Atomic Habits« an older post

The Road to Unfreedom

Book Notes

I picked up this book after expressing enthusiasm for Snyder's much shorter book, On Tyranny, and being told, oh, right, that shorter book was written while writing this book, and this book is also recommended. And I concur with the recommendation. Strongly.

Recognize that this book was written before Cheetoh had gained the insane head of steam he has now, and just how awful our situation can get once he gets going. Okay, so, we know that Russia helped elect Cheetoh. We know that they have been interfering with not only our political systems, but pretty much every other political system in the world. A super power like the USSR does not go down quietly, and Russia as emerged as a worthy successor.

In order to do that well, you need that whole nationalist thing. And in that light, we have Putin who has set himself up to be a god. How does one do that? Well, tell you what, I have no idea, but Synder does. And here's where this book comes in: a history of Russia sufficient to understand just how much shit we are in, how the soft pudgy of America and the rise of white nationalism has allowed America to be torn apart from the inside, with careful nudging from the outside by Russia. The fat, happy cow being led to the slaughter.

Except, except, hell, I really don't know enough about Russian history to know how much of this is true, and how much of it is, in itself, propaganda. I have no idea. Which is why I asked Rob to read the book when I was done, and let me know just how justified my newly found dislike for the country is. He said he'd let me know.

In the meantime, I strongly recommend the book.

During self-inflicted catastrophes of this kind, a certain kind of man always finds a way to blame a woman. In Vladimir Putin’s case, that woman was Hillary Clinton.
Page 53

The only escape from the alternatives of inevitability and eternity was history: understanding it or making it.
Page 109

To think historically is not to trade one national myth for another,
Page 112

No other land attracted as much colonial attention within Europe. This reveals the rule: European history turns on colonization and decolonization.
Page 119

This was an important moment in Ukrainian history; it confirmed democracy as a succession principle. So long as the rule of law functioned at the heights of politics, there was always hope that it might one day extend to everyday life.
Page 122

The reflex of protecting the future, triggered in the minds of students by the fear of losing Europe, was triggered in others by the fear of losing the one generation raised in an independent Ukraine.
Page 125

Once again the word went out, and Kyivans of all walks of life decided to put their bodies in front of batons. A young businesswoman recalled that her friends “were shaving and putting on clean clothes in case they should die that night.”
Page 125

The history of the Maidan between November 2013 and February 2014, the work of more than a million people presenting their bodies to the cold stone, is not the same thing as the history of the failed attempts to put it down. Bloodshed had been unthinkable for protestors within Ukraine; only bloodshed made Americans and Europeans notice the country; bloodshed served Moscow as an argument to send the Russian army to bring much more. And so the temptation is strong to recall Ukraine as it was seen from the outside, the arc of narrative following the arc of bullets.
Page 127

For those who took part in the Maidan, their protest was about defending what was still thought to be possible: a decent future for their own country.
Page 127

The violence mattered to them as a marker of the intolerable.
Page 127

Kyiv is a bilingual capital, something unusual in Europe and unthinkable in Russia and the United States. Europeans, Russians, and Americans rarely considered that everyday bilingualism might bespeak political maturity, and imagined instead that a Ukraine that spoke two languages must be divided into two groups and two halves.
Page 128

Hrytsak and others recalled the French philosopher Albert Camus and his idea of a revolt as the moment when death is chosen over submission.
Page 130

Poland and Lithuania were not in fact enemies of Russia in the Great Northern War. Getting one’s own history wrong is essential to eternity politics.
Page 133

On January 9, 2014, the Russian ambassador to Ukraine informed Yanukovych that Ukrainian riot policemen would be given Russian citizenship after the coming operation to crush the Maidan. This was a very important assurance, since it meant that these policemen did not need to fear the consequences of their actions. If the opposition won in the end, they would still be safe.
Page 134

Russian military intelligence created fictitious personae on the internet to spread these stories.
Page 138

She claimed that Western objections to the Russian invasion of Ukraine were a matter of “double standards.” This common Russian argument made of law not a general principle but a cultural artifact located among non-Russian peoples. Because Western states do not always follow every law, it ran, law had no validity. Russia, too, might violate laws; but since Russia did not accept the rule of law, this was not hypocritical. Since Russia was not hypocritical, it was innocent. If there are no standards, went the reasoning, then there are no double standards.
Page 143

