Russia – a land of traditional values!
Alright folks, this article comes with a few disclaimers. First, in case you don’t want to read through the introductory article linked above, the gist of this series is that Russia’s foreign audience media tends to portray Russia in a wide variety of contradictory ways, so that people with radically different and indeed, diametrically opposed ideologies can somehow end up seeing Russia as some kind of representative of their views, a potential ally, or in some cases a promised land where all is right with the world.
I decided to start with the conservative/right-wing side of the coin for several reasons:
-Russia’s press and leadership often make this claim.
-Western right wingers from somewhat mainstream conservatives to full-on neo-Nazis often believe that Russia is a promised land of “traditional values,” in contrast to the degenerate, chaotic West which is due to “collapse” any day now, just as such reactionaries have been predicting for decades now.
-Left wing supporters of Russia often admit or at least know that their views are not common in Russia, ergo they tend to see Russia as a useful ally against their own governments as opposed to a model to emulate.
-I would say that few leftists are attracted to Russia by a belief that their ideology is better represented there. On the other side of the coin, many conservative or right-wingers often flock to Russia to live for long periods of time, drawn by the false belief that if they come here they will find
women desperate enough to ignore their social ineptitude and actually have more-or-less consensual sex with them a wonderland of traditional values where they will finally be really appreciated and understood(hopefully by women who don’t have many options in life). Typically they end up disappointed on all counts, but some of them manage to maintain their fantasy through the magic of self-delusion.
For these reasons I figured dispelling conservative ideas about Russia should take first priority. Partially because I’d rather not see more of these perpetually angry, maladjusted people coming here and attracting more of their kind, and partially because as much as I may obviously revile their beliefs, I’d actually prefer that they aren’t duped by false hopes into thinking they’ve found some sort of paradise into which they can assimilate, only to end up massively disappointed. My experience has been that right-wing ideas are often a product of youth and inexperience, and I’d much rather every young man(let’s face it, they’re always male) better himself by gradually getting acquainted with reality as opposed to getting a rude awakening after changing their whole life and betting on Russia to be their own personal paradise.
This leads me to my next disclaimer, which is even more important. In this article I’m going to be pointing out a lot of things which happen in Russia that contradict the idea of a country which is ruled by “traditional values” of the sort supposedly held by most American and Western conservatives or reactionaries. As I bring up some of these topics, such as the abortion rates in Russia for example, the reader should not assume I am making any kind of personal moral statement about these facts. The topic isn’t how Russia measures up to my moral standards, but rather those of conservatives and fellow right-wing travelers. I also need to point out that the values discussed here obviously won’t perfectly conform to every type of right-wing ideology, but on the other hand I won’t suffer any ridiculous accusations of “straw man!” I was very conservative, even radically so, up to the point when I decided to grow the fuck up. I’ve read thousands of pages in right-wing literature, including stuff that would make your average liberal Alternet writer faint. I may not hit your ultra-specific, contrived, ideology-of-the-week which you synthesized from discussions on the pseudo-intellectual internet forum of your choice squarely on the head, but the issues I’m going to bring up definitely resonate with right-wing people in general. Let me make this absolutely clear- When I bring up a particular fact, please don’t assume that I am approving or condemning it. This is not a platform for airing my moral values or ethics. I am merely saying that these things happen and I am implying that these facts may strongly contradict what is considered to be conservative or traditional values.
Lastly, I realize that the ultra-Russophiles, particularly the non-Russian Americans which may or may not have ever spent any significant time in Russia, are going to get about halfway through this list of myths and facts and scream, “RUSSOPHOBIA! RUSSIA BASHING!” No, you neckbearded, drooling moron, this is not “Russia bashing.” This is not a list of things I bring up when someone talks about Russia. This is only what I bring up if someone wants to portray Russia as a land of good, wholesome family values in contrast to a “degenerate West.” If anyone makes that claim, it means we get to open the books so to speak and see if said claim measures up to reality.
Alright enough with the disclaimers, on with the show.
Myth 1: Russia has less “consumerism.” People put spiritual and family values over material benefits.
Okay allow me to explain. This idea about Russians is just an example of Western fetishization of “Eastern peoples”; similar stereotypes exist about people from India, East Asia, etc. Usually the people who hold such beliefs don’t have any overt hostility toward the people they are stereotyping. Quite the opposite they often show great admiration. This doesn’t change the fact that it is fetishization, and more importantly it is wrong. I don’t mean just morally wrong either, but wrong as in incorrect.
This fetish can be held by left-leaning people as well as right-leaning, but in this article I’ll deal with the latter point of view for obvious reasons. I’m not sure how this stereotype about Russia got started. It’s hard to remember my thought processes so many years ago, but it seems to me the idea might stem from the observation, in my case direct observation, that Russians seem to have far less and yet we can see plenty of evidence that there are happy Russians. Therefore it follows that if Russians can be happy and seemingly satisfied with less “stuff”, they must value other things more. That was the idea I got having lived in southern Russia at the age of 16. Boy was I wrong.
