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Putin’s Russia: a Reform or a Magical Rite? | Статьи на английском
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Putin’s Russia: a Reform or a Magical Rite?

05.12.2000 10:07

I distinguish two types of people: producers and claimants. Producers create, they live on their own time, they grow wealthy, they are kind, and all they need is a fence, made of rights and laws, that protects them from envy of others. Claimants are what I call horizontally-oriented. They cannot produce and are afraid of becoming successful, but they are very interested in making it impossible for others to succeed. They stand for a legal system that makes everyone defenseless and lets the envious rule. Claimants’ lives are defined through others (an assassin has to sit silently and motionlessly, having no life of his own, while his intended victim has dinner and talks on the phone). As satisfaction of a claim cannot make a claimant happier or better adjusted (he still does not have his own life) claim-based society is aggressive and unhappy.

It has recently been pointed out that societies with high level of natural resources (Russia, Nigeria) develop slower than those where natural resources are scarce. The latter are forced to develop a productive economy, while the former get in a habit of processing claims on something that the claimant did not create. If a lion kills a gazelle, he eats a gazelle, if a hundred hyenas kill a gazelle, not only do they turn a gazelle into a bloody mess: thirty hyenas get wounded. It is not an efficient way to use a gazelle.

High taxes, excessive bureaucracy, racket, crime - these are manifestations of a claim-oriented society. Every morning, the number of people that go to work to create goes down, while the number of those going to process a claim against someone else’s property goes up. Of course, a totalitarian society, where a state puts a claim on your life, is purely claim-based.

Now we come to the question of the Russian relations with the western world. Superficially, Russia has changed. A claimant always needs a theory to explain why he is such a loser, and the theory has changed. But Russia has remained an almost purely claim-based society, as evidenced, first and foremost, by its exceptionally low creative potential. A claim-based society can be too weak to attack the west, but it cannot be considered at peace with the west until its orientation changes.

Twenty years ago I saw a movie that showed Australian aborigines worshipping a straw sculpture that looked very much like a small plane. This was their new god, because this god was better: it was in the sky for everyone to see, and people could hear its nice humming sound: moreover, it dropped a bag of rice on them. God is just a phenomenon that exists but defies understanding, and thus can be asked for help. Germany and Russia were losers of the WWI. Their God proved unable to help them, and their countries were in ruins. They tore down their old churches and chose a new God, the Machine Tool. Machine Tool’s Miracle of Creation is a lot of things produced quickly, all identical and all inanimate. Let’s see how identical and how inanimate we, the people, could become to please our new God, how can we remake ourselves in our new God’s image. The Russians invented “recasting” of people and came to see people as “bolts”. Many people were made inanimate with a help of a bullet. The Germans in steel helmets dance-marched in exceptionally straight rows for a couple of years and after that preparation thought themselves capable of taking over the world. He, who is unable to explain a phenomenon, accepts it mythically, and that was how they saw industrialization.

Russia was unable to use the industrialization simply as a tool, to subordinate it: instead, it used it mythically, producing a million of tanks and millions of corpses. My daughter is not allowed to use the gas stove, so she is being told that the stove is “dangerous”. There is nothing inherently “dangerous” in a stationary home appliance, and as soon as my daughter can use the stove, she will find that out. For now, she has her mom and dad to defend her from it, and she wanted to make sure the stove would not come into her bedroom at night.

With the advent of the Information Age, a society organized as a human machine tool, together with its mythical ritual of unanimous voting, became hopelessly antiquated, and a new society had to be built. But the Russian people were not citizens, they were not free creators, or information providers. That is why, now with the help of mad western advisors, they again built a straw plane.

Capitalism is an economic manifestation of a certain level of morality: it is a society of people ready to protect their own right to create and respecting the same right of others, it is a society of people willing and able to independently provide for themselves, and a society of people whose natural inclination is to interact with others on a win-win basis. Russians are none of the above.

The greatest difference between creators and claimants is that creators subordinate their natural possession of property to the goal of spiritual growth, while claimants cannot get a true hold of material things and assign mythical powers to them.

Creators of Apple Computer had a creative idea, the will and the ability to make it happen. As far as material possessions, they only had a garage. But Yeltsin’s reforms conditionally gave away the garages to people who still, both legally and spiritually, were unable to create, and waited for the Russian Apple Computer to emerge. It is as if you hear in a song that ‘Rockefellers walk with sticks and umbrellas’ and then you steal a stick and an umbrella hoping to turn into a Rockefeller.

A voucher became a convenient tool to present a claim on material property that was not created by you. The state was turned into a gazelle and each inhabitant was invited to become a hyena.

True reform of Russia would have privatized the rights, allowing every inhabitant to become a creator, eventually turning himself into a citizen. This reform would have started with a new legal system that would have assured individual protection and established a win-win as a spiritual and economic basis of human interaction.

