Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Putin's Paradox

Image Source: Nine Inch News.

When there is a crisis of values, when consensus around a dominant narrative begins to dissolve, the world seeks an anti-hero. Vladimir Putin would like to be that anti-hero. This is a leader whose survival and success depend on ruthlessness, combined with a counter-factual gloss that obfuscates his darker acts (see the sobering details here, trumping the alleged Clinton body count (listed here, discredited here)). Where else could opposition leader Boris Nemtsov be shot this past February in Moscow's midnight, while business goes on as usual? That is the tip of the iceberg of the story of this man who is willing to do what others will not to steer Russia toward sole superpower status, combining with a friendly China in the race to the top, and supplanting the USA.

Putin is overtly a pragmatist and a strongman, and covertly a strategist and visionary. He uses whatever is useful from the western lexicon. For the rest of it, he speaks as the leader of the anti-western world. Putin's paradox depends on two psychological factors. First, western powers are blind to how and why opposition to the liberal democratic project works. Second, western powers depend on values of rationalized contracts, law and order, word of honour, rule of law. They have serious problems dealing with Putin's appetite for the counter-intuitive and anti-logical. In that realm, he can become a kind of Erlking, speaking the language of sane men in a primal context where such words have lost their meaning. Many of Putin's anti-logical acts make perfect emotional sense to his admirers. By any means, Putin intends to restore the international power of Russia and the dignity of the Russian people. Or so this counter-narrative alternate reality would have the people believe.

Erlking/After the Shower (2011) © Dominque Rey via SAAG. Image Source: Southern Alberta Art Gallery.

The Second World War and end of the Cold War established a now-contested consensus. These were western victories, only partly Russian. They created democratic liberal window dressing for global capitalism, combined with multicultural social welfare. Former Allies - including Russia - fought genocidal and tyrannical forces. Because the Nazi and Japanese acts to support imperial expansion were so horrific, it is inconceivable in the western mind that anyone would want to follow that path ever again. And because any alternative to this single-story consensus raises the Nazi spectre, the consensus created a bright, hard blindness about other ways of doing things. There is one way for civilized countries: the consensus. Anything else is beyond the limits. As Chimamanda Adichie explains in her TED talk linked above, a single story is dangerous and becomes oppressive, even when the story is benevolent (or thinks it is) and anti-oppressive. A single story demands other stories for balance. When a single story becomes dominant, like the western consensus narrative, then its dominance invites rebellion. And the rebellious story, even if it is tyrannical and murderous, will sound like a anti-oppression narrative.

President Obama interviewed by Shane Smith of VICE on state-run media in Russia. Video Source: VICE via Youtube (uploaded by VICE on 22 June 2015).

Part of the western order which Putin supports and undermines is secular and rationalized, and therefore dependent upon logical cause-and-effect thinking. In a VICE report on Russia's Cold War 2.0 broadcast on HBO on 26 June 2015, Shane Smith described how Putin's acts in the Ukraine sparked sanctions (and oil price manipulation) which have seen the ruble drop to half its value on international exchanges against the US dollar. But as President Barack Obama put it in an interview with VICE,
"We're raising the costs of what [Putin's] doing in Ukraine to incredibly high levels where rationally they would do something different, but he's not necessarily operating on those cost-benefit analyses because right now he's still popular."
Putin still plays ball in the western houses of power, more or less, but he stays popular in anti-western halls because he tells a tale about Russia, insulted and stepped on by the narcissistically-blind and hypocritical west. His mixed messages talk first of weakness. Russia is a "cornered rat" threatened by western bullies. The flip side of that metaphor is one of strength, of tough, relentless survival, driving toward a final victory. That victory would rewrite Russia's humiliating losses at the end of the Cold War.