As I moved to Europe and started encountering Russians before my return, I was dumbfounded by the brand awareness of Russians. Even several years into my time in Russia I was surprised at the regard Russians have for brand names. I come from a major American city and before I returned to Russia names like Lacoste, United Colors of Benetton, and Louis Vuitton were simply not part of my vocabulary. The average Russian on the other hand can rattle of brand names like an expert, and they hold them in extremely high esteem. Me I’m happy with Chinese knockoffs be they shoes or electronics.
The amount of money people will spend on things is absurd as well. I remember one of my ex-girlfriends whose biggest dream at the time was to buy this bag that was $600. For a fucking bag. Yes it’s real leather, but leather from what, a unicorn? And that brings up another point about consumerism. In case you’re wondering, fuck no, I did not buy that girlfriend the bag or any other presents. But realize that there are many young women in Russia who will give their body to the most butt-ugly, dirty old man simply for the sake of jewelry, name-brand clothes, and shoes. Now yes, this sort of thing happens in every country, even the leading developed countries such as Canada and the US. The difference is that in Russia it’s often treated as perfectly normal and logical, whereas in the West this is known as “golddigging” and it’s compared to prostitution. While this is by no means exclusive to Russia, it totally dispels any nonsense about Russians putting material values on the back burner or being “less consumerist.”
Indeed, the Russian attitude towards brands, “elite” products, and paying through the nose for less is by no means unique. I’ve heard people describe the very same attitude in various developing countries and the logic explaining this phenomenon is quite sound. Most Americans and other Westerns come from the so-called “middle class.” Middle class Americans tend to brag about what kind of bargain they got. If they buy name brand, they want you to know how little they paid for it. It’s not owning the branded product that counts, but rather getting brand-name quality at what seems like a cheaper price. In developing countries or countries like Russia which suffered economic catastrophe, this middle class mentality doesn’t exist. There are indeed many families or individuals in Russia who started out in dire straits during the 90’s, only to survive and live on to be very successful today. Expensive brand name products and luxury sports cars tell everyone how successful they are. Excess, not consumer savvy is what matters. Whatever the case, it’s obvious that Russians as a whole love all sorts of products and gadgets, particularly from Europe and America. Shops often advertise “Italian footwear,” “German medicine,” “jeans from the USA,” etc. Moscow and other cities have massive shopping malls and any one of them puts the malls of my home town to shame.
Now at this point the right-wing Russophile is probably pounding his fist on the table and screaming, “But that’s the fault of the West! America rammed consumerism down their throat!” First, calm the fuck down. Second, no. For one thing, if you make that claim you are essentially negating any claim that Russians are less “materialistic,” “consumerist,” or whatever. More importantly, it’s simply not factually accurate. Take a look at this page which tells the story of the first McDonald’s in Moscow, which opened in 1990. People lined up for six hours just to get a taste of the food sold by this American icon. Guess what- McDonalds remain extremely popular in Russia. Pretty much any time of day they are packed, and the atmosphere is frantic. Same goes for consumption of American and Western products like Coca-Cola or Nike. Realize that these businesses invest in Russia and export their products here because it is profitable to do so, period. And not a single US or NATO soldier ever set foot on Russian territory to force Russians to consume Western products. The love of foreign goods pre-dates the collapse of the USSR by many years in fact.
So no, Russia is at best just as “consumerist” as any Western country, if not more so.
Myth 2: Russia is a more moral society
No. Russia, like many other countries, suffers from massive corruption. This is no secret to any Russian person you meet, and even presidents Putin and Medvedev have openly acknowledged this from time to time. When it comes to everyday people, corrupt behavior and law-breaking is taken as a given of doing business or sometimes sheer survival. Now on the one hand, solving this problem is no easy matter because it is essentially a major collective action problem. Individuals or groups in society which decide to fly right risk getting seriously fucked by those who decide to stick to their old ways, and they may have an incentive to do this simply because they see others starting to play by the rules, thus creating an opportunity to gain an advantage. Having said this, corruption largely entails stealing, stealing which usually leads to the purchase of expensive Western products and other material goods, by the way, and I don’t think it’s over-simplistic to say that a society where stealing is so ubiquitous as to be seen as normal cannot possibly hold the moral high ground.
Myth 3: Okay, Russia at least is more traditional in terms of other morals. You know…ahem…er…sex.
Ha ha! No. Wrong again. Here Russia is much like the self-righteous American south, and for the same reasons. See Russia doesn’t have comprehensive sex education, and the Orthodox church has successfully blocked any attempts to change that. And as is the case in certain American states and many other countries which have the same “values,” so too are teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases a major problem in Russia(and many former Soviet/Eastern European countries). Teen pregnancy usually leads to the burden of raising the baby being put on the parents of the father or mother.
Young, frustrated American males are often duped by a number of sources into believing that Russian women are the perfect mates. They’re insanely beautiful, but unlike all those “dirty sluts” grinding away with stupid jocular douchebags in the clubs, they’ll more than happily listen to your rants about how immigrants are screwing up your country and lazy, welfare-abusing freeloaders are the real reason you’re working at Best Buy. But more important than any of that, unlike those “spoiled Western sluts,” they will have sex with you!
