An Existentialist Perspective on Russia v. the West

This is an excerpt from a PBS interview with the profound, learned, witty, altogether brilliant Russian political scholar and former member of the Russian Duma Ekaterina Schulmann. It’s from a series called The Putin Files. I say that this is an Existentialist perspective because Existentialism is all about individuals being self-creating and, ultimately, responsible for themselves. (For my very brief introduction to Existentialism, go here:

MICHAEL KIRK: One of the things we know from talking to people close to President Putin is that he feels strongly that the United States has been involved in fomenting and causing things from the early color revolutions all the way up. What is your perception of the United States’ involvement and whether that argument works?

EKATERINA SCHULMANN: Of course, I can’t know what is passing in the heads of our decision makers. I have heard this rhetoric, of course, time and again, from many people on the top levels of our hierarchy—our power hierarchy. From my point of view, it’s some sort of psychological disorder called external locus of control, if you know the term. It’s the situation when a person thinks that everything that happens to him or her is determined by some external agent. It’s a very bad thing, because it makes you lose your existence as a real person. It makes you exist only as a focus of others’ wills. This is the strange and phantasmagoric picture of Russia today as painted by the state media. What is Russia? She is something that is threatened from the outside. And if there is any threat from the inside, this is also because of somebody external or some external will. It could not be more absurd. It’s absurd in itself, but it’s specifically absurd in case of Russia, which is a bigger, complex society, whose problems and victories and achievements and defeats are all determined by internal reasons, by internal factors. So, again, it couldn’t be more—more stupid.

MY COMMENT Applying this to Russia’s influence on the United States, I would make the following observations: Yes, Trump has long been a Russian asset. The extent to which he is aware of this is unclear, but certainly, he willfully ignores his own usefulness to Russian bad actors. And yes, Russia waged an extensive social media disinformation and misinformation campaign to get Trump elected. And yes, the United States, being a free and open society, is awash in Russian assets and agents who foment right-wing disruption among gun nuts and white nationalists. And yes, all that contributed to the recent resurgence of the overtly and covertly fascist right in the United States—to things like Trump’s making people feel that it is again OK for them to be out about their explicit anti-immigrant and anti-black racism. But here’s the thing: Putin and Putin’s dog, Trump, would not have been successful in fomenting racist strife in the U.S., in bringing millions of racists out of the woodwork, IF THEY HADN’T BEEN IN THE WOODWORK TO BEGIN WITH. We must ourselves assume responsibility for this stuff. Fascism, racism, sexism, homophobia, religious fundamentalism, extreme nationalism, opposition via state violence to protest and dissent and a free media, personality cult politics—these are all fundamental tenets and modi operandi of Putinism and official state policy in Russia today, and yes, Putin has worked hard to export this evil to the US. But he found fertile ground for all of it here, alas, and that’s what we need to worry most about—about stopping OUR extreme right. We must not see ourselves as victims but as agents, and we must concern ourselves most with those right here among us who are agents of all these evils. There are positive signs, if one looks at the beliefs and values of our youth. But before they come of voting age, there is a big danger that the fascists will seize control here, in 2022-24, and undo the voting rights that are our bulwark against them. We have met the enemy, and he is us, said the Pogo possum. I would amend that only to say, “he is some of us.”

About Bob Shepherd

interests: curriculum design, educational technology, learning, linguistics, hermeneutics, rhetoric, philosophy (Continental philosophy, Existentialism, metaphysics, philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, epistemology, ethics), classical and jazz guitar, poetry, the short story, archaeology and cultural anthropology, history of religion, prehistory, veganism, sustainability, Anglo-Saxon literature and language, systems for emergent quality control, heuristics for innovation
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