Thursday, November 7, 2013

Window on Eurasia: ‘Tribal Consciousness Turning Russians into a Small People,’ Moscow Commentator Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 7 – This week’s Russian March was addressed at and attracted to its ranks “the bearers of only a single aspect of consciousness, a tribal view of the world” in which one’s own is always more correct, better, and closer than the other, according to a Moscow commentator.

            That is why the numbers of Russians taking part remained so small – most Russians define themselves “more broadly” than that, Aleksandr Baunov of says – but it also explains why this “tribal view” is so attractive to some and so dangerous to the country as a whole (

            Russians in fact do not consider Russians to always be “closer, more correct and kinder. “To the contrary,” they “ask tour operators to put [them] where there aren’t any other Russians.” They draw back when they encounter Russians abroad. And they are often uncomfortable when they find themselves only among Russians on the flight back to Moscow.

            Some may consider this feeling “a weakness,” while others may see it as “a strength;” but the reality is that “the Russian man long ago grew out of a tribal consciousness,” Baunov says. “And the Russian March as it is will always be directed to those Russians who are infantile and have not gown up.  That’s why there are always so many children present.”

            To make his point clear, Baunov notes that Muslim and Hindu communities in the east are almost always less violent than are Christian ones in the west, the result of the fact that the former stress the community over the individual and hence use the us-them division and shame rather than personal responsibility and guilt to keep people in line.

            “Beyond the borders of the western world, the human being is less individualized; he is forced to look around at the opinion of the collective: the family, the tribe, the parish, the neighbors, the streets, the village, the residents in the city.”  Christianity, on the other hand, is “too personal” to be able to effect the same level of social control.

            “In Europe, the part is more important than the whole, but in the east, it is just the reverse,” Baunov says. As a result, in the west, someone may commit a crime without thinking very much about others, but in the east, he or she will be constrained by concerns about how others will view the act and its perpetrator.

             In times of war and revolution, these controlling “threads of shame and respect break down,” when brother attacks brother, “it is not so important what the neighbors say.”  And when an individual with a tribal consciousness moves out of his own homeland and there are few of his own tribe nearby, the same thing happens.

            “In the world there is good and there is evil.” The question is how to “distinguish where the border between the two lies.”  For the rational man, who has begun to make the transition from “myth to philosophy,” the answer is that “this is a complicated question, the border are not always obvious.”

            But “the mythological tribal consciousness responds differently,” Baunov says. “In the world is good and evil.” The difference is always clear: “ours is good and that of the alien evil.”  If one of our own commits evil, “we won’t take note of that.” If we have to, then, we must conclude that that individual is part of the other.

            That attitude makes tribal consciousness conspiratorial from the outset, the commentator continues. And there is a great deal of it in “the Near East, Iran, India, Palestine, but also in Israel, in India, Africa, the Caucasus and in Central Asia.”  But “there is much less” of this in the west.

            That is why people in the west often fear people from the east so much: they have different ideas about where and how to draw the line between good and evil. Those in the west feel themselves to be alone before a collective, and some want to respond by forming their own collective, even though this represents a kind of regression.

             That is exactly what is happening in the case of some Russian nationalists. They “propose to respond to alien, ancient tribal thinking by the rebirth of the Russian version of that.  By a return to the tribal stage, by converting a great historical people into a small pre-historical nationality. Hence the unending talk about ancient gods and ancient saints.”

            “Nationalism,” Baunov continues,  “pushes us out of contemporary western consciousness where there are complicated criteria of good and evil … where it is possible to laugh at oneself … to where the alien are evil and our own are good.” In short, back to a tribal consciousness.

            Tragically, this process of “reducing the circle of one’s own and broadening that of the aliens is typically infinite.”  Those inside the circle can always find someone else in it who they believe should be expelled because they are “taking my place.”  That process was earlier very much on public view in the Soviet Union.

             In struggling against “’the wild East,’” Russian nationalism has “borrowed the chief aspect of this wild East” – its “tribal way of thinking.” But returning to that is ultimately “impossible,” just as it is impossible for people to return to speaking the original Indo-European language.

            If the West survives, it will do so as “a society of individuals and not a union of tribes,” Baunov says. If the West dies, then and only then will it again become tribal.  That is something that Russian nationalists and their opponents often fail to appreciate.

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