“When people stopped trusting any institutions or having any values, they could easily be spun into a conspiratorial vision of the world…..At the core of this strategy is the idea that there is no such thing as objective truth. This notion allows the Kremlin to replace facts with disinformation…
…The aim was to distract people from the evidence, which pointed to the separatists (Malayasia Airlines Flight 17), and to muddy the water to a point where the audience simply gave up on the search for truth. Sadly, this mind-set resonates well in a post-Iraq and post-financial-crisis West increasingly skeptical about its own institutions, where reality-based discourse has already fractured into political partisanship.”, Peter Pomerantsev, “Russia’s Ideology: There is No Truth”, New York Times
“Chapter Eleven of Nobel Economic Laureate F.A. Hayek’s famous tomb “The Road to Serfdom” is entitled “The End of Truth”….he talks about this very issue:
“The most effective way of making everybody serve the single system of ends toward which the social plan is directed is to make everybody believe in those ends. To make a totalitarian system function efficiently, it is not enough that everybody should be forced to work for the same ends. It is essential that the people should come to regard them as their own ends. Although the beliefs must be chosen for the people and imposed upon them, they must become their beliefs, a generally accepted creed which makes the individuals as far as possible act spontaneously in the way the planner wants…..This is, of course, brought about by the various forms of propaganda (that is not true).”, F.A. Hayek
I don’t know about you, but in recent years, it seems to me that whether it’s the conclusions of the majority party report of the Financial Crisis Commission (which included no Republicans and their vociferous dissent) or the conclusions about the CIA program, in the recent majority report of the Senate Intelligence Committee (which again included no Republicans and their vociferous dissent), recent legal settlements like the DOJ/Bank of America one (where there was an appendix of “facts”, but the document itself said “no facts had been determined by a court”) or issues like Ferguson (where our government officials and the mainstream media couldn’t bring themselves to discuss the facts and the truth)…..I wonder, are we reaching our own level of “The End of Truth” in America? I worry. Facts and the truth matter to me and I hope most Americans, but it sure seems like facts and the truth matter less and less these days, doesn’t it? I voted for President Obama in 2008, but it sure seems to me that liberal and progressive politicians from his party (and administration) are the ones who have little regard for the facts and the truth, doesn’t it? (Hayek says politicians like this are planners and planning leads to totalitarianism. I think he said every time in history.)”, Mike Perry, former Chairman and CEO, IndyMac Bank
Russia’s Ideology: There Is No Truth
By PETER POMERANTSEV
Red Square, Moscow. Credit James Hill for The New York Times
LONDON — IMAGINE if you grew up lying. Not a little bit, for convenience, but during every public moment of your life: at school, at work, at social events. You had to lie to survive, because the punishment for telling the truth was the loss of your academic or professional career, or even prison. For Russians who came of age before 1991, this is the only way they know. The mature generation grew up with this behavior during the later years of the Soviet Union: reading Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and listening to clandestine BBC reports in private while pretending to be good Communist Youth League or party members.
When I went to work as a TV producer in Moscow in the early 2000s, I would ask my peers which of the “selves” they grew up with was the “real” them. How did they locate the difference between truth and lies? “You just end up living in different realities,” they would tell me, “with multiple truths and different ‘yous.’ ”
When members of this generation came to power they created a society that was a feast of simulations, with fake elections, a fake free press, a fake free market and fake justice. They are led by religious Russian patriots who curse the decadent West while keeping their children and money in London and informed by television producers who make Putin-worshiping shows during the day, and listen to energetically anti-Putin radio shows the moment they get into their cars after work.
It’s almost as if you are encouraged to have one identity one moment and the opposite one the next. So you’re always split into little bits, and can never quite commit to changing things.
But there is comfort in these splits, too. That wasn’t you stealing from that budget, making that propaganda show or bending your knee to the president — just a role you were playing. All cultures split the public and private selves, but in Russia that split is often total.
The Kremlin’s goal is to control all narratives, so that politics becomes one great scripted reality show. The way it wields power illustrates and reinforces this psychology. Take Vladislav Y. Surkov, an adviser to President Vladimir V. Putin who is said to manage, among other things, the public image of the Russian-speaking separatist leaders in eastern Ukraine. He helped invent a new strain of authoritarianism based not on crushing opposition from above, but on climbing into different interest groups and manipulating them from the inside. On his desk in the Kremlin, Mr. Surkov had phones bearing the names of leaders of supposedly independent parties. Nationalist leaders like Vladimir V. Zhirinovsky would play the right-wing buffoon to make Mr. Putin look moderate by contrast.
With one hand Mr. Surkov supported human rights groups made up of former dissidents; with the other he organized pro-Kremlin youth groups like Nashi, which accused human rights leaders of being tools of the West. In a novel presumed to be written by Mr. Surkov, who is also an art-loving bohemian when not waging covert wars, he celebrates the triumphant cynicism of a post-Soviet generation that has seen through the illusions of belief in any values or ideology.
“Everything is P.R.,” my Moscow peers would tell me. This cynicism is useful to the state: When people stopped trusting any institutions or having any values, they could easily be spun into a conspiratorial vision of the world. Thus the paradox: the gullible cynic.
As the Kremlin plays the West, we see it extend the tactics it uses at home to foreign affairs. The Kremlin courts the West’s financial elites, including the German and American business lobbies that opposed new sanctions; backs anticapitalist shows like Abby Martin’s “Breaking the Set” on the broadcaster RT (formerly Russia Today); and encourages the European far right with money and support to parties such as France’s National Front. The Kremlin can’t hope to dominate the West as it does the domestic situation, but its aim is to sow division, to “disorganize” the enemy through an information war.
At the core of this strategy is the idea that there is no such thing as objective truth. This notion allows the Kremlin to replace facts with disinformation. We saw one example when Russian media spread a multitude of conspiracy theories about the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine in July, from claiming that radar data showed Ukrainian jets had flown near the plane to suggesting that the plane was shot down by Ukrainians aiming at Mr. Putin’s presidential jet. The aim was to distract people from the evidence, which pointed to the separatists, and to muddy the water to a point where the audience simply gave up on the search for truth.
Sadly, this mind-set resonates well in a post-Iraq and post-financial-crisis West increasingly skeptical about its own institutions, where reality-based discourse has already fractured into political partisanship. Conspiracy theories are prevalent on cable networks and radio shows in the United States and among supporters of far-right parties in Europe. President Obama, responding to Russian aggression in Ukraine, pointed out that Russia is not the Soviet Union. “This is not another Cold War that we’re entering into,” he said. “Russia leads no bloc of nations, no global ideology.” But perhaps he was missing the point.
Peter Pomerantsev, a British television producer, is the author of “Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia.”
A version of this op-ed appears in print on December 12, 2014, on page A35 of the New York edition with the headline: Russia’s Ideology: There Is No Truth.