To have a grounding in either Biblical or Koranic hermeneutics is very useful when it comes to understanding the deeper meanings of fake news stories and conspiracy-theories. I mean that, not in the banal sense that the stories found in the holy books of the world’s major religious traditions are factually “untrue,” but that in being non-factual narratives, they nonetheless always contain a deeper level of truth.
For example, let’s imagine that, at a certain time and place in human history, people start telling themselves a new story about a deity who becomes human, and then dies. Let us also imagine that, over historical time, this story becomes highly appealing to almost half the world’s population.
What is the deeper meaning of this story? Why have historical conditions come to demand of us that we begin to tell ourselves this story? Which insights about human nature, and about the nature of divinity, does the story implicitly contain? What does this story say about us, about our own configuration of consciousness?
It is superfluous whether or not the story is literally “true” – either way, it reveals deeper truths, because it tells us who, cognitively, we are. We are the people who have “built” this type of “kenotic” (self-emptying) god, so what does that say about us?
As Feuerbach wrote, man’s three most central impulses are to will, to love and to know, and that is why Christians conceptualize a deity whose three primary characteristics are omnipotence, benevolence and omniscience.
Conspiracy-theories and fake news-stories should be read on the same allegorical level, insofar as they reveal the deepest pathologies and internal contradictions within the self-consciousness of their target-audiences.
For example, the Russiagate narrative implicitly revealed very deep truths about the most central and deepest internal contradiction in American self-consciousness, the inability to cognitively come to terms with multipolarity. This inability stems from the self-image which the United States as a political project has had since its foundation in the late 18th century. It was a product of the naïve enlightenment-impulse to “transcend history.” Fukuyama’s faux-Hegelian “end of history” discourse had been implicitly inscribed into American consciousness from day one. America had always conceptualized itself as “the shining city on the hill” – that is to say, as a post-historical utopia. By blatantly misrepresenting Hegel, Fukuyama merely made this thematic in American consciousness more explicit. Implicitly, it had always been there.
That story about the end of history started to unravel on September 11th, 2001. As Slavoj Žižek later argued, we can understand one aspect of 9/11 by asking ourselves “That pilot who flew the plane into the first tower – what did he have to say to us?”
Žižek suggested that the pilot’s essential message to us was “Welcome back to history. The end of history has, in itself, ended.”
But this implication that “the end of history” can itself end contradicts the very possibility of the United States’ existence, because “transcending history” is one of its foundation-myths. “The end of history” is a deeply metaphysical idea, an example of secular transcendentalism.
And then suddenly, at the beginning of the 21st century, we find ourselves geo-politically playing by 19th century rules again. Geo-politically, the 19th century will never end. Contingent, empirical historical conditions now contradict the United States’ foundational metaphysics.
This was what the Russiagate narrative was really about – an attempt to come to terms with the re-commencement of the process of world-history, as manifested in the new geo-political multipolarity.
Therefore, the Russiagate narrative contained very deep truths about the most central internal contradictions within American self-consciousness.
We can quite fruitfully apply the same kind of analysis to Ukraine’s media-space. Many conspiracy-theories and fake news-stories of Ukrainian origin reveal the Ukrainian nation’s very deepest insecurities.
The most central insecurity is the suspicion that they don’t really exist.
For example, on June 3rd, a story originating from the UNIAN news-agency started to circulate through Ukraine’s media-space. Apparently, Ukraine’s most senior military prosecutor has begun an investigation into an alleged plot hatched between the governments of Romania and Russia to occupy parts of Ukraine, with the Romanian army occupying parts of Bukovina and the Odessa region. Chief Military Prosecutor Anatoly Matios announced the convening of an emergency meeting with the leadership of the Foreign Ministry, the General Staff, and SBU following the uploading of a provocative video on Youtube on May 26th. This video, titled “Romanian-Ukrainian War 2022” depicts a scenario wherein Romania and Moldova unite, following which Romania (with Russian diplomatic assistance) then encroaches on current Ukrainian territory, claiming the disputed territory of Bukovina to found a new “Romanian empire.”
