Dusha: The Russian Soul and the Collapse of the West (Redux)

0027[In light of the incipient instantiation of a new cold war between  the USA and Russia, I felt it important to re-post this slightly revised article that I wrote almost three years ago.  It’s message is more relevant now than ever before. kC]

The earliest stirrings of modern industrial society may be traced back approximately six thousand years ago to emergence of the first cities, implementation of plow agriculture, and storage of food surpluses in the ancient Near East. Specialization and domestication were symptomatic of, and consequential to, these new socio-economic changes. Somewhat later in this nascent history, analytic and linguistic keys to the forward march of civilization found critical refinement in Aristotle’s syllogistic and the rudimentary founding of the sciences. The current trajectory of the West achieved full self-consciousness during the period of European Enlightenment, with the birth of rationalism and elaboration of the modern scientific method, eventually leading to industrialization, hyper-specialization, technical innovation, and increasing commodification.

With Europe and, most especially, America now leading the way, the path charted and engineered by Western civilization spawned a hegemony that is rapidly overtaking the globe, socially, economically, and culturally. This ascendancy has unleashed a domination of values, which, unlike political hegemonies of the past, is lightning fast, wide ranging, virtually unchallenged, and spreading insidiously; artfully enabled by those very technologies to which it has given rise.

Not too long ago, Americans were convinced that their culture represented the apex of this historical legacy, the best in scientific and technological advancement, as well as political and economic leadership. What America had achieved, so they believed, was a dream come true. It was this ‘American Dream’ that has been held out to (or perhaps thrust upon) the rest of the world as the meaning of the ‘good life’ – the proper locus of human happiness.

Moreover, while cheap energy, in the form of fossil fuels, has dutifully served as the lubricant of this cultural and industrial progress, recent recognition that world oil extraction has peaked surely signals the prospective collapse of industrial economy, and with it, the potential dissolution of its core institutions. The trajectory of Western civilization, characterized now by accelerating energy decline and global climate change – a trajectory that Homo sapiens started in motion with those first city walls – is possibly nearing an apocalyptic end.

Of course, there are those dreamers and wishful thinkers who tell about new oil extraction technologies, and spectacular discoveries of conventional supplies that will safeguard our future. However, the exaggeration of these claims, and the unintended consequences of technologies needed to deliver on them, will surely spell more substantial ecological fallout – further constraining our access to clean air, water, flora and fauna. Furthermore, alternate sources of energy, aside from their unique liabilities, will not substitute for the demands of industrial civilization’s extraordinary infrastructural, logistical and distribution needs. In short, we are living within an unsustainable bubble that is slowly deflating, and sustainable human existence in the not-to-distant future will likely require smaller and local approaches to everything.

So, with the globe facing epic crises – ecological, financial, economic, political, psychological – at whose feet do we lay blame? Where do we look to better understand the roots of such crises, or how to outrun their dire consequences? While many have identified pursuit of the American Dream as a proximate cause of this global unraveling, the USA was not alone in its reliance upon certain fundamental assumptions about management and control of nature, leading ineluctably to potentially devastating outcomes. All civilized regimes – from the first empires of ancient Mesopotamia to modern nations like Russia and China – all can share the responsibility. After all, industrial progress, economic growth, technological innovation, and political expansion have been the hallmarks of civilization since the beginning of history.

Not surprisingly, however, there seems to be growing disaffection in the West (of all places) with the way things are going and where we are heading. With a global financial meltdown, high unemployment, severe austerity, incessant war, insurrections popping up everywhere, unparalleled greed, apparently irrational terrorism, and the evaporation of the American Dream like warm breath on a mirror; it is as if the whole thing were coming down around us all at once. Mother nature herself seems to be speaking rather loudly as well right now, with perhaps more frequent and more brutal natural disasters than any other time in recorded history. Barely two decades into America’s uncontested ascendancy to unipolar imperial power — with the entire planet globalizing around its neo-liberal capitalist mantra — and the whole thing starts to unravel.

If you think this makes the institutional fabric of Western civilization vulnerable, you are right; it does. Yet, do not believe for one moment that it is going to come down without a struggle. There are centripetal forces holding this spectacle together as much as there are centrifugal forces pulling it apart. Aside from the greedy and controlling hands of plutocrats, there is too much raw desire out there in the hinterlands, too many people who have been living on the fringes of this “Dream” just waiting their turn, scratching for a piece of the pie.

