Absurd as a means of information war
If you get to know how the events in eastern Ukraine are covered by Russian TV or you surf through separatist websites you will have an impression that you were transferred into a parallel reality. In this behind-the-looking-glass world two young states are waging a desperate war against a murderous invader; thousands of intruders are dying in ‘southern pocket’; fashist murderers crucify young guys, poison water reservoirs, rape civilians and burn them out with phosphorus; in Ukraine itself is chps, anarchy and ‘Praviy sektor’, while Russia is waging a war against the world of evil for the world of good, with a happy Soviet past to come.
This is not about malaria daydreaming. This is the information space, a virtual reality where Ukrainian citizens live under occupation. When all the fresh ideas came to an end, it looks like mass media have launched a surrealist reality show where millions of people are unwillingly involved.
Absurd refers to something that does not belong to common sense, some nonsense. In the 21st century, having studied the world’s rich propaganda experience Russia has directed its information blow at the very basics of Ukrainian citizens’ conscience. Absurd has turned into one of the key means of information war, one of the main instruments which provide the efficiency of the Russian propaganda and the stability of the myths and persuasions imposed by the propaganda.
Principle of totality
The first thing to realize is that the information space impregnated with absurd is homogeneous, which means that an opinion other than absurd will never occur there.
The intentional shaping of the information space of occupied territories led to the fact that in June it was filled up by mediators of the Russian propaganda: Russian and separatist mass media. They turned into the only source of information about the world around and about the events in the east (click here for more details).
The totality of influence yields an extraordinary effect. In different circumstances no one would believe in the news of a crucified boy, while the phrase ‘Luhnask is a capital’ would cause smiles. Yet, when obvious absurdity is broadcast by TV, when nonsense is spoken out by important people with clever faces or it is printed in newspapers, then people start saying the same... Solomon Ash ran an experiment that showed people refuting the obvious affected by unanimous opinion of society. In a situation when a human lives inside an environment of absurd their ability to rely on own rationality goes down several times.
Forget all you knew. Your knowledge of reality ruined
Imagine things started moving on their own. They can take off and fly. Vanish in the air. What would you feel? It is not just that you will have to reconsider your knowledge of gravity and physics. You will also feel insecure, you will not know what to expect from things around. What if this knife jumps at you? What if electricity attacks you? Panic is a natural reaction of people who realize they know nothing about the world around them. Many Hollywood horror films are built on this story.
The Russian propaganda built their actions on ruining the fundamental knowledge of Ukrainian people about the world around them.
The way the Russian and pro-Russian media covered the events at Maidan ‘revealed’ the ‘innate nature’ of western Ukrainians. They turned out to be total zombies, almost beasts. ‘Praviy sektor’s atrocities were shocking; the unheard-of cruelty of the Ukrainian army that suppressed eastern rebels could not be grasped by local residents. Can people be burnt out with phosphorus? or sold for organs? Can all women be raped after a town is seized? It is all beyond understanding but it turns out to be a fact. The de-humanisation of Maidan, West and Ukraine has overthrown the knowledge not just of the people westwards of Donetsk, but of human nature on the whole.
It went without saying that Jews and fashism are incompatible. Residents of the east knew about it only too well. In Ukraine Jews sponsor fashism — this is a new truth which gets people to reject the fundamental knowledge of the past. Against this background, the celebrations of the 250th anniversary of Nororossiya, and calls to ‘defend our homeland, DNR and LNR’ no longer sound shocking or humorous, they seem normal and even grounded in the circumstances of absurd. Once you started dancing on the bones of common sense, you should dance till you fall.
This is not part of common sense. Yesterday it was unthinkable, meanwhile today it is a reality. Information space ruins old templates of world view. All that has been known of this world is no longer relevant.
Is it not this what Dr Goebbels wrote about when he said that people would only believe in Big Lies?
Do not believe your own eyes: refusal to see what is real
Today’s task of propaganda is to go on keeping people in this confused state and use it in propaganda’s own interests. To do that people must not have time to breathe out, they must not have an opportunity to switch on the radio. A person’s information environment is to be impregnated with absurd, virtual reality at every step is making fun of people’s common sense.
People with ribbons that symbolize peace are calling to start a war. Intelligent people with intelligent faces are running discussions on how to refer to the residents of Novorossiya correctly. In Lviv people play football with Russians’ heads. In Slovyansk Ukrainian murderers crucify local boys. In Horlivka supporters of separatists are burnt in furnaces, in Mykolayiv there is a concentration camp ready. Luhansk is the сapital of an ephemeral state, and on TV intelligent people, jokes apart, talk about ‘life in the capital’ to the locals who are used to telling jokes about their town’s provinciality and neglect.