Ukraine’s most senior military prosecutor, Anatoly Matios, seemed to take this video very seriously. He stated “I’m informing you - literally tomorrow, I’ll personally add to the Unified Register of Pre-Trial Investigations about the preparation (by understandable, but not procedurally identified persons) to commit especially serious crimes that impinge on the territorial integrity of the Ukrainian state. In connection with the arguments set out in the article, on Tuesday I will hold a meeting with the leadership of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the General Staff and the Defense Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Defense, the Foreign Intelligence Service, as well as the acting chairman of the Security Service of Ukraine. Everyone will receive legitimate instructions within the criminal proceedings.”
But why would he react in this way to what is, ultimately, merely a provocative video?
The giveaway in Matios’ wording is the phrase “the preparation (by understandable, but not procedurally identified persons) to commit especially serious crimes that impinge on the territorial integrity of the Ukrainian state….”
In other words, no actual suspects have been identified, which means that the narrative is metaphysical, and the fears which it expresses are metaphysical in nature.
Also, Matios sees discourse in itself, simply posting a video, as encroaching on the territorial integrity of Ukraine. He equates a notional or hypothetical occupation of Ukrainian territory, fantasized about in a provocative video, with an actual occupation.
This equation of the virtual with the physical is explicable insofar as it reveals the deep fear, felt pre-discursively by many Ukrainians, that Ukraine itself is merely a “virtual” country.
In addition, we might note that the number of residents of the Odessa region filing applications for Romanian passports doubled in 2018, a fact which Kiev interprets as a form of “colonization” in itself. Diplomatic hostilities also erupted between Hungary and Ukraine last October, following Ukrainian complaints about Hungarian consulates generously handing out Hungarian passports to current Ukrainian citizens. Over 100,000 ethnic Hungarians live in Ukraine’s western Transcarpathia region. Ukrainian prosecutors promptly opened 370 criminal cases against Ukrainian citizens who have obtained Hungarian passports. In April, President Putin signed a decree to simplify procedures for people living in Donbass to obtain Russian passports.
Russia, Romania, Hungary.
Meanwhile, the Polish government is financing Roman Catholic missionaries and cultural institutions in Kiev and Western Ukraine. Rather than simply issuing passports, they prefer the attempt to engineer a more gradual and culturally deeper process of “Polanization.”
Ukraine’s existential fear is that everybody will take their slice of the cake – demographically and, eventually, perhaps even territorially.
A lot of people living in Crimea were predicting precisely that kind of scenario in Spring 2014. It was a widely held belief among Crimeans then that, within 5 or 10 years, a nation-state called “Ukraine” would no longer exist. The secession of Crimea and Donbass was thought likely to begin a domino-effect of balkanization, with Ukrainian citizens living on the borderlands of Poland, Hungary and Romania all deciding to break away. The punitive military operation against the civilian population of Donbass which has been ongoing since spring 2014 was devised to intimidate other regions into not seceding. From a Ukrainian perspective, the central purpose of the war in Donbass is not to re-integrate Donbass. Most Ukrainians understand that is impossible.
The real purpose of the military operation against the civilian population of Donbass is to serve as a warning to the populations of Western Transcarpathia, Bukovina, Kharkov, Odessa, etc….
Ultimately, the best explanation for the over-reaction of Anatoly Matios to what is, ultimately, only a provocative video is this:
Ukrainian fears concerning Romanian territorial ambitions, manifested as wild conspiracy-theories, reveal a much deeper fear – namely, the fear that “Ukraine” itself does not really exist, that Ukraine is merely an inorganic amalgam of Tatars, Poles, Hungarians, Romanians, Russians, etc….
But Ukrainians can’t ask themselves that question out loud – “Do we really exist?”
So the question finds expression in other ways – in the form of conspiracy-theories and fake news.
Just as Americans can’t ask themselves certain questions out loud.
“Is multipolarity really happening?”
“Why did we fail to lead the rest of the world to the end of history?”
So these ineffable questions also find expression in the form of fake news and conspiracy-theories, Russiagate being the standout exemplar.
These “stories” reveal our deepest fears, and the most central internal contradictions within our normative grasp of ourselves.
You see, whether by design or otherwise, everything is an allegory.