Vladislav Surkov: The Crisis of Hypocrisy – “I Hear America Singing”

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard



RT publishes the article of the Assistant to the President of the Russian Federation Vladislav Surkov.

On November 9th in Moscow the group Five Finger Death Punch performs [or performed, depending on the time of reading – ed]. I think that they are the best (on an equal basis, however, with Disturbed) modern American metal-bend.

The musicians sound classically, more precisely, over-classically because the classics of the genre, at their time, couldn’t even dream about such technologies of sound production that are available to their successors today.

The frontman, with the almost Russian name Ivan, and a moderately indecent surname for Russian ears – Moody, sings powerfully and intelligibly. I don’t know what Moses heard “from the cloud, storm, and darkness”, but I don’t exclude that it is very similar.

The words of the songs are simple, but their skilful use proves that it is possible to make do with simple words to express the most strong feelings and to discuss the most difficult subjects.

For example, in one of hits under the name Wash it all away approximately the following is sung: “All of the chaos, and all of the lies, I hate it”, “I’m wasting here, can anyone wash it all away?”, “I’ve given up, on the industry… on democracy… on the media… on morality… f*ck what you think about me”. There is more: “Done with all your hypocrisy”.

This song, the lyrical hero of which rejects general hypocrisy, entered the market in 2015. Just on the eve of the unusual 2016 elections – the course, results, and consequences of which became a dramatic and still not quite successful attempt of “great society” to cleanse itself from hypocrisy, “to wash it all away”. The naiveté entered into fight against decencies at the national level. And what in the US gains a national scale, outside their borders becomes a global trend.

Now, when Hollywood also, after Washington, started self-exposure sessions, scattering its own respectability like a house of cards, the trend turned into a megatrend.

(By the way, about Hollywood: in English “лицемер/litsemer” is “hypocrite” — a word of Greek origin, which initially meant “actor”.)

The line “done with all your hypocrisy” in this context sounds both like a prophecy and a verdict, and as the motto of a new era.

People in large quantities and even more often make a strange choice. Rejection of the political landscape is being observed everywhere in the West. Mistrust towards everything ordinary increases. What’s usual is perceived as false, artificial. What’s unusual brings hope. The normal person loses popularity, the freak gains it.

Hypocrisy is blameworthy, but in order to investigate it there is a need – like when studying all blameworthy but at the same time widely practiced things, such as war, infidelity, overeating – to consider the question out of moral coordinates.

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Double standards, sanctimoniusness, duplicity, threefold standards, political correctness, intrigues, propaganda, flattery, and slyness are widespread not only in politics. Society is steady if all its elements found with each other a common language — a language in which it is convenient to lie. And not only to others, but to yourself too.

The language of hypocrisy is weaved from allegories, innuendoes, euphemisms, riddles, metaphors, magic formulas, methods of taboo-making, verbiage, cliches, slogans, ambiguities, and labels. It serves as material both for the industry of popular arts and political programming, and for communication at the household level, and even for silence.

To say one thing, to think a second thing, and to do a third thing is seemingly bad, but almost nobody succeeds to do it in another way. Hypocrisy in the rationalistic paradigm of the western civilization is inevitable for two reasons.

Firstly, the structure of speech itself – at least coherent, “reasonable” speech – is too linear and too formal in order to fully reflect so-called reality. Hegel fairly claimed that a noncontradictory statement can’t be truthful.

What seems to be logical is always more or less false. Language is a two-dimensional space, all means of expression and all “richness and diversity” of which is reduced to endless repetitions – in different scales and on different topics – of the elementary sense-making couple “yes/no”. This off/on switch of any word and any phrase – from the request to “pass the mustard”, to the Karamazov Brothers and String theory – clicks one thousand times a day in billions of heads. But no matter how much it clicks, it can’t cram in the oversized multidimensional world into flat human thinking.

The universal and, it is possible to say, unrestrained use of binary codes (yes/no, 0/1, +/-, god/human, angel/demon, republican/democrat, truth/lie, and so on) works well. However, to work well doesn’t mean to be truthful. That’s why during rare assaults of sharp truthfulness people say not exactly what it is in reality — “the uttered thought is a lie”.

The second reason for the domination of hypocrites is much deeper. To pretend to be what you aren’t and to hide your intentions are the most important technologies of biological survival. Without this, in wild nature it is impossible to both attack or hide yourself. People inherited a pretence instinct from wild ancestors and strongly developed it.

