In Moscow, authorities began to check the condition of bomb shelters at schools. No one showed the written document itself, but management reported that the order had been received to “bring the bomb shelters into working condition.” Is this just a theatrical game or a serious preparation for nuclear war?
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter: even if it is just part of psychological warfare, it can contribute to an atmosphere, in which everything is possible, since the agents can get caught in the unintended consequences of their own words. Such acts contribute to the nervous state in which we all are, so much so that sleep tourism (“traveling to destinations where people can get a good night’s sleep”) is booming! Although tourist hotels are part of our world, we tend to perceive them as somehow excluded from our mad reality, as a place where you can just relax. Take Lebanon, for instance. Decades ago, it was a place where one went to relax; now it is a place to escape from, a place where a new form of honest robbery exploded lately. People go to a bank with a gun and rob it, demanding just their own money, which they are not able to withdraw in a normal way since the financial system collapsed.
The gradual disintegration of our political and social space advances at different levels. So, let’s begin with a recent case from China where the order of undisturbed appearances is maintained at any cost. The process of choosing seven members of the standing committee of the Politburo, the actual seat of power, is totally obscure: it happens behind closed doors. At the end of the Communist Party congress, the names are just disclosed and endorsed by a unanimous vote. But at the last congress in October 2022, an unexpected crack appeared in this monolithic edifice: the former Chinese President Hu Jintao — Xi Jinping’s predecessor as a party leader — was unceremoniously dragged off the stage shortly after foreign media came in. He looked disoriented and, as two assistants helped him stand, spoke briefly with Xi whom he had been sitting next to in the front row. Although the official comment mentioned just bad health and momentary weakness, Hu’s resistance and defiance were clearly visible. For a moment, the appearance was disturbed. But there is another reading possible: the mask of appearance did not fall down, it was intentionally taken down. Xi himself staged this incident (organized by Wang Huning, his chief ideologist) to render visible his brutal power. This reading, however, indicates that the new Chinese leadership can no longer cling to undisturbed appearances: it has to disturb them to assert its full authority.
At the opposite end of the reign of appearance, open obscenity recently reached a new level. On October 24, Russian state-controlled TV channel RT suspended presenter Anton Krasovsky after he had suggested on air that Ukrainian children in the 1980s who saw Russian forces as occupiers should have been “drowned.” OK, he was suspended, but what kind of ideological constellation made his statements possible? In fact, I consider much worse what happened on October 23 when a video clip was released, which reportedly shows Russia’s Chechen Republic leader Ramzan Kadyrov being given Ukrainian prisoners of war by his teenage son. The footage was shared by Alex Kokcharov who tweeted: “In this video from Grozny, Chechnya, 16-yo son of Chechnya head Ramzan Kadyrov is ‘gifting’ to his father three Ukrainian POWs captured in Ukraine. If this is not a theatre but real-life situation, this is modern slavery.” The video appears to show Russian soldiers walking towards Kadyrov; the prisoners, who are identified as Ukrainians, are bent over with masks covering their faces and their hands tied behind their backs. What makes this scene so obscene is not its immediate content but the way this content is presented: a 16-years old kid gives his father three prisoners as a gift, as if prisoners of war are private property and even minors can own them, plus the very fact that all this is recorded and publicly displayed… What will happen with these prisoners? How will the new owner “use” them?
And the Western Woke Left? Towards the end of October 2022, Gonville and Caius College in Cambridge was hosting a talk by Helen Joyce, known for her view that men and women are being “redefined” by trans activists, with laws and policies “reshaped to privilege self-identified gender identity over biological sex.” Joyce unambiguously supports trans rights, but what she rejects is gender-identity ideology, i.e., the idea “that people should count as men or women according to how they feel and what they declare, instead of their biology,” into norm and law. Students at Gonville and Caius have launched protests, with the college’s LGBT representatives demanding that Joyce’s appearance be cancelled because they are “unanimously disgusted by the platforming of such views”. Tutors were even opening a “safe space” welfare tearoom for students during the talk, blaming “understandable hurt and anger for many students, staff and fellows at Caius” caused by the invitation. The college’s Master joined them, saying that while freedom of speech is “a fundamental principle, on some issues which affect our community we cannot stay neutral”.
I disagree with both poles in this conflict because I think the opposition between biology and my “I declare what I feel” identity is not exhaustive. Where is the Freudian subject of the unconscious here, which is neither biological nor a matter of “feeling”? We become sexual subjects when our biological features get “mediated” by complex symbolic structures, structures that work at a different level than our “feelings.” No matter how sincere, feelings may deceive. But I think that debating the role of biology and/or social/symbolic structures in the formation of our sexuality is a totally legitimate topic. How fragile the opponents of Joyce’s appearance must be if they experience such a debate as something so threatening that they even need a “safe space” to protect them? Is it not that their refusal of debate betrays a fear that such a debate may render palpable the weakness of their position?