This was Ilyin’s politics of eternity: a cycle back to the past replaces the forward movement of time; law means what Russia’s leader says it means; Russia is repairing God’s failed world with violence. Putin was the redeemer from beyond history who emerged to alter time.
Page 143

This was a new variety of fascism, which could be called schizofascism: actual fascists calling their opponents “fascists,” blaming the Holocaust on the Jews, treating the Second World War as an argument for more violence. It was a natural next step in a Russian politics of eternity, in which Russia was innocent and thus no Russian could ever be a fascist. During the Second World War, Soviet propaganda identified the enemy as the “fascists.” According to Soviet ideology, fascism arose from capitalism.
Page 145

Russians, Europeans, and Americans were meant to forget the students who were beaten on a cold November night because they wanted a future.
Page 150

Putin returned to the office of president with a parliamentary majority in violation of the laws of his own country. The leader who came to power by such means had to divert attention, blame, and responsibility to external enemies.
Page 151

A coup involves the military or the police or some combination of the two.
Page 153

Yanukovych’s flight to Russia placed Ukrainian citizens and lawmakers in an unusual situation: a head of state, during an invasion of his country, sought permanent refuge in the invading country. This was a situation without legal precedent. The agent of transition was a legally elected parliament.
Page 153

It makes a difference whether young people go to the streets to defend a future or arrive in tanks to suppress one.
Page 154

At the crucial junctures, an innocent Russia is always repelling a sinful West.
Page 155

It became official Russian policy, as it had been official Soviet policy, to recall the Second World War as having begun in 1941 rather than in 1939. The year 1941 is a moment of Russian innocence only if it is forgotten that the Soviet Union had begun the war in 1939 as Germany’s ally, and that between 1939 and 1941 had undertaken policies in occupied lands that were not so very different from Germany’s own.
Page 155

The Russian supreme court later confirmed that a Russian citizen could be convicted of a crime for a re-posting of elementary facts about Russian history on social media.
Page 156

The future held only more ignorance about the more distant future. As he wrote in Almost Zero: “Knowledge only gives knowledge, but uncertainty gives hope.”
Page 160

As Ilyin had done, Surkov invoked familiar biblical verses in order to invert their meanings. In his novel, he has a nun refer to First Corinthians 13: 13: “Uncertainty gives hope. Faith. Love.” If citizens can be kept uncertain by the regular manufacture of crisis, their emotions can be managed and directed. This is the opposite of the plain meaning of the biblical passage Surkov was citing: hope, faith, and love are the trinity of virtues that articulate themselves as we learn to see the world as it is.
Page 160

The first thing we learn when we see from the perspective of another is that we are not innocent.
Page 160

Its employees and those of other Russian state networks were taught that power was real but that the facts of the world were not.
Page 161

RT, Russia’s television propaganda sender for foreign audiences, had the same purpose: the suppression of knowledge that might inspire action, and the coaxing of emotion into inaction.
Page 161

The adage that there are two sides to a story makes sense when those who represent each side accept the factuality of the world and interpret the same set of facts. Putin’s strategy of implausible deniability exploited this convention while destroying its basis.
Page 164

In the Russian invasion, the strong used the weapons of the weak—partisan and terrorist tactics—in order to pretend to be the weak.
Page 165

Seeing violent death made people vulnerable to stories that imparted to these deaths some larger sense. These stories were provided by Russian television. It was impossible to know who had launched the shell that landed in your neighborhood;
Page 173

Once separatists had brought about the same kind of death that they had seen, the stories of innocence became unimpeachable truth. It is hard to resist lies for which one has already killed.
Page 173

Armies usually evacuate civilians from an artillery range so that they will not be killed by the enemy’s return fire. Russian authorities gave no such orders, presumably because they were confident no counterstrike was coming.
Page 176

Some local Russians felt ill at ease about this one-way war, in which their farmsteads were used to rain down death on people not so different from themselves.
Page 177

Russia needed a monopoly on martyrdom. In order to preserve it, Russia would make war on a nation with a far greater record of suffering (the Ukrainians), while abusing the memory of a people with a still greater record of victimhood (the Jews).
Page 186

