Ethics / Philosophy / West

Rethinking the Banality of the Good


The most evil man in the world right now, seems to be a  retired lieutenant colonel of the Russian KGB, who is determined to reestablish the Soviet empire, to invade world and was likened to Hitler by a leading politician of a superpower. To others, President Vladimir Putin is a judo-chopping, IMF-taming, U.S.-defying global hero. But according to  the controversial biography of  Stanislav Belkovsky, a star columnist at a Moscow tabloid,  former speechwriter and insider, Putin represents the “Banality of the Good” (quote).  The striking similarity with Hannah Arendt’s remark, one of the 20th century’s great political thinkers did catch my eye and let me finish his book, which has its weaknesses. Now if “being good” is all, after a string of rumours and dirty laundry, which may or may not be true, what Stanislav Belkovsky, sworn enemy of Putin, came up against him, there must be something unworthy with all of us, not belonging to the élite.  I long fancied to write a psychological study of Putin, motivated by the C.G. Jung interview of H.R. Knickerbocker 1938 in the Cosmopolitan , reprinted in C.G. Jung Speaks (page 115-135). To qualify the banality of the good (or the evil) I will follow C.G. Jung’s method, the money flow and the little I really know about the person Putin – that is some minor direct account, my own remote observation, his own account and what his enemies say.

The Banality of the Good and Evil

This is how one understands the banality of the good: In order to gain a sense of selfworthiness of a normal citizen, it is not needed to be an hero or to be sacrified on the cross. It is completely sufficient (and required) to take good care of and raising kids, pay taxes, go to work, obey rules and laws. And not because one would be punished hard for not obeying them, but because one sees them as mandatory and essential in a sense of the Kant’s imperative.

The Banality of the Good is often likened to the secondary virtues or vices. Secondary virtue was an important term of the German positivism dispute in the 1970s / 1980s.  Secondary virtues or civic virtue characteristics were classified as those virtues, which contribute to the practical accomplishment of everyday tasks and a trouble-free” operation of a society without having intrinsic ethical significance, provided they are not used to implement the primary moral virtues but held up as means in itself: Diligence, loyalty, obedience, discipline, sense of duty, punctuality, reliability, tidiness, courtesy, cleanliness.  That one can with “secondary virtues” easily run a concentration camp, was thrown at a fomer German chancellor Helmut Schmidt once. And this very assessment, secondary virtues and having a tendency to choose “non-Machiavelli none-elite” friends,  was the most serious allegation Stanislav Belkovsky brought up, besides Putin’s alleged accumulated wealth. Interesting circle, bringing us back to Hannah Arendt’s banality of evil of which I have written here, isn’t it? 

Putin through the eyes of C.G. Jung

Putin’s Ego

Starting point of the consideration is Putin’s reportedly rather unhappy childhood. It does not matter if the gossip version of the birth and childhood of Putin states is true, that the future Russian President was born two years before the date that is otherwise formally specified as a birthday of PutinLater, the mother gave her son to childless relatives who are officially recognized as the birth parents, in what was then Leningrad. This version is buzzing around again in MoscowStanislav Belkovsky  concludes from that Putin was looking for a father figure, which he had initially in Anatoly Sobchak, the former mayor of St. Petersburg, and later found in Boris Yeltsin. Second argument was Putin’s encounter with the – at that time – very effective hard working Germans gave him according to Stanislav Belkovsky a culture shock with lasing implications. 

Putin’s Persona

PutinPersona

PutinPersona

The Persona is  the “mask” helps us get by in the world, the ideal image we have of ourselves. We latch onto these social identities to define us, but as a part of the “collective psyche” they do not distinguish us in any significant way. For the persona of a public person you just look at the best spin and pictures in the media. The media nowadays are just hooker,s printing what they are told. It’s no secret that Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin carefully presents his reputation of masculinity with various publicity stunts and photo ops. First of all, let’s look at physique. Putin does have a certain eagerness to flaunt his bare chest, and there’s definitely a Rambo quality to the man when he starts going after wildlife.

