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The Most Dangerous Philosopher in the World
The work of Kremlin-approved philosopher Alexander Dugin provides key insights on the longterm strategy behind Russian hacks of the American elections.
The revelations about Russian involvement in the hacking of the Democratic Party officials, intending to vault Trump over Clinton, have added more fuel to an already-explosive and exhausting election cycle. Why would Russia do this, especially as it's been revealed that Russian President Vladimir Putin was likely personally directing the operation? Enter Alexander Dugin, the political scientist known as “Putin’s Rasputin” or “Putin’s Brain”, as well as an occult fascist. He is also a sociology professor at the highly prestigious Moscow State University, a prolific writer, an advisor to key political and military figures and an articulator of a Kremlin-approved nationalist philosophy.
He has also been on the U.S. sanctions list following Russia's takeover of Crimea for advocating the murder of Ukrainians, among other things.
It’s not that Dugin is personally responsible for the hacks that are currently being explained as Putin’s personal vendetta against Clinton. But Dugin’s influential philosophy aligns very well with what seems to have happened and provides a stunning window into this and future conflicts with Russia. There are likely much deeper motives behind Russian actions.
Alexander Dugin is at once a sociologist, historian and a philosopher. You can find many of his lectures online on Youtube, although it would help to know Russian. He himself speaks ten languages. Among his many controversial opinions, he has expressed deeply anti-scientific views, calling for the ban of chemistry and physics. He would also get rid of the Internet, an anti-technological view that actually stems from his his desire to ultimately upend the world as we know it.
What he proposes is that there have been three leading political theories that impacted the world in the relatively recent past - liberal capitalism or “liberalism”, communism and fascism. According to Dugin, the United States is the world’s leader of liberalism, which offers individual liberty, a rationalist approach and market competition.
Even though liberalism has been the winning ideology so far, triumphing over fascism in 1945, and communism in 1991 (when the Soviet Union dissolved), Dugin thinks that it is now also experiencing a fatal crisis. He believes liberals themselves would the first to claim that. Dugin regards liberalism nearing a dead end, mired currently in a “nihilistic post-modern stage” because it is trying to liberate itself from rational thought and the oppression of the brain, which to a liberal is “something fascist in itself”. Dugin takes this a step further, describing liberalism as now trying to free the organs of the body from the brain’s control, alluding to its acceptance of the LGBT community.
Here’s how he explains this rationale:
“The liberalism insists on the freedom and liberation from any form of collective identity. That is the very essence of the liberalism. The liberals have liberated the human being from national identity, religious identity and so on. The last kind of collective identity is gender. So there is time to abolish it making it arbitrary and optional.”
What Dugin proposes instead of what he sees as three dead and dying ideologies is his “Fourth Political Theory”. It would create an entirely alternative political model, set against “progress” of world history as is. It would not be based on the issues of individualism, race or nationalism. He sees this theory to be partially based on the work of the existential German philosopher Martin Heidegger, controversial for his association with Nazism. His philosophy calls for a root of a human being's self-awareness (called dasein by Heidegger) to be saved in the world, as it has been diluted in the modern space by essentially dehumanizing technology.
Since this root of being differs from person to person and from culture to culture, the world should feature a multipolar power division, instead of one superpower in the United States. Finding a way to implement such a new way of looking at the world would, per Dugin, return a sense of identity to humans who have been losing it all around the world.
Dugin contrasts this theory of a multipolar world with what he (and conspiracy theorists worldwide) see as the movement towards creating a “world government,” led by disingenuous "globalist elites" who are out to deprive people of a sense of identity and to subjugate them to their corporate needs.
In this world of a number of regional superpowers, what role would Russia play? Dugin sees Russia to be the leading nation in the Eurasian Union and has founded the International Eurasia Movement to make that happen.
What is Eurasia? Basically, it’s the territory of the former Soviet Union. Dugin thinks the Soviet Union just took over the boundaries of a historical union of people and ethnicities that was there from the Russian Empire. As Russia is a country of a unique culture and destiny, it is its mission to create a center of power that has elements of both Europe and Asia, the two continents straddled by the expansive country.
“The West knows little or nothing at all about the real history of Russia. Sometime they think that the Soviet Union was purely a communist creation and the States as Ukraine, Kazakhstan or Azerbaidjan were independent before the USSR and conquered by Bolsheviks or forced into Soviet State,” says Dugin. “The fact is they never existed as such and represented but administrative districts without any political or historical meaning inside Russian Empire as well as inside USSR. These countries were created in their present borders artificially only after the collapse of USSR and as the result of such collapse.”
