Putin’s in an echo chamber: Two scenarios for Russia’s development from here

25 January, 05:46 PM
Putin (Photo:Maxim Blinov / Kremlin via REUTERS)

Putin (Photo:Maxim Blinov / Kremlin via REUTERS)

A very distorted system has formed around Putin, which informs him about the state of affairs in the country and beyond.

Although a month has already passed since publication of the well-known investigative article from The Wall Street Journal about the system of lies that has formed around the president of the Russian Federation, I still can't get it out of my head. Despite the fact that I’ve long been familiar with the effects which led to the creation of this system, I could never have imagined that in real life things could take on such a scale and have such catastrophic consequences.

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For those who are not familiar with the materials of this investigation, I will briefly ex-plain what it was about. So, as it turned out, a very crooked system has formed around Putin, which informs him about the state of affairs in the country and beyond. It reminds me of the echo chamber effect known by researchers of social networks. As you know, [social media] algorithms, recognizing the interests of the user, begin to send them information that they are most likely to like. In addition, the user independently can choose the sources from which they will receive information and the persons with whom they will maintain contacts with. When we prefer people who are similar to us, share our views and show us support, they become our environment.

As a result, the risk of ending up in a virtual echo chamber increases: we begin to receive only the information we like, and each of our posts, shares, or comments will receive approval and support from the like-minded people we surround ourselves with. As a result, even rather dubious ideas and beliefs are approved by this environment, which strengthens our conviction of their truth. So, as investigative journalists discovered, a similar system (not virtual, but real) has formed around Putin, and the picture of the world that formed in his head thanks to this system pushed him to war against Ukraine.

In Putin's mythology, the West is the main enemy – not Ukraine

This system is sensitive to his ideas and wishes, so whatever painful or far-fetched thought enters his head, it gradually begins to receive confirmation thanks to people sending him supporting information. Putin is an all-powerful dictator and subordinates want to please him because their incomes, positions, etc. depend on him. Therefore, they provide him with the information he wants to hear and seek confirmation of the ideas he considers as correct. Journalists collected a lot of evidence of how diplomats sent him tales about their victories on the diplomatic front, military men – about the excellent combat readiness of the "second army of the world", and Ukrainian traitors (Medvedchuk is mentioned in the article) – about the readiness of Ukrainians to meet the Russian army with flowers.

In addition, all this "pink" information that comes "from below" passes through the sieve of his immediate environment, which finally forms the desired picture of reality for him.

In fact, analysts have long suspected the existence of such a system, they just had no idea of its scale. A few years ago, the world was exposed to the embarrassment that happened to the ruler of the Kremlin, when he showed the American director Oliver Stone footage of the alleged destruction of Syrian militants by a Russian helicopter. In fact, as it turned out, it was footage of the American elimination of Afghan militants, filmed several years earlier. Of course, Putin's press secretary denied everything and stated that the Ministry of Defense provided the president with this footage, specifically, personally by the Minister Shoigu.

Then everyone acted surprised and proposed a version of what actually happened. Now it seems that this was one of the few truthful answers from Peskov. It seems that this is exactly how the Russian state machine works – regularly reporting its successes, supporting them with fabricated evidence. So, when today Putin talks about the fact that Russia is at war with NATO, Ukraine is ruled by nazis, and the war is going according to plan, it is quite possible that he sincerely believes it, because it is based on the "facts" that are systematically supplied to him by the disinformation system in which he lives.

My confusion after reading this article is not only caused by the scale of what is described (I suspect that similar systems existed around many tyrants and dictators). The thing is that I do not understand how this system can be destroyed (unless, of course, we take into account the physical elimination of Putin and his surroundings).

Researchers who study such echo chambers call the main reason for their formation a long-known tendency of the human mind, which has been called confirmation bias. It is an unconscious bias inherent in all of us to seek and interpret information in such a way that it supports our point of view. For example, if we want to start a certain project, our head will automatically prioritize information that will confirm its success and downplay or even ignore evidence to the contrary. So the typical advice given to fight against this bias (ask a neutral person to look at the problem, use the "devil's advocate", become your own critic) are expected to make the decision-maker or someone around him want to overcome this prejudice, so he appeals to the mentioned methods.

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However, this does not apply to Putin or his environment. They do not need an objective view of the world. In objective reality, they are criminals and losers who have turned all of civilized humanity against them. But in the information bubble created by them - they are freedom fighters of the free world with good positions and good salaries. Therefore, they have no incentive to destroy this system.

So, if "Putin's camera" continues to function properly, I see two main scenarios how events will develop.

First, the Russian dictator will continue to receive distorted information and draw false conclusions from it, which will most likely ultimately lead to Moscow's defeat.

In the second scenario, despite the production of an incorrect picture of the world, the Russian state will continue to function relatively effectively, and will stop only where we and our allies can stop them. In fact, the distorted picture of reality guided by Putin and his entourage does not necessarily lead them to a quick and inevitable defeat. We can find in history many examples of how organizations that were guided by various mythological ideas and a distorted picture of reality achieved their goals. Many states and empires owe their emergence to mythological world-views. The evolutionary advantage was not gained by those groups of people who were guided by a world-view that most accurately reflects reality, but by those whose world-view, being moderately objective, successfully united people in these groups and motivated them to work together. If the mythological picture of the world is capable of this, then it can lead to success for those who accept it.

Therefore, when looking at the absurd beliefs and convictions of the Russian leadership, we shouldn’t expect that it will inevitably lead them to collapse. Unfortunately, no matter how much logic, science and progress oriented people would like it, such a scenario is not inevitable. Similarly, our allies should not rely on logic in their interactions with the Russian leadership. Our Western partners are trying to establish some rational scheme of interaction with Moscow, in which they do not take certain steps to prevent escalation. According to this scheme, they do not transfer certain types of weapons to Ukraine, or transfer them only after appropriate actions by Moscow, etc.

All of this resembles some sort of clever strategic game, which is based on good logic and the assumption that the one side understands this logic and accepts it. However, our partners should realize that in the ideological chamber in which Putin lives, he is not guided by logic: he creates it. Therefore, the guilty will be those whom his flawed logic assumes to be guilty. On this occasion, it is worth reminding that in Putin's mythology, the West is the main enemy – not Ukraine. So, looking at what he is doing in Ukraine, it is not difficult to imagine what he will be capable of, if God forbid, he crosses the borders of the European Union.

If you remember what role the Reichstag plays in the sacred Russian picture of the world, you can roughly imagine how far he will be ready to go. Therefore, it is not necessary to hide from reality behind the screen of mythology. Unfortunately, there are already enough leaders in the world who are deeply far from the reality.

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