“Our challenge is to call things by their proper names”- Oksana Zabuzhko

“Our challenge is to call things by their proper names”- Oksana Zabuzhko

How can a country be invaded in the era of “brain hacking”? Who can distinguish real events from a script written by someone? Why should we not forget the past? This is what the writer, philosopher and literary critic Oksana Zabuzhko told Presidents’ MBA kmbs program participants 

UCMC publishes a translated article from Innovations.com.ua

Civilization crisis

Until recently, we believed that the challenges Ukraine had to face were only our challenges, and that “cancerous diseases” applied only to individual organizations, governments, and our mentality. But today we see that entire civilization has the same problems.

US election result allows speaking confidently about civilizational crisis. And the West appears to be as poorly intellectually prepared for this situation as Ukraine was three years ago. I mean, the general horizon of knowledge that provides conditions for a dysfunctional state, ineffective policy, ineffective management, and totally distorted media that for 15 years have not been reflecting the real picture of how Ukrainian society lives.

As early as 2004, Ukraine ceased controlling its information field. We had lost the information war to Russia before we realized that it was waged against us and that we were an object of informational occupation. Only after “real”, “hot” war had begun; it became obvious that we did not even know who owned the Ukrainian information space.

The Ukrainian public had been hooked on the waste of the Russian information field for 15 years. Ukraine did not have the slightest idea what the West was saying about it. And even about itself, Ukraine knew only what Moscow dictated. And Moscow used the technology of the electoral division of Ukraine: half the country – allegedly pro-Western, half the country – pro-Russian. Over ten years, the leading Western media persistently hammered this mantra into the minds of Western people. Over ten years, the world was told that Ukraine was split: the West – against the East, Galicia – against Donbas. And Ukraine itself, as a state, kept silent at that time and did not say anything to the world except a “battle of Donetsk with Dnipropetrovsk”.

This silence was also a manifestation of our historical disease of the elite. Autochthonous elites in Ukraine were completely destroyed in the 1930s, and since then we have not succeeded in raising the strata of the people who could take responsibility for the country and represent it.

The war scheme in the age of modern information technology is simple: first you capture the information space, then comes the brain hacking, and after that you can conquer a country with little loss. This is what the strategy of so-called “hybrid war” is based on. It is actually nothing new, if you look on it not in the context of the wars of the 19th-20th centuries, but in the context of intelligence services’ operations in the age of globalization. Indeed, now subversive groups of 300-500 people can invade a country, if local population was intellectually “captured” earlier.

In 1984, Yuri Bezmenov, Soviet diplomat who fled to the West, spoke on American TV about four stages of occupying any country from within according to the KGB plans. At first – demoralization – takes at least 15-20 years, because it is necessary to grow up – via education and the media – at least one generation that will not see the Soviet Union (and, consequently, Russia) as a threat. Next (5-7 years) – destabilization when it is necessary to act on such areas as economics, finance, defense. Then the third stage – the so-called “crisis”. Chaos, skirmishes, blood – and finally peacekeeping forces come and “normalization” begins that can last indefinitely. This theory fits well to a 25-year history of modern Ukraine. Before 2008 – education and media, from 2009 – economic crisis, gas agreement, then – collapse of the army and security forces, and after bloodshed in the Maidan the term “Ukrainian crisis” appeared at Kremlin’s behest.

It also demonstrates that techniques and technologies have not actually changed since the Cold War. And what we see today is a continuation of the same methods of sabotage as KGB used.

We have entered the era of wars and brain hacking. There is nothing fundamentally new here either; only that Stalin had no television, and Hitler – no Internet. The time for passing information has greatly reduced and it allows manipulation on a massive scale – such which Orwell and Huxley could only suspect.

The new totalitarianism is not yet named, not recognized, not qualified, but it is already here. We are already living in an era of neo-totalitarianism. And our challenge is to call things by their proper names.

All this war is not just between Russia and Ukraine. Ukraine simply found itself at the forefront. This is a civilization war. And a question, the answer to which is decisive for humanity, is at stake: can a perfectly manipulated society be created?

War and Literature

In August 2008, I already knew: Ukraine was put on the rails leading to the station of War, and the train was already gaining speed. And from 2012, I put off my creative projects, my ivory towers – they all became absurd, facing a threat that was approaching. It makes no sense to write novels, when your country is being destroyed. That is why my latest book “And again I get into the tank …” is dedicated to contemporary accents.