So the goal of establishing the Eurasian Union would be essentially to right a historical wrong and bring back a successful empire that existed even before the Soviet Union. Russia’s recent takeover of Crimea and further designs on Ukraine seem to be a logical part of such a plan.
Dugin digs even deeper into his very controversial historical analysis, claiming Eurasia’s current opponent is not just the United States, but Atlanticism, the axis of cooperation between Europe, US and Canada that crosses the Atlantic Ocean. These maritime, liberal nations value individuality and market forces.
Eurasia, on the other hand, represents the conservative philosophy of land-locked continentalism, which according to Eurasians, has among its values a hierarchical structure, law and order, traditionalism and religion.
Thus we have Atlantis vs Eurasia. In fact, Dugin claims all history can be viewed as a battle between maritime and land-based nations.
What does Dugin think about Trump’s victory? He has been quite enthusiastic about Trump throughout the whole election process, to say the least, describing him this way to point out why Trump is a “sensation” that can stand up to globalist elites:
“[Donald Trump] is tough, rough, says what he thinks, rude, emotional and, apparently, candid. The fact that he is a billionaire doesn't matter. He is different. He is an extremely successful ordinary American…”
Dugin thinks Trump’s victory is a monumental strike against the “globalists”, whose candidate was Hillary Clinton - the same language that you can easily find peppering conservative American websites like Breitbart News, Drudge Report and conspiracy king Alex Jones (a particular favorite of Dugin’s). He thinks Trump’s victory was a kind of “revolution” started by American people and should lead to worldwide defeats of the globalist agenda, draining the proverbial “swamp” the world over.
Dugin doesn’t stop there, however. His visions of what Trump’s victory means go into the apocalyptic and civilization-changing:
“We need to return to the Being, to the Logos, to the foundamental- ontology (of Heidegger), to the Sacred, to the New Middle Ages - and thus to the Empire, religion, and the institutions of traditional society (hierarchy, cult, domination of spirit over matter and so on). All content of Modernity - is Satanism and degeneration. Nothing is worth, everything is to be cleansed off. The Modernity is absolutely wrong -- science, values, philosophy, art, society, modes, patterns, "truths", understanding of Being, time and space. All is dead with Modernity. So it should end. We are going to end it.”
This certainly would not be the first time in recent history a Russian thought that everything is wrong and the world needs to be completely uprooted. We know how that turned out. And the occult-sounding elements of some of what Dugin is saying, along with his beard, perhaps earn the comparison to Rasputin. But does Dugin believe concrete measures should be taken to bring about his vision of the world?
Interestingly, prior to Trump’s victory, influential American conservative outlets like the National Review were warning about Russian intentions, specifically singling out the threat Dugin’s ideology posed, calling Eurasianism “a satanic cult”. Now that Trump won and Russia was implicated in election meddling, they are not so keen to bring that up.
Does Putin really listen to Dugin? Scholars and commentators say his ideas are taken seriously by people in Putin’s circle and their growing popularity matches up with Putin’s evolving authoritarianism and actions. Notably, Dugin came out in 2008 in support of Russian troops taking over Georgia and very much fanned the flames during the 2014 Russia-Ukraine conflict, calling for massacring Ukrainians and annexing the Ukrainian lands that were part of the former Russian Empire.
To see what Dugin might advocate specifically, we can look in his bestselling book “The Foundation of Geopolitics” from 1997, which had particular success among Russian military and according to Foreign Policy (and Dugin's own words), is assigned as a textbook at Russian military universities.
The book outlines a vision for Russia in the 21st century that would lead to Eurasia’s formation, but also includes specific strategies for defeating or neutralizing the United States. These include destabilization and disinformation campaigns using Russian special forces and asymmetrical warfare, splitting alliances between U.S. and countries like Germany and France, as well as fermenting division within the country itself, specifically singling out race relations. On Page 367 of the first edition of the book, Dugin explains:
“It is especially important to introduce geopolitical disorder into internal American activity, encouraging all kinds of separatism and ethnic, social and racial conflicts, actively supporting all dissident movements – extremist, racist, and sectarian groups, thus destabilizing internal political processes in the U.S. It would also make sense simultaneously to support isolationist tendencies in American politics…”
After our hyper-divisive elections, full of calamities described above, facing an increasingly eye-opening investigation into Russian interference in our most cherished democratic institution, it’s hard not to take Dugin’s ideas seriously. With Trump's victory, Dugin has backed off somewhat from painting the U.S. as enemy number one. It's also been reported that the relationship between Dugin and Putin might have cooled off recently, with Dugin criticizing Putin for being "too slow" in bringing about his vision of the world. But looking at the facts on the ground it's possible to conclude that Putin may still be playing a Eurasia-oriented long game that is not going to end only at Wikileaking embarrassing emails. Especially in light of the fact that the United States now finds itself in a vulnerable position, looking for a unifying philosophy and a way forward of its own.