Anton Tumanov’s family received a report: the place of death was listed as “location of unit”; the time of death as “time of performing military service”; the cause of death as “blood loss after having lost his legs.” His mother learned more about how her son died because one of his comrades took the risk of telling her. “What I don’t understand,” Tumanov’s mother said, “is what he died for. Why couldn’t we let people in Ukraine sort things out for themselves?” It pained her that her son was killed in a war that was not officially taking place. “If they sent our soldiers there, let them admit it.” When she posted the facts of her son’s death on social media, she was attacked as a traitor.
Page 188

Despite promises of safe passage, Ukrainian soldiers attempting to exit the pocket were killed.
Page 190

He meant that factuality was the enemy. This was the case made by the Izborsk Club in its manifesto and by the Russian commander Antyufeyev before the summer invasion: facts were “information technologies” from the West, and to destroy factuality was to destroy the West. Opinion polls suggest that the denial of factuality did suppress a sense of responsibility among Russians.
Page 194

The underlying logic of the Russian war against Ukraine, Europe, and America was strategic relativism. Given native kleptocracy and dependence on commodity exports, Russian state power could not increase, nor Russian technology close the gap with Europe or America. Relative power could however
Page 195

What Europeans and Americans had that Russians lacked were integrated trade zones and predictable politics with respected principles of succession. If these could be damaged, Russian losses would be acceptable since enemy losses would be still greater. In strategic relativism, the point is to transform international politics into a negative-sum game, where a skillful player will lose less than everyone else.
Page 195

Russia would bomb Syria to generate refugees, then encourage Europeans to panic. This would help the AfD, and thus make Europe more like Russia.
Page 198

In her decision to accept Syrian refugees, Merkel was motivated by the history of the 1930s, when Nazi Germany made its own Jewish citizens into refugees. The Russian response was in effect to say: If Merkel wants refugees, we will provide them, and use the issue to destroy her government and German democracy.
Page 199

The undesired exposure of private conversations was incipient totalitarianism, in a country that had been a focal point of Nazi and Soviet aspirations during the twentieth century. This point was rarely made. Polish memories of German and Soviet aggression tended to congeal around heroism and villainy. What got lost was the memory of how totalitarianism endured into the 1970s and 1980s: not by atrocities where the distinction between the perpetrator and victim is clear, but by an erosion of the line between private and public life that demolishes the rule of law and invites the population to participate in the demolition. Poles returned to a world of bugged conversations, unexpected denunciations, and constant suspicion.
Page 202

Public life cannot be sustained without private life. It is impossible to govern, even for the best of democrats, without the possibility for discreet conversations. The only politicians who are invulnerable to exposure are those who control the secrets of others, or those whose avowed behavior is so shameless that they are invulnerable to blackmail.
Page 202

By accepting that the private lives of public figures are the same thing as politics, citizens cooperate in the destruction of a public sphere.
Page 203

If Russians believed that all leaders and all media lied, then they would learn to dismiss Western models for themselves. If the citizens of Europe and the United States joined in the general distrust of one another and their institutions, then Europe and America could be expected to disintegrate. Journalists cannot function amidst total skepticism; civil societies wane when citizens cannot count on one another; the rule of law depends upon the beliefs that people will follow law without its being enforced and that enforcement when it comes will be impartial. The very idea of impartiality assumes that there are truths that can be understood regardless of perspective.
Page 208

A few weeks earlier, on Russian state television, a Russian anchor had claimed that Jews brought the Holocaust on themselves; and her interlocutor, Alexander Prokhanov, had agreed. Putin’s government paid the anchorwoman, and Putin himself made media appearances with Prokhanov (who also took a joyride in a Russian bomber, a rather clear expression of official support). These people were not condemned.
Page 212

Pilger wrote his article under the influence of a text he found on the internet, purportedly written by a physician, detailing supposed Ukrainian atrocities in Odessa—but the doctor did not exist and the event did not take place.
Page 213

None of these influential American and British writers visited Ukraine, which would have been the normal journalistic practice. Those who spoke so freely of conspiracies, coups, juntas, camps, fascists, and genocides shied from contact with the real world. From a distance, they used their talents to drown a country in unreality; in so doing, they submerged their own countries and themselves.
Page 214

