Vienna, March 22 – The Russian government is increasingly staffed by officials interested only in pleasing those above them and lacking any interest in understanding the wider world, a reflection of broader changes in the relationship between knowledge and status under conditions of globalization and specifically Russian conditions.
But in some other countries at least, including the United States and Great Britain, Mikhail Delyagin argues in an essay published at the end of last week in “Yezhednevny zhurnal,” this process has produced a return to feudalism in government and society already evident in Russia (www.ej.ru/?a=note&id=8902).
In an article in which he provocatively suggests that Russia’s “administrative system has gone directly from socialism, bypassing capitalism, to feudal times,” Delyagin says that this development is in the first instance the product of trends that are affecting many countries in a time of globalization and also some specifically Russian problems.
As “human activity has become so specialized,” he writes, “the achievement of social success takes too much effort and time and has been converted into a separate and independent activity,” one not rooted as was more typically the case in earlier times as something linked to “the study of the surrounding world.”
Consequently, Delyagin continues, individuals are increasingly forced to choose between seeking knowledge and pursuing social and political success, a divergence of paths which not only isolates those pursuing the one from those seeking the other but also has an especially profound effect on government officials by “depriving them of important human qualities.”
And thus while it has always been true that “young careerists have understood that the opinion of the bosses about the world is significantly more important [to their careers] than its real nature,” the specialization Delyagin points to has made that attitude even more widespread because young people often lack the skills to pursue knowledge on their own.
Beginning in the first years of this decade, Delyagin says, he noted the rise not just of “particular examples” of this kind of personality but rather “a whole wave of people who sincerely did not understand the importance of reality in general,” denying “subconsciously” that it existed independently from “that form in which it exists in the consciousness” of the bosses.
The rise of such people reflected, the Moscow commentator says, not just the pattern found elsewhere but also “the general tendency of the degradation of Russian education” and especially Russian higher education, in which students “frequently do not acquire the minimally necessary knowledge and are deprived of the habits of acquiring new information.”
These trends are not only mutually reinforcing – why learn how to learn if that is not what the powers that be want and will pay for – but entails other negative consequences as well: a devaluation of knowledge, an increase in corrupt use of personal ties, and a belief that the ability to crush one’s opponents is more important than defeating them through understanding.
In such “a feudalized state” as Russia has become, it is not possible to articulate a serious ideology because that requires some knowledge and willingness to acquire more. Indeed, Delyagin suggests, “without knowledge, you won’t create an ideology; without it, you will have access only to religion.”
Over time, this feudalization will destroy the ability of the young to think independently and mean that “science will become socially insignificant, and the preparation of decisions, including the most important government ones, will ever more often be based on emotions and prejudices and not on facts.”
With the passing of the older generation of scientists who were trained in Soviet times, “Russian science will die. And elsewhere fundamental science will be conducted only in the United States and a few schools in Great Britain,” a development that will seriously reducing the chances not only for scientific progress but for political progress as well.
On the one hand, Delyagin’s article is the kind of rant many intellectuals often make. But on the other, it contains a serious warning not only for Russia but for other countries as well: We are heading toward “a new Middle Ages, a new period of barbarism,” he writes, one in which people with power will ever more frequently ignore facts, however much they protest otherwise.