Putin’s Death Mirror

“If it is given at all to the West to struggle out of these tangles of the lower slopes to the spiritual summit of humanity then I cannot but think it is the special mission of America to fulfill this hope of God and man. You are the country of expectation, desiring something else than what is. Europe has her subtle habits of mind and her conventions. But America as yet, has come to no conclusions. I realize how much America is untrammeled by the traditions of the past, and I can appreciate that experimentalism is a sign of America’s youth. The foundation of her glory is in the future, rather than in the past; and if one is gifted with the power of clairvoyance, one will be able to love the America that is to be.”—Rabindranath Tagore, Indian Poet

For the past two weeks, we have been hearing a lot of talk concerning Russia’s actions in Ukraine. The corporate media is fixated on how we must punish Russia and its leader for invading. It is quite obvious that once we have consumed our dose of the daily news, we are supposed to blame Russia in every way possible. Western media and business entities have pulled out from the Russian market. Russian banks have been cut off from international payment systems. Cryptocurrency wallets have been targeted. Russian shops in the West have met a barrage of negative reviews and boycotts. Not even Tchaikovsky and Dostoevsky have been spared! 

Does this scapegoating work? From looking at recent history we know that sanctions and similar actions against enemy countries are not practical solutions. Contrary to what the regular talking heads at CNN, MSNBC, and Fox might say, sanctions are just as effective at enabling dictators as they are at destabilizing nations. Did sanctions work against Iraq, Iran, and North Korea? The answer is pretty evident. On the other hand, from a moral point of view, sanctions are like bullets in that they also kill people. They aim to rob and starve whole populations who may or may not even agree with their governments. 

Why is Putin doing this? Is the man crazy or is there a deeper anthropological explanation for his actions that the rulers of the West have an incentive to avoid? Some believe Putin wants to rebuild the Soviet empire, yet others insist that he is a Christian fundamentalist who wants to be the successor to the Czars. Both these assertions might be true, but we have little evidence to prove either of them. 

What seems more realistic is that Putin is made from the same cloth as the Obamas, the Clintons, the Bushes, et al. Indeed, as recent as January of this year, Vladimir Putin spoke at a virtual conference at the World Economic Forum and implemented the same authoritarian restrictions during the pandemic as Western elites like Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron.

Let us look at some of Putin’s statements delivered when he was accused of meddling in Western affairs. Putin repeatedly has argued that what he does pales in comparison to what the United States government has done in its foreign policy endeavors. When Biden called Putin a “killer,” Putin replied, “We always see in another person our own qualities and think that he is the same as us.” In another statement, Putin said to Biden, “Don’t be mad at the mirror if you are ugly.” Any student of the French anthropologist René Girard will immediately identify these statements as highly mimetic. In other words, Putin is only doing what he has learned from the West’s policies in recent history. It is not a stretch to call him an imitator of the government of the United States. 

Putin very much considers America his mimetic rival. It does not take an anthropologist to recognize that in the modern world whatever America does, the world, especially Russia, follows. The reason for this is very clear: America has the highest GDP and is dominant in the information market; the United States also has the most powerful military in the world. Putin wants that kind of commanding position for his country, but unfortunately, like most leaders, he thinks that the way to achieve this dominating status is to mimic America’s increasingly tyrannical domestic and foreign policies. 

There’s a reason why America’s ruling elites, whether conservative or liberal, have a penchant for avoiding any discussion related to their horrendous track record on war. Should they start talking about the countless lives lost in American interventionism there is no doubt that their careers would nosedive. They also might be forced to realize that there is a direct correlation between war and technological stagnation and growing economic debt. What Putin does—and he has publicly talked about this on numerous occasions—is provide a mirror to these elites that reveals their actions as all the more banal. 

If Putin’s government is a mirror to America’s failing globalist policies, what must American leaders do to nullify Putin’s threatening stance and, dare I mention, transform the heart and mind of the Russian president? The answer lies in the words of John Quincy Adams:

Wherever the standard of freedom and Independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all . . . [America’s] glory is not dominion, but liberty.

American citizens can discuss the value and consequences of liberty like no other country before or since its founding. This is due to the weaving of the Christian story into America’s culture. America can find the renaissance spirit again but, it cannot do so while waging endless wars overseas and censoring and imprisoning non-violent people at home. 

When Americans realize that a statist “might-makes-right” philosophy is self-defeating and self-cannibalizing, America will rekindle the spirit of the Wright brothers and the Nikola Teslas and find solutions through voluntary interaction and creativity. Instead of demanding censorship for America’s scientific dissidents, it should celebrate and uplift them as pure examples against a politicized, profit-driven system that is corrupting true science in order to advance the interests of the elite.

How can America become a positive role model for the world? The answer is very simple: America must stop engaging in wars overseas and injustices at home. America must find the spirit of innovation and creativity again. The bureaucratic and institutional hurdles that only serve to impede progress must be rendered useless. Enough energy has been spent on information warfare. Once America, through voluntary interaction and creativity, is successful, leaders like Putin and his mirror of death will fade away into obscurity and Russia too will seek to mimic the standard-bearer of liberty.

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About Surit Dasgupta

Surit Dasgupta is a contributing writer for A Neighbor's Choice, a multimedia platform that explores current events through the lens of anthropology and ethics with an emphasis on René Girard's mimetic theory.

Photo: Vladimir Putin speaks in Moscow on March 18, 2022, during a concert marking the anniversary of the annexation of Crimea. Thousands gathered to support Putin, the annexation of Crimea and the military invasion of Ukraine. (Photo by Contributor/Getty Images)