And institutuional development by Viacheslav Shironin

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Extended order

If the rules of behavior are an ideal object which maintains its properties, then one can get familiar with these rules even if one not included in the ‘narrow’ social circle. These features also make the liberal order an extended order, i.e., make it possible to establish a relationship between two people who are not friends or even acquaintances. ‘Extended order’ is a Hayek’s term, though in fact this thinking has a much longer history.

Material progress

To put it mildly, an issue of concern of my fellow countrymen have always been Russia lagging behind in the area of ​​‘economic progress’ (funny enough, this concern is always demonstrated in combination with a disapproving attitude towards the ‘materialism of the Western civilization’). Looking at this problem from the standpoint of cognitive science, we come to the conclusion that it is not our culture (and our country) which lags behind. Much more correct would have been to say that the Western civilization has a unique feature: its ability and propensity to ‘alienate’ ideas and turn them into ‘reality’.
Goods and services, of course, do satisfy our needs. However, their primary function is to embody ideas and to be the form existence of ideal objects. From this point of view, the problem of material progress, in fact, makes no sense. The economic world is just an ‘external memory’ of a gigantic human information system and is filled with artifacts that represent implemented ideas.

Liberal order and networks

As regards the institutional set-up of the West, it is clear that in addition to sign systems, social networks also play an important role. Rather, we can even assume that the social order there is a sort of sign-network symbiosis generally corresponding to the model described in Section 6. This is an interesting topic, and it deserves further study. Here we make only two observations.
First, it should be mentioned that this issue overlaps with the question of the relationship between markets and hierarchies. As is widely known, this topic is central to the new institutional economics created by Ronald Coase. He and his followers, first of all Oliver Williamson, have shown that the comparative efficiency of the market and of the hierarchical mechanisms can be compared by using a fairly simple set of characteristics, namely transaction costs. Once again I would like to acknowledge the intellectual elegance and analytical power of this theory. Still, it should not be forgotten that this analysis is limited to a certain scope, namely: it is assumed that the hierarchy in question - an organization, a business, or a bureaucracy - are operating within the legal space. The same observation can be made about the theory of public choice.
The second point to be made is that the logic of the networks and the logic of the liberal order are always in conflict, they undermine each other. In networks, the signal passing from one network element (individual) to another element should go undisturbed. If it bumps into ‘a fence’ surrounding ‘a territory’ – which is inevitable in the system of liberal order – it would hinder the flow of information in the network. Hence the networks’ ‘inclination’ to destroy these ‘fences’ - for example, by means of corruption.
Clearly a reverse trend takes place, too. By raising ‘the fences’ and isolating ‘the territories’ and thus setting the distance between individuals, the liberal order acts destructively on the channels of network connections and prevents the passage of signals.

Chapter 7. Russian social order

As Bakhtin wrote30,

It is quite possible to imagine that the single truth requires a multiplicity of consciousnesses, that it fundamentally cannot be placed within the bounds of one consciousness, and that it is, so to speak, of social and happening nature and is born in the point of contact of different consciousnesses.
Such is the Russian social order. Our cognitive space at is at its core not of a sign, but of a networking nature; it is a distributed information processing system, or a holographic system. The word ‘happening’ should be emphasized in the above quotation: in this system, information is not materialized, it is not fixed and nor stored - whether in the form of libraries, legal agreements, or material things. The people - the elements of the network - transmit vectors signals to each other that cause in response no less complex reactions of the recipient elements. In such a network knowledge would get accumulated in the form of holographic ‘images’ that characterize the interaction between individuals and their understanding of each other. These private holograms then merge into a big picture, which is not ‘flat’ but multi-dimensional.
In a way, the Russian society is very dynamic. Every day there is something new. My university friend Alexei Mikheyev keeps working on compiling a Dictionary of the XXI century, where he collects all the newly emerging words. It turns out that almost every day there appears a new concept, and sometimes more than one. However, our cognitive space is not too effective preserving and storing the new information. As with a school problem, the flow of information continuously runs from the ‘pool’. Our environment gets constantly transformed holographically, but does not create information ‘libraries’.