Plus, are they aware that the logic of “I declare what I feel” can also be used in a directly racist and sexist way: a full-blooded hetero-sexist would also need a “safe space” to avoid LGBT+ persons by whom he is “unanimously disgusted”… Duane Rouselle’s characterization of Woke as “racism in the time of the many without the One” may appear problematic, but it hits the mark. In an almost exact opposite way to the traditional racism which fights against a foreign intruder posing a threat to the unity of the One (say, immigrants and Jews to our Nation), Woke reacts to those who are suspected of not having truly abandoned old forms of the One (“patriots,” proponents of patriarchal values, Eurocentrists…). With all its declared opposition to the new forms of barbarism, the Woke Left fully participates in it, promoting and practicing a flat discourse without irony. Although it advocates pluralism and promotes differences, its subjective position of enunciation – the place from which it speaks – is extremely authoritarian, allowing no debates and imposing exclusions that are often based on arbitrary premises.
In all this mess, we should always bear in mind that wokeism and cancel culture are de facto limited to the narrow world of academia (and, up to a point, some intellectual professions like journalists), while society at large moves in the opposite direction. Cancel culture with its implicit paranoia is a desperate (and obviously inefficient) attempt to compensate for the actual troubles and tragedies of LGBT+ individuals, the violence and exclusion to which they are permanently submitted. Cancel culture and wokeism are a retreat into a cultural fortress, a pseudo-“safe space” whose discursive fanaticism leaves intact and even strengthens the resistance of the majority to it.
The inner tensions of the LGBT+ stance are easy to detect. In Germany (and, probably, elsewhere), when a hetero-man is asked about his sexual orientation, he has to refer to himself as “cis-man” (a person whose personal gender identity corresponds to the sex assigned to him at birth), not just a “man.” One should note that only hetero-men are supposed to act like this, not “cis-women” who are allowed to present themselves simply as women. The stakes are clear here: the idea is to signal that a hetero-man is not “man as such,” that his position needs to be further qualified since he is not more man than a trans-men – such self-reference is de facto a polite way to admit that one is among the privileged, to apologize and to admit one’s guilt for it. Some radical transgender theorists even propose to go a step further and designate all not-trans subject as such – as not-trans, as if being “trans” is the only universal norm. I doubt the efficiency of this procedure and predict that it will remain a foreign intruder in our daily practice.
On the opposite side, the hidden tension of the conservatives who ferociously reject the idea that sexual identity is a discursive social construct becomes palpable in the panic, with which they reject the project of the LGBT+ education which should present to the child all the possible options of sexual identity. They fear that if children were educated in this way, they would be influenced (coerced) to betray their “natural” sex and choose some “unnatural” form (that’s why Russia prohibited all gay and LGBT+ “propaganda”…). In short, they effectively don’t believe their own idea that sex is biologically predetermined. If one’s sexual orientation is so easily changed by education and propaganda, does this not imply that sexual identity IS a social construct?
So, how to break out of this cycle? We got an unexpected hint from Ukraine where something happened which may appear a step further in our decay. On October 13, it was revealed that “more than 15,000 Ukrainians have planned to organize a mass orgy in case Vladimir Putin launches a nuclear attack on the war-torn nation. 15,000 individuals have registered for this event which is being called ‘Orgy on Shchekavystsa: Official.’ The mass event will be taking place at a pre-decided place on a hill in Shchekavystsa. People participating have been asked to decorate their hands with stripes denoting their sexual preference. People interested in anal sex have been have been asked to draw three stripes, while those interested in oral sex have been asked to display four stripes.”
The reaction of prospective participants in noteworthy: “‘It’s the opposite of despair. Even in the worst-case scenario, people will look for something good. That’s the mega-optimism of Ukrainians,’ one woman reportedly told Radio Free Europe about the orgy. Meanwhile, similar groups have popped up, including one announcing an orgy on Derybasivska Street in Odessa — hoping many will come.” One should take the notion of collective orgy as a life-affirming projects in the time of extreme despair – no need here for a “deeper” pseudo-Freudian analysis of the disintegration of civilized social links in a traumatic time. The truly non-civilized procedure is what Russia is doing giving its soldiers Viagra to rape Ukrainian women: “UN envoy Pramila Patten said that rapes and sexual assaults attributed to Moscow’s forces in Ukraine were part of a Russian ‘military strategy’, AFP reported on Saturday, October 15 2022. It is ‘deliberate tactic to dehumanise the victims’, Pramila Patten told AFP in an interview. ‘When you hear women testify about Russian soldiers equipped with Viagra, it’s clearly a military strategy,’ the UN special representative on sexual violence said.”
