Democracy and authoritarianism are strange bedfellows indeed. Vladimir Putin certainly enjoys poking liberal democracies with a stick and seeing what happens. An assertion of the primacy of authoritarian systems over the interests of liberal democracies is an interesting way to troll the West. It could hardly be a point unacknowledged in those vigorous aspirations to Grand Political Singularity represented by contemporary Russia and China, that any notion of personal, cultural or national identity is always already anchored in the difference and distance to and from the Other world, the Other system(s) that the liberal democracies of the West represent.
There is of course no one thing that (a) Russia or China is constituted of such that a unique calculus of autonomous, automated or algorithmically-optimised and internalised security, surveillance or statecraft could ever consistently demonstrate as a continuously and consistently unchanging or unified cultural or political identity. A key (and unacknowledged) difference in the West is the extent to which the entropy of difference endemic to notions of individuality is cultivated and is allowed to flourish. Neither East or West appear particularly (or at least overtly) well-informed about the discontinuous internal nature of their own thoroughly inconsistent structural facts.
The first fact: Change.
All cultural, social and distributed psychological systems are emergent phenomena – they have not always been the way they are, the assumptions upon which they rest are generally either rendered reflexively in terms of individual lifespans or the constantly reinterpreted (yet attributed as eternal) axioms or ideas upon which any particular institution or ideology was constructed. Change is the one irreducible fact that all political or (otherwise) ideological discourse can not circumvent and it is also the one fact that the various narrative flourishes of commentators or politicians can not transcend, avoid or obfuscate.
Consequence: Almost all narrative ideological aspirations towards continuity are couched in terms of difference to an Other system or way of thinking. This invokes a principle of dependence – all political or ideological systems of thought are dependent upon that which they are not, and through by cultivating a distance and difference from, that they can structure and build their own identity. No cultural or political identity is an island and all are so deeply inflected by the need to distinguish themselves from an Other that they rarely perceive the essential similarity between those systems. Psychologically reflexive aspirations towards difference are always constituted of the internalised external ideology of an Other and the subsequent complex reactions to it.
Russian (or Chinese) narratives of the failure of the liberal democracies of the West are solidly anchored upon a need for, and a dependence upon, the existence of those democracies through which to generate the useful entropy and psychological friction by which self-definition and ideological closure can be approximated or attempted. Putatively “Western” narratives of the failure of authoritarian systems in cultivating successful and viable frameworks within which human beings can successfully, equitably and sustainably coexist is also represent a difference and dissonance of Other through which the Self of Liberal Democracy can be spruiked. Both of these polar opposites are incomplete without the other and so they each endemically require one another to exist; should one side of the equation of radical political difference suddenly vanish or find itself disassembled, the resonance and symmetry of difference would inevitably occur again within that one system left standing and regenerate difference and dissonance by which novelty and change are provided energy.
The second fact: Unity.
All social, cultural, psychological systems exist as a manifest unity. For reasons of biologically-acquired and psychological orientations towards self-preservation and individuated persistence, the dissonance between a prospective unity and the separate (or collective) self which structures that unity is deeply conflicted. At a deeper logical level – the only ways in which unity can actually manifest is by virtue of a logical absence and negation which itself is, at the level of material systems that vacuum which represents time and procedural adaptation, and at the level of political systems is that inevitability of evolutionary restructuring, recombinatory (new) facts and progressive development.
Consequence: Relentlessly creative (or provocative) narratives of difference and ideological distance are the engines through which further difference is produced and which generate the cultural, social, ideological and economic conditions that provide self-validation for those narratives. A national leader that defines themselves and their own position as being the logical solution to the error-prone and incomplete or inconsistent political solution of their ideological adversary is generally blind to the fact that their own position is fundamentally inflated by their dependent definitions of difference. Between authoritarian and democratic systems of governance – the interesting difference here is that liberal democracy distributes this difference and turbulent entropy of systemic discontinuity across its entire surface whereas authoritarianism attempts to isolate it in the personality and identity of a singular cultural symbol of leadership. Both systems are doing the same thing, they are just doing it in different ways.
The third fact: Complexity.
All ideological, cultural and psychological systems are themselves examples of emergent complexity – no less than evolution, biology and (indeed) the cosmological and mathematical or materially logical facts of the Universe from which all of this has arisen. The central feature of complex systems (in this context) is that of their orientation towards self-replication and continuity through the active seeking and cultivation of new forms of optimal self-replication. There is an underlying logical principle – that of the autonomous and unguided tendency of material systems (in physics and as instantiated as living systems) to seek optimal methods of self-reproduction. This is a general principle which also, as a matter of proofs within Algorithmic Information Theory, implies that there can be no one true, best or most optimal way of doing things, of governing po9litically or of existing culturally. There is always, literally – always, a more optimal method of structuring a system by self-inflection and the inherent logical extensibility of all systems.
Consequence: New patterns of behaviour and thought are generated through a difference which provides information and structure to those patterns. Political differences across Globally-distributed strategic and economic contexts are dependent upon difference and narrative turbulence – both to define themselves and to seek constant upgrade, innovation and improvement. Complex systems are autonomously optimal-path seeking systems and the presence of psychological individuality, economic nodes of possession and ownership, and of national identities themselves are (in the longer run of future histories) only really contingent patterns of information and energy that are seeking optimal self-replication.
In a context of ideological systems and their constant sabre-rattling – the edge of chaos and possible catastrophic conflict is the necessary difference that creates accelerated methods for a self-propagating logic of self-replication to seek new solutions and patterns of adaptation. It is a matter of global political (as much as psychological) immaturity that the significance of difference has not been successfully engaged and converted into (more useful) forms of entropy and prospective Global progress. It is very difficult to not assert a principle of rank psychological selfishness here – where those few that by luck or skill find themselves in positions of historical influence are seeking in the first (and last) instance to feather their own nests through the generation of ideological and cultural entropy. Beyond this, though – a fact of Unity implies that not only is every ideological system itself composes of nothing more than the internalised and reproduced differences between itself and an external Others, but that this is all that every single individual human person psychologically is. Every individual or distributed cognitive and social system is so thoroughly inflated by that which exists “beyond”, by the internalisation of external facts, idioms, concepts, words and grammars or rules-sets it that it’s own identity and reality is actually utterly contingent and fictional.
Unity is only possible in even limited measures at a Global level if we are (all) willing to give up our attachments to immature aspirations of completeness and control, or to acknowledge that the existence and closure that each of us aspires to is impossible. Putin trolls the West and defines himself and his ideology through it, the West asserts their own difference and define themselves through their difference to Putin. It is a fertile dance of difference and aspirational self-validation that it is a logical fact that, much like Global wars, no one wins because there will always be another iteration, another evolution, a new idea or system of thought.
Postscript: This has all been an improvised and more-or-less stream of consciousness response to the article linked at the top of this post. If you disagree, and you are by all means free to do so, please observe the ways in which the structure and logic of your own assertions are themselves built around that difference and distance you feel compelled to present. See how this is the engine of difference (and by extension – of the generation of information) through which we define and validate ourselves – ideologically, conceptually, psychologically and as living entities seeking continuity.