Putin is sane and accountable

"Over the years of unlimited power and isolation that the covid has had in recent years ... his perceptual adequacy has changed. It is not psychosis in the literal sense of the word, but a certain detachment from reality. He has no feedback. No one will tell him how it really is. For years, no one tells him. He really believes that he rules the world with his wishes. In a domestic sense, you could call it insanity. But if there is an expertise, he is sane and subject to liability. In general, to escape in The Hague, if he reaches it - will not happen.

We talked to the famous psychologist Ludmila Petranovskaya about Putin, about how to talk to people who have been exposed to television, about why it is fundamentally important to call things by their proper names today. The new issue of Eyewitnesses February 24.

Tell us about yourself.

- I am Ludmila Petranovskaya, a family psychologist, my topic is child-parent relationships. I work with ordinary parents, give lectures and write books. My narrow topic is orphanhood, family placement, and a related NGO project, the Institute for the Development of Family Placement.

How did the war change your life?

- If we're talking about my private life, I guess the war didn't change it much, because already during the pandemic a lot had changed, a lot of work had gone online. And, in general, I'm not the most vulnerable part of the population, so my private life hasn't changed much. On the other hand, it feels like a lot of things are broken and unclear that you can't plan ahead. Some things I stopped doing, for example, public speaking in Russia, because the organizers will say: "Do not talk about this, do not talk about that", they will be told to cancel the show. In general, it's easier to cancel right away than all these negotiations and clarifications. Strange feeling: as though nothing much has changed, and as though very strong rollback, feeling of destruction of plans, destruction of hopes. It seemed that it was possible to gradually work on something, to improve something, to build something. Of course, it is even silly to talk about this now. I hope that at least not everything is not destroyed and not everything was in vain, but it is clear that now, in many ways, it all became irrelevant.

How do you talk to a loved one poisoned by television?

- If we're talking about people "poisoned" by TV, that is, people affected by propaganda, it's important to understand that today they may say one thing, and in a few years they may say something else. So if you care about them and if you have such an opportunity, you shouldn't do irreversible, irreparable things on the basis of that: break off relations, say that you are not brothers, not sisters anymore. Because you have to understand that high-quality propaganda is hard to resist, it's such a "superduty" to stay in this situation. It's understandable that when you, for example, weren't the target audience and never really took propaganda, it's easy not to listen and not understand why people might be so susceptible to it. But if it's coming down on you, there's a pretty high resource requirement to confront it. So first of all, I wouldn't try to immediately change someone's mind right now, because that just makes things worse. When people are pressured, when they try to tell them that what they think is not what they think, that they are wrong, that they belong to those who do bad things, that they belong to a community that commits a crime, and so on, they will only defend themselves and hold on more to their beliefs and positions, even if they are absolutely wild and meaningless. Even if they are a pile-up of absurdity, the person will cling to them, because it is hard to accept that he is part of some crime, that he is part of something very bad. So I wouldn't try to change my mind, but what we can talk about is what's behind the positions. And behind any positions are needs, and those needs, oddly enough, can be the same for people with different positions.

These people don't want to be ashamed of their country, and these people don't want to be ashamed of their country - their needs are the same: to belong to a normal community that behaves adequately, but not all this. And if you manage not to fall into emotion, not to get into a rage, but to talk about the needs, then at their level sometimes it is very possible to agree. Roughly speaking, not to discuss speculation about America being behind everything - there's no point in arguing with that. Okay, fine. Let America be behind it. But what's going on, is it good? And at this point, there may well be some agreement.

The important thing here is to capture what has been agreed upon, not to demand complete, one hundred percent agreement with your entire picture of the world. People may have varying degrees of readiness to join the anti-war consensus and to disengage from the military consensus. If his degree of readiness is, "Yes, it's bad when women and children die, it's terrible, but it's all America's fault," then it's certainly better than, "It's all America's fault and let them all die there." That's why it's good, now it's this stage. God be with her, with America, let's at least fix on this and understand that here we agree that it is necessary that people not die. To do this, you must partially humble your pride and not assume that you will be told, "Well, why didn't you say so before? Of course we agree with you," and take off the white coat a little bit.