Vladimir Putin is a Culture Warrior. Every Jungian must admit his effort and success who he carefully constructs an archetypal warrior identity. Is seems,  most media and most of his fellow world leaders , that he receives more hate for presenting the archetype of a warrior than anything else. The imago’ range from tagging dangerous animals, to stopping wildfires, to playing with guns on vacation. Putin may not want  be the most popular guy in the world but he sure manages to be one of the most interesting. Even action-star Arnold Schwarzenegger can’t outdo this is original WWP . He does judo, which lacks the pure bestial blood lust of American football; but when not using others’ own strength against them, he likes to take to the outdoors. On a horse. With a gun. He hunts wild animals. Tigers. Bears. Moose. He prowls around the Siberian woods, with no shirt, as a variety of fearsome beasts. The Western media used to say – not anymore – iIt’s lucky he’s got affairs of state to distract him, or extinction rates of rate animals would double overnight. And when he’s not hunting, he’s hang-gliding: 2012 he led a flock of endangered cranes on their migration route.

Putin’s Shadow

04_Putin_shadow_g_wThe Shadow lives within us another side of our personality that is filled with all those aspects of ourselves we hide away, both from ourselves or others, as unacceptable. The shadow has a “dark side,” what we find morally reprehensible – and often project into others, but it also has a “bright side” containing our potentialities .For the shadow of a public person again you just look at the worst public rumors and gossip printed by the mainstream media. Stanislav Belkovsky is good too, he must have compiled all dirt one can openly find and was given to him. Biographies are often books about the authors themselves and sometimes amalgam between most banal kitchen psychology, insider knowledge, personal experiences and spreading rumors.  If informal decision-making processes prevail, the hour of psychology is rife. Belkovsky  insinuates that Putin, who is divorced with two daughters, might be gay. Belkovsky offers little proof for any of this also for his allegation of wealth. He also acknowledges that people who crossed about Putin (except in one case) never meet unfortunate ends – he even gives plausible versions of the case of an  journalist and a KGB traitor, who both  died under mysterious circumstances. Stanislav Belkovsky shows Putin as weak, soft KGB bureaucrat responsible for interior work rather than the foreign Cold War agent. Stanislav Belkovsky says Putin is shy, and would much rather spend his time with four-legged friends. “Therein lies the real Putin. He flees from people and his obligations to nature. Here we have Vladimir’s best friends; the Labrador Conny and the Bulgarian shepherd dog Buffy, his only roommates in the presidential residence.” A Russian political scientist summed up Belkovsky this way: “he can be considered to be either a little crazy or a business-minded manipulator whose utterances are always well paid for by someone in advance.”

Putin like the German Schroeder and Berlusconi all pariahs are all self made out of their own strength. That is true. Surely Putin is driven by business interests and under him the flourishing corruption is not as visible anymore but still seems to be there. Putin might be indeed, feel an end time ruler who either might slow the decay, or maybe stop it 

From narcissism and paranoia 

In another attack of kitchen psychology Stanislav Belkovsky differentiates two type of politicians the schizophrenic and the paranoid, the former creative enforces, do creating empires the latter manager and beholders soonly administering decay. I do agree with his thesis, only the mentally unstable go into politics (se my article Archetype of the vampire in todays culture of Narcissism). I think, however he meant narcissism and paranoia, and here, having had my own encounter with politics, he defintly  got some point. Putin  to him, is of course the weak paranoid.   Narcissism and paranoia sounds like a pathology and it often is. However, those are dynamic opposites of the psyche even in healthy subjects but can actually reach down to the severest forms of psychopathology. Healthy narcissism is the desire to be loved and to provide adequately for their own well-being, and a healthy paranoia setting corresponds to what is called healthy skepticism. In a balanced way both guarantors for mental health.  Stalin was a sever case of paranoia, and according to Jung not a creator just a devourer.  Narcissism and paranoia in a slightly or severe pathological form is found in almost any politician. Slight pathological paranoia includes distrust and to be a little suspicious with the tendency of principle: You never know Such a person is cautious, somewhat aloof but of course also vigilant. The basic feeling is that you should always be on guard.Well in regards to Putin, if so it served him well. There is a deliberate elusiveness of the Russian system, in which all sorts of conspiracy theories flourish. But according to a Russian saying, just because you’re paranoid,  it does not mean that you will not be prosecuted.

Projection of the Westen Shadow

Pojection ot the Western Shadow on Putin.

Pojection ot the Western Shadow on Putin.