The Man


For Eastern Orthodox theology there are two powers which are creating the world: God and Man. This is called synergy, the combined effort:
The eternal life is inherited by the grace, but also in all fairness, since the advance is achieved not only by divine grace and power, but also through human cooperation (synergy) and effort; equally, the perfect fulfillment of God's will and the full measure of all the freedom and purity will be achieved not only by human authority, force and strength, but also by cooperation and assistance of the Holy Spirit31.

This is far from being only a theological thesis; it is a fundamental predisposition which every day determines our actions. It means that the Man is part of everything that is going on around him. He is neither a tool nor a logically thinking mechanism to make rational decisions. One can say that the Man maintains ‘online communication’ with the world; his mind, body and soul continuously receive and transmit outside a variety of signals. It reads all the information which is not only localized in time, space, or in the logic, but also that which is holographically distributed around him.
I repeat my favorite example related to this topic: If you invite an assistant to hammer a nail and hang a picture for you, he will not do it mechanically, but would argue, in what room, on which wall and how best to score this nail. This person does not behave as a tool but as a creator.
One can not but agree that by and large we establish in the world our ideas about ‘the right’. (...)
A person's attitude toward the world is: interested, free, and exited. Here are some of the latest impressions: the people’s reaction to the explosion of a meteorite over Chelyabinsk was exactly like this. Suddenly - literally out of the blue sky - an explosion happens of the scale of several Hiroshimas. At first, no one knows what it is. But all the videos by coincidence shot during and after the explosion show people laughing and happily swearing in admiration.
Establishing of the right in the world may well relate to personal prosperity, making money, or career. But as well it may not. Here is the famous story from the book of Ksenia Kasyanova (a pseudonym of V.F.Chesnokova)32:

Employee Ivanov had a row with a Very High Boss, and the VHB decided to fire him. However, this can not be done without a reason or an excuse, so the VHB ordered that two people should be fired as redundant. Ivanov's name was not mentioned, but everyone understood what it was about. The team considered this decision unfair and started resisting. To do so, some people committed acts which were not very convenient or advantageous to them personally, but, as the author says, corresponded to their ‘diffuse’ concepts of values. Petrov suggested to fire not Ivanov, but himself so much so that he (Petrov) was anyway planning to resign from his job in some short future. Thus, the formal request of getting two people redundant would have been met.

The author goes on to analyze this example:
Here we mention outright that a second demand to downsize the team did not follow. Employee Ivanov worked there as long as he needed, and resigned when wished to resign. Thus, employee Petrov with his value-rational action saved him from a major and prolonged trouble. Did he (Petrov) expected it? Apparently, no. At the time, everybody were confident that Ivanov would be fired anyway. Then what was Petrov’s intention? He did not seek anything specific, but just resisted injustice. ...
You can, of course, make the assumption that this whole issue is not about some general abstraction, but about the employee Ivanov: such a good man he was and such a great friend of the employee Petrov. But in this case (and the case, as the reader was warned at the beginning, did in fact occur), this assumption is wrong: employee Ivanov was just a colleague of Petrov, no more. Frankly, Ivanov was not too much liked in the team.
Petrov’s action was not purpose- but value-rational, it made ​​it a pleasure in itself. But the point was not only in the immediate pleasure of ethical action. It turns out that in the end the system to be built completely functional. In a society based on the ‘diffuse’ principles such selfless acts are, in effect, rewarded. The colleagues have eventually helped ‘The Good Man’ Petrov to find a new job - by the way, without even mentioning it to him.
In conclusion, Ksenia Kasyanova speaks about the collective:
Going on with our description of this mysterious entity in terms of human behavior, we may add that it is usually ‘listens’ to the employee Smirnov (the moral leader of the group – V.Sh.) and loves Lena (who helped Petrov to find a new job – V.Sh.). But because of some unclear reason it treats with inexplicable indifference the troubles which happen from time to time to the employee Sidorov. Maybe it is just reciprocal to Sidorov, who not only is not interested in its (the collectiv’s – V.Sh.) business and its operation device, but sometimes just does not even believe in its existence. If we speak the truth, he, employee Sidorov is ‘a little too much’ occupied with settling his own problems. He never commits value-rational actions on his internal motivation, although he might do it at the prompting of others, and can sometimes implement a model of behavior similar to the value-rational (he could, for example, have quarreled with the Very High Boss in hope to achieve something concrete, or in order to protect employee Ivanov, if the latter were his close friend). For him, there is no such thing as abstract justice. And this is not because he is selfish, or strong career climber, or a cynic. He is just uncultured. In fact, he does not know and does not have a feeling of the culture in which he lives.
For him, the entire social world is empty, and isolated atoms fly in it in different directions, impossible to be predicted in advance (in accordance with their goals and needs) stochastically colliding with each other. Where in this representation can be placed the abstractly understood justice? In contrast, for cultured person the abstract justice is a big and differentiated model which outlines our trajectories so that we try not to bump into each other, or, at least, could anticipate such a collision.
I beg to differ here: employee Sidorov lives in the ‘Newtonian space of politeness’ of which Sergey Averintsev spoke opposing The Western and the Eastern Orthodox Worldview33. This is the liberal order, arranged by the ‘territorial’ principle. Not only does this order readily recognize abstract justice, but it is its foundation. However the rules of just conduct there are formulated in a different way, namely in terms of individual freedoms and as prohibitions on intervention in the affairs of the others. In addition, despite the importance of ethics, the main tool of compliance there is the law. The verdict of justice or injustice is carried out by members of the professional community through a special procedure. As different, the Russian model of social organization rejects both manifestation of the ‘corpuscular’ individualism, as well as cases in which social norms are interpreted in the spirit of negative universalism; and justice is maintained by everybody, not just professionals.