A writers’ position in such situation is, on the one hand, vulnerable, and on the other – best equipped. They are the best at seeing the manipulation logics, because this war is very literary. All large-scale manipulations are carried out under certain scenarios. And their authors are political strategists. These are people, who think how to present a candidate to the voters, who create an image, in other words – sell scenarios for staging reality shows that meant to replace the real political process.

The writers see the world with texts, stories that can be told. Therefore, they can distinguish a natural, organic storyline, created by life itself, from the one that is made, created, invented by someone, and people in it are not self-driving but play a role that was written for them.

Never before has policy depended on commercial marketing as much as it does now. None of the country leaders issue any long-term development programs. No one builds anything considering far strategic goals, the main thing is to impress and hit the jackpot here and now, and then let the chips fall where they may. The appeal is not to the views or beliefs of the audience, but to emotions, instincts, certain complexes, feelings that are quite common, and can be pressed on.

The normal writer does not pretend that he is reaching reality; instead, he creates his own worlds on paper, locking them in a word. He published novels rather than writes scenarios according to which his characters should be alive and play the assigned roles, including – dying in a hail of bullets. The political “scenario writers” who try to organize life according to the laws of literature are generators of induced mass insanity.

A conflict between two scenarios – “outlined” and natural broke out at Maidan in 2013-2014. The retreat from the Kremlin scenario of “Ukrainian crisis” was caused by the law of large numbers. There were too many people to forecast their reaction. At a level of 50 thousand the planned scenario could have worked, but not at a level of 2 million.

Another very important part of our profession consists in naming and pursuing the right words to call things that have no names so far. When the writer sees that the words distort reality and are insincere, he realizes that someone intentionally had a hand in it. He also feels that they infringe on his territory and destroy his territory – the territory of ​​language. Rather than clarify reality, they use language to obscure it.

Why are people, who write scenarios of this war, bad writers? They fail a test for empathy and are unable to identify themselves with others. If you feel empathy, you will be immune to manipulations; if not, you will be a robot and zombie. There cannot be good literature at all, if you are unable to get into somebody’s skin and understand their motives and logic.

Russia, the West and populism

Russia’s mission is to borrow certain patterns from the West and implement them as a cargo cult. For example, Peter I went to Amsterdam, saw that beautiful city on the water, returned to his swamp, and said, “I will follow suit here.” Thus, he rotted thousands of people building a new capital. Another example: they read Karl Marx and turned “Capital” into global Gulag. The original concept of current Surkov’s “managed democracy” was borrowed from the West as well, namely from the United States.

Ronald Reagan knew firsthand what theatricalization of public life was. In the early 1980s he launched a technology to cope with potentially explosive social movements. For example, where did “Harlem Renaissance” of 1960-70’s go? Now it is represented only by black IT guys in the movies. All the energy of that movement was transferred to the sphere of entertainment and propaganda of mass culture set on fun, comfort and money. In other words, African-American people’s life was tabloidized, its values were diluted. The same is true for total “putinization of the media” in Russia. All social life was transferred to the level of entertaining stimulation. This is the key technology of modern populism that eats out democracy.

Absolute evil

Cold War history also includes the history of Western elites’ collaboration with the Soviet regime. This history has never been “ventilated” and has never become a subject of public reflection. The first books on the subject appeared only in the early 2000s, and when Norman Davies in his fundamental history of the Second World War proved for the first time that all three belligerent parties (the USSR, Germany with its allies and the Allies of World War II) had been guilty of crimes against humanity, his book was called “controversial.”

The West does not understand yet that distorted picture “of the world after the Second World War” is the main source of moral legitimization of the new, now Russian fascism. Hitler was the embodiment of global evil for the past three generations. And, accordingly, the country that defeated Hitler just could not be absolute evil, even if it created Gulag. Putin’s regime merely capitalizes history lessons not learned by the West.

Concept of time

The global reset has already started. The end of the historical cycle. I laugh when asked how Ukraine will look like in 2030, and I say that I even do not know how the map of Europe will look by then. On such tectonic “history curves” people need maximum transparency, lability and readiness to accept new information, rather than start disputes reasoned by “but we were taught different things at school.”

We all need to forget what we were taught, because they prepared us for a different world. We were told about progress and that the totalitarian past will never be repeated. And now it turns out that human development is making some circles and curves instead of being linear, and that development does not mean progress. And if we understand what the length of the historical cycle is, the role of Ukraine in this reset process will also become clear. The linear concept of time is somewhat schoolish and naive. It is good to see historical time as continuous. The past is not what has happened, what we have closed, left behind and blocked up. It is constantly updated.