Western politicians and economists, armed with cause-and-effect tools, puzzle over how Russia's economy was not ruined by oil price manipulations. Brookings Institution:
“Russia’s strength” stems from the Putin regime’s economic resilience and its capacity to survive external shocks. In a similar vein, Gaddy and Ickes call Russia’s economy the “cockroach of economies—primitive and inelegant in many respects but possessing a remarkable ability to survive in the most adverse and varying conditions.” Recent events prove this point to some extent: Russia’s economy was certainly weakened by the combined effect of collapsing oil prices and sanctions, but to a lesser extent than many analysts expected.
Western politicians and economists also puzzle over Russia's appeal. This is how Russia has become Greece's Plan B. The Greeks saw reports on Ukraine over the past year and a half, just like everyone else. But they barely remember that cause-and-effect reality, because Putin appeals to the emotional side, to the underdog in them. In February 2015, he invited the new leftwing Greek Prime Minister to Moscow and spoke to him anti-heroically. He did not have any money to offer, exactly, but that didn't exactly matter. His appeal was and is emotional. He invited Greece to join BRICS bank, itself an anti-western-consensus vehicle; thus the real draw was the counter-narrative, the different story. Brookings Institution:
One important part of the explanation for an apparently self-punishing choice is Russia. Many Greeks see Russia as a state that upholds its sovereignty and defies the EU diktat. This rosy view—centered on the idea of dignity—conveniently overlooks Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and its threats against the independence of the Baltic states. But never mind, what matters is Russia’s sympathy for their travails. This sympathy was richly supplied to Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who, in mid-June, took a break from the difficult negotiations with the Brussels bureaucrats to attend the St. Petersburg economic forum. He returned with no financial aid, which Russia is incapable of providing, but with a promise of a new gas pipeline to channel Russian gas to Europe through Greece. ... Russia has encouraged Greek defiance of the EU not because of a historic affinity with Greece. Rather, Russia has its own issues with Europe. Having found itself economically boxed in after its invasion of Ukraine, Moscow needs to bolster its own belief in Western weakness. Official Russian propaganda paints the EU as morally corrupt and politically divided. In this context, the Greek “No” boosts morale. Between 60 and 70 percent of Russians now express an unfavorable opinion of the EU—a reversal from previous decades, when favorable opinions were in a similar range.
Some headlines:
  • International Business Times (5 February 2015): "Putin Invites Greece's Tsipras To Russia Amid Ukraine, Economic Talks"
  • Business Insider (5 February 2015): "Putin just invited the new Greek prime minister to Moscow"
  • Reuters (8 April 2015): "Greek PM gets support, not money from Putin"
  • BBC (8 April 2015): "Putin: Greece did not seek financial aid from Russia"
  • RT (12 May 2015): "Russia invites Greece to join BRICS bank"
  • Foreign Policy (18 June 2015): "Russia Could Come to Greece’s Rescue. That’s Bad News for the United States and NATO"
  • CNN (6 July 2015): "The danger that lurks danger behind 'Grexit'"
  • Zero Hedge (6 July 2015): "Russia Is Taking Full Advantage Of Greek Crisis"
  • Russia Beyond the Headlines (7 July 2015): "Press Digest: Russia attempting to turn Greek crisis to its advantage"
  • AFP (7 July 2015): "Putin watches on as Europe flounders over Greek crisis"
  • International Business Times (7 July 2015): "Greece Can Easily Get Funding From BRICS Bank: Russia"
  • Brookings Institution (8 July 2015): "Greece’s Russian fantasy; Russia’s European delusion"
  • Daily Beast (8 July 2015): "Is Putin Playing Puppetmaster in Greece?"
  • Channel News Asia (9 July 2015): "Aid to Greece not a subject for BRICS summit: Russian economy minister"
This month, this blog will examine more aspects of Putin's paradox, and how he uses the emotional demand for an alternative to the western consensus story to restore Russia's past and build his country's future.

Photoshopped cartoon previously referred to Ukraine and includes anti-Semitic elements.

See my other posts related to Russia, here.

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