Sunday, July 13, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Russia Becoming ‘Land of Obscurantism in Age of Smartphones,’ Moscow Psychologist Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, July 13 – Despite the trappings of modernity, Russia is rapidly moving toward an obscurantist medievalism much Afghanistan under the Taliban and Iran under the ayatollahs and equally and even more disturbingly much like Germany under the Third Reich, according to Aleksandr Asmolov, a psychologist at Moscow State University.


            “Today,” he told Dozhd television’s Pavel Lobkov,  fanaticism is returning in Russia and with it a society based on “primitive mechanisms of control.” In fact, “the Taliban are not somewhere far away; they are here; they are right next to us,” and “the Russian Taliban” are attacking “literally hour by hour.”


            What is frightening is how fast this process can occur, he continued.  “In 1933, no one expected Germany would begin to burn books, march under torches and begin mass hunts for Roma and Jews, the witches of the 20th century.”  But that is exactly what happened (


            Something similar could occur in Russia, Asmolov implied. “A witch hunt arises in a culture with striking speed … The key source of [such phenomena] is a lack of certainty and a lack of an understanding of what will happen in the future.” When that is the case, people want certainties, and fanatics are best equipped to provide something that appears to provide them.


            In Russia, he continued, the primitivization of consciousness, the return of medieval obscurantism, and the revival of older forms of control and repression are all very much in evidence.  More than that, those “with a fanatic consciousness [are] ever more often breaking through to power.”


            As a result, the Moscow psychologist said, the country is increasingly dealing with “group think, which means no thinking at all, and step by step people who propose the most primitive mechanisms of solving problems are appearing in our society.” One of the reasons that is happening is the propensity to “mythologize” groups of people.


            According to Asmolov, Russia is “the only country in the world which idolizes its crisis.” When one occurs, “as you know,” Russians “always seek out” an enemy.  It can be “a person of Caucasus nationality,” it can be gays, it can be a dissident. But they are selected not because they threaten Russia but because Russians feel threatened, and “xenophobic mechanisms” take over.


            “We are aliens,” he continued, and consequently, “the main thing” the fanatics want is to divert the attention of the population away from its real problems to a mythologized enemy.  And that tendency is reinforced by the inclination of Russians to believe in conspiracies as the explanation for everything.


            Since medieval times, Asmolov said, Russians have been inclined to “the idea of a conspiracy,” a simple and superficially attractive but ultimately incomplete explanation.  There is no single “Suslov” sitting in an office somewhere and making all the decisions. If Russia is to have the any chance to become a normal society, it must cease to accept conspiracy theories.


            By accepting mythologized enemies and believing in conspiracies, Russia could despite all the horrors it would involve could lurch toward a second Iran or another country governed by fundamentalism.  Asmolov said that he very much hopes that that won’t happen, but the risks are all too great.


            In these circumstances, “any propaganda becomes a sower of obscurantism” and promotes the view that everyone is zombified and afraid that that mechanisms other than the most primitive ones “do not work.”


            That in turn happens, Asmolov suggested “when the authorities fear society” and thus “begin to turn to mysticism and suggestiveness. Remember again that analogy with which we began,” he told Lobkov, with the situation of Germany at the time of the Third Reich.” Mystification dissolved and ultimately destroyed that country.


Russian ought to reflect on that outcome, the Moscow psychologist argued. “As soon as a country begins to destroy others, as soon as it goes along the road of intolerance and hates diversity,” as Germany did in 1933 and as Russia is at risk of doing now, he said in conclusion, “it will lose.”




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