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Putin’s Ears Must be Burning: a Report on the Banality of Propaganda

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I sometimes wonder what Путин must make of the Western media obsession with him.

Do his ears burn each day with all the new articles, broadcasts, social media mentions – the myriad voices, guided by the Western political and media establishments, speculating, characterizing, creating – “Putin”?

It is unlikely that Путин is indifferent to the “Putin” spectacle as there are often statements by his proxies or himself that deny or contest reports in the Western press – or, request never-forthcoming evidence to back up incessant and unsubstantiated allegations.

Путин has been meticulously translated into the lifeworld of Western alphabets as caricature, a larger than life, Hollywood nemesis, woven out of an echo chamber of narrative clichés.

As with other mythological creatures, the poets elaborate the “Putin” tapestry by which we interpret the world.  This mythos, distinct from the disinterested integrity of knowledge, operates unconsciously, at the level of mass psychology, amidst the zeitgeist.  In this context, “Putin” becomes a trigger word for a nexus of prescribed, automatic feeling.

In the end, the conjuration of “Putin” is orchestrated according to the desires of the prevailing configuration of Western political power – and not by evidentiary truth.  It is not meant to reveal Путин, but to disseminate “words that kill” that will erase him and his lifeworld.

Путин, although under the persistent threat of erasure, has nonetheless defied Western attempts to control the narrative with traditional publicity, asymmetrical communication strategies and “major power” projections of global influence.  Russia’s intensifying alliance with China and the BRICS nations has moreover provided, for the first time in seven decades, a glimpse of a novel multi-polar, polycentric world order dedicated to peaceful development and respect for national sovereignty.

In a dark propagandistic sense, creatively frustrated journalists in the West have collectively conjured an antagonist, an anti-hero, to become the latest lightning rod for the systematic violence of the capitalist West.  But, this is what they have always done.  Much of what is written about Путин is completely fabricated, and the fundamental premise of the subject is always distrust.  No one believes Путин or is allowed to believe him as Western nations are made to lie according to an established convention, as Nietzsche once quipped.

Those who may have believed Путин have been forced to resign, like Michael Flynn, or, “cut loose”, as with Carter Page.  The questions of “post-truth” and “alternative facts” intimate a deeper philosophical crisis of the meaning and content of truth in the era of global post-modern mass communication.  This is a moment resembling the Glasnost of the USSR, in which the narrative of the Soviet Union comprehensively collapsed under the pressure of eccentric, often nationalistic, narratives disseminated by the West.

The same fate has now befallen the West – and the West is well aware of the fact.

The Путин of public statements, who has repeatedly denied a complex and persistent web of accusations, understands that the storm in a Western teapot, linked with his anglicised name, is just political theatre for domestic thought management.  In other words, the Russia scandal signifies a war between entrenched and insurgent elites within the American establishment.

Yet, as he is directly embedded in the Western strategic narrative, Путин does not have the luxury of dismissing the affair as simply “fake news”.  The stakes of the internecine war in the American establishment signify existential threats to Путин and to Россия.

It must be disconcerting for Путин to witness the self-propelling wheel of his own demonization, a process he has seen so many times before.

The Western media is weaponized against “Putin” to elicit a negative emotional response with the mere mention of his name.  Any gesture of dissent, such as Trump’s question of American innocence, threatens the official narrative and the psychological management of the zeitgeist.  Deviation from the script is met with overwhelming disdain.

The spark for this prairie fire was Trump’s contestation of the “Russia” narrative as it had deteriorated under the Obama administration.  Yet, as the “Obama Doctrine” was merely the latest iteration of the founding strategic vision of the National Security Act, Trump’s contestation struck – perhaps unbeknownst to himself – at the heart of a National Security state awash with questions of its governance, oversight and accountability.

It is astonishing that Trump broke with the chorus and sang the praises of “Putin”.  Yet, the most devastating irony is that the Trump camp had sinisterly fallen in love with the “Putin” of caricature, the demonized image deployed by the National Security poets. It is doubtful whether Trump could ever love the real Путин – he would soon resent Putin’s self-assured resistance to the American hegemonic fantasm and Monsanto’s GMO’s.

The key to Trump’s war with the establishment is that Trump is not a revolutionary.  He is not even a critic of the National Security state – he merely wishes to control it for his own purposes, and with even less oversight than currently exists.  In many ways, Trump’s battle with the establishment resembles two rival gangs vying for control of a restaurant and its menu, whether it will be “Russian” or “radical Islamic terrorism.”

Россия has always been the foremost enemy of the National Security state.  And, Путин is America’s Most Wanted since he has consistently resisted and sought to challenge the post-Cold War narrative of the “Triumph of the West”.  The recent history of the West has abided the undercurrent of Путин’s “No,” from Iraq, Libya, Syria – and, of course, Ukraine.

The safe-haven given to Snowden is certainly also high on the list of reasons Putin is persona non grata for the US national security establishment, as the former revealed many (though certainly not all) of the surveillance programs of the US government – on its own citizens, global populations, and foreign leaders, including those of so-called allies.

Besides Syria, Ukraine is the current radix of conflict between Russia and the West, one defined not only by incompatible narratives, but also by the lack of any mechanism for arbitration of the truth (as in South Africa’s “Truth Commission”).  Instead, the situation is ruled by the “alternative facts” of strategic power, by the overriding imperative of the West to complete the extension of its power – through NATO – to contain Russia.

With the seditious eclipse of truth by power, the very ethos and spirit of the United Nations Charter – the reciprocity between nations – is displaced by unilateralist assertions of power.

The tragedy of Ukraine, like that of Syria, results from the unwillingness of the US to acknowledge in good faith its role in the catastrophe.  This unwillingness is continuously manufactured and enforced by the hegemony of the national security state.

In the terrible face of the national security establishment, the people must demand a politics of truth oriented to the democratic negotiation of a new concept of national security and a mobilisation to end to the national security state and its unaccountable permanent organizations and operations.  America must resist the fatal temptation of empire.

James Luchte is a philosopher, author and activist in the United States. He is also Visiting Professor of Philosophy and Aesthetics at Shanghai University of Finance and Economics. He is the author of Marx and the Sacred Revolution. His latest book is titled “Mortal Thought: Hölderlin and Philosophy” (Bloomsbury 2016).

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