Another most general feature of our system may be considered a combination of the inability to create social and intellectual forms with a very good proficiency to ‘inhabit’ and develop them. This inability is, after all, rooted in our unwillingness to accept the role of passive instruments. But if the rules of the game have already been defined, then the form is not a factor of violence, but simply a tool like an ax or a shovel. And then creativity can get deployed. More details about this will be discussed below.


People in Russia live in ‘milieus’, and perhaps that is why many of us do not want to live anywhere else. Here in his inner circle a man can be just himself. Here is how it Dmitry Bykov speaks about it:

Russia is a very unpleasant country. You get up in the morning, and look out of the window - and you have to go to lecture somewhere, and have to do your job, and perhaps have even to work on some lathe machine! In the evening, you come back home, and turn on the TV – and you do not want to live! You have a drink – and just do not want to live at all! And in the morning - it is simply impossible! Well, a lot of difficulties! Not to mention the fact that it is not comfortable, it is what is called badly done. All the devices somehow mismatch, the society is uncomfortable. It is hard to live in. But together with all this, there are mass of hidden, deep-set advantages. Here it is a durian fruit, whose peels smells disgusting. It is not allowed to be brought to public transport, you know. And inside it is vanilla cream, absolutely. That's Russia. Because, of course: the best culture. The deepest, most intelligent. And the music, and cinema, and what you want. Do not look at the current level – it is now just because the money are in wrong hands. The best literature, by far. Top women - here, I think you Natalia Vodianova husbands will tell better than anyone else. Still, let's not forget that it she used to be a fruit vendor Nizhny Novgorod. Certainly, the best elements of social cooperation, horizontal structures, all these, magnificent social networks, which are excellent. You’ll never be let alone to get destroyed, your neighbors will pull you out from anywhere. Will give you money, salt, a good kick. It is a horizontal well organized country. Contempt for authority. Park your car, where you want. No law is ever respected by anyone, from the prime minister to the janitor. That is an amazing freedom! The atmosphere is rotten, and in the rotten atmosphere always grow the most healthy, full-blooded, in opposition to it, clean ... Look how terrible atmosphere was in the Nicholas I Russia – and, please, here is Lermontov, and Odoyevski, and the Decembrists - all as select people; a wonderful country. For me, it is much more convenient living here. I love America, I love to visit there, I really like to work there - maybe I even came up there with my best books - but I could not have ever lived there for more than a month. Simply because if you are there and cross the street in a wrong place you will immediately be stopped by the police and maybe detained. I'm not used to it. So, no need to leave. We would not feel better anywhere else. Especially if you are already 25 years of age. Though the whole world is watching and pees with laughter.
I should add that the Russian ‘milieus’ can not be reduced, as is the case in the more traditional cultures, to family, kinship or tribal relations. They are much more flexible, although probably not as reliable.
Patricia Dowden observed that in Russia position, earnings and work exist separately. This is not surprising: in our society, a person is related to the authorities, to his and other people’s vital needs and to God. For those who, like the author of this book, have reservations re the idea of ​​God, it can be said in a different way: in the Russian culture it is a value to understand that the work you're doing is right. It gives you a sense of reality of your existence. And the judge, in the end, is you.


