the Lord strike you with his rocket!
Die, die, die. Die Ukraine today, and Russia tomorrow.
“This is my way of loving.”
* * *
Those for whom the main meaning of life lies in a well-trained, thoughtless, problem-free being are unlikely to be denazified. You may endlessly invoke their responsibility, and they still will not realize it — they lived naturally, understandably and correctly, they did not violate the laws, they did not try to interfere with the political empyreans (exactly like the people of Germany between 1933 and 1945). They simply fulfilled their contractual obligations. They could be forced to confess anything – even the historical guilt of the Russian people — but in any case, it will be a text from on high, on a virtual piece of paper or a voice from a prompter booth.
Some of them, the most conscientious ones, have vaguely guessed that if they properly delved into what was happening, they would involuntarily be pulled out into the street, protesting — and there are batons, paddy wagons, and a prison waiting for them already. No, it won’t do.
In a word,
A scientist, Galileo's neighbor,
To see the spin of Earth was able.
He clever was, and knew a lot.
But there's a family he's got...
The family of accomplices.