Once again I was ashamed of my own nation after I read how Dr. Matjaž Gams, who represents scientific research in Slovene state council, commented on this alleged Ukrainian reaction to Putin’s nuclear threat: when a civilization enters its period of decay, “strange, morbid ideas” appear, like the idea of the mega-orgy promoted by some Ukrainians… So, the “strange, morbid” thing is the project of a big orgy (strictly based on consent, etc.) as a reaction to the indiscriminate Russian destruction of civil infrastructure, not this destruction itself which is reaching really morbid dimensions?
Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s press secretary, said on October 18 that “all these territories are inalienable parts of the Russian Federation”, and as such were “protected”. “Their security is provided for at the same level as the rest of Russia’s territory.” This claim implies that, since Ukraine controls parts of the territories under nuclear umbrella, it already deserves a nuclear attack… Hence, online betting sites are offering odds on Russia carrying out a nuclear attack this year, with thousands putting their bets on a “yes.” What gives additional credibility to this threat is that Russian ordered the population of the city of Kherson (almost encircled by Ukrainian forces) to leave the city, so that it could be hit by a nuclear bomb if Ukraine takes it. Everything seems permitted in the struggle against those called by Putin “satanists,” and the term, used regularly in Russian media, has to be taken seriously.
Aleksey Pavlov, assistant secretary of the Security Council of the Russian Federation, is now calling for the “desatanization” of Ukraine, saying that there were “hundreds of sects” in the country where citizens have abandoned Orthodox values: “I believe that, with the continuation of the special military operation, it becomes more and more urgent to carry out the desatanization of Ukraine. Using internet manipulation and psychotechnologies, the new regime turned Ukraine from a sovereign state to a totalitarian hypersect.” Putin echoes the same stance: “This is a complete denial of humanity, the overthrow of faith and traditional values. Indeed, the suppression of freedom itself has taken on the features of a religion: outright Satanism.” No wonder that Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, called Putin “a fighter against the Antichrist” and “chief exorcist.” And no wonder that, on the same day, Russian lawmakers agreed to toughen the country’s discriminatory law against so-called same-sex “propaganda,” moving to ban all Russians from promoting or “praising” homosexual relationships or publicly suggesting that they are “normal.” Some people ask how Russia, still a “normal” state, can ally itself with ”fundamentalist” Iran, but we can see now that, if anything, Russia is more fundamentalist than Iran.
But what is even more morbid with regard to Russia’s brutality is the idea of some “Leftist” peaceniks that now it’s the time to send a big European delegation to Russia to inquire and negotiate about the terms of peace. We should of course do everything possible to prevent a new world war, but in order to achieve this, we should begin by a ruthlessly realist appreciation of what Russia is today. We should abandon our Eurasian stupidity, built on the impression that only a pact with Russia could bring about a new power block which would enable Europe to avoid the fate a minor partner of the US in its forthcoming conflict with China. At this point, Russia is simply more dangerous than China.
Europe putting pressure on Ukraine to accept a compromise with Russia is precisely what Russia wants, so we should go on doing nothing in the direction of negotiating with Russia. Yes, we should not ignore Russia, but this means primarily that we should not ignore those in Russia who oppose the war. Here, the Ukrainian leadership is making a big mistake: Slawomir Sierakowski noticed that “an alliance between the Ukrainian administration and the Belarusian opposition therefore seems natural. Unfortunately, nothing of the kind has emerged”:
“Consider the reaction from Mykhailo Podolyak, an important adviser to Zelensky, following news that this year’s Nobel Peace Prize would be shared by the Belarusian human-rights advocate Ales Bialiatski, the Russian NGO Memorial, and the Ukrainian Center for Civil Liberties. He tweeted: ‘Nobel Committee has an interesting understanding of word ‘peace’ if representatives of two countries that attacked a third one receive a Nobel Prize together. Neither Russian nor Belarusian organizations were able to organize resistance to the war.’”
As Sierakowski points out, this is not only morally wrong but also politically stupid: Russian heroic opponents of war are now in a strange predicament, criticized by Putin’s establishment as traitors and by Ukraine as Russians. In this way, the meaning of the Ukrainian war is obfuscated. It is not a struggle between “European truth” and “Russian truth,” as both Putin’s ideologist Dugin and some Ukrainians are claiming. Rather, it is a case of the global struggle against the new nationalist fundamentalism which is gaining strength everywhere, in Russia and in the US, in India and in China. If there is anywhere that Ukrainians have ceded a sliver of the moral high ground, it is here, not in any projected Dionysian dissipation outside Kyiv.
 See a critical report by Roman Kuhar, “Orgija v Ukrajini,” Delo October 18 2022 (in Slovene).