Russian society could not have survived in the modern world, if it had not established a mechanism of ‘extended order’, but remained within the limited boundaries of the ‘milieus’, i.e. idiosyncratic personal relationships Bykov is talking about. Such a mechanism is Gosudarstvo, often referred to as The Authorities or The State. It is also one of the forms that are perceived as alien and imposed, but indispensable. The symbiosis of Gosudarstvo and the people in Russia is contradictory: Gosudarstvo makes use of the people (and that is what everybody is well aware of), but also the people make use of Gosudarstvo. Neither is guaranteed, but takes place only ‘on the average’, so one can cite numerous examples of both the egoism of the authorities and powerlessness of the people. But the people can not do without Gosudarstvo. Suffice it to say that in diasporas where Gosudarstvo is lacking, Russian communities are politically week and soon get assimilated.

Gosudarstvo as a separate corporation

Gosudarstvo is a separate corporation, organism living its life which is not confined to the life of its constituent people. Here is how Richard Pipes writes about the Russian Gosudarstvo - or the State. He believes that this property is key to understanding the entire political history of Russia:
The state neither grew out of the society, nor was imposed on it from above. Rather it grew up side by side with society and bit by bit swallowed it. The locus of original political authority was the private domain of the prince or tsar, his oikos or dvor. Within this domain the prince reigned absolute, exercising authority in the double capacity as sovereign and proprietor. Here he was in full command, a counterpart of the Greek despotes, the Roman dominus, and the Russian gosudar', that is lord, master, outright owner of all men and things. Initially, the population of the princely domain consisted mainly of slaves and other persons bonded in one form or another to the proprietor. Outside his domains, where the population was free and exceedingly mobile, the Russian ruler exercised very little authority at first, his power being confined largely to the collection of tribute. This kind of dyarchy established itself in the forest zone during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, at the same time when in England, France and Spain the modern western state was beginning to take shape as an entity separate from the ruler. From the solid base of authority furnished by their private domains, the Russian princes - gradually and only after having overcome massive resistance - spread their personal power over the free population living outside these domains. The princely dynasty of Moscow-Vladimir, which emerged as the country's leader, transferred the institutions and practices which it had initially worked out in the closed world of its oikos to the realm at large, transforming Russia (in theory, at any rate) into a giant royal estate. However, even after it had laid formal claim to all Russia being its private domain or votchina (sixteenth to seventeenth centuries), the Russian government lacked the means to make the claim good. It had no alternative, therefore, but to continue the old dyarchic arrangement, farming out the bulk of the country to the landed gentry, clergy and bureaucracy in return for fixed quotas of taxes and services. But the principle that Russia belonged to its sovereign, that he was its dominus was firmly established; all that was lacking to enforce it were the financial and technical means, and these were bound to become available in due course.
Over time the goals and interests of The State evolved, it was concerned with survival, enrichment, expansion, and modernization. However, it remained ‘corporate’ in nature, as well as its claim to be the master of the country.

Krepost’ and vol’a

These Russian words are even more difficult to translate into English (and most probably into other Western languages). Krepost’ is usually translated as serfdom, though in my view it is closer to bondage. Vol’a is translated as freedom, however it obviously has a different meaning. After numerous discussions with Patricia Dowden we came to the conclusion that a much more correct word is license. Still, license means being granted by somebody, while vol’a is rather self-exercised.
Perhaps a good word for krepost’ might have been even dependency. In Russia property rights have never existed, while dependency existed almost always, not only as serfdom of peasants but also as dependency, bondage of all the others. Gentry, clergy and bourgeois were subordinate to the authorities and to their respective corporations. As regards vol’a – i.e. freedom or license – it meant first of all the ability to leave, to hide from the authorities. And as different from Western freedom, it is not limited to the territory, where a man is his own master. Vol’a is just the other side of dependency, it is your possibility to simultaneously interfere in the affairs of others and not allow others to interfere in your affairs.