Is Putin like Stalin? To quote C.G. Jung again: Stalin [..]  is, however, not a creator. Lenin, created; Stalin is devouring the brood. He is a conquistador; he simply took what Lenin made and put his teeth into it and devoured it. He is not even creatively destructive. Lenin was that. He tore down the whole structure of feudal and bourgeois society in Russia and replaced – it with is own creation. Stalin is destroying that. Mentally, Stalin is not so interesting as Mussolini, who resembles him in the fundamental pattern of his personality, and he is not anything like so interesting as the medicine man, the myth—Hitler. Anybody who takes command of one hundred and seventy million people as Stalin has done, is bound to be interesting, whether you like him or not. No, Stalin is just a brute—a shrewd peasant, an instinctive powerful, beast—no doubt in that way far the most powerful of all the dictators. He reminds one of a) Siberian saber-toothed tiger with that powerful neck, those sweeping mustaches, and that smile like a cat which has been eating cream. I should imagine that Genghis Khan might have been an early Stalin. I shouldn’t wonder if he makes himself Czar.

Maybe not.

The West has a bad habit of personalizing foreign affairs and demonizing uncooperative leaders. Remember when Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser was denounced as “Hitler on the Nile?”, “Khadaffi, Mad Dog of the Mideast?”, Assad  a butcher slaughter of the innocents, Hussein and many others. Vladimir Putin is the foreign bogeyman. He is being hysterically demonized by the  Western Media, an as we know we usually project out shadow in others.

 

The Terror of the Good – Origins of Totalitarianism

Journalists are awfully liberal, Arendt they

Journalists are awfully liberal, Arendt they?

I’ve read Hannah Arendt “Eichmann in Jerusalem” and “The Origins of Totalitarianism”, several times – it always amazes me. I find Arendt very hard to disagree with – she just seems so shrewd, so alert, annoyingly good at noticing everything that needs noticing; She must have it right. Writing 50 years ago, this great theorists of totalitarianism, noted that totality and irreversibility are related. It used to be thought that totalitarianism had repealed the law of history by which power sows the seeds of its own destruction. If sheer ruthless vigilance could destroy any center of opposition, even any island of independent thought, then — aside from external conquest, with humanitarian  pretext — totalitarian rule could never be reversed. Conversely, if total control fails due to today’s interconnected multipolar world, what happens to single-minded direction? If totalitarianism can decay, can it not be transformed? We don’t yet know. We know only that it can be modified. It can give way to a society with some space. How much? Well,  somewhat between 1984 with drones,  full coverage realtime surveillance and a brave new world of constructed realities – the terror of the Good.

On 5 February 1794 Robespierre stated, “Terror is nothing else than justice, prompt, severe, inflexible.” The government in a war against terror is despotism of liberty against tyranny. Sounds like today’s war on terror. Stalin said “Ideas are more powerful than guns. We would not let our enemies have guns, why should we let them have ideas?” Well, we might have run out of ideas and ideals, but sure not of weapons. How much different is President Obama, when he declared gently that “we tortured some folks.  The West shrugged their shoulders, well than we tortured some folks.  Nobody is perfect, but we are exceptional.  This is the terror of the good, the soft terror for the good, but rather the banality of the evil than the banality of the good. My famous quote of Arendt is: The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.

The ordinary average guy

Certainly the terror of the Good is not the same as the Banality of the Good: do or not doing something without fear of being caught by temporal or heavenly police as Alan Watts once said. When I lived in California I could not avoid to stumble over this song.

I’m just an ordinary average guy
We all live ordinary average lives
With average kids
And average wives …
And every Saturday we work in the yard
Pick up the dog do
Hope that it’s hard (whaf whaf)
Take out the garbage and clean out the garage…
Ordinary average average guys.

We are getting in archetypes if not stereotypes, but the banality of the Good is not so banal after all, just like the banality of the Evil. In an essay for Foreign Affairs, Joshua Yaffa notes a fascinating way Putin has responded to what Stanislav Belkovsky, described as grumbling Haute-Volée in Moskow during his last election (he called them “Bildungsbürger” which I cannot really translate, something like educated class, bourgeoise, maybe the chattering classes is good here, a term often used in the media and by political commentators). Putin instead reached out to the average guy, channeling populist politicians in the rhetoric of class-warfare: This dynamic perhaps explains why by the end of the campaign season in February and March, Putin sought to stir up a kind of Russian class-based politics. As he saw it, he was the leader of rural and industrial Russia, defending the country from those unnamed forces that want, as he said in a campaign speech, “to interfere in our affairs, to force their will on us.” In this speech and others, Putin has tried to link in the public consciousness the country’s middle-class protestors to enemies abroad that would wish Russia ill. On the night of his victory, he told the employees of a tank factory, “You put in their places those people who went one step too far and insulted the working man.” The real “Russian people,” he went on to say, are the “worker and the engineer.”