Cover photo: Alexander Dugin in South Ossetia, before the Russian-Georgian war, August 2008.
Some mysteries take generations to unfold.
- In 1959, a group of nine Russian hikers was killed in an overnight incident in the Ural Mountains.
- Conspiracies about their deaths have flourished ever since, including alien invasion, an irate Yeti, and angry tribesmen.
- Researchers have finally confirmed that their deaths were due to a slab avalanche caused by intense winds.
In February 1959, a group of nine hikers crossed through Russia's Ural Mountains as part of a skiing expedition. The experienced trekkers, all employed at the Ural Polytechnical Institute, were led by Igor Dyatlov. On the evening of February 1, all nine appear to have fled their tents into the Arctic temperatures, for which they were unprepared. None survived.
Six of the members died of hypothermia; three suffered from physical trauma. Some members were missing body parts—a tongue here, a few eyes there, a pair of eyebrows for good measure. According to reports, no hiker appears to have struggled or panicked. They were likely too quickly overtaken by the hostile environment in Western Russia.
All the members were young, mostly in their early twenties; one member, Semyon Zolotaryov, was 38. Good health didn't matter. Given the uncertain circumstances—what made them flee into the bitter cold?—the incident known as Dyatlov Pass has long been the type of Area 51-conspiracy theory that some people love to speculate about. A vicious animal attack? Infrasound-induced panic? Was the Soviet military involved? Maybe it was the katabatic winds that did them in. Local tribesmen might not have liked the intrusion.
Or perhaps it was aliens. Or a Yeti. Have we talked about Yeti aliens yet?
These theories and more have been floated for decades.
a: Last picture of the Dyatlov group taken before sunset, while making a cut in the slope to install the tent. b: Broken tent covered with snow as it was found during the search 26 days after the event.
Photographs courtesy of the Dyatlov Memorial Foundation.
Finally, a new study, published in the Nature journal Communications Earth & Environment, has put the case to rest: it was a slab avalanche.
This theory isn't exactly new either. Researchers have long been skeptical about the avalanche notion, however, due to the grade of the hill. Slab avalanches don't need a steep slope to get started. Crown or flank fractures can quickly release as little as a few centimeters of earth (or snow) sliding down a hill (or mountain).
As researchers Johan Gaume (Switzerland's WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research SLF) and Alexander Puzrin (Switzerland's Institute for Geotechnical Engineering) write, it was "a combination of irregular topography, a cut made in the slope to install the tent and the subsequent deposition of snow induced by strong katabatic winds contributed after a suitable time to the slab release, which caused severe non-fatal injuries, in agreement with the autopsy results."
Conspiracy theories abound when evidence is lacking. Twenty-six days after the incident, a team showed up to investigate. They didn't find any obvious sounds of an avalanche; the slope angle was below 30 degrees, ruling out (to them) the possibility of a landslide. Plus, the head injuries suffered were not typical of avalanche victims. Inject doubt and crazy theories will flourish.
Configuration of the Dyatlov tent installed on a flat surface after making a cut in the slope below a small shoulder. Snow deposition above the tent is due to wind transport of snow (with deposition flux Q).
Photo courtesy of Communications Earth & Environment.
Add to this Russian leadership's longstanding battle with (or against) the truth. In 2015 the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation decided to reopen this case. Four years later the agency concluded it was indeed a snow avalanche—an assertion immediately challenged within the Russian Federation. The oppositional agency eventually agreed as well. The problem was neither really provided conclusive scientific evidence.
Gaume and Puzrin went to work. They provided four critical factors that confirmed the avalanche:
- The location of the tent under a shoulder in a locally steeper slope to protect them from the wind
- A buried weak snow layer parallel to the locally steeper terrain, which resulted in an upward-thinning snow slab
- The cut in the snow slab made by the group to install the tent
- Strong katabatic winds that led to progressive snow accumulation due to the local topography (shoulder above the tent) causing a delayed failure
Case closed? It appears so, though don't expect conspiracy theories to abate. Good research takes time—sometimes generations. We're constantly learning about our environment and then applying those lessons to the past. While we can't expect every skeptic to accept the findings, from the looks of this study, a 62-year-old case is now closed.
Stay in touch with Derek on Twitter and Facebook. His most recent book is "Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."
New data have set the particle physics community abuzz.
- The first question ever asked in Western philosophy, "What's the world made of?" continues to inspire high energy physicists.
