16 Mar 2015

Putin on spiritual retreat to ponder the ethical questions of life

Is Man predestined or does he have a choice? What is the role of human agency in shaping our life? Can we take what’s not rightfully ours under certain circumstances? How can we make sure we act morally in a world where it is increasingly hard to tell right from wrong? Is there indeed a right and a wrong or is everything relative? These and many other questions will be contemplated by Russian leader Vladimir Putin in his spiritual retreat which started ten days ago.

Speculation is rife in hostile Western media about Putin’s whereabouts, driven partially by their antagonism towards Russia and its charismatic leaders, but also due to ignorance of the Russian way of life and the importance of philosophical introspection among the country’s political and intellectual leaders. In the materialistic West it would be unexpected for a leader to take time off to ponder the big questions of life, but not so in Russia.

Putin, as every schoolchild in Russia can tell you, (but Western media never asks them), has embarked on an important spiritual and ethical retreat in a desolate location in Siberia where he will live on meagre supplies to focus and sharpen his mind in preparation for answering the big ethical and moral questions. Putin will live on a diet of raw fish, black tea and parsnips, as he attempts to wrangle with the persistent existential questions that confound us all.

The Russian leader will read the likes of Tolstoy and Shestov, subsisting on an intellectual diet of philosophy and melancholic literature as he prepares for the biggest challenge of his life. It is hard to imagine Barack Obama or David Cameron having the courage to do the same, as they prefer to read the latest Malcolm Gladwell bestseller while eating their organic salads and sipping wine. This easy option is not for Putin, a man dedicated to philosophy, ethics and bear-hunting.

Indeed, the Russian leader will only take time off reading and pondering to wrestle with a bear or a wild wolf, and practice shooting with his AK-47 to remind himself of the fragility of modern existence and the thin veneer of civilisation that separates us from returning to our primal roots. But more importantly, Putin will ask himself lots and lots of ethical questions.

Putin is particularly plagued by Nietzsche’s der Wille zur Macht and Heidegger’s subsequent elaboration particularly when it comes to the question of authenticity. For a while, Putin took to reading Žižek to silence those persistent questions imposed by the German philosophers but according to a close aide: ‘he is fed up with the postmodern sedative offered by Žižek’ and wants to resolve these questions for himself, once and for all.

Putin’s disappearance is, in fact, a result of a philosophical/ethical emergency. We in the West are so accustomed to the shallowness of our leaders that we don’t expect much from them, let alone going on a spiritual retreat to ponder the very real ethical manifestations of existential philosophy. Putin’s sensitive soul is far too alert to allow those questions to go unanswered. Putin will remain on the retreat for as long as it takes; only taking time out to order the deployment of troops or necessary military operations. Aside from that, he will be dedicating all his mental energy to those pressing ethical questions.

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Karl reMarks is a blog about Middle East politics and culture with a healthy dose of satire.

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