Russia: living in a "negative reality"

November 16, 2022

Presumably, people always strive for a better life. All political ideologies since the American and French revolutions have emphasised the right of man to be happy. The 1776 US Declaration of Independence proclaimed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." Even communist, fascist and national socialist ideologies promised happiness, at least to their followers (but they did not promise it to other people). 

However, the ideology (more precisely, ideological practices and social mythology) of modern Russia in this respect fundamentally differs from all other ideologies just because the topic of happiness is actually off the agenda. For example, the notions of "human rights and freedom" and "dignity", were called "borrowed from Western European philosophy" by the Russian Orthodox Patriarch Cyril, one of the "pillars" of Russian political mythology. Instead, he suggested emphasising "faith, love for the country, sacrifice, without which our history is inconceivable. It and our prosperity are built, among other things, on the sacrifices of the previous generations. On those who died in the war defending their families, on those who worked desperately in the most difficult conditions developing our country’s economy, there were victims, too... How can we not mention love for the country, loyalty, duty, sacrifice?".

Russian sociologist Aleksey Levinson who tried to investigate the vision of the future in the minds of the Russian citizens had to admit that they do not have a vision of a "positive, bright future" at all, just projections of the present state into the future. He quotes the following typical answers to sociologists' questions:

— How will Russia live (in the future)?

— The same as now.

— And who will be in power?

— Someone! Putin!

— And in 50 years?

— (Spontaneous response): Putin!

— (With embarrassed laughter). Well, someone like Putin!

Austrian-American sociologist Alfred Schütz wrote about "the peculiarity of everyday consciousness, which makes us believe in the inviolability of the existing order on the basis that "it has always been so" — people are sure that morning will come after night, they will have breakfast, take their children to school, they will go to work themselves, return home at the end of the day, have dinner and go to bed to start all over again tomorrow. It would be good if people believed in the immutability of only the things and situations they like, but quite often they are also sure that what they don't like will remain the same, just because it was like that before.

The ideology of Ruscism is built on the concept of an "unfair and hostile world" — it was, is and will be like that. As the Russian political scientist, professor of the Higher School of Economics Mark Urnov noted, "in the role of a bearer of something better, we are very different from others in the sense that we are surrounded by enemies who want to devour us." And if the whole world is unfair and hostile, this is a justification for one's own injustice and hostility towards others. It was not accidental that Russia's attack on Ukraine was justified by the allegation that "had we waited a little longer, Ukraine itself would have attacked Russia." Outside of Russia, this thesis looks absurd, but for the Russian domestic consumer, it is quite logical, based on the picture of the world formed in Russia.

The concept of a "negative world" also implies a change in the basic moral principles. There is no point convincing the Russians, for example, that their propaganda is false – they know it themselves. But the fact is that at the same time, the majority is sure that it cannot be otherwise, and the propagandists are right to lie, because, based on the picture of the world formed in them, such behaviour is the most rational.

This is true not only for political propaganda. As the Russian sociologist Alexander Myagkov writes, "recently, there has been a clear tendency in our country to lower the level of people’s honesty in interpersonal and social communication, as well as in public opinion polls. The degree of normative support for lies has also grown considerably. Today, lies and deception are increasingly perceived by people as completely normal and natural (at least, inevitable) phenomena, while honesty and truthfulness are not among the highly valued moral qualities of a person. Russians typically believe that they may lie and deceive, but remain honest. Our studies show that almost 64% of respondents consider it admissible to lie in order to protect themselves from intrusiveness and excessive curiosity on the part of other people, about 54% — to keep their thoughts and plans secret, 34% — to hide their own shortcomings, errors and omissions from others, 11% of respondents would, according to their own words, lie and deceive if they were paid well for it. In addition, almost every fourth respondent (24%) expressed confidence that insincere answers to the questions of a sociologist (in a questionnaire or interview) are quite acceptable and permissible.

If the majority of Russians considers it acceptable to lie and deceive themselves, they won’t be outraged if the Russian political leadership does the same, especially if they lie not to their citizens but to "foreign partners."

Similarly, those Russians who do not believe that the purpose of the "special operation" in Ukraine was to "protect Russia" or to accomplish "denazification" still tend to say during public opinion polls that they believe this, because it is an element of the Russian political culture.

At the same time, the majority of Russians do not understand what benefits or gains a "victory" in Ukraine can bring them personally (and say so during public opinion polls). That is, the war in Ukraine is woven into the general picture of the "negative reality" by the conviction that a "victory" in it will bring nothing good to an average Russian. As a result, self-organisation and unity of action of hundreds of thousands of people, without which this "victory" cannot be achieved, becomes impossible, since it is impossible to organise and coordinate actions of a large number of people if they do not understand why they need these actions. This also explains the failures of the Russian military strategy.

Such a situation is quite logical. After all, if, according to the Russian worldview concept, the reality is "invariably negative", then whatever the bearers of this concept do, they will have a negative result. First of all, for themselves.


Mykhailo Mischenko

Deputy Director, Sociological Service

Born in 1962 in Kyiv

Education: Taras Shevchenko Kyiv State University, Faculty of Philosophy (1984). Ph. D in Philosophy


1984 – 1990 — Sociology Department at the Institute of Philosophy of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine

1990 – 1998 — Institute of Sociology of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine

1998 – 2003 — Ukrainian Institute of Social Research

February – September 2003 — Kyiv International Institute of Sociology

Since October 2003 — Deputy Director, Razumkov Centre Sociological Service

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