Sta Hungry Stay Foolish

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

A blog by Leon Oudejans

Why is lying a Russian habit?

For a long time, I’ve been wondering why lying by Russian officials seems to be the default. It’s very likely that when Russian do speak the truth, we wouldn’t even recognise it anymore – let alone trust it. Russian lies even resulted in a 2016 Russian scientific study: “Verbal representation of lies in Russian and Anglo-American cultures”.

Apart from this 2016 Russian study, a 2012 Moscow Times article by psychotherapist, and part-time Moscow resident, Marilyn Murray points to the same: “Why Lying Has Become a National Pastime”. Implicitly, she acknowledges that Russian lying has deep cultural roots: “Not telling the truth was reinforced by a Soviet system that lied consistently to their people.” Note: bold and italic marking by LO.

These cultural roots are acknowledged by Vladimir Pastukhov, a political scientist and analyst at the Jamestown Foundation: “A lie in Russia is considered as an instrument of the weak against the strong, as a justifiable means of protection in the event of an inequality of forces. The problem is not that in Russia they lie a lot and with pleasure, but that they are often proud of it. When it comes to politics and ideology, a lie in Russia is viewed as an alternative truth.” (BBC-2017)

Both Marilyn Murray and Vladimir Pastukhov claim that most Russians “know when a [Russian] statement is a falsehood”. The real issue, however, might well be that Russians expect foreign statements to be falsehoods as well. A culture of distrust is likely to mistrust others too.

Trusting foreign sources benefits from frequently changing Russian official stories whenever contradicting foreign information becomes overwhelming (eg, 1962 Cuban missile crisis, 2000 Kursk submarine disaster2014 shootdown of MH-17). The Russians call this maskirovka: “a military doctrine [covering] a broad range of measures for military deception, from camouflage to denial and deception.”

The threat of contradicting foreign information is most likely the reason why Russia is planning “to separate its internet system from [the] global network”. Euronews: “Many commentators believe it is an attempt to set up a mass censorship system similar to the current situation in China.” Interestingly, it also mirrors North-Korea which only has a few gateways to the global Internet (eg, BI-2014).

It’s tempting to use an alleged Abraham Lincoln quote but I have opted for two statements by Josh Billings a.k.a. Henry Wheeler Shaw (1818-1885), American humorist:

  • I honestly believe it is better to know nothing than to know what ain’t so.
  • Wisdom don’t consist in knowing more that is new, but in knowing less that is false.

I Lie and I Cheat (1987) by Won Ton Ton

artists, lyrics, video, Wiki-1, Wiki-2

Note: all markings (bolditalicunderlining) by LO unless stated otherwise


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