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Dec 5, 2022

Double consciousness for Russians

We understand others by finding glimpses of their experiences in our own. It is never the same, but sometimes what we experience “rhymes” with those of others.

I was thinking of W. E. B. Du Bois's notion of double consciousness when last week an anti-war and anti-Putin TV anchor misspoke and referred to the invading Russian army as “our army,” and said that he wants to help Russian soldiers to get better equipment. This created an outrage in much of Eastern Europe, understandably. People are on edge, and they reacted harshly.

W. E. B. Du Bois described the phenomenon like this: “One ever feels his two-ness,—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.” This is not the same, but similar to what this anchor was feeling: He still maintains his Russian identity and feels kinship with Russian soldiers who are cold and hungry on the frontlines of the war they did not start. He may think they are stupid idiots, but somehow related to him. Like many of us, he wants that invading army to be defeated, and his homeland to lose the war it started.

Ukrainians obviously do not feel the split; their hatred for the invaders is both justified and unproblematic. The anti-Putin Russians do. The horror of the story is that one is unable to completely disentangle oneself from the invading horde. One experiences pain and compassion for Ukrainians, and pain and compassion to their tormentors. A person like that looks at one’s self through the eyes of others, and yet retaining his own identity.

Again, I am not equating the two experiences; the power dynamic and histories are very different. Yet, parallels like this open a little window into how confused and painful divided identities can be.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous10:40 PM

    I think there is something even more sinister going on. In my view the journalists are crowd-sourcing sensational and first-hand information from the public (the wives and mothers of the mobilised) for the purpose of their media (to keep the hand on the pulse) and in exchange they are promising to help to improve the conditions of the mobilised.