The entire Soviet Bloc, for example, systematically excluded from all the “fun” for almost a century, now has the forbidden fruit firmly within its grasp. These now independent nations are busy chasing the dream as quickly as they can muster the energy and the capital. China, as well, has awakened from its slumber, focused on putting a car in every citizen’s driveway. While the Indians have decided, they too want to play. Mumbai has made a good beginning in this respect, taking over nearly all customer service functions for major US corporations, with consumer purchasing power filtering into their coffers.

Yet, a new generation of Russians is racing to be first at the finish line. The Russian Federation, in concert with its regional administrations, is aggressively stripping forestland, building new roads and expanding old ones, as well as refurbishing and building-out regional and the international airports. In fact, they are doing so with great abandon, as if there were no tomorrow; and perhaps there will not be. Yet, no one in Siberia younger than fifty years old seems to care to discuss this possibility. They are having too much fun with their newfound wealth and enjoying the spectacle.

This is most evident when you look at the younger generation of Siberians and the nouveau riche across the territory. They cannot live without their cell phones, their iPods and their credit cards; without their health club memberships, pricey coffee houses and their air conditioners; without their recently financed foreign automobiles and their newly minted driver’s licenses. In short, they have tasted the promise of this “society of the spectacle;” they are mesmerized by its allure and hooked on its fascinating appeal. It is not just blue jeans they want. They want it all!

So, short of an abrupt exhaustion of basic vital resources like fossil fuel, clean water, or fresh air, the only way you are going to see a quick collapse of this “Curriculum of the West” as it moves east, is by prying it from the clutching hands of all those who previously had little, but now choose to have hope.

Yet, there is something ancient, nay, primitive, pulling concurrently at the emotional core of Siberians, something that once spoke clearly to a more archaic need, and perhaps still speaks to the older generations of Siberian’s even today. I am referring to the well-mythologized Russian soul: a soul that in the mother tongue is feminine in gender (душа: dusha) and, as such, is intimately connected with the mystery of Mother Earth. I recall Dostoevsky’s many references to the fact that the Russian soul is a reflection of the people’s unfailing and non-negotiable connection to the land from which life springs.

As I understand it, there is an articulable and inescapable sentiment among these people that does not allow complete separation, physically or emotionally, from this land in which they were born and where they naturally survive and flourish. The Russian people have the greatest appreciation for, love of, and attachment to their homeland and families, as well as to the broader ties of kinship these entail. They understand all of this to be intimately connected, as their language makes abundantly clear:

(rod) – family (kind, sort, genus)

(rod.ina) – homeland, motherland

(rod.iteli) – parents

(rod.nit) – to bring together

(rod.ovoi) – ancestral (tribal)

(rod.stvo) – kinship

As well, historically, Russians have had to endure the hardships and struggles of constant political turmoil and invasion. Indeed, the Siberians understand struggle as a given, as part of the cycle of life, death, and nature. The normal conditions of existence here, whether in the city, the village, or at the forest dacha, are not what we Americans would consider easy, convenient, or comfortable (although conditions are ever-changing). Yet those who live here have maintained some age-old instincts to survive, and even to celebrate life in the midst of repeated challenges and strife.

So, the personal and cultural resolve that personifies this soul must be a strength steeled over generations of people facing down aggression, natural and political, then calmly and courageously returning to their roots and rebuilding their lives upon an archaic foundation in which they never lost faith. In short, it is impossible to understand the depth and mystery of this soul independent of its rootedness in the simplicity of the Russian peasantry and the inviolability of the Russian soil.

Quotation-Fyodor-Dostoyevsky-darkness-soul-Meetville-Quotes-213462There is an earthly sensuousness that infuses the Russian experience; this culture remains drenched in the primacy of the body and the natural world that nourishes it. Yet, this autochthonous connection to the land – the Siberian’s more elemental experience of life in wilder, mysterious nature – may still be capable of influencing the future trajectory of both the new Russia and Western civilization.