Because if a person identifies very strongly with his position, and it seems to him that anyone who does not share it is some kind of orc, a monster, then it is better for him not to have such conversations at all. Better let him communicate with like-minded people, otherwise the result will only be an increase in the cohesion of the people around the government. Because when they listen to all this stuff about orcs, about a country that "never and nothing", that needs to be dismembered, leveled - all we get as a result is what they say: "Well, what now. Of course we're sorry that all this started, but since it's the way it is now, since that's the way you treat us, the way you perceive us, it means we have to pull together and fight back." People are walking around with their white coats and their desire to be right, to be holier than the Pope, and in the end it's sabotage. They work for military consensus, and we actually need to work for something else.

Many people think Putin is crazy. Is this true?

- If just as a swear word, you can swear all you want. In scientific terms, he is not psychotic. Certainly, over the years of unlimited power and isolation because of covid, because of his paranoia, something has happened to him. I'm not talking about paranoia in the diagnostic sense, but in the domestic sense: fears of everything in the world, which have, in general, some basis in fact. It just seems to me that his perceptual adequacy has changed a great deal. It's not psychosis in the literal sense, but it's a kind of detachment from reality. Plus he really has no feedback. For years no one told him what was going on, and he really believes that he controls the world with his wishes. In a domestic sense, this could probably be called insanity, but if there is an expertise, then he is sane and liable.

There are psychologists who think Putin is a necrophiliac. Would you agree with them?

- If we speak on a domestic level, then, of course, these things are connected. If we talk about necrophilia as a philosophical category, then, of course, the desire for power is connected to it. Because if you want more power, you want to control everything, and the ultimate form of control is murder. Because if something is alive and moving, you can never fully control it. In this sense, any dictator, anyone who collects a great deal of power from himself and holds on to that power very strongly, for whom it becomes an end in itself, gets this desire as a package. Even Hollywood movies show you freeze everything, turn it into a stone, a snow figure. In "The Chronicles of Narnia," everyone is frozen, standing there as a stone, not moving, unable to do anything, and no attempts are made on your power. But if they start moving, wanting something, running somewhere, you can't keep an eye on everyone. So in the philosophical sense, this comes as a package, and there doesn't have to be a psychiatric component. You can be very healthy, but sit there for 30 years and it will happen.

Many predict an increase in violence in Russia after the war is over. Is there any way to avoid it?

- On the one hand, this is a universal problem, because after any war there is a huge number of post-combatants, many people with PTSD, and these people return to society and, accordingly, bring all that is associated with this condition: addictions, depressive episodes, dysphoric episodes, explosive bursts of uncontrollable anger, a tendency toward aggression, a tendency to break social norms. In this condition, both the person himself or herself feels bad, and everyone around him or her does not feel good, especially those who live close to him or her, especially those who are dependent on him or her. That is, women, children, the elderly are most vulnerable in this situation. And at some point, it can also be completely random people. For example, if he's overreacting, he has a temper tantrum, because he was swallowing dust, and you're all walking around in coffee shops, why wouldn't you...

So this is a big problem. It is possible and necessary to work with this, but I, frankly speaking, can hardly imagine it. I know that there are all kinds of initiatives, including on the part of the state, but you see, for a psychologist to be able to work, the most important condition for this psychological work is a certain honesty. In a situation where you can't say anything: don't call it what you will, don't call the war a war, don't discuss the righteousness of this war, it seems to me that it will only be a "lock-step" story. I can't imagine how it is possible to work in this situation. It's probably possible to relieve some acute conditions with techniques and medication, but to work through it... I wouldn't do it, or I would, but then I would take the risks, because without honesty it's impossible. Without the ability to say, "What was this war, what was it, who were we there?" it's impossible. So, on the one hand, it's kind of clear what we need to do to reduce these risks, on the other hand, I don't really understand how.

Recently everyone witnessed another squabble among the Russian opposition. What do you think prevents people who have the same goal of stopping the war from uniting?

