“A dog, a woman and a walnut tree…

“I asked for it”

…the more you beat them, the better they’ll be,” says the English proverb going back to at least the 17th century.

Here’s a more contemporary contribution to the same genre: “What do you tell a woman who has two black eyes? Nothing. She has already been told twice.”

Exculpating advance notice: finding this joke funny doesn’t in itself constitute an endorsement of the practice alluded to. I certainly find it abhorrent – yet also useful as a gauge of the level of civilisation in society.

I hope saying this doesn’t brand me as a militant feminist, but the more civilised a man, the less likely he is to beat his wife. Civilisation is after all a cognate of civility, the ability to settle conflicts without resorting to violence.

Any lack of it is a triumph of the beast lurking in a man’s breast. Much as I may fume about this or that woke academic, he is less prone to give his wife a black eye than your average football fan, especially one holding a season ticket.

Extrapolating from individuals to populations, the more widespread wife-beating is, the more savage is the society. I haven’t seen any sociological studies to that effect, but, as far as wild guesses go, this one strikes me as plausible.

It’s in this context that you may appreciate the ingenious marketing trick deployed by a make-up shop in Kazakhstan. It has created a video teaching women how to use proper cosmetics “if your husband beats you”. The video was instantly watched by 1.6 million women, which testifies to the magnitude of the problem (the Kazakhstan population is about nine million).

Now, I have a cursory familiarity with Kazakhstan because my uncle used to run the Almaty opera and ballet theatre there. Neither my personal impressions nor especially his stories testify to a cosmically high level of civilisation in that country.

Nevertheless, the video surprised me, and not because I found it incredible that so many Kazakh men treat their wives like dogs or walnut trees. What caught me unawares was the women’s reaction to that abuse.

The shop proprietor dubbed as the talking (and bruised) head in the video. “If you’ve developed a bruise like I have,” goes her helpful advice, “let’s just get a good eye cream, a base, and a high coverage foundation.” But then comes a mea culpa that strikes me as a non sequitur: “I mean, it’s not his fault – it’s mine.”

She then signs off by referring to herself as a “happy wife and loving mother”. Also a forgiving, self-deprecating soul, if I may add.

Kazakh legislators propose laws reinforcing this take on dual responsibility for domestic violence. One member of the ruling party has put forth a bill saying that, if a man is sentenced to 15 days of administrative arrest for wife-beating, his wife should get the same sentence for “provoking” the incident.

I wonder what the Kazakh is for “it hurts me more than it hurts you”, but whatever it is, Kazakh men should learn to say it, thereby bridging the gap between their civilisation and ours. At the moment, the gap is rather wide, as I’m sure you’ll agree. Even if some English brutes beat their wives, I doubt the women blame themselves for provoking such treatment.

Both the Kazakhs and the Russians bear the stigmata, ethnic and civilisational, of the Mongol invasion. The ethnic aspect is more pronounced among the Kazakhs, but the European appearance of most Russians doesn’t cancel the nation’s indebtedness to the Golden Horde.

This is especially apparent in the country’s politics, a classic example of Asian tribal totalitarianism with a good measure of Byzantine Caesarism adding a quasi-Christian touch. Scratch a German, Adenauer used to say, and you’ll find a Slav. Well, scratch a Russian, and you’ll find a Mongol.

The Mongols left as much of a civilisational imprint on the Russian nation as they did on the Kazakhs. That’s why wife-beating is as widespread in Russia as it is in Kazakhstan, and always has been. Russian women may not be as ready as their Kazakh sisters to take the blame for their men’s brutality, but they do tend to accept it with stoicism, treating the odd black eye as a force majeure, a bit like bad weather.

In A Writer’s Diary Dostoyevsky describes in terrifying detail the characteristic savagery of a peasant taking a belt or a stick to his trussed-up wife, lashing at her, ignoring her pleas for mercy until, pounded to a bloody pulp, she stops pleading or moving – only to come to the next morning and, moaning every step of the way, stagger out to work in the field. However, according to the writer, this in no way contradicted the brute’s inner spirituality, so superior to Western materialistic legalism.

This is a matter of taste, but I’d take materialistic legalism over spirituality any day, if the latter manifests itself as unrestrained savagery. Anyway, people who know the Russians are seldom surprised at any acts of unspeakable cruelty they commit, such as the way they’ve been waging war on the Ukraine.

That’s why I find the Germanic separation of culture and civilisation so useful. The former is only a subset of the latter, and cultural excellence may well coexist with civilisational backwardness. The Russians are (or rather used to be, in the 1825 to 1925 century) easily one of the world’s most cultured nations – and one of the least civilised.

This is something to keep in mind when trying to understand their behaviour. And something tells me that before long such understanding will be at a premium.  

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