Perhaps Russia’s long-suffering messianic mission still stands firm in the Siberian wilderness, albeit less vociferously than before: quietly recalling humanity from the abyss of an alienated spirit that haunts the self-understanding of the West – its scientific rationalism, its consumerism, and its otherworldly transcendence – a self-understanding that seems to be marching all of us mindlessly to global collapse. Perhaps a more primal Siberian awareness can call us back to a feral memory trace, helping us recall our essential rootedness in Mother Earth and the earthly sensuous – our flesh, the flesh of the world.

Unfortunately, the delusion of ‘manifest destiny’ driving the Western hegemony and its belligerent commodity culture is chipping away relentlessly and callously at that archaic Russian soul, perhaps more rapidly than she is able to redirect the self-destructive trajectory of Western imperialism and its global appetite. Siberians, and those of us living here in Altai Krai, must rethink their commitment to this curriculum of the West as it continues to lead us relentlessly, mindlessly, towards a precipice.

A possible corrective to this obsessive Western fantasy is Vladimir Putin’s apparent calm and the foundational Russian patience providing him the resolve to not respond to further Western provocations, but rather refocusing on that still quiet voice of Russia’s soul calling us back yet again from the precipice of Western extravagance and chatter.

21 Responses to Dusha: The Russian Soul and the Collapse of the West (Redux)

  1. Disaffected says:

    A possible corrective to this obsessive Western fantasy is Vladimir Putin’s apparent calm and the foundational Russian patience providing him the resolve to not respond to further Western provocations, but rather refocusing on that still quiet voice of Russia’s soul calling us back yet again from the precipice of Western extravagance and chatter.

    My assessment as well. He is leaps and bounds better than any of the western maniacs we have in charge now, although many of them are mere figureheads as well, not actually “in charge” of anything, save PR/propaganda. FDR might have been the last true leader we in the US have had. Lets hope Putin can maintain that resolve in the face of what will no doubt be the continued onslaught of western provocation.

    • Disaffected says:

      And the onslaught continues:

      http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/08/22/us-ukraine-crisis-aid-convoy-idUSKBN0GM0IS20140822

      The US is now apparently the global arbiter of what is allowable and what is not. This is not going to end well. I predict this will come to a head this winter when Russia cuts off natty gas supplies to Ukraine and the EU and the resulting civil dissent gets out of control. The EU telling the US to get the hell out of Europe is the only possible solution. The US has become a rogue capitalist state bent on world destruction, but the EU has been compromised by the same elitist elements as well. The battle with Russia represents nothing less than the last stand of the semi-legitimate nation state vs. the global capitalist banker cabal that seeks to control everything. If Russia capitulates China will be next, but that will be like shooting fish in a barrel at that point.

      • the Heretick says:

        After living my entire life with the threat of war with Russia/USSR hanging over my head, (I remember duck and cover, and the sonic booms from military jets), I never really believd that anything would happen: but watching the news the last couple of days, i am starting to believe our leaders really are that fucking stupid. The Middle East is in flames due to a century of western meddling, we seem intent on baiting the bear, and a Chinese fighter has buzzed on of our (no doubt) intelligence flights.

        “nothing less than the last stand of the semi-legitimate nation state vs. the global capitalist banker cabal that seeks to control everything.” Do say, do you? Coming to this realization is much like being punched in the face, for a couple seconds you just don’t know what hit you, then the real shock sets in.

        Jesus H. Christ, are our masters this stupid? Is it hubris? Do they have some sort of plan? Sometimes no matter how much of a beating you’ve taken you have to walk away, the smart thing is to walk away before you take one.

        • Disaffected says:

          I think they are. And desperate. I think they realize that the next economic collapse will be the big one. There’s no more QE bullets left in the gun, and once the monetary illusion is popped, the illusions of common cause and nationhood will be too. Will the cops still be an occupying force once their paychecks stop or become worthless and the civil unrest becomes endemic? Remains to be seen, but I wouldn’t count on it.

        • Disaffected says:

          The Chinese fly-by was interesting. Could be they’re reading the tea leaves and realize where unchecked US aggression is heading too. Things could get interesting mighty quick if, say, they were to make a move on Taiwan about now just to call our bluff. Would the US even be able to respond, especially if Putin simultaneously moved to quash the US sponsored Ukrainian coup and maybe a little extra for his trouble? I think US foreign policy would be exposed as the yapping little toy poodle it is rapidly becoming. Over-extended, bellicose and belligerent; but ultimately, impotent and powerless to effect real change absent blowing shit up and killing people.

