Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Permission to Steal Everything

There is a convoy of 280 gleaming white trucks moving through Russia toward Ukraine loaded with humanitarian aid for the populations of Donetsk and Lugansk. This isn't much, considering that well over a million people have been cut off from food, water, electricity and (soon) heat because of indiscriminate artillery bombardment by the Ukrainian military. But it's a start. But it seems like a rocky start; first, NATO's mouthpiece Rasmussen tries to characterize this humanitarian mission as a clandestine invasion. Then the Ukrainians start imposing various conditions. Let's consider these separately.

When was the last time Russia, or, for that matter, USSR, mount a clandestine invasion? If you said “Crimea,” then you need to understand that

1. Russian troops have been in Crimea continuously for the past 231 years;
2. they were there under an international treaty; and
3. their troop levels never exceeded the levels this treaty stipulates.

If Russia wanted to invade Ukraine, it simply would. The Ukrainian troops would surrender or run away, but then what? Nobody has an answer to that question, not even the Russians. Aid—yes, invasion—no thanks. The policy of letting Ukraine “stew in its own juices until the meat falls off the bone” (as I put it back in mid-March) is working quite well, with the added bonus that the EU and the US are now at each others' throats over their self-imposed sanctions. But it will take time, and this means that the population of Novorossiya, where Donetsk and Lugansk are located, and which ended up as part of Ukraine thanks to Lenin, has to be fed and heated through the next winter. Hence the humanitarian mission, which will be, if all goes well, the first of many.

The various Ukrainian conditions have to do with something quite different than countering the threat of a clandestine invasion. First they asked that the convoy pass through Kharkov instead of rolling straight toward Donetsk, making for a big detour. Then they demanded that the goods be offloaded at the border and loaded onto Ukrainian trucks, but they couldn't come up with enough trucks. Then they demanded that the Russian trucks cary Ukrainian license plates and that each truck carry a Ukrainian representative. Next it will be something else.

You may be confused at what might be behind all of these fairly ridiculous conditions and stalling tactics, so let me explain. The Ukrainians are doing their best to figure out how they can steal the goods from the convoy. Until they can find a way to do that, nothing will move, because nothing ever moves in Ukraine until everybody gets their piece of the action. During their two-decade-plus experiment with Western-style “freedom and democracy,” by which I mean oligarchy and prostitution, Ukraine has bred a subspecies of survivors adept at answering just one question: “Where's my piece of it?”

Take Arseny Yatsenyuk, the US State Department-assigned Ukrainian Prime Minister. He recently announced that Ukraine was out of money, unable even to pay its soldiers (this, by the way, is disingenuous, because Ukraine hasn't been paying or feeding its soldiers) and that therefore he is resigning. Ukraine got a couple billion dollars from Russia as a door prize for joining Moscow's Customs Union, under President Yanukovich, who was subsequently overthrown. Where's that money? Om-nom-nom, burp! Then, after the coup, the West gave Ukraine some loan guarantees and a few additional billions. Om-nom-nom, burp! So, with nothing left to steal, Yatsenyuk announces his resignation and heads for the airport, on his way to a warm sunny place where he can squander his ill-gotten funds on hookers and blow. His CIA minders had to retrieve him from the airport and frog-march him back to his office. He is not allowed to resign. He can't live the American Dream just yet—not until some brainless stooge gets to mutter the words “mission accomplished” and the CIA operatives head home, at which point the Ukrainians go back to trying to turn tricks at the Kremlin.

With regard to the convoy, getting the cargo off-loaded and put on Ukrainian trucks would have made stealing it easy, but that couldn't happen due to lack of trucks. (Remember, Ukrainian officials have been selling off government property and pocketing the proceeds for two decades now, so that very little is now left.) Forcing the trucks to carry Ukrainian license plates is a small concession, since these probably require a bribe (nothing happens there without a bribe) but perhaps they are looking for opportunities to waylay a few of these trucks and break them up for spare parts. Getting a Ukrainian representative on board each truck is another small concession: he will need to be fed, pacified with vodka and given walking-around money. But the main problem—how to steal a substantial portion, ideally all, of the humanitarian aid going to Novorossiya—remains unsolved, and until it is solved there will be deadlock. This makes it difficult to cooperate with Ukrainian officials, who don't seem to have any trace of human values left and function on a strictly biological level, but the Russians are trying.

How does a country sink to this level of degeneracy in just a couple of decades? Recently, Prof. Savelyev, who is an expert on, among other things, human evolution, ventured to explain. Human evolution, he said in an interview, has been primarily the evolution of the brain. In the short time that Homo Sapiens Sapiens has been in existence, its brain size increased dramatically. Although it is possible to declare that intelligence is of direct survival value, there is a more reasoned explanation for the pressure to increase brain size.

Most of the size gains have been in the prefrontal cortex—a part of the brain that does not have a strictly defined function but is implicated in modulating social behavior. Indeed, people with a lobotomized prefrontal cortex go on to function more or less normally (but do sometimes exhibit a startling lack of ethical or moral sense). But a lobotomy is by no means necessary to produce individuals with stunted morals and ethics: there is a critical learning period for developing a conception of the common good, the ability to cooperate with others in absence of selfish motivations, and a morality not directly grounded in biological self-interest. A social environment such as that which has prevailed in Ukraine during its period of “independence,” during which theft and prostitution were prized above all, is not conducive to developing any of these. A case can be made that such an environment exerts the opposite evolutionary pressure: if all desirable women are prostitutes and the only economic opportunities involve theft, then biological survival requires theft. This makes a large prefrontal cortex redundant, and those who have a smaller one perhaps make more efficient criminals. The result is a population dominated by people free of any human values, who pursue strictly biological goals of resource accumulation and reproduction.