The banality of the good or the evil?

The banality of the good or the evil?

Putin through the eyes of the cultural war

I said half-jokingly the other day that it’s sometimes hard to tell the reporting of Western mainstream media  between Soviet-era Russia and Putin-era Russia.  If you ignore the personal insults, it’s impossible to tell the difference between now and the Cold War after JFK. In many cases, Putin is closer to the US and Europa’s ideals and interests than its own élite and global financial oligarchy. Plain stereotypes of the cold war are applied from them every day, but this is not my topic here. Lets go back to C.G.  Jung.

H.R. Knickerbocker asked the famous question: What would happen if you were to lock Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin in a room together and give them one loaf of bread and one pitcher of water to last them a week? Who would get all the food and water, or would they divide it? Jung’s answer included a cryptic remark:The true leader is always led. We can see it work in him. He himself has referred to his Voice.”  … “The demands of the unconscious act at first like a paralyzing poison on a man’s energy and resourcefulness, so that it may well be compared to the bite of a poisonous snake.

Journalists are awfully liberal, Arendt they?

Hillary Clinton, hardly a reasonable facsimile of gender icons going along.

Let’s rephrase it, What would happen, if we were to lock Hillary, Merkel, Putin and Obama today  in a room together and give them one loaf of bread and one pitcher of water to last them a week? Putin seems to be a gentlemen but not a push over. The Russian president asked whether it would be worse to meet with Clinton than President Obama: “It’s better not to argue with women. But Ms Clinton has never been too graceful in her statements.”  From there, Putin added: “When people push boundaries too far, it’s not because they are strong but because they are weak. But maybe weakness is not the worst quality for a woman.”  So that is interesting, also with Mr. Merkel, there is divide of gender archetypes of a supposedly feminized west, calling this modern and a supposedly more traditional Russia with a positive image of the male archetype. I am not sure if this cultural war is the Russian response to a cultural revolution, or just one more warfare technique before an information, financial and hot/cold war.

Putin and his friends and enemies

Who is Putin? The question is as pressing today as it was 14 years ago when he became Russia’s president for the first timePutin’s supporters consider him the savior of Russia, opponents see him as a tyrannical ruler. Despite the rhetorical attacks on the chaotic conditions in Russia in the nineties Putin , Putin a heir of Yeltsin’ apparently made a deal with Yeltsin’s oligarchy (The Family”) between 2000 and 2004, but on his terms. From there on he seem to have accepted a mission which Mr. Putin’s role model, Czar Peter the Great, might have tolerated. The major oligarchs who survived under Putin are Roman Abramovich, Alexander Abramov, Oleg Deripaska, Mikhail Fridman, Mikhail Prokhorov, Alisher Usmanov, German Khan, Viktor Vekselberg, Leonid Michelson, Vagit Alekperov, Pyotr Aven, and still Vladimir Potanin and Vitaly Malkin.

  • Alisher Usmanov: The richest man in Russia and the 40th richest person in the world;
  • Oleg Deripaska: Aluminum magnate Deripaska embroiled in ‘yachtgate’;
  • Mikhail Prokorov: Ran as an independent candidate against Putin;
  • Roman Abramovich: The oil tycoon one of Putin’s closest allies.  He had a major dispute with Putin king-maker Boris Berezovsky, who committed suicide after loosing an $5 billion lawsuit against him.
  • Leonid Mikhelson: CEO of Novatek, one of Russia’slargest natural gas producers and art sponsor
  • Mikhail Khodorkovsky: Once the most wealthy Russian with Yukos oil, he’s now only worth $170 million anymore.