A person not only makes use of various social forms, he is placed in social forms himself. First of all these are the forms generated by the Gosudarstvo. In the Russian Empire, it was called sostoyaniya or estates. Regardless of the name, the phenomenon persisted: throughout all of its history Russia has been characterized by coexistence of different social and cognitive regimes. (…)
In the Stalin times, the creation of fundamentally different regimes of human existence became the primary management tool. E.g., kolkhoz peasants had no right to pensions, or even passports necessary to live outside the village. But once called to the army, a peasant boy could eventually become a worker or employee in a city and enjoy all the benefits of social infrastructure. A person could have been arrested and sent to prisons or labor camps - often not for any fault, but just because Gosudarstvo required manpower that would be used as non-free labor. This applied not only to physical labor like construction of channels or logging. There are many examples when professional people were arrested simply because they were needed to solve a technical problem, and so to become staff of a design bureau which for some reason was considered fit to organize in the mode of non-free labor. And vice versa, sometimes people experienced stress similar to a diver’s decompression sickness when a prisoner, who had been logging in a labor camp, suddenly was returned to his old life and a week later turned out to be the director of a design bureau, a general or even a minister.
Today, the contrasts between the different regimes of life have somewhat softened, however, the mechanism remains. For example, Simon Kordonsky speaks of the ‘estates’ in contemporary Russia, and Gleb Pavlovsky claims that the country is made up of a number of very heterogeneous subsystems, one of which is the Caucasus.
A most interesting thing here is that ‘physically’ the different regimes are often not delineated. One and the same person almost always is part of several regimes. Here is how Alexander Zinoviev satirically described it in his Yawning Heights:
There were two groups of people who took part in the experiment: those experimenting and those experimented upon. These groups consisted of the same individuals. Those experimented upon knew about their being monitored. The experimenters knew that the experimented upon were aware of it. The experimented upon knew that the experimenters knew that they were aware. And so on infinitely. The groups of experimenters and experimented upon were autonomous and executed no influence on each other. There was no informational contact between them, which resulted in full mutual understanding.


‘Feeding’ and subsistence farming

In our social system, a person not only provides serves to Gosudarstvo and receives a reward. In addition, he is allocated a resource for his ‘feeding’ (kormleniye). Feeding is an eternal Russian institute that takes many forms. Here is what it looked like, for example, a thousand years ago:
The income producing possessions of a prince were called put’ (path), and were overseen by a steward called putny boyar. Putny boyar was given villages and crafts from which he and his staff ‘got fed’.
And this is what Wikipedia says about the so-called personal subsistence plots:
Private households (LPH in Russian) are noncommercial activities of a citizen and his family members for the production and processing of agricultural products on a provided (purchased) plot of land, usually in rural areas, to meet their own needs for food. The Model Rules for Collective Farm, adopted in 1935 by the All-Union Congress of Collective Farm Shock Workers, determines the size of land which was in private use of a family from 1/4 to 1/2 hectares (in some areas up to 1 ha). Determined was also the number of animals that can be kept in private households. For areas of Group I of the West Siberian region, for example, the rules for cattle were as follows: 1 cow and 2 calves, one sow, and 10 sheep and goats. In the years 1930-1953 LPH were the main source of livelihood for the farmers, because the kolkhoz payments for workdays (either in money or in-kind) were often scanty.


One of the main functions of Gosudarstvo is settlement of disputes and conflicts between its subjects. This being one of the pillars of their influence, the authorities are interested in the fact that such conflicts do not disappear.
In the 1980s there has been developed an understanding that our country is in fact rather decentralized as regards economic decision-making, and that the authorities very often act as mere compilers of information and mediators of the needs of enterprises. (…) In other words, the then-Soviet economic system was not a command economy but an ‘economy of coordination’, or ‘bargaining economy’ or ‘an administrative market’.
The ‘theory of administrative market’ in fact saw the bureaucratic hierarchy not as a holistic entity capable of making purposeful decisions but rather as kind of institutional infrastructure. This system is a cognitive space which operates on the network principle.