- Our outgoing opposition has one big problem: it is illegitimate, in no way, shape or form. It does not represent anyone. There was no act, for example, like the Belarusians who voted for Tihanovskaya. She has the right to speak on behalf of the Belarusian people as an alternative leader. We don't have such people, or rather we do, but he is sitting. Navalny, the only person who has some kind of legitimacy, because people came out for him when they voted. People came out for him when he was persecuted. So he's the only one who has any legitimacy at all. Not as much as if he were running for president, but at least some legitimacy. All the other comrades come out and say: "We are the other Russia, we are free Russia, we are a form of this, we are a form of that. Who are you, anyway? Who is behind you? Nothing follows from what you think of yourself. And this makes them nervous, those who have political ambitions, those who associate their future either with a return to Russia or with the fact that they know nothing more than to be some kind of spokesman for Russia.

Should everyone who is against the war unite?

- Showing that they are against the war should not only be the opposition - it should be everyone, down to the manicurists who have moved away. And you do not need to be a professional oppositionist to show that you are against the war. Every decent person should be against the war. When they talk about this union, they're not saying that they're against the war, but that we're like that very alternative Russia. But that's the problem: no one can say that he is the alternative Russia, because no one is behind him. In order for anyone to stand behind you, Russians must be interested in you in some way. Russians, not each other. So if someone can be in another, alternative Russia right now, it will be those people who have been doing human rights advocacy and social work all this time. Not professional oppositionists, and not even those who are fighting corruption.

Because the fight against corruption, frankly, Russians are not impressed in any way. From their point of view it is clear that it is the boss, and you need to negotiate with him. Maybe it impresses some young people, but the older generation is not impressed, it's not something that "knocks ashes to the heart. We can't jump levels. It seems to me that we keep jumping levels, imitating political activity when there is no basis underneath it. The basis is some kind of activity that is directly related to people's interests, because of which people will be interested in understanding what's going on. And in this sense, some local deputies who defended the square are legitimate. People voted for them, they understand what and why. Another question is that the authorities also understand this and are actually cutting them out now.

What are you most afraid of?

- Nuclear weapons. This is the main threat at the moment, and it's not off the table yet. If they start to lose seriously, it is possible.

Why, if you are against the war, is it important not to remain silent?

- First of all, I think it's important for the people themselves. It is a very self-destructive condition. I've encountered several situations this year where I've been very gently but tried to put limits on myself, for example, in speeches: "Don't take black and white, and don't say no." About psychology, not about politics and war. And I understand how uncomfortable this is for the man himself. It begs the question, "Do I have no respect for myself, to pretend that nothing is happening when it is happening?" I don't think it's necessary, by word of mouth or not, to turn everything into a conversation about it. Into what we saw in the early months of the war, when posts and statements of this nature started appearing under some real estate ad. But to pretend that this doesn't exist, to talk about the same child-parent relationships in isolation from reality, about what's happening to families, to gloss over and pretend that there's no context to it - that's self-destructive in the first place. I don't know if this makes any pragmatic sense. If we all say it, will it affect anything? I suspect not really. All such matters are, unfortunately, decided only on the battlefield. That is, not only on the battlefield, but the overall balance of power is not our level, let's put it that way. So don't get carried away.

But why do I keep talking about the anti-war consensus? It's not necessarily that everyone will say something, but when the community decides something, it's very hard to do anything about it. This decision may not be made immediately, and it may not be made by everyone, but only by part of the community, but when this decision is made: "we don't need this" or "we need that," then this decision hangs in the air, as they say. And there is no getting around it. If the decision is made, then it is very difficult to move against it; you need absolutely extraordinary things to break it. That's why it seems to me that it's more important not to talk to someone, not to some hypothetical audience, some evaluators who are looking on from the outside to see if you've said enough, if you've used the right words, if you're wearing the right dress. First of all, you should speak when it's organic to you, and you should speak to yourself and speak to those who hear you: some people have a family circle, some people have listeners at a lecture, some people have someone else. Not catching yourself by the tongue, allowing yourself to call things by their proper names, because I would say that's the key to mental health.

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