It was clear that Yeltsin’s policy has totally failed. The economic results were disastrous, but even more importantly, spiritually the inhabitants of Russia were no healthier than ten years ago. Ten years ago, the Communist system disintegrated, proved to be unviable. Yet, ten tears later, it became clear that the Communist system, (or was it the Russian system?) was, its fundamental features, still with us. The popular Soviet song said it best: “Citizen is walking as a master of his limitless motherland”. Today, the citizen is as much of a master of his motherland as before: either they cannot, or they do not want to, but the fact remains: citizens do not have, do not demand, or choose not to exercise their rights.

Putin was elected because it was thought that he would come up with a method of salvation. It is stupid to worship a Machine Tool in today’s Russia because a working specimen can hardly be found: so now we have a new Deity, and people worship Putin’s image.

Putin was not elected as President: he was elected as a new God. Appropriately, Putin said to the people: “Relax, I will personally take care of everything, just grant me unlimited powers.” Russian people, who love miracle-makers who do everything for them, were thrilled with the idea. But the current problems of Russia are such that every effort of every citizen is required to try to solve them. Putin was right when he said that, “We have Chechya everywhere”. Infrastructure is crumbling and people are genuinely upset the Putin was unable to pluck the atomic sub out of the sea with his hand and then revive the sailors. Putin set himself up as God, but is unable to deliver, and that means that he could become very unpopular very fast, even if there is no political alternative to him.

In the last ten years, Russia became open to the West, and the Russian elite saw liberal economics in action. Current Putin’s economic advisors, and probably Putin himself, genuinely try to imitate western economic policy. But they have one little problem. They do not understand, and cannot conceive, that without win-win there can be no market, and that people cannot be ordered to create. “Now, Picasso, today you are going to draw something entirely different, you will make a new step in art or we’ll rip you a new asshole”. These gentlemen cannot imitate the spiritual heart of the free market system, as evidenced by their penchant for acting like thugs. They also realize that Russian people are not ready to act as agents of free market or to create a civil society that is necessary for the free market to function.

No matter how tightly they will try to make the sheepskin fit the wolf (they won’t do it for long, and I expect all talk of liberal economics to stop within months) they cannot succeed. Putin is a Russian president, he has proven that already, and liberal economics ain’t a Russian thing. Russia will fail again and may well disintegrate, turning to drug trafficking, weapons production, and international criminal activity.

That is why I do not think that the cold war is over. In fact, Russia is more desperate now than it was ten years ago, and it may well go for an alliance with Iraq and other such states or use its nuclear weapons to blackmail the West.

In my book, How to Make Russia a Normal Country, I offer what I see as the only solution for current Russian problems. I am trying to explain to the people that win-win offers a competitive advantage over win-lose or lose-lose. If people realize that, they will inevitably proceed to the next step, which is creation of a legal system that protects the creator from the envious.

First, I explain the difference between creation-based and a claim-based society. The second step is to create a website (I am doing that now) where people would discuss issues raised by my book in order to together create a “living” democratic theory. And the third stage is to create, on the basis of this theory, Russia’s first democratic grassroots political organization.

I tried to make my book funny hoping that people would not notice how heartbreakingly sad it is. I teach people that stealing cannot make them happy, I prove to them that win-win does exist, I tell them that differences in opinion can help to come up with a better common solution. Can you get any more basic than that? My mother-in-law teaches deaf mentally retarded children to talk, and my book is very similar. I used a lot of sophisticated theory to figure out how can I get as simple and basic as possible for this democracy primer and fear it still was not basic enough.

The distinction I tried to make above is applicable to western foreign policy at large. Take the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If Palestinians are claim-oriented, they do not need a part of Jerusalem, a whole of Jerusalem, or ten Jerusalems, they need an excuse to continue to feel miserable as claimants relish a role of a victim. If they are claimants, they cannot make any positive use of property, as this use is possible only after a deep psychological transformation from a claimant to a creator. Claimants are insatiable, but not acquisitive. Of course, that means that Arafat would demand all, but cannot agree to anything. Suppose he makes a mistake of accepting the earth and the sun. Now the feeling of deep discomfort (that comes from exchanging one’s life for the right to blame others) should go away. But it would not, as every claimant knows. That is why no claimant would unmask himself in such a way. Therefore, territory should be transferred to Palestinian control only after they become a nation of creators, and that means that helping them on the road to capitalism is the only way to end this conflict.

Creative societies can live in peace with each other, but a claim-based society cannot create a lasting peace both within and without. Claim is a crime, and crime produces conflict. That is why the challenge of globalization is to stop separating societies into rich and poor, and start separating them into free (to create) and unfree, which is to say, claim-based.

If a creative society agrees to pay a tribute to the claim-based one (which the claim-based society will never be able to put to good use), then there could be a truce. A tribute will ruin and further impoverish a claim-based society, causing a constant strife within it, but that is not what you want to do with a nuclear power.

In sum, I believe that within the next four years we will see a massive crisis in Russia, and this crisis is not in the western interest. To prevent it, the west should foster the development of civil society in Russia, by doing everything it can to develop small business and the legal framework that is necessary for it. Attempts to develop independent democratic mass-media or a citizens’ organization should also be supported. At the same time, the west should stop funding most organizations related to the Russian government.

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