Sign systems in Russia

Forms and paradigms

The quintessence of our life is Leskov’s story about the Lefthander:
Englishmen presented the Tsar a mechanical flea. The Tsar feels insulted that there is some skill where English masters can surpass his own Russians. ‘We have craftsmen in Tula who are no worse’ - Ataman Platov says to the Tsar. Tula craftsmen led by Lefty sit at work, and the flea is perfected. However, to the naked eye, the changes are not noticeable; however it is noticeable that it now it cannot jump. Ataman Platov drags Lefty's by hair, but Lefty says - look with a microscope! It turns out that the craftsmen nailed horseshoes on the flea’s feet, and even engraved their names on the studs. And this was done without any microscope.
The Tsar rejoices and sends Lefty to England. On the way, he becomes an inveterate drunkard, gets a cold and dies alone –now no one remembers about him in Russia. Nor anybody pays attention to his words when before his death he is trying to convey an important military advice to the King. As a result, during the Crimean War, Russian guns shoot worse than the British.
Every word of this brilliant story is full of meaning. For the Tsar as well as for Lefty the motive of their actions lies within simple human relations: can we outdo them (in this case, the English)? For Ataman Platov more important is to curry favor with the Tsar. It is also interesting how the ‘outdoing’ is performed: this is not done by invention of a new toy, or perhaps other new product, new technologies or a new organization. All the wheels of the story are spinning within the paradigm suggested by the English. Personal feat is performed under the given circumstances.
There might be numerous evidence of this phenomenon: constraint by a given shape. (…)
This feature - the inability to create a new form combined with ability to creatively use it - can be considered a fact. (…) However, there remains the question of its explanation in systemic terms. Why, because of what structural factors does this property hold? Perhaps our cognitive approach would be helpful here.
To my mind, two things should be mentioned. We have touched upon one of them, if somewhat casually: a Russian man – or perhaps even anybody of the Eastern Orthodox culture does not want to play the role of a tool. The second thing is this: in order to create new forms, a person has to ‘reshape’ the reality (whatever that word means). In fact, a new form means a new look at the world, and as a result - a change of social relationships. However, in our social order, the man enters into a relationship with reality not directly but through a system of social relations, as a member of a community. Therefore, a new ‘form’ can be introduced not otherwise than through implanting it into the consciousness of the collective - which is very difficult.

Free Flow of Thought

I agree that fundamentally new paradigms appear in Russia rarely. But we know how to develop and enrich borrowed and inherited forms, and sometimes the degree of such enrichment is just colossal. Yes, of course, Mendeleyev did not invent the science of chemistry, nor Tolstoy and Dostoevsky created the genre of novel. However, their achievements are paramount. As Simon Kordonsky observed, Russia is the birthplace of generalizing theoretical systems and concepts. In addition to the periodic table one can remember, say, the works of Vernadsky or of the Russian linguists. Why and how did this happen?
To my guess, the reason here is connected with the fact that a Russian intelligent (singular of intelligentsia) in its thinking can be much freer than a western professional. He is not bound by the system of division of intellectual labor and by the social relations within his professional community. He is not obliged to use the conceptual apparatus developed by his colleagues, and feels free to ‘reinvent the wheel’. He has much less conditions for doing Kuhn's normal science, but so more reason to create a ‘big’ worldview systems.
Vitaly Naishul tells the following story which he heard from his father, one of the designers of the Soviet ballistic missiles in the 1940s- 1950s:
At the end of the World War II our army captured German V-2 rockets. Soviet engineers were ordered to dismantle the missile into components and reproduce exactly the same. They were not allowed to change any parameters, it was forbidden even to replace inch screw thread by metric. A copy was made ​​and so production of missiles with a flight range of a few tens of kilometers was mastered. But the designers got bored with this job, so they invented a new missile. Without any intermediate experimentation they created an intercontinental missile capable of flying around the Earth, which some time later became the carrier for launching satellites.

How ideas are transferred into practice?

