(NB: The socially complicit disappearance of truth described admirably by Stepanova in this essay is a precise marker of modern nihilism. When reality and objectivity are reduced to aesthetic functions and pure whim, we are at a loss to speak intelligibly about anything significant in the world around us. 'All that is solid melts into air' - DS)
It has often been noted that one of the key invariables of pro-Putin rhetoric and the official media can be summed up by the adage "we are all tarred with the same brush". The point is not to whitewash or justify one's own actions but rather to point out that everyone does the same. "We are no better that the others but we are no worse either."
What matters is that all these truths and untruths use yesterday's language. And that, I would say, is the main problem Russian society faces today on every level. Putin's regime and the opposition both face the same problem, as does – with particular urgency – the intellectual community..
The debate about the end of history started quite a while ago. There is, however, some difference between "the end of history" as originally understood by Alexander Kojève – who sees the ideal state as a machine that satisfies its citizens in so many different ways as to render history as a movement or progression unnecessary – and the situation we are experiencing at present, when every possible idea concerning the future arouses fear, tension and concern.
Since sometime in the late 1980s, the history of mankind has for the first time in a long while stopped being understood as a history of progress. Until then the future was seen, metaphorically speaking, in terms of the vision of the Strugatsky brothers, that is, a future in which wonderful, advanced people live in a society that is virtually perfect, solving technical problems and correcting the mistakes of parallel universes. But at some point, around the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union and fall of the Berlin Wall, the only imaginable version of the future that remained was a dystopian one, which had to be avoided at all cost. It would be interesting to discover the exact point at which utopian thinking turned dystopian, when history started to accelerate. So what happened in popular culture at this time?
What is it that terrifies us about the prospect of history, of being caught in history? The twentieth century has demonstrated all too clearly where progress leads. And given that there is no prospect of improvement and that things can only get worse, a standstill or stasis becomes the desired state of affairs. And that makes the current situation seem acceptable.
In this way a substitution takes place by means of signing a covert social contract – we are prepared to consider our imperfect state acceptable as long as things don't get worse. The first example that comes to mind is the covert deal Vladimir Putin made with Russian society in the early noughties. Although the conditions of this deal weren't made explicit until later, they were acknowledged quite early, in 2002 and 2003, that is, at a time when it would have been sensible to protest. Yet mass protests didn't materialize for another decade. In exchange for private freedom society gave the government a virtually unlimited freedom to act. So, in effect, the future was, rather misguidedly, exchanged for the present. This consensus continued until the events of late 2011.
The acceptance of the present, and the fear that what is to come can only be worse still, are quite universal but there is something specific about their Russian manifestation: I would suggest that in addition to the fear of the future, which is quite widespread, Russia is living in a schizoid present… read more:
Book review: Stalin understood terror so well because he constantly feared for his own life