A few more  business people have become oligarchs during his time, such as  Vladimir Litvinenko and  Arkady R. Rotenberg (Russian). Some had to go, who did not hold the bargain and subsequently coming under fire for various illegal activities, particularly tax evasion. Vladimir Gusinsky (MediaMost) and Boris Berezovsky both avoided legal proceedings by leaving Russia, and the mentioned, Mikhail Khodorkovsky , was arrested in October 2003 and only recently as released on December 2013. Like so many other oligarchs, he made his fortune when the Soviet Union privatized its resources in an ill-fated Western strategy, tying himself in to the country’s desasterous move to a typical IMF inflicted economy.  Khodorkovsky challenged Putin openly 2003 on behalf of the old Yeltsin oligarchy and Putin pardoned him only after a decade in prison, according to Stanislav Belkovsky the only really serious counter move, Putin has inflicted on  his enemies. Even after that Khodorkovsky was allowed recently  to address a crowd of protesters in Kiev, railing against the Russian government.

Looking at the numbers, GDP (a hockey stick success curve, granted 50% from energy business)  and dept (none), I hate to say he  did “slightly” better than President Obama’s, TARP, American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, including the banking bailouts and fiscal stimulus in years of quantitive easing (QE). We generally overlook that his value to the system, like that of the czars who preceded him, is based on maintaining the balance among competing vested interests. Just as it was centuries ago, the main battles inside the Kremlin among these groups are about power, money and access to special privileges, not ideology.

Conclusion

I found something C.G. Jung could, maybe even would have said about the Putin Complex:The world is as it ever has been, but our consciousness undergoes peculiar changes. First, in remote times (which can still be observed among primitives living today), the main body of psychic life was apparently in human and in nonhuman objects: it was projected, as we should say now. Consciousness can hardly exist in a state of complete projection. At most it would be a heap of emotions. Through the withdrawal of projections, conscious knowledge slowly developed. Science, curiously enough, began with the  discovery of astronomical laws, and hence with the withdrawal, so to speak, of the most distant projections. This was the first stage in the despiritualization of the world. One step followed another: already in antiquity the gods were withdrawn from mountains and rivers, from trees and animals. Modern science has subtilized its projections to an almost unrecognizable degree, but our ordinary life still swarms with them. You can find them spread out in the newspapers, in books, rumors, and ordinary social gossip. All gaps in our actual knowledge are still filled out with projections. We are still so sure we know what other people think or what their true character is C. G. Jung -“Psychology and Religion” (1938) In CW II: Psychology and Religion: West and East. P. 140
To be continued /expanded – published as a case of oops…

Appendix:

Hypothesis

  • Putin is the not a real macho nor a tyrant
  • Putin is the typical “little guy” a self-made man with business sense
  • Putin is not an imperialist but an anti-Soviet
  • Putin is an outsider  of the cultural chattering class (globally and in Russia)
  • Putin is an idealist who does not care for power
  • Putin was never the tough KGB agent but a disliked outsider; as his career was nearly destroyed by the KGB he dislikes it
  • Putin did not create a central Putin system, but rather a system of many power clusters not unlike the Czar’s
  • Putin was pro-West, first puzzled, later annoyed and now confronting Western geopolitics and wars
  • Putin is the real successor of Yeltsin but with a better sense for Russian interest
  • Putin is pro-German or pro-Europe in the sense of Czar Peter the Great, Peter
  • There is a big shiism between the Moskowitsch ( god-derived) and Peterism (rule based) autocratic system

Expanded Definition of the Banality of the Good:

  • In order to gain a sense of selfworthiness of a normal citizen, it is not needed to be an hero or to be sacrified on the cross. It is completely sufficient (and required) to take good care of raising kids, pay taxes, go to work, obey rules and laws. And not because one would be punished hard for not obeying them, but because one sees them as absolutely required in a sense of the Kant’s imperative.
  • A real direct democracy is possible.
  • Citizen an stated must mutually respect each other.

Bibliography

  • Wladimir: Die ganze Wahrheit über Putin von Stanislaw Belkowski von Redline Verlag,München  (Dezember 2013, Translation)
  • Aus erster Hand von Wladimir Putin Heyne (2000)
  • Chodorkowskij: Legenden, Mythen und andere Wahrheiten Gebundene Ausgabe – 9. März 2012 von Viktor Timtschenko
  • Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (1963). (Rev. ed. New York: Viking)
  • The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951). second enlarged edition;  A MERIDIAN BOOK First Meridian printing
  • C.G. Jung Speaking: Interviews and Encounters (Bollingen Series)
  • C.G. Jung Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle
  • C.G. Jung Four Archetypes (Routledge Classics)

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