Compared with the liberal social order, in our system ideas much less get tehnologized, they are not broken down into a chain of transition from pure theory to applied science and through to practice. Specialization and the division of intellectual labor are less deep. The engineer has and tends to think conceptually, he masters his subject comprehensively and is able to approach any specific problems in a creative way. He may be aware of a number of different professional and even theoretical approaches, reads the relevant monographs and articles, and is able to offer innovative solutions. This is the potential good side of the matter, however if the expert happens to be unqualified or unscrupulous, no guarantees of the quality of his work are provided.


The institute of intelligentsia is somehow always present and plays an important role in our social order. I believe that the phenomenon of intelligentsia should be discussed in precisely those terms that are developed in this book. Namely, intelligentsia are the people whose behavior is determined by a sign system, and who are not linked into the ‘real’ interactions of network kind (especially related to power). Typically, these sign systems have been borrowed, ‘gleaned from books’. Hence the proverbial ‘utopian’ and ‘impractical’ behavior of an intelligent.
Intelligent, according to our definition, is the man of idea. Here is what Boris Engelgardt said (as quoted by Bakhtin):
Such a person enters into a special relationship to the idea: he is helpless before its power, for he has no existential roots and is deprived of culture and tradition. He becomes a "man of the idea", obsessed by the idea. The idea inside him becomes ​​power, it is omnipotent in determining and mutilating his mind and his life.
Entering the state service or going into business, a person ceases to be an intelligent. Therefore, the gap and the tension between the intelligentsia and the authorities, between the intelligentsia and the ordinary people is always present. So much so because the intelligent draws his ideas – to the best of his understanding - from foreign sources.
In turn, the authorities - and the people, too - response to the actions of the intelligentsia, is inadequate and often pointless stiff. Which causes uncompromising reaction on the side of intelligentsia. And so on along the vicious circle. Perhaps this mutual misunderstanding and rejection can also be considered a Russian institutional constant.

What is lacking in Russia?

The Russian social order is far enough from the liberal model. This is very important to keep in mind when elements of the liberal order - with varying degrees of understanding and distortion – get transplanted to our soil. However, a comparison of the properties of our system with the liberal order is very interesting.
Let's try to reproduce the standard reaction of foreigners in Russia.

«You just talk and do nothing!»

We do not just talk, we are trying to organize collective action.
The sequence of idea - its implementation - its public approval (socialization) is in Russia different. A person coming up with a certain suggestion (idea) first has to convince his colleagues or superiors. After that, all the community unanimously starts implementing it. In case this is not successful enough, the outcome is perceived as a manifestation of shortage.

«Never know where the facts and where fantasies ... Everybody lies»

The concept of fact only makes sense in a sign system, and we intermix all the modalities (modes of existence). People genuinely do not see a clear boundary between what was, what should be and what they would like it to be.

«Laws do not apply, and contracts are not fulfilled»

Of course! The foundation of Russian social order is not the legal system but social networks. As in neural networks, information exists here in the form of relations between the elements and not as stable ideal objects ‘similar to things’ which retain their meaning and function over time.

«Corruption is all around!»

Separation of contractual relations from power relations is a specific feature uniquely characterizing the liberal social order. Here this feature is lacking.

«Russians do not like each other»

We often hear that Russians wary of each other and are not able to cooperate. This is particularly true about the people who are not very familiar with each other. What is the cause and how to fix it?
There may be two reasons in my guess. First, the way we organize interaction between people involves the authorities. If Ivanov wants something from Petrov, he (Ivanov) refers to their common boss Sidorov who would make Petrov do it. So the relationship between Ivanov and Petrov looks to both of them competitive and even hostile – in spite of the fact that at some other moment Petrov will be using the same mechanism to get something from Ivanov.
The second reason is that Ivanov is interested not only - or even not so much – in the specific thing he wants to get from Petrov as in promoting his view of the whole world and, in particular, of how Petrov should behave. Petrov, of course, also has a view of his own, not the same as that of Ivanov’s. These views are worldwide, they are not confined to their two ‘private domains’ as it might have been the case in the liberal order.

