Hello dear reader! Welcome to the Russia Without Bullshit Handy Guide to “But there is X in America too”, which is designed to teach you when it is and isn’t appropriate to make this popular Russophile argument. If you’ve ever seen a negative news story about Russia, say about corruption, you should be well familiar with this argument. Since the topic of this particular hypothetical news story is corruption, the argument would go, “But there is corruption in America too!” Typically this is a bad argument, but believe it or not there are times when it actually is appropriate. Knowing when to use this argument can mean the difference between looking like a critical thinker or an ignorant Russia fan-boy.
Q. Why is the “But there is X in America too” argument usually a bad one?
A. There are a number of reasons. Sometimes it is a matter of scale and thus the comparison is incorrect. For example, corruption does indeed exist in the United States, but not on the scale that it does in Russia. The average person may experience or witness acts of corruption(typically involving police) on a weekly or even daily basis in Russia. The subject is an integral part of the popular discourse and pop culture. An even better example can be cited when it comes to wealth inequality. In America we are now familiar with the fact that the top one percent controls something between 40-43% of the wealth in the US, a staggering gap in wealth distribution for an industrialized nation. On the other hand, in Russia it was recently reported by Credit Suisse Bank that 35% of Russia’s wealth is controlled by 110 people, as in individuals. Neither scenario is good, quite the opposite, but if we were discussing the issue of Russia’s wealth inequality it would not make sense to compare it to the United States because in Russia the issue is objectively worse.
The argument also tends to fail because it is so often irrelevant. If we pretended that corruption is the same in the US and Russia, that fact would be of no value to either Russians or Americans suffering from corruption. In fact, any self-styled “patriot” seeking to cover up this fact about their nation would basically be playing a role in perpetuating this state of affairs. When we look at history we often see that the greatest leaders and reformers were those who looked at their country, saw far too many problems for their liking, and then did something about it. Now imagine Ataturk, just to use one example, if he thought like the average Team Russia fan-boy? When confronted with the backwardness of the fallen Ottoman Empire, Team Turkey Ataturk vehemently argues that Serbia, Albania, and Greece are quite backward too! If that analogy doesn’t work for you, I’ll let you read Arthur Schopenauer’s words on the matter.
“The cheapest sort of pride is national pride; for if a man is proud of his own nation, it argues that he has no qualities of his own of which he can be proud; otherwise he would not have recourse to those which he shares with so many millions of his fellowmen. The man who is endowed with important personal qualities will be only too ready to see clearly in what respects his own nation falls short, since their failings will be constantly before his eyes. But every miserable fool who has nothing at all of which he can be proud adopts, as a last resource, pride in the nation to which he belongs; he is ready and glad to defend all its faults and follies tooth and nail, thus reimbursing himself for his own inferiority.”
Keep in mind that he was referring to national pride, whereas many people guilty of using the “But in America there is X too” argument aren’t even Russian. National pride is at least somewhat understandable. Having national pride in a nation which is not yours and to which you have the slightest connection(if any) is simply insanity. Stop using this argument.
Q. Okay, then when is it alright to use this argument?
A. There actually are appropriate occasions to use this argument, but in order to understand when we must consider why the argument most likely arose. In recent decades, the Western for-profit press has become increasingly dependent on official sources. If the president’s spokesperson says something, that’s what gets reported as truth. Remember the run up to the war in Iraq? Remember how Iraq’s denial of possessing WMDs was practically mocked by the American press? Who could believe the foreign minister of a third-rate dictatorship when the President of the United States and all his cabinet were insisting that the weapons must exist? The excellent documentary Iraq: Uncovered brilliantly immortalizes the media’s praise for Colin Powell’s speech on Iraqi WMDs at the United Nations, which turned out to be nothing but bullshit.
Now you think they would learn but one needs to remember that journalists don’t get to pick stories or decide how to report them. Editors have control over that. Moreover, if a journalist reports a story in such a way that offends a particular official, there is a risk of losing access to that official in the future and thus losing legitimacy in the eyes of the public as a media source with access. The end result is that official government statements are rarely questioned.
As if that weren’t bad enough, you’ve also got the pundits, the insta-experts on every possible issue. Most mainstream pundits in the American press subscribe in one form or another to the ideology known as American exceptionalism. On one side you’ll have liberals or “progressives” who admit that America has made “mistakes” but that it generally champions human rights, and on the other hand there is a conservative side which refuses to apologize for anything in America history. In fact the very mention of some wrong-doing by the United States, at any period in history, provokes vicious counter-attacks from this quarter. Any comparison of any other atrocity, real or imagined, is condemned as “moral equivalency”, that is to say that for some unknown or arbitrary reason, America’s atrocities should never be compared with those of any other nation for any purpose.
Once you take these two factors into account, shitty reporting and shitty punditry, it’s easy to understand why you’ll often see streams of articles which attack Russia for things that the US does regularly, or sometimes even more so. Russia gets condemned for “invading” Georgia while America’s invasion and conquest of Iraq is, at worst, portrayed as a mistake, and that only after the war dragged on for several years and the media realized that public opinion had turned against it. Russia gets slapped with the Magnitsky Act which is supposed to punish the officials of regimes who violate human rights, yet we all know that no CIA torturer, no Saudi prince, and no Israeli military officer would ever have reason to lose sleep over the possibility of having their American assets frozen. Russia increasing military spending is portrayed as an ominous sign, while the insanely high American “defense” budget is rarely questioned in the American media. If you should get the opportunity to actually talk to one of these news-makers, their reactions can be quite infuriating, for they respond to accusations of bias with either furious counter-attacks or they act as though they are totally oblivious to your words.
So in short, if you see stories about Russia with similar attacks like that, then a comparison to the US(or other nations) is relevant. Obviously everything depends on the specific story and your argument, of course.
Q. Can you provide me with some hypothetical examples, so that I can avoid looking like a moron online?
A. Sure! Read below.
INAPPROPRIATE USAGE: There is a story about child abuse in Russian orphanages, a serious social problem. You make the argument that child abuse happens to foster kids in America too. You are wrong because the situation in Russian orphanages is far worse and in the US there are at least thousands of dedicated, well-trained workers who do what they can with the paltry budgets they usually have to protect kids from abuse. You are not some kind of “Russian patriot” for distracting attention away from this social issue. If anything you’re actually part of the problem, because you’re claiming that something which should be addressed and fought against doesn’t exist or is at most unimportant because another country has some problems. You’re basically like a guy who looks at a wound that’s gushing blood and declaring that there is no wound and everything is fine. And if you’ve never actually researched the subject or even worse, never actually even set foot in Russia, you’re a fucking idiot, end of story.
APPROPRIATE USAGE: There is a story about how Putin is a bad man because he supports dictators like Assad of Syria. Here it would be apt to point out that the United States and other Western countries have clearly had no objection to backing dictators, including those who were far more brutal than Assad. We need not look into the distant past to find examples of such support. In 2009 the US gave tacit support and recognition to the coup d’etat in the Honduras. While the US condemned Libya and Syria’s reaction to “Arab Spring” revolts, military intervention was never even considered in Bahrain, Egypt, or Tunisia. In fact Bahrain was barely mentioned at all.
Hopefully these helpful tips will increase your critical thinking skills and help you look like less of an idiot for taking up the banner of a foreign country without any concrete reason!