When Moscow brought to bear in the United States the same techniques used in Ukraine, few on the American Right or the American Left noticed. And so the United States was defeated, Trump was elected, the Republican Party was blinded, and the Democratic Party was shocked. Russians supplied the political fiction, but Americans were asking for it.
Page 215

Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey Where wealth accumulates, and men decay. —OLIVER GOLDSMITH, 1770
Page 217

“Donald Trump, successful businessman” was not a person. It was a fantasy born in the strange climate where the downdraft of the American politics of eternity, its unfettered capitalism, met the rising hydrocarbon fumes of the Russian politics of eternity, its kleptocratic authoritarianism. Russians raised “a creature of their own” to the presidency of the United States. Trump was the payload of a cyberweapon, meant to create chaos and weakness, as in fact he has done.
Page 219

Russia is not a wealthy country, but its wealth is highly concentrated. It is thus common practice for Russians to place someone in their debt by providing easy money and naming the price later.
Page 221

In June 2017, after Russia’s victory, Putin spoke for himself, saying that he had never denied that Russian volunteers had made cyberwar against the United States. This was the precise formulation he had used to describe the Russian invasion of Ukraine: that he had never denied that there were volunteers. Putin was admitting, with a wink, that Russia had defeated the United States in a cyberwar.
Page 227

American exceptionalism proved to be an enormous American vulnerability.
Page 227

Unlike Ukrainians, Americans were unaccustomed to the idea that the internet might be used against them.
Page 227

In 2016, about a million sites on Facebook were using a tool that allowed them to artificially generate tens of millions of “likes,” thereby pushing certain items, often fictions, into the newsfeeds of unwitting Americans.
Page 228

An important scholarly study published the day before the polls opened warned that bots could “endanger the integrity of the presidential election.” It cited three main problems: “first, influence can be redistributed across suspicious accounts that may be operated with malicious purposes; second, the political conversation can be further polarized; third, spreading of misinformation and unverified information can be enhanced.”
Page 229

Having used its Twitter bots to encourage a Leave vote in the Brexit referendum, Russia now turned them loose in the United States.
Page 230

As in Poland in 2015, so in the United States in 2016: no one considered the totalitarian implications of the selective public release of private communications. Totalitarianism effaces the boundary between the private and public, so that it is normal for us all to be transparent to power all of the time.
Page 232

More fundamentally, it was a foretaste of what modern totalitarianism is like: no one can act in politics without fear, since anything done now can be revealed later, with personal consequences.
Page 232

Of course, citizens play their part in creating a totalitarian atmosphere. Those who chose to call and threaten were in the avant-garde of American totalitarianism.
Page 232

If they take as knowledge only what is revealed by foreign hackers, citizens become beholden to hostile powers.
Page 233

The drama of revelation of one thing makes us forget that other things are hidden.
Page 233

This was a telling omission, since no American presidential campaign was ever so closely bound to a foreign power. The connections were perfectly clear from the open sources.
Page 233

One success of Russia’s cyberwar was that the seductiveness of the secret and the trivial drew Americans away from the obvious and the important: that the sovereignty of the United States was under visible attack.
Page 233

In important respects, American media had become like Russian media, and this made Americans vulnerable to Russian tactics.
Page 244

The United States once boasted an impressive network of regional newspapers. After the financial crisis of 2008, the American local press, already weakening, was allowed to collapse.
Page 245

Where there are local reporters, journalism concerns events that people see and care about. When local reporters disappear, the news becomes abstract. It becomes a kind of entertainment rather than a report about the familiar.
Page 245

The internet is an attention economy, which means that profit-seeking platforms are designed to divide the attention of their users into the smallest possible units that can be exploited by advertising messages. If news is to appear on such platforms, it must be tailored to fit a brief attention span and arouse the hunger for reinforcement. News that draws viewers tends to wear a neural path between prejudice and outrage.
Page 245

Some Americans wished to believe that what is private must be mysterious, and they were coaxed along by Russia.
Page 246

