Why Are Russians Acting So Crazy?

What everybody wants to know is, of course, why the Russians are doing all this insane shit. Why are they invading Ukraine, threatening the world, and waving about the nukes?

The reason is our old friend, the nation-building. Russia is a federation where people of different races, ethnicities, languages and cultures inhabit an enormous territory. These people don’t have much in common. 

When you have such an extremely diverse population, you can either try to unite it around a powerfully positive set of feelings that will bind these people in love or you can try to unite the against a powerfully negative set of feelings that will bind them in hatred. In simpler terms, people need either to love or to hate together to feel they have something in common.

Remember, a nation is a myth. It is a myth that is so patently ridiculous that every vestige of reason has to be swept away by powerful emotions. Americans, for instance, glue themselves together with positive feelings of love and pride they direct towards the Constitution, the freedom, the American Dream, the Civil Rights movement, etc.

Russians never managed to create this kind of a shared positive emotional wave. So what’s left? Hatred, obviously. Hatred and blood. The blood spilled together is the greatest glue for communities. 

The fear of the country shattering into dozens of little pieces has been extremely strong in Russia for decades. This is a really grave concern for the Russians that is nothing like the funny preoccupations of the silly little secessionists in Texas. Russians are uniting against the imaginary foe (big evil Americans) and are killing Ukrainians in the name of that hatred. 

There is nothing like a search for a positive shared imagery in Russia right now. Until such imagery is generated, Russians will not stop lashing out in ever-growing violence.

Ukrainians, who also inhabit a large and diverse (although not anywhere near as large and diverse as Russia) country did manage to find a powerful positive agenda to unite around. And when Russians saw that, they really freaked out because they were being left behind even by the neighbors they saw as very similar to them. Russia needs to demolish Ukraine’s positive national project to convince itself that the project of hatred and violence is the only one possible.

P.S. For a smaller scale example of the same phenomenon, see Israel.

11 thoughts on “Why Are Russians Acting So Crazy?

  1. “Remember, a nation is a myth. It is a myth that is so patently ridiculous that every vestige of reason has to be swept away by powerful emotions.”

    The best example of which I can think is the Haskell Free library on the Canadian/US border in the eastern townships of Quebec where most folks consider the border to be an abstraction. It goes through the middle of the town of Haskell,U.S./Stanfield, PQ and actually travels through the town library where it can be seen as a black line in the middle of the reading room. The books are on the Canadian side and the checkout counter is on the American side.

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  2. This is all very true, but the big problem is: what on earth could Russians feel good about? A thousand years of tyrannical backwards government? The most depressing literature in the universe? Horrible climate? A history of subjugating neighbors?

    In the SSSR era, the red army’s victory in WWII was sort of a positive thing for the country but Soviet behavior after (and before and durring too to a lesser extent) really takes the shine off of that.

    There are lots of individual Russians who are wonderful people but the country? Good luck in finding very much positive….

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    1. This is all very true, but the big problem is: what on earth could Russians feel good about? A thousand years of tyrannical backwards government? The most depressing literature in the universe? Horrible climate? A history of subjugating neighbors?
      Britons are very proud of their horrible climate and history of subjugating neighbors and most of the planet. 🙂 Also, aren’t Russians proud of Sputnik and their scientific achievements? (I’m not aware of any recent ones, but I thought that was a thing during the named Cold War).

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      1. National pride doesn’t have to be rooted in anything real. It can all be completely invented. Russians believe their literature is the greatest in the world (which is total crap. No female writers at all until the 20th century? Freaks.) But whatever, they believe it. But they rarely manage to speak of it without sliding into the same old sense of being aggrieved and underappreciated.

        And it’s the same with the astronautic achievements, which is a great example. They are always underappreciated, always misunderstood. There’s never a discussion of the sputnik or the literature without mentioning the evil Americans. Like it was the Americans who prevented the Russian women from writing until 1915.

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  3. The fear of the country shattering into dozens of little pieces has been extremely strong in Russia for decades.

    Wait, I thought that already happened when the USSR ceased to exist. Are you saying that Russia proper is in danger of breaking up?

    You could also say India is a federation where people of different races, ethnicities, languages and cultures inhabit an enormous territory. There are 15 national languages! There are separatist movements but I just don’t see the same anxiety reading Indian papers or talking to my relatives that India will fall apart or India wants to shoot nukes at people? Maybe sharing a border with Pakistan (which has nukes) and China (which has more nukes) makes it difficult. But I don’t get the sense it would happen even if they didn’t.

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    1. “Are you saying that Russia proper is in danger of breaking up?”

      • It’s not me who’s saying it. This is a serious concern that has been debated in Russia since the 1990s. This is why Russia fought two wars in Chechnya. The explanation was, “First Chechnya and Dagestan, and then what, everybody else?”

      Indians have 2 very powerful ideas to unite around: being the largest democracy in the world and resistance to the colonial domination. I’m not an authority on India but the people I know from India are very emotionally invested into these ideas. If only the Russians could come up with something like this.

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      1. Indians have 2 very powerful ideas to unite around: being the largest democracy in the world and resistance to the colonial domination. I’m not an authority on India but the people I know from India are very emotionally invested into these ideas. If only the Russians could come up with something like this.

        Resistance to colonial domination isn’t enough. Look at Pakistan and Sri Lanka — they’re both less stable than India.

        Do Russians have a film industry that non-Russian speakers watch in great numbers?

        India has several film industries, of which Bollywood is the largest one. Bollywood films are watched in other countries.
        Bollywood liberally borrows from other film industries, often adapting and rewriting movies wholesale.

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        1. Everybody resisted but nobody as gloriously as India. Latin American countries, for instance, all freed themselves from the Spanish Empire but does anybody even know any details of that?

          Bollywood is definitely another thing. There seems to be a powerful movement towards the idea of India as exporting ideas, intellect, workers,,culture, literature around the world. Obviously, Russians can’t do that with their population.

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