Sunday, May 17, 2015

Internet Ushering In a New Middle Ages in Russia and Elsewhere, Klishin Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, May 17 – It is comforting for many in the West to assume that what is taking place in Russia is something unique and far from them, but in fact, Ilya Klishin, the editor of the “Dozhd” site argues, what is happening in Russia as the result of Internet is happening elsewhere as well but is obscured by the inertia of institutions more deeply rooted in other countries.


            In a commentary on the portal last week, Klishin issues “a cry of despair” at the way in which the new communications technologies have devalued judgment and reason and thus destroyed the ability of many to distinguish between scholarship and astrology and thus opened the way for “a new dark ages” (


            Klishin begins by observing that the two competing concepts of the end of the 20th century – Francis Fukayama’s “end of history” notion and Samuel Huntington’s “clash of civilizations” model, although they appeared mutually exclusive, in fact reflected the entrance of the world into a new era.


            “History in the form which we had known came to an end; the clash of all against all began,” he writes.  But the wrong forces have been blamed for this: it was not the religious fanaticism of ISIS, the North Korean or Iranian bomb, or “even the Weimar revanchism of Russia.”


            These were “all symptoms; the cause lay elsewhere,” Klishin writes. That becomes obvious if one returns to the ideas of the two. Fukuyama argued that history had ended because there was no antithesis to oppose the thesis of democracy and capitalism and thus any developments would reflect “the archaic survivals of weakly developed societies.”


            Because of the absence of another phase of the Hegelian dialectic, the Moscow commentator suggests, people became interested “only in their way of life,” including televisions, cars, supermarkets, clothes and more recently the Internet.


            “In the course of 30 years, within the memory of a single generation, we experienced a revolution comparable not so much with the invention of the steam engine as with the fall of the Roman Empire,” Klishin says.


             Today, we know from our school history textbooks that Rome fell in 476, but we also know that Boethius, who was born four years after that, did not talk about it. If one reads his “Consolations of Philosophy,” one might conclude that the empire was continuing, even though Rome was experiencing a humanitarian catastrophe and his grandchildren became barbarians.


            We should recognize, Klishin says, that people today “just like Boethius are blindly convincing ourselves that the civilization of the Enlightenment intended to produce a bright future is alive while in our forums – Internet forums to be sure – have long been grazing herds of swine.”


            “We are accustomed to view the Internet and the social networks and gadgets connected with it as self-evident goods and testimonials of the latest triumph of our technology.  There was photography, the plane and the atom. Now there is the I-phone. Each year something new: this as it were is part of the logic of progress.”


            The idea of progress, born only in the mid-eighteenth century, led people to conclude that “the development of technology is progress and progress is a good thing.”  But that “simplified logic did not consider one possibility: when the development of technology by itself destroys the social system based on faith in progress.”


            But that is exactly what the Internet has done and is doing.  By making information so available and its cost so low, the Internet and related technologies have destroyed the traditional distinctions between scholarship and charlatanism and between education and emotional outbursts.


            That in turn has destroyed the traditional hierarchies of knowledge and means that “nothing has any meaning any longer, except for smilies and likes,” and as a result, the medieval wildness has overwhelmed logic, education and rational discourse, Klishin argues.


            This is perhaps most obvious in Russia, but “what is happening in Russia now is not unique. It is simply that in Western countries institutions are more deeply rooted and thus continue to function by inertia,” much as Roman consuls and senators continued to act even though Rome had fallen.


            Because Russia was not able to find itself “after the disintegration of the USSR, “the new global obscurantism flourished a little earlier” than elsewhere, but only a little and only different in degree not in kind.


            “What is to be done?” Klishin asks in the classic Russian question. One could “consciously limit the emission of information” and thus raise its value and meaning and perhaps promote the “digital detoxification” for a time. But taking that step, he says, “clearly would be the last cry of despair before the new Dark Ages.”


            “It is possible,” he concludes, “that already our grandchildren having rechristened themselves will communicate with one another with smilies while observing the execution of an elderly teacher who offended the city astrologer or the feelings of believers. It is not so important which.”



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