          • the Heretick says:

            The Taiwanese are still, after all, Chinese. With Americans self centeredness we forget that various factions of Chinese have fought for centuries, Russia and japan have fought each other, etc. etc.

            The US needs to pull in the horns, marshal our resources, solve our own problems; but as you said, the forces against this are “the global capitalist banker cabal that seeks to control everything”

            http://www.intrepidreport.com/archives/author/larry-pinkney

            • Disaffected says:

              Loved that link and this article in particular:

              http://www.intrepidreport.com/archives/13783

              Yep, we in the US should have minded our own business after the fall of the USSR, but instead we ramped up the capitalist loot and plunder machine to warp drive. Indeed, the rise of Putin himself can be attributed to the Wall St looting and plundering of the Russian economy after the fall and the enrichment of a handful of Russian oligarchs, whom Putin subsequently stripped of power and jailed as necessary to restore a small sense of order again to ordinary Russians’ daily lives. It’s those same oligarchs and Wall St crowd that are behind the current movement to neutralize Putin and Russia again, so rest assured that Putin knows the stakes. He won’t go quietly, nor should he.

              The government of this nation is owned and operated, in real terms, by the power elite of giant avaricious corporations, including the corporate-stream ‘news’ media. In fact, the U.S. government, including so-called ‘elected’ representatives, has become, in reality, nothing more than a corporate clone, replete with self-serving pimping political parasites intent upon keeping everyday ordinary people dis-informed, divided, and controlled on the de facto plantations of the Democrat and Republican parties. – See more at: http://www.intrepidreport.com/archives/13783#sthash.QS1Bx0nI.dpufM

  2. Very a propos, Sandy. I hope you will tell us how you see Putin’s plan for Eurasian community – including the extent of Dugin’s influence.

    • kulturcritic says:

      Deena, I am uncertain at this juncture regarding the ‘Eurasianism’ push by Putin. After all, there is so much momentum towards the West (or, at least there was prior to the crisis). The younger folks (under 50) are literally enthralled by the lifestyles of the rich and famous. However, there is also a strong pull in the opposite direction, a move back to more traditional lifeways (perhaps not unlike what we see in radical Islam… but without the craziness and bloodshed). In this respect, the West may have created it own enemies (movements in reverse of the Western Curriculum). But, certainly, Putin is building the relations with China and ostensibly India. There are those who believe Putin is moving away from the Atlanticist and towards a Eurasian ideology; however, the dimensions (and validity) of that remain to be seen. But, certainly, as my piece here indicates, there is a “spiritual” legacy in Russia that may be valuable to the rebuilding of a world on less aggressive foundations (the Soviet experiment notwithstanding). There are those who feel strongly that Alksandr Dugin is an important voice for Putin, but that also is unclear. Dugin surely is political and radical in his insistence. I have written to Dugin, but have not yet received a reply. Here is an article from Jakarta on Putin and neo-Eurasianism from March 2014.
      http://www.thejakartaglobe.com/opinion/vladimir-putin-rise-neo-eurasianism/

    • kulturcritic says:

      And here is a true psychopath’s view of Putin, Dugin and the PROBLEM!! http://www.nationalreview.com/article/372353/eurasianist-threat-robert-zubrin

      • Disaffected says:

        At best, western “intellectual” policy ideologues project their insecurities onto imagined enemies, at worst, they make delusional shit up from whole cloth and spread disinformation and propaganda. The National Review and Foreign Affairs are useful in that they allow “one stop shopping” for keeping up on what these loons are thinking and for a chuckle or two while observing the workings of the paranoid schizophrenic mind at work. American political intellectuals are little more than delusional adherents to the secular religion of American Exceptionalism. They’re every bit as fanatical as their Christian and Muslim counterparts and a hell of a lot more dangerous.

  3. the Heretick says:

    “autochthonous” – That’s why I love your writing, have to keep my Websters handy.