My book The Five Stages of Collapse includes an extensive case study devoted to the Ik, a small tribe of hunter-gatherers in northern Uganda, which, when they were observed by the anthropologist Colin Turnbull in the 1970s, exhibited just such a level of cultural degeneracy. They had reached the fifth stage of collapse: cultural collapse. Turnbull's prescription was to destroy them as a people by breaking up their society and resettling them. Prof. Savelyev has something eerily similar to say: human evolution advances through appalling acts of violence in which the males of culturally degenerate populations, which have lost their human values and conceptions of the common good, are destroyed outright. History is replete with examples of such exterminations (among numerous other ones), and although we may regard them with horror, others may regard them with pride. For instance, Prof. Savelyev points out, the French are still quite proud of their revolutionary invention, the guilliotine. To them it was a civilized, efficient way to neatly solve the problem—by neatly slicing off the heads that contained the faulty circuitry.

According to Savelyev, the Ukrainian flag shouldn't be a field of sunflowers under a blue sky. A sausage impaled on a fork would be much more appropriate. After all, that is what they are fighting for. There is no point in shaming them, for stealing or for lying, for shame requires one of those prefrontal cortex functions: a conscience. To them, telling the truth is a surprising new requirement, they didn't sign up for it, and they don't understand why it's necessary. All they have to do is lie well: “Donetsk is surrounded! We are about to prevail!” they tell you. Sure they are. Ask the rebels where they are going, and they will tell you matter-of-factly: “We are going all the way to Kiev.” Perhaps the French can send an aid convoy of their own, to Kiev, to coincide with the rebels' arrival. It could include a few guilliotines. In the meantime, I hope that Uncle Sam is having lots of fun playing with his Ukrainian mail order bride; after all, they have plenty in common.


Deskpoet said...

Your writing is a joy to read. Not only is it informative and incisive, it is often laugh out loud funny (PARTICULARLY when the subject matter is grim.) Thanks for another great column, Dmitry.

Jim Kemeny said...

A stunning and withering critique of the crazy situation in Ukraine. Brilliant!

Banastal said...

I have just recently stumbled upon this blog. Although I am not a native speaker of English, I love the writing (and the content).
It is unfortunate though, that what Dmitry is writing about is true... That's how it works.... Not all Ukrainian people, but who Dmitry is writing about do operate that way... Perhaps, people not familiar with the culture would not comprehend plausibility of what is written here... but for Americans - I'd say: think of Detroit's mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, and you'll be able to understand.


"Looted" is an adjective that describes our whole civilization in the past few decades, not just Ukraine. What government or government officials do not steal? Take a look at any country. The difference is in the degree and in the fact whether or not the ruling elite has preserved any sense of national identity. As opposed to all other countries, Ukrainians just don't even bother to hide or try to make things look a little more civilized. But the same happened in Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and currently what Russian does not complain about government corruption, and the same thing is happening in the States now, had been happening for the past three decades reaching a cosmic-scale banking fraud that now embraces the globe like a poisonous web. All we can do is vote on who has a better hair cut.

rapier said...

It's the high season in the Hamptons (The summer get away spot for the very rich Wall Street and financial types, on Long Island) and when this all started I was asking, half kidding, if the supply of Ukrainian hookers was threatened. By various accounts I have heard beautiful blond Ukrainian hookers are the must have escorts and party girls when its party time for the hot money set.

I suppose the supply has been diminished but hopefully our financial overlords will be able to soldier on without them. Probably darker skinned beauties will be the popular model this year.

Mister Roboto said...

I read an account of life in post-Soviet Ukraine written by a Ukrainian user at, and this account pretty much squared with your description of that same society in this post. Once again, I am so very glad I don't live there.

Chris said...

My usual reaction to such a characterization of Ukrainians would be to shout racist! or xenophobe! or anti-ukrainian! or something like that. Unfortunately I am from a neighbouring country and know very well that this is 100 percent true. I still remember the story of a Hungarian friend crossing the border into a nearby town delivering much-needed aid to a local parish. On the way back, whilst queueing up for the border, he was attacked by thugs who wanted to push the car into the ditch so they could rob him. He managed to get away and was pursued all the way back to the town where he was saved by the locals. He then needed an armed escort to get through the border. The whole episode happened in plain view of the border guards, who didn't bat an eyelid. Of course, why would they risk their lives when there was nothing in it for them?

Anonymous said...

Not à propos, but: I'm belatedly reading "Reinventing Collapse" and just had my first LOL which was "life-jail balance." Good one!

Paul said...

This seems like an informative site, and very much 'a propos'.

'Taking out friends so we can install enemies' doesn't sound too far-fetched, either. What could in geopolitics? Malcolm Muggeridge once opined to the effect that reality always trumps satire.

Ed-M said...

Well last Friday I heard a story on the local public radio station presented by PRI (NPR = National Public [or Propaganda] Radio) that the Ukranoan military had stopped a Russian armored column. Make of it what you will, I don't believe it for a minute. Probably this or another humanitarian convoy, more like!

Also I've seen photos of the convoy on a Russian highway -- did you know they have interstates now?

Matti Mertojoki said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dmitry Orlov said...


I grew up in Karelia and know the place well. Your hypothetical scenario is a bit of a stretch. There is nothing hypothetical about what I describe. Your use of the word "perspective" is strange. It is as if the people in eastern Ukraine are Schrödinger people: if looked at by one side, they are alive; if looked at by the other, they are dead. I don't believe that quantum indetermnacy can be observed at that scale, so somebody must be lying. Question is, which side isn't lying. And if you think that's the Ukrainian/Western media side, then you are just being silly. There is nothing wrong with being silly, but it does free me from the obligation of seriously considering your opinions.