- New experimental results probing the magnetic properties of the muon, a heavier cousin of the electron, seem to indicate that new particles of nature may exist, potentially shedding light on the mystery of dark matter.
- The results are a celebration of the human spirit and our insatiable curiosity to understand the world and our place in it.
If brute force doesn't work, then look into the peculiarities of nothingness. This may sound like a Zen koan, but it's actually the strategy that particle physicists are using to find physics beyond the Standard Model, the current registry of all known particles and their interactions. Instead of the usual colliding experiments that smash particles against one another, exciting new results indicate that new vistas into exotic kinds of matter may be glimpsed by carefully measuring the properties of the quantum vacuum. There's a lot to unpack here, so let's go piecemeal.
It is fitting that the first question asked in Western philosophy concerned the material composition of the world. Writing around 350 BCE, Aristotle credited Thales of Miletus (circa 600 BCE) with the honor of being the first Western philosopher when he asked the question, "What is the world made of?" What modern high energy physicists do, albeit with very different methodology and equipment, is to follow along the same philosophical tradition of trying to answer this question, assuming that there are indivisible bricks of matter called elementary particles.
Deficits in the Standard Model
Jumping thousands of years of spectacular discoveries, we now have a very neat understanding of the material composition of the world at the subatomic level: a total of 12 particles and the Higgs boson. The 12 particles of matter are divided into two groups, six leptons and six quarks. The six quarks comprise all particles that interact via the strong nuclear force, like protons and neutrons. The leptons include the familiar electron and its two heavier cousins, the muon and the tau. The muon is the star of the new experiments.
For all its glory, the Standard Model described above is incomplete. The goal of fundamental physics is to answer the most questions with the least number of assumptions. As it stands, the values of the masses of all particles are parameters that we measure in the laboratory, related to how strongly they interact with the Higgs. We don't know why some interact much stronger than others (and, as a consequence, have larger masses), why there is a prevalence of matter over antimatter, or why the universe seems to be dominated by dark matter — a kind of matter we know nothing about, apart from the fact that it's not part of the recipe included in the Standard Model. We know dark matter has mass since its gravitational effects are felt in familiar matter, the matter that makes up galaxies and stars. But we don't know what it is.
Whatever happens, new science will be learned.
Physicists had hoped that the powerful Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland would shed light on the nature of dark matter, but nothing has come up there or in many direct searches, where detectors were mounted to collect dark matter that presumably would rain down from the skies and hit particles of ordinary matter.
Could muons fill in the gaps?
Enter the muons. The hope that these particles can help solve the shortcomings of the Standard Model has two parts to it. The first is that every particle, like a muon, that has an electric charge can be pictured simplistically as a spinning sphere. Spinning spheres and disks of charge create a magnetic field perpendicular to the direction of the spin. Picture the muon as a tiny spinning top. If it's rotating counterclockwise, its magnetic field would point vertically up. (Grab a glass of water with your right hand and turn it counterclockwise. Your thumb will be pointing up, the direction of the magnetic field.) The spinning muons will be placed into a doughnut-shaped tunnel and forced to go around and around. The tunnel will have its own magnetic field that will interact with the tiny magnetic field of the muons. As the muons circle the doughnut, they will wobble about, just like spinning-tops wobble on the ground due to their interaction with Earth's gravity. The amount of wobbling depends on the magnetic properties of the muon which, in turn, depend on what's going on with the muon in space.
Credit: Fabrice Coffrini / Getty Images
This is where the second idea comes in, the quantum vacuum. In physics, there is no empty space. The so-called vacuum is actually a bubbling soup of particles that appear and disappear in fractions of a second. Everything fluctuates, as encapsulated in Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle. Energy fluctuates too, what we call zero-point energy. Since energy and mass are interconvertible (E=mc2, remember?), these tiny fluctuations of energy can be momentarily converted into particles that pop out and back into the busy nothingness of the quantum vacuum. Every particle of matter is cloaked with these particles emerging from vacuum fluctuations. Thus, a muon is not only a muon, but a muon dressed with these extra fleeting bits of stuff. That being the case, these extra particles affect a muon's magnetic field, and thus, its wobbling properties.
About 20 years ago, physicists at the Brookhaven National Laboratory detected anomalies in the muon's magnetic properties, larger than what theory predicted. This would mean that the quantum vacuum produces particles not accounted for by the Standard Model: new physics! Fast forward to 2017, and the experiment, at four times higher sensitivity, was repeated at the Fermi National Laboratory, where yours truly was a postdoctoral fellow a while back. The first results of the Muon g-2 experiment were unveiled on 7-April-2021 and not only confirmed the existence of a magnetic moment anomaly but greatly amplified it.