Russians exploited American gullibility.
Page 247

Everyone who liked, followed, and supported Heart of Texas was taking part in a Russian intervention in American politics designed to destroy the United States of America. Americans liked the site because it affirmed their own prejudices and pushed them just a bit further. It offered both the thrill of transgression and a sense of legitimacy.
Page 247

The internet is a bit like this. It knows much about us, but interacts with us without revealing that this is so. It makes us unfree by arousing our worst tribal impulses and placing them at the service of unseen others.
Page 249

Authoritarianism arrives not because people say that they want it, but because they lose the ability to distinguish between facts and desires.
Page 249

Democracies die when people cease to believe that voting matters. The question is not whether elections are held, but whether they are free and fair. If so, democracy produces a sense of time, an expectation of the future that calms the present. The meaning of each democratic election is promise of the next one. If we anticipate that another meaningful election will take place, we know that the next time around we can correct our mistakes, which in the meantime we blame upon the people whom we elect. In this way, democracy transforms human fallibility into political predictability, and helps us to experience time as movement forward into a future over which we have some influence. If we come to believe that elections are simply a repetitive ritual of support, democracy loses its meaning.
Page 249

The essence of Russia’s foreign policy is strategic relativism: Russia cannot become stronger, so it must make others weaker. The simplest way to make others weaker is to make them more like Russia. Rather than addressing its problems, Russia exports them; and one of its basic problems is the absence of a succession principle.
Page 249

The rule of law requires that the government control violence, and that the population expects that government can do so. The presence of guns in American society, which can feel like strength to some Americans, appeared in Moscow as a national weakness.
Page 250

Russia’s support of the NRA resembled its support of right-wing paramilitaries in Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic.
Page 251

Democracy depends upon the free exchange of ideas, where “free” means “without the threat of violence.”
Page 251

An important sign of the collapse of the rule of law is the rise of a paramilitary and its merger with government power.
Page 251

Puerto Rico has more inhabitants than twenty-one of the fifty American states, but its American citizens have no influence on presidential elections.
Page 252

As a result of gerrymandering, Democratic voters in Ohio or North Carolina in effect have, respectively, about one-half or one-third as much ability to elect a representative in Congress as do Republican voters. Citizens did not have an equal vote.
Page 252

When a minority president and a minority party control the executive and legislative branches of government, they can be tempted into a politics where victory depends not upon policy that pleases majorities but upon further limitation of the franchise.
Page 252

In 2016 in Florida, some 23% of African Americans were denied the vote as convicted felons. Felonies in Florida include releasing a helium balloon and harvesting lobsters with short tails.
Page 253

The Republican majority leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell, made clear that the Senate would not consider any nominee of Barack Obama. This broke one of the most important conventions of the federal government of the United States, and was commented upon in Moscow.
Page 255

Moscow was attacking, and Congress declined to defend the country.
Page 256

Even as Kasich and Rubio took a stand on Russian foreign policy, the crucial Republican legislators surrendered in advance to Russian cyberattack. It was more important to humiliate a black president than it was to defend the independence of the United States of America. That is how wars are lost.
Page 257

It is easy to see the appeal of eternity to wealthy and corrupt men in control of a lawless state. They cannot offer social advance to their population, and so must find some other form of motion in politics.
Page 257

Demoralized by their inability to change their station in life, they must accept that the meaning of politics lies not in institutional reform but in daily emotion.
Page 257

Russian oligarchy emerged in the 1990s, but was consolidated as the kleptocratic control of the state by a single oligarchical clan under Putin in the 2000s.
Page 258

The appeal of the politics of eternity to such men is all too understandable. Far better to shackle a nation and rattle the world than to risk the loss of so much.
Page 258

address. Russians used shell companies to purchase American real estate, often anonymously.
Page 259

Since the 1980s, the tax rates paid by the top 0.1% of American earners fell from about 65% to about 35%, and for the top 0.01% from about 75% to below 25%.
Page 260

In the 2010s, the United States approached the Russian standard of inequality.
Page 261

Oligarchy works as a patronage system that dissolves democracy, law, and patriotism. American and Russian oligarchs have far more in common with one another than they do with their own populations.
Page 261

The problem was that American leaders took globalization as the solution to its own problems, rather than as an invitation to reform the American state.
Page 262

