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A Subtle Difference

Four years ago, when, from the relative safety of my Sicilian bolthole, I was writing a weekly column for Snob, then still a leading organ of Moscow’s bien pensants, a strange thing happened. I published a column entitled “A Tale of the Future Man,” describing in some detail an openly sourced Russian government document I had chanced upon. This was a government directive, dated August 7, 2007, headed “Order of the Government of the Russian Federation ?311,” signed by the Minister of Industry and Energy from 2004 to 2012, Viktor Khristenko, and entitled “Directive for the Implementation of Government Strategy in the Electronics Industry.”

Almost simultaneously I filed a “European Diary” on the same subject in Chronicles, so those readers who have no Russian or cannot find the original here can look up my report here, and I need only to repeat the gist of it. Basically, the Directive outlined a two-phase program whereby, by 2016, all Russian citizens would be issued with cards containing microchips that bear all their identity, legal, political, financial, taxpayer, and any other personal data, whereupon, by 2025, nanotech versions of these electronic files would be implanted in the bodily tissue of every citizen, whom the Directive describes as a “bio-subject.”

The program, which was duly initiated in 2011, is now midway through its first phase, and from what I gather it is on schedule to supply every Russian with the intermediary, external version of the eventual Orwellian device, called a “universal social card,” by 2016. I say “Orwellian” lightly, as mercifully the eponymous author passed away before the age of electronics and Russian ministers thereof. None of the Inner Party hierarchs in Orwell’s dystopia could so much as dream of the joy of having a Ministry of Love’s thinkpol conduit wired directly into the bodily tissue of every Oceanian “bio-subject.” The transceiving television set, the telescreen, was as close to that secret-police Arcadia as they ever got.

The vision of the near future beyond any nightmare conceived by Orwell evoked little reaction at the time, either from the Russian or from the American audience. But earlier this month, when I attended a dinner party in London where the guests were mostly Arabs, some Christian and some Moslem, the same subject of state control over populations of “bio-subjects” came up, and all of a sudden the conversation turned lively.

“You think you Russians have invented everything, including slavery!” exclaimed young Karim, holding his smartphone aloft. “What about this? Your people may get the nano crap in their necks, but at least some of them will fight, or flee to the Siberian forest, to escape their fate. We don’t fight or flee, we queue up to get the latest phones, we go without sleep to keep up with the social networks, we live in front of the computer screens… We’re wired to conformity, wired to it voluntarily, willingly – no, I’ll say greedily, desperately! We are not nearly rebellious enough to merit the kind of implants that Putin man of yours has got in mind. Tell him to save his money!”

How could I answer the man? What he said made a lot of sense. Except that there is a subtle difference between sticking your own head in the oven and having it stuck in there for you. Subtle, yet significant.

Andrei Navrozov

Andrei Navrozov, born in Moscow, lives in Palermo and is European editor for Chronicles.  The former publisher of the Yale Lit, he is a widely published author and translator.  His Italian Carousel: Scenes of Internal Exile was published by Peter Owen Publishers.

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