To most people, the official results, published recently, don't seem so exciting: a "tension between theory and experiment of 4.2 standard deviations." The gold standard for a new discovery in particle physics is a 5-sigma variation, or one part in 3.5 million. (That is, running the experiment 3.5 million times and only observing the anomaly once.) However, that's enough for plenty of excitement in the particle physics community, given the remarkable precision of the experimental measurements.
A time for excitement?
Now, results must be reanalyzed very carefully to make sure that (1) there are no hidden experimental errors; and (2) the theoretical calculations are not off. There will be a frenzy of calculations and papers in the coming months, all trying to make sense of the results, both on the experimental and theoretical fronts. And this is exactly how it should be. Science is a community-based effort, and the work of many compete with and complete each other.
Whatever happens, new science will be learned, even if less exciting than new particles. Or maybe, new particles have been there all along, blipping in and out of existence from the quantum vacuum, waiting to be pulled out of this busy nothingness by our tenacious efforts to find out what the world is made of.
- Benjamin Franklin wrote essays on a whole range of subjects, but one of his finest was on how to be a nice, likable person.
- Franklin lists a whole series of common errors people make while in the company of others, like over-talking or storytelling.
- His simple recipe for being good company is to be genuinely interested in others and to accept them for who they are.
Think of the nicest person you know. The person who would fit into any group configuration, who no one can dislike, or who makes a room warmer and happier just by being there.
What makes them this way? Why are they so amiable, likeable, or good-natured? What is it, you think, that makes a person good company?
There are really only two things that make someone likable.
This is the kind of advice that comes from one of history's most famously good-natured thinkers: Benjamin Franklin. His essay "On Conversation" is full of practical, surprisingly modern tips about how to be a nice person.
Franklin begins by arguing that there are really only two things that make someone likable. First, they have to be genuinely interested in what others say. Second, they have to be willing "to overlook or excuse Foibles." In other words, being good company means listening to people and ignoring their faults. Being witty, well-read, intelligent, or incredibly handsome can all make a good impression, but they're nothing without these two simple rules.
The sort of person nobody likes
From here, Franklin goes on to give a list of the common errors people tend to make while in company. These are the things people do that makes us dislike them. We might even find, with a sinking feeling in our stomach, that we do some of these ourselves.
1) Talking too much and becoming a "chaos of noise and nonsense." These people invariably talk about themselves, but even if "they speak beautifully," it's still ultimately more a soliloquy than a real conversation. Franklin mentions how funny it can be to see these kinds of people come together. They "neither hear nor care what the other says; but both talk on at any rate, and never fail to part highly disgusted with each other."
2) Asking too many questions. Interrogators are those people who have an "impertinent Inquisitiveness… of ten thousand questions," and it can feel like you're caught between a psychoanalyst and a lawyer. In itself, this might not be a bad thing, but Franklin notes it's usually just from a sense of nosiness and gossip. The questions are only designed to "discover secrets…and expose the mistakes of others."
3) Storytelling. You know those people who always have a scripted story they tell at every single gathering? Utterly painful. They'll either be entirely oblivious to how little others care for their story, or they'll be aware and carry on regardless. Franklin notes, "Old Folks are most subject to this Error," which we might think is perhaps harsh, or comically honest, depending on our age.
4) Debating. Some people are always itching for a fight or debate. The "Wrangling and Disputing" types inevitably make everyone else feel like they need to watch what they say. If you give even the lightest or most modest opinion on something, "you throw them into Rage and Passion." For them, the conversation is a boxing fight, and words are punches to be thrown.
5) Misjudging. Ribbing or mocking someone should be a careful business. We must never mock "Misfortunes, Defects, or Deformities of any kind", and should always be 100% sure we won't upset anyone. If there's any doubt about how a "joke" will be taken, don't say it. Offense is easily taken and hard to forget.
On practical philosophy
Franklin's essay is a trove of great advice, and this article only touches on the major themes. It really is worth your time to read it in its entirety. As you do, it's hard not to smile along or to think, "Yes! I've been in that situation." Though the world has changed dramatically in the 300 years since Franklin's essay, much is exactly the same. Basic etiquette doesn't change.
If there's only one thing to take away from Franklin's essay, it comes at the end, where he revises his simple recipe for being nice:
"Be ever ready to hear what others say… and do not censure others, nor expose their Failings, but kindly excuse or hide them"
So, all it takes to be good company is to listen and accept someone for who they are.
Philosophy doesn't always have to be about huge questions of truth, beauty, morality, art, or meaning. Sometimes it can teach us simply how to not be a jerk.
A recent study analyzed the skulls of early Homo species to learn more about the evolution of primate brains.