Persistent opioid use makes it harder for people to learn from experience, or to take responsibility for their actions.
Page 265

The politics of eternity triumphs when fiction comes to life.
Page 266

In the Russian model, investigative reporting must be marginalized so that news can become a daily spectacle.
Page 267

His spokesman Sean Spicer claimed that Hitler did not kill “his own people.” The idea that German Jews were not part of the German people is how the Holocaust began.
Page 268

The politics of eternity demands that effort be directed against the enemy, which can be the enemy within.
Page 268

of eternity takes racial inequality and makes it a source of economic inequality, turning whites against blacks, declaring hatred normal and change impossible.
Page 270

Americans living in the countryside tend to believe that their taxes are distributed to people in the cities, although the opposite is the case.
Page 270

Trump was a loser since he could only win thanks to Russia; Republicans were greater losers since he had trapped their party; Democrats were still greater losers since they were excluded from power; and the Americans who suffer from deliberately engineered inequality and health crisis were the greatest losers of all.
Page 271

Trump was called a “populist.” A populist, however, is someone who proposes policies to increase opportunities for the masses, as opposed to the financial elites. Trump was something else: a sadopopulist, whose policies were designed to hurt the most vulnerable part of his own electorate.
Page 272

On another level, such a voter is changing the currency of politics from achievement to suffering, from gain to pain, helping a leader of choice establish a regime of sadopopulism.
Page 272

Moscow won a negative-sum game in international politics by helping to turn American domestic politics into a negative-sum game.
Page 273

Some Americans can be persuaded to live shorter and worse lives, provided that they are under the impression, rightly or wrongly, that blacks (or perhaps immigrants or Muslims) suffer still more.
Page 273

If people who support the government expect their reward to be pain, then a democracy based upon policy competition between parties is endangered.
Page 273

In the long term, a government that cannot assemble a majority through reforms will destroy the principle of rule by majority.
Page 274

The electoral logic of sadopopulism is to limit the vote to those who benefit from inequality and to those who like pain, and take the vote away from those who expect government to endorse equality and reform.
Page 274

The temptation Russia offered Trump was the presidency. The temptation Trump offered Republicans was that of a one-party state, government by rigged elections rather than by political competition, a racial oligarchy in which the task of leaders was to bring pain rather than prosperity, to emote for a tribe rather than perform for all. If all the federal government did was maximize inequality and suppress votes, at some point a line would be crossed. Americans, like Russians, would eventually cease to believe in their own elections; then the United States, like the Russian Federation, would be in permanent succession crisis, with no legitimate way to choose leaders. This would be the triumph of the Russian foreign policy of the 2010s: the export of Russia’s problems to its chosen adversaries, the normalization of Russia’s syndromes by way of contagion.
Page 275

Politics is international, but repair must be local. The presidential campaign
Page 275

To break the spell of inevitability, we must see ourselves as we are, not on some exceptional path, but in history alongside others.
Page 275

To experience its destruction is to see a world for the first time. Inheritors of an order we did not build, we are now witnesses to a decline we did not foresee.
Page 277

Inevitability and eternity are not history but ideas within history, ways of experiencing our time that accelerate its trends while slowing our thoughts.
Page 277

The virtues of equality, individuality, succession, integration, novelty, and truth depend each upon all the others, and all of them upon human decisions and actions. An assault upon one is an assault upon all; strengthening one means affirming the rest.
Page 277

All of the virtues depend upon truth, and truth depends upon them all.
Page 278

Authoritarianism begins when we can no longer tell the difference between the true and the appealing. At the same time, the cynic who decides that there is no truth at all is the citizen who welcomes the tyrant.
Page 278

To seek the truth means finding a way between conformity and complacency, towards individuality.
Page 278

If it is true that we are individuals, and if it is true that we live in a democracy, then each of us should have a single vote, not greater or lesser power in elections as a result of wealth or race or privilege or geography.
Page 278

A fascist says “the people” and means “some people,” those he favors at the moment.
Page 279

If there is no truth, there can be no trust, and nothing new appears in a human vacuum.
Page 279

In conditions of distrust and isolation, creativity and energy veer towards paranoia and conspiracy, a feverish repetition of the oldest mistakes.
Page 279

Add new comment