    The US has it’s own myths, problem is most of them have to do with harvesting and exploitation, “amber waves of grain”, and the cowboy as a matter of course. Cowboys and Indians.
    The US has no national myth really, we killed off damn near all the Natives, slaughtered the Buffalo, and the historical cowboy era really only lasted about 20 years. We are a nation of rootless gypsies, subject to the vagaries of an economy directed from above. It’s really been no other way, the first election ever in this country required you to be white, male, declare a belief in a Christian God, be a property owner; so it wasn’t just women, slaves, and Indians who were disenfranchised from the start.
    Then, once we started correcting these inequities in the 19th century, we were well on the way to becoming a corporate state, when women got the vote urbanization insured they would be housewives, and the poor black people got their rights 10 years before the first oil shocks, hell of a deal.

    I know this post is about Mother Russia, but I just can’t help but contrast a country that may have a soul to save with one that doesn’t have a clue. It seems the US has always been defined as struggling against something, in reaction to, as opposed to resting easy. Now what is sold as the national soul is a lie, a corrupt twisted imitation; reason being that in the era of global consumption, of multi-national octopus squid squeezing the life out of the planet, there is no room for soul.

    Ever notice how the typical western theme is one of a desert? Mesa and buttes, rock, sand, and very little vegetation? Desolate, windswept, I think we define ourselves by struggle.

    • Disaffected says:

      I would say our one unifying myth is the one that Hollywood perpetuates – our bullshit. Examples:

      We’re a military juggernaut. We’re rugged and militaristic! No we’re not. There’s only a little over 2 million people in the active and reserve military, and most of them never see a shooting war. Most of those are poor and serve only to collect a paycheck and avoid hopelessness at home. Most of our so-called “military prowess” is due to the use over over priced high tech weaponry that spares us the responsibility for the killing they do in our name and enriches the corrupt politicians and defense contractors that make them. And we haven’t actually “won” a war since WWII at least, and we didn’t actually “win” that one alone either.

      OK, we’re dynamic and innovative! No we’re not. A handful of our corporations are, but only if they can make obscene profits from doing so. Further, a great deal of the intellectual talent these companies harness is brought in from overseas because our piss-poor schools don’t produce nearly enough, and increasingly, more and more of the actual production work is off-shored for tax break and labor costs savings purposes. Most of us are actually either unemployed or underemployed at boring, marginal, crap wage jobs that benefit our corporate masters and slowly but surely drive the final nails in our rented coffins.

      OK, we’re the world leader in freedom and democracy! It’s our gift to the world and they love us for it! No response required, but no we’re not. We export misery and suffering at the end of a gun and impose our will to make the few tremendously rich at the expense of the many both domestically and internationally. Our now mostly privatized prisons are straining under of the weight of all our people incarcerated for small crimes, while the Wall St and government officials who gave us Iraq, Guantanamo Bay, and the Global Economic Meltdown of 2008 were rewarded handsomely for their crimes. Our military’s stated goal of “full spectrum dominance” should tell you all you need to know about this one.

      Ok, we’re the world leader in social apps and entertainment! This one’s true, at least as far as use. And why not? What else do we have left to do? For the price of an internet connection and a smart phone we can surf internet porn, facebook, and twitter and act as if any of that shit actually matters, while are corporate masters, police, and military continue to tighten the noose around our necks. But all of this comes at a price too, and soon enough even this stuff will be priced out of reach for most.

      Ok then, fuck it! We’re the world leader in corruption and graft! BINGO! Although corruption and graft exist the world over and we’re hardly the first to have practiced it. We have taken it to an entirely new level however, and combined with our false claims to represent the exact opposite virtues, you have finally hit on our one true national “myth!” That of our undying, unmitigated, and totally unsurpassed ability to spread and believe our own BULLSHIT!!! To wit:

  4. Disaffected says:

    More wisdom in this one hour video than there is in a graduate level western degree in Poli Sci, Religion, Philosophy, and Economics combined.

    • My brother made sure his children’s education included George Carlin starting when they were 6 and 4 respectively. They had to listen to ‘The Seven Words You Can’t Say on Television’ and copy them down on a piece of paper. George was later joined by Lewis Black as the major deities in the family pantheon. It was one of the wisest parental decisions he ever made.

  5. Thank you for another excellent, thought-provoking commentary, Sandy. I especially appreciated your explanation of the role ‘rod’ plays in the Russian language.I

    Other than that I’m afraid that the many thoughts you’ve provoked are tangled like a bowl of spaghetti, so it’s going to be a day or three before I can contribute something coherent. Meanwhile I’ll sharing this over my networks.

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