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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Ass Factor

Soon, regional governors will no longer be popularly elected in Russia. President Vladimir Putin proposed abolishing gubernatorial elections and now the State Duma is enacting his wishes. No doubt, the people do not deserve to elect their rulers. They choose God knows whom. After all, they did elect Putin as president.

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Any complex system is a hierarchy of autonomously functioning systems. In the human body, for example, the brain does not command the body's cells to fight a flu virus -- this is done at a lower level by specially created systems.

A rigid system of governance cannot compete with an association of self-governing systems -- however, if such a system is to survive, its chief executive must be the Chief Broom.

Stalin's rigid system of rule was viable because any failure could be punished by a bullet to the head. Putin doesn't even fire his subordinates when they screw up big time. It's fine to sink the Kursk submarine, make mess up in Beslan, fight vets instead of drug traffickers, etc. As in Nero's Rome, neither corruption nor incompetence are grounds for repression. As the example of Mikhail Khodorkovsky demonstrates, only the accusation of harboring aspirations to take the emperor's place is grounds for repression; moreover, those pointing the finger, as a rule, are drinking buddies of the emperor who covet the accused's property.

The Caucasus offers a good example of how such a rigid system, deprived of feedback, functions. The more administrative pressure required to get the "right" president elected in a North Caucasus republic, the less control that president has over the republic.

Moscow exerted maximum pressure to get Alu Alkhanov elected president of Chechnya and Murat Zyazikov president of Ingushetia, and there are only two indications that these republics are part of the Russian Federation: first, the local elite receives handouts from the federal authorities; and second, federal agencies have carte blanche to kill and kidnap on their territory. There are no other indications of federal control over these republics. The authorities control the territory in front of the president's palace just enough for a film crew to set up a camera and shoot a report on strengthening the executive chain of command.

The governance principle, according to which all key posts must be occupied by asses and that when they make a mistake all those who call the asses asses should be dismissed, has a great parallel in history in the reign of Erh-shih, the son of the great emperor Shih Huang-ti, the second and last emperor of the Chin dynasty. Caligula appointed his horse to the Senate. One of Erh-shih's favorites, an idiotic eunuch, brought an ass into the palace and said it was a horse. Anyone who disagreed with him would be executed for excessive freethinking.

Following the ass episode, Erh-shih only ruled for a further three or four years, and by the end of his reign he had lost all real control over the country. Most Chinese provinces were controlled by radical Taoist sects, followers of Zhang Jiao. The well-organized sects collected taxes, mended bridges and preached that the blue sky of injustice would soon be replaced by a yellow sky of justice and equality.

In other words, the situation was not dissimilar to the North Caucasus, where the village and town elders rule, not the Zyazikovs and Alkhanovs. Officials on the ground, however, are afraid to inform the center of the real state of affairs; that would be worse than calling an ass an ass.

Anyway, it all ended with an uprising by the "Yellow Turbans" (the color of the future sky of justice and equality) and the immediate collapse of the Chin dynasty. Later on, Confucianist historians frequently alluded to Erh-shih's reign as a classic example of how a state should be based on humanity, not on commands, on deference and not official orders. Or, to translate Confucius into the language of modern sociology: A developed society is a system of self-governing institutions.

Yulia Latynina hosts a political talk show on Ekho Moskvy radio.