The ‘big shots’ of the terrorist ‘states’, the people who look least like ‘presidents’ or ‘ministers’, are absurd. (Can it be different if the head of the state is a former alpha dog of a local authority’s mines?) Their TV addresses look parodic, in particular in ‘Republic’s Faces’ on the ‘First Republican’. In the ‘capital’ which has no electricity or water, they speak of social benefits, wheat harvest and sport competitions. The absurdity and parodic nature is a signature style of some separatist media, for instance, Anna News (which loks so low quality that appears to be a parody of new media).
Conclusion: someone has gone mad, either me or the world. In the new world, where black is now white and vice versa, people no longer trust their perception of reality. Propaganda classics and totalitarianism researchers proved it in the middle of the previous century.
(at the same time, to suppress rationality a number of other methods are also made use of. They are well known to professionals. Putin’s counselor Serhiy Kara Murza described them in detail in his ‘Manipulating Conscience’; now Russian experts are polishing these methods in Donbas. They will be described in my next article.)
Мetamorphoses of conscience in space of absurd
The people who have lost their bearings are extremely easy to manipulate. This is natural, as they look for explanations from the outside, not able to find it inside. Inner confusion and fear of the unknown push them into accepting any more or less logical concept which would explain what is going on. In the same way as you would believe any new theory of physics which would explain why your things took to flying. ‘Trying to settle a cognitive discord, people are always busy not searching for the truth but formally reducing knowledge and motives to a common denominator’ (source). It is dangerous because this is where extraordinary manipulation opportunities arise.
Donetsk journalist Oleksiy Matsuka writes: “…In Donbas, many people feel lost. They can’t tell between good and bad. Any interpretation convenient for their mind will be ok. The simpler it is, the better.”
This explains why people on the occupied territories were such easy targets for the Russian propaganda. Despite all the absurdities promoted by the pro-Russian media, they were consistent in imposing the Russian myth, an integral, logically built system of ideas and knowledge created by Russian ideologists. This myth created an illusion of understanding for the confused people. Equaling Ukrainians to fashists explained the atrocities of the army, equaling Russia to the idealized Soviet Union automatically raised it to the status of a rescuer and gave it unlimited freedom for any further actions; new interpretations of social and economic relations in Ukraine logically grounded the ‘monkey’ Maidan and ‘oligarch junta’; bipolar interpretation of the international relations fitted the situation into a global historical context.
Memory to come back
Some scientists call what is going on in Ukraine now, a war of senses, or a cognitive war, an informational and psychological war of a new generation where the object is a human’s worldbuilding (for more details see here and here). Some will remember the ideas of “conscience weapons” which aim at “ruining a stable system of worldview values and the replacement of the latter by various simulacra of value; consequently is ruined the family and cultural memory of people; society is psychotised and neurotised, which leads to maniacal easy-to-manipulate schizoids” (see here). Some will find similarities here with a theory of cognitive discord, when a human receives knowledge and directives that do not correspond to his/her previous worldview. The discomfort causes people to want to escape. It should be considered that in our case this is a discord at the level of people’s fundamental knowledge of the world and society. And the feeling of discomfort which discord researchers speak about is extremely intensive.
The immersion of people into the state of absurd was the first and foremost step on the way of changing the world view: the former system of worldbuilding, getting people to lose their bearings and to panic, the refusal from the rational perception of reality to further infect them with a new system of knowledge, the Russian myth. Starting from March (and on the full scale from June) the myth got well grounded, with more details attached to it, with the perception of all the events of spring to autumn 2014 strung onto it. A new worldview was cemented with the emotions that formed it: fear, hatred, instinct of self-preservation.
Now citizens will have to go through this fundamental ruining of worldbuilding again, this time in the opposite direction. Here, either similar powerful methods will be needed (something like surgery), or a long consistent work (sort of a therapy). Somebody has to perform this task, and the state in its current situation is not the entity to do it. This is rather a task of the media and civil society.
The task is made easier by the fact that a new system of knowledge is not to be rebuilt from scratch. It is still held in people’s memory, and this memory needs to be restored. The people need to be convinced that the world has not changed since the times when we supported one team together, sunbathed at the same beaches or visited the same concerts. People have not turned into beasts, they have not grown fangs. There have been the interests of other states involved which resulted in deception and intimidation.
Unfortunately, it is impossible to erase from people’s minds all the things they thought and felt inside the otherworldly reality. According to Georgiy Pocheptsov, “knowledge takes longer than information. Facts can change, while rules that regulate comprehending them stay the same.” Long after people get back on the ground of reality, they will remember the way Ukrainian army ruined factories and residential areas. Yet, in a new reality this knowledge will have to compete with a new worldview free from demon like soldiers but filled up with criminals who hid behind civilians. In case the process of recovery is consistent and prolonged, the reason will win.