«Russia should…»

We stated earlier that the liberal order has the property of programmability. Our system lacks this property. In other words non-programmability of our system means the absence of reflection. This makes it difficult for the people not only to act, but even to understand their own situation. The picture of the world could be (as in the USSR) imposed by ideological propaganda, but if it is completely lacking, there appears what Sergey Oushakin called the ‘post-Soviet aphasia: the inability of today's Russians to describe their own life situation.
Therefore, a natural desire appears to ‘fix it so it works like in normal people’s places’. The usual discussion in this case begins with the question: "Under what conditions Russia can be a normal country?", «What is lacking?» But let's ask ourselves: what is the value of recommendations that begin with the words "Russia should ... "?
One should see that this kind of reasoning based on ‘proof by contradiction’ contains a logical error. From the structuralist position, the social fabric of any country, including Russia, is a logically coherent whole in which each phenomenon can be considered as both a cause and a consequence of almost any other. Any feature of the system can justifiably be called the cause of all our troubles and/or achievements, and considered ‘the main link’ by which one can ‘pull the whole chain’.
The foregoing is not a demonstration of the author’s pessimism. From a practical point of view, it is rather a discussion about possible policy instruments. Changes in social structures occur the same way as, say, in phonetics, where a change in the pronunciation of a single sound leads to a compensatory shift in the whole sounds system aimed at preserving distinctions among sounds. Institutional policies should perhaps be organized in a similar way and be based not on implanting artificial mechanisms but rather on cultivating of systemic changes.

1 Курс общей лингвистики. - М.: Едиториал УРСС, 2004. - 256 с.


3 For those not familiar with the game: the goal in giveaway is to lose all pieces as soon as possible.


5 Michael R.W. Dawson. Understanding Cognitive Science. – Blackwell Publishers, 1998.

6 Strillings et al., цит. по Досон







13 Хайкин, Саймон. Нейронные сети. Полный курс. – Второе издание. – Москва-Санкт-Петербург-Киев, Изд. Дом «Вильямс», 2006. – 1104 с.

14 James L. McClelland, David E. Rumelhart and the PDP Research Group. Parallel Distributed Processing: Explorations in the Microstructure of Cognition - Volume 1 (foundations) and Volume 2 (Psychological and Biological Models). - Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1986. Эту книгу иногда называют «библией коннекционизма».


16 Мы не будем приводить здесь формулу корректировки весов; достаточно сказать, что она очень простая

17 Hayek, F. A. The Use of Knowledge in Society. - The American Economic Review, Vol. 35, No. 4. (Sep., 1945), pp. 519-530.

18 Симон Кордонский. Циклы деятельности и идеальные объекты. - Издательство «ПАНТОРИ», М., 2001.

19 Ауэрбах, Эрих. Мимесис. – М.: «Прогресс», 1976. – 556 стр.


21 Бахтин, М.М.. Проблемы поэтики Достоевского. Работы 1960—1970 гг. — М.: Русские словари; Языки славянских культур, 2002. — 800 с.

23 А. Ослон. Мир теорий в эпоху «охвата». – «Социальная реальность», №1, 2006.

24 Гройс, Б. Поиск русской национальной идентичности. - Вопросы философии. 1992, № 9, с. 52-60

25 Oushakine, Serguei. In the State of Post-Soviet Aphasia: Symbolic Development in Contemporary Russia - Europe-Asia Studies, Vol. 52, No. 6, 2000, 991–1016

26 It is highly significant - though not at all unexpected - that the Russian Wikipedia lacks an article about the positive and negative rights.

27 Хотя в ходе этой процедуры может запрашиваться мнение «непосвященных» присяжных.

28 Крайтон, Майкл. Восходящее солнце (1992).

29 Фотография любезно предоставлена Дагом Ковардом (Doug Coward) и его Музеем аналоговых компьютеров (Analog Computer Museum -

30 Проблемы поэтики Достоевского…

31 Мейендорф, И.Ф. Введение в святоотеческое богословие. - Нью-Йорк, 1985 (первое издание).

32 Касьянова К. О русском национальном характере. - М.: Институт национальной модели экономики, 1994 - 267с.

33 Аверинцев С.С.. Византия и Русь: два типа духовности. - «Новый мир» - 1988 - №№7, 9.

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