By Paul Goble
During the Cold War, the Soviets often used conspiracy theories to justify fighting the West. Now the Putin regime is doing the same thing with such intensify that it is entirely appropriate to say that “conspiracy thinking is already its new ideology,” Aleksandra Arkhipova says.
The folklorist who writes the (Not)Entertaining Anthropology telegram channel (t.me/s/anthro_fun) says Russian leaders with roots in the Soviet past find the use of conspiracy theories effective when no one believes the official ideology as was true then or when there is no obvious ideology as is the case now (svoboda.org/a/aleksandra-arhipova-konspirologiya-eto-uzhe-novaya-ideologiya-/32138044.html).
Russian propaganda today about American bio-laboratories in the former Soviet republics tend to forget that in Soviet times, Moscow launched 13 mass disinformation campaigns about such labs, Arkhipova says. In the 1990s, such talk disappeared: in 1995, there were only 31 articles making such claims. Now, so far this year, there have been 92,000.
“Undoubtedly,” she continues, “this is a definite propagandistic mechanism which allows the findings of something common which can unite people. The most important thing here is that for that conspiracy thinking is needed: it allows people to explain against whom they are in fact fighting.”
As Arkhipova notes, “Putin constantly says that we are not fighting with Ukraine. Ukrainians are a fraternal people. In fact, we are fighting with the West, with the Anglo-Saxons” who want to destroy us in a variety of ways. The Kremlin leader most likely believes exactly that, but at the very least, he appreciates the value to himself of promoting conspiracy thinking.
Promoting irrational ideas works with the population because it provides easy and understandable answers, she says. That is widely recognized. What is not is that people at the top of a political system are not that different. They want the same certainties, even if they have to invent them for themselves.
According to Arkhipova, the Russian war in Ukraine is “also the fruit of this anti-scientific worldview.” Any rational assessment of the situation would have prevented Putin from unleashing it. But he wasn’t guided by rationality but by his own conspiratorial ideas about how the world works. And he has imposed those on others who are ready to accept them as well.
Indeed, she says, “this is practically the first war in modern times which began for completely conspiratorial reasons.”
And the folklorist adds one important point: neither the population nor its leaders have to believe that what they are being told is true but only to hear it so often that they treat it as a guide to action, even if they never are prepared to say to themselves that it is objectively true. From the state’s perspective, that is enough.