When Putin's people want you to despair
Remember that they are projecting
To put the Russian bot/troll situation in simple terms — a small amount of people/organizations are responsible for a vast amount of inauthentic and deliberately misleading activity online.
For example, I am regularly targeted with statements about Ukraine’s imminent doom on the internet. Although this has been the case for years, it’s obviously gotten much worse since February 24, 2022.
Far from just trying to grind people like me down, these inauthentic accounts are aimed at creating an illusion of popular support for Russia’s turnip-faced, ethno-nationalist, so-called president. It’s why so many pretend to be Western in origin and to have hobbies such as bitcoin or, as it has recently been documented, an interest in Canadian politics.
This is why I will continue to be a broken record on the subject: Block them. Block them quickly. Don’t stop to wonder if it’s an authentic account made by someone who’s just confused about Vladimir Putin and this war. Now is not the time for that.
A lot hinges on popular support for further arming Ukraine. Inauthentic accounts that create the illusion that arming Ukraine should be a contentious issue are contributing to Ukrainians dying.
However, the way in which Russia exports despair goes beyond troll/bot activity.
You may feel this if you interact with real anti-democracy activists who have taken Putin’s side. If you notice the way that they speak, you will notice the negativity and nihilism. There will be gloating about the dead. Some will make it clear that they desire to inflict suffering, or else that suffering can stop as soon as the victims accept the blame (the abuser’s classic “Look what you made me do!” refrain). They will be obsessed with the idea that you have to be perfect in order to oppose Putin, and since no country or system is perfect, they must roll over for a murderer. These are angry people, but they are not righteous. They have given up — and think that you should too.
The sordid history of Russian political failure and internal violence would naturally bend Russia’s arc toward despair. But why should the rest of the world pay for that?
In the Tretyakov Gallery, in a Moscow I will likely never return to, a famous and controversial painting by Ilya Repin hangs on one of the walls. It shows the moment that Ivan the Terrible (Ivan Grozny) killed his son and namesake:
Historians will tell you that this tragic moment is contentious. Ivan had his nickname for a reason — but we are not 100% sure if he did kill his son, or if it happened in a fit of rage as it is typically said.
That doesn’t really matter, though. What matters is how Repin depicted Ivan here. This is the moment of realization. The tragic hero’s lament (think of Macbeth realizing that all is lost, stating, “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow…”). This is failure. The czar has just killed his future.
Reactionary conservatives, who are the leading political force in Russia, do not like this painting. It makes them uncomfortable. The guilt of the czar triggers their own unstated guilt. They don’t like to see a vulnerable leader, because of the vulnerabilities they carry. Deep inside, the reactionaries know they have nothing to offer future generations. They are not proactive, because being proactive means being creative and brave — qualities that are discouraged by the Putinist system. Like Ivan, these people are killing the future, and they know it.
The painting was even attacked once — because it can cause very strong, and very angry feelings.
This self-justifying anger enables and fuels Putin’s war in Ukraine. It’s scary and sad, but it’s also telling. People seek to destroy that which they believe in. In trying to destroy a democratic Ukraine, Russians show that they are afraid of the power of free choice, enough to give up on their own tomorrow, to drown in sanctions, to face unjustifiable losses, to tear themselves apart.
There are Russians out there who do not believe in any of this crap. They don’t worship the cult of death. These are people like Repin, who could look into the face of despair and not cower.
Maybe one day, courageous people in Russia can succeed in building a better country. I don’t believe it will happen in my lifetime, and it’s not an issue that concerns me overmuch these days, focused as I am on making sure that Ukraine has its victory. Russian despair is not an excuse to attack the people next door — or anyone, for that matter.
But today I want to leave you with the notion that hope can endure, that it will endure. Hope is proactive, muscular, and living; hope builds, not destroys. Hope is for the brave among us. It’s easier to be brave together — so let’s try.
I am publishing this on Day 6 of my subscription drive! Hope you get a paid subscription if you can — just $5 a month makes it easier for me to keep at it ❤️