In the cultures of all people there are two main types of heroes — the fighter and the cunning person. Crafty Odysseus isn’t less esteemed than the mighty and rough Achilles. Odysseys, of course, is also a fighter. He is both brave and strong, but nevertheless his main traits are foxery, eloquence, and cunningness. Enemies don’t disperse having only caught sight of him, as it happens when Achilles appears. And it’s not he, but Achilles who kills great Hector. But Odysseus, unlike Achilles, survives and comes back home with honor. And even receives from Homer a personal poem, because his feats aren’t so monotonous as Achilles’, and adventures are entertaining and fascinating.

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A trickster, a cheat, a deceiver, and a player are the central characters of both art narrations and real historical events.

The feint is a basic skill of the football player and boxer. Military cunningness is the main weapon of the commander. Guile is the valor of the spy. Perfidy is not a forbidden method in the fight for power.

A person more willingly demands truthfulness and transparency from others than they do from themselves — a natural desire to disarm a rival and to remain armed themselves. Competing groups of influence furiously demand from each other extreme and often obviously impracticable openness, stimulating growth of innovations in the sphere of concealment of truth. The most honest entrenched themselves in the deep and dark Internet. The others improve their skill in view of all. The general passion for transparency raised the quality of hypocrisy to earlier-unprecedented heights.

In general, hypocrisy is disgusting, effective, and inevitable. But hypocritical discourses, languages in which lies are told, and metaphors of hypocrisy periodically become outdated. Camouflaging phrases depreciate due to frequent repetition, discrepancies and mismatches start being prominent.

More and more slips of the tongue, justifications, explanations, longueurs, and pauses are spent on saving the status quo (and all of this with smaller returns). The system reaches the limit of complexity, complexity turns into frightening confusion. A request for simplification arises, causing even more destructive rhetorical storms and inflow of demagogy.

Ethical schemes fade away. “Right or wrong – I can hardly tell,” sings Moody.

The public contract written on the breaking-up of political language starts gradually losing force. The basic provisions of this contract written in golden letters become boring and hated. And what was bashfully written down in it in small, almost unreadable font, which by common consent was moved to the footnotes and appendices, starts suddenly interesting everyone, and someone, having deeply examined it, is the first to exclaim: “We were deceived!”.

The oath of a hypocrite, whether its said touching the Bible or on Facebook, can’t convince anybody any more.

Various social groups deprived of common language stand apart in order to create their “truthful” dialect. The mixing up of languages arrives, and the turbulence – lasting until society, in disputes and clashes, reaches despair and resigns to any new half-truth, with reformed and “improved” hypocrisy.

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It is precisely such a phase as intolerance to falseness, mixing up of languages, and disappointment in the norm that now some western nations pass through.

It is thus possible to call this set of strangenesses of our days “the crisis of hypocrisy”.

Obviously, it’s not only a question of semantics, it’s not simply a philological or purely communicative problem. This is one of the manifestations of big technological, demographic, and, perhaps, climatic shifts.

An interesting and dangerous time. The disintegration of semantic designs releases a huge amount of social energy. Will the Western world manage to scatter its surpluses by means of virtual games, series about violence, sports competitions, economic bubbles, rap battles and rock concerts, electoral shows, local wars, and TV news? Or there will be a heating of the system to a temperature of revolution and big war? Who knows.

Examples of civilizations reaching the dangerous limit of complexity are known. Further, either a crash or a salvaging simplification of the system followed.

The most difficult democratic and oligarchical organism of the ancient Roman republic at some point became too complex and started produce chaos instead of order. After Gracchus and Sulpicia, and after mutinies and civil wars, Sulla, then Caesar, and, finally, Octavian came, who gradually actually abolished the republic. An empire appeared in its place. Emperors didn’t call themselves kings, without wishing to offend the memory of the republic, but they were kings. And this updated hypocrisy for some centuries prolonged the life of the Roman world.

Literally all institutes of republican Rome served one main goal — not to allow the return of kings. The fear of the usurpation of power forced the Romans to create a more and more sophisticated system of restraint and counterbalances, and they were so fond of it that they got confused by their own “blossoming complexity”, which they were obliged to sort out by means of a simple imperial vertical. The kings returned.

Perhaps, tomorrow too the confused crowds will be brought out from “all this chaos and all this lie” by a strong hand. A king of the West, a founder of digital dictatorship, a leader with semi-artificial intelligence is already predicted by prophetic comics. Why wouldn’t these comics come true? It is also an option.

“I’m waiting here for anyone to wash it all away,” sings Five Finger Death Punch. America sings.

“I Hear America singing” is a poem written by American poet Walt Whitman (1819-1892) published in 1860.

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