Allow me to break your heart and tell you the truth about your ideal Russian wife. Yes, it is true that things are more “traditional” over here. The problem is that most people who frequently use the word “tradition” as though it’s a good thing typically have no idea what is traditional and if they did, they’d be shocked, justifiably so. Yes it’s true, women often expect men to pay for their dates. It’s also “traditional” for women to use this to their advantage. It’s funny how you often see misogynists these days complaining that chivalry is dead just because those spoiled Western women won’t let them pay for their meals, but then on the other hand women are “privileged” parasites for getting free meals and drinks from men if they don’t “reciprocate” with sex. Sex in exchange for food and drink- that’s chivalry! But I digress.
Other “traditional” behaviors you might encounter may include:
-Ordering the most expensive things on the menu because she know’s your paying.
-Spending copious amounts of your money.
-Deliberately getting pregnant so as to trap you.
-Cheating on you because the basis of your relationship is economic/immigration related.
-Flipping the fuck out over the stupidest reasons.
See it turns out that “tradition” means that the “traditional woman” finds a way to entrap the man into marriage. Young Russian men seem to be aware of this as well. “Tradition” means strict gender roles which in practice leads to relationships based on manipulation, cold-hearted calculation, deception, and subtle resentment. Those “spoiled Western women” are looking better already, are they not?
Now let me make something absolutely clear. I’m not saying this applies to all Russian women(thought it does to a lot), but if one doesn’t have Russian language skills and experience that is what you will most likely encounter if you’re the type of guy who comes here seeking “superior” women. Admittedly this is anecdotal, but all the successful Russian-foreigner relationships I know of including my own, the man spoke Russian and had spent several years in Russia before meeting their long-term girlfriend or wife. We all have plenty of experience dating in Russia and we can spot the bad ones a mile away, sometimes before they even say a word.
While we are still on the topic of sex, keep in mind that this is a country where it’s considered acceptable for men in their 30’s to cruise for girls of about 17 or even 16. I assume it’s considered acceptable based on how openly I hear Russian men talk about it. Now to be sure, the age of consent here is 16, but I don’t think this means its morally acceptable for mature men to troll for teenage girls even if they are considered “legal.” I’ve been told that many states in the US have 16 as the age of consent, but I’m not sure that an American man in his 30’s hanging around outside a high school or shopping mall would be able to use that defense successfully when confronted by police. The difference between can and should can be very wide at times.
Myth 4: Russia is “pro-life”
Russia, like most former Soviet countries, has one of the highest rates of abortion in the world. Even with the massive, unconstitutional power the Orthodox church wields in this state, they have made little impact in changing the status quo. Good thing too, because history shows that banning abortion doesn’t actually reduce the rate of abortion. Turns out that the best way to reduce abortions is a combination of easy access to contraceptive plus comprehensive sex education.
Myth 5: Russia is proud and nationalistic, and this is good for some reason!
It might seem odd that I’m listing this as a “myth,” because I myself have frequently said that nationalism is widespread in Russia. But you have to understand that lurking just beneath the surface of that nationalism lies grave mistrust, hatred towards other Russians, as well as self-hatred. In this sense it’s no different than our American “patriots” who constantly tell us that half of America consists of lazy freeloaders. This sort of patriotism is merely skin-deep; Russia is a highly atomized society, and this creates a lot of alienation that makes people want to feel like they belong to a larger group or community. If you speak to enough of these people or watch them argue, however, you will see that they often show little trust in nationalist figures or leaders, who they often suspect of working for the government. This is natural skepticism and a good defense mechanism.
In short, America is a nation which espouses individualism but is very collective. Russia espouses collectivism but is highly individual. Both nations would probably benefit if they learned to accept reality.
Myth 6: Russia is very religious
Russia is religious in the sense that people say they are “Orthodox” or Muslim or whatever. But if you’re a conservative Christian brace yourself for a shock. If you go hang out with a few American Southern Baptists somewhere in the US, for example, you can be pretty certain that you’re not taking a trip to a strip club. In fact you might not even see them drinking alcohol. In Russia however, don’t be surprised to learn that many people consider it normal for married men, including fathers, to pick up girls when their wives are away or failing that, go to a sauna and order some prostitutes. Oh yes, American Christian fundamentalists struggle with temptation and end up giving in all the time. The thing is that they do struggle, and when they fail they feel bad about it. In Russia it’s enough to simply wear a cross around your neck. Lie, cheat, steal, fuck. It’s all good. This wouldn’t be so annoying if these people didn’t occasionally give speeches about how important their faith supposedly is to them. Look, I was raised in a Christian fundamentalist upbringing. I know what it means to fear eternal damnation. I am by no means saying that Russia is completely amoral, but I will say that there are a lot of “religious” people here who don’t act as if they actually believe in hell.
Myth 7: I love Ron Paul, ergo Russia is awesome!
I really didn’t know how to characterize this last bit. Libertarians often differ from mainstream conservatives yet they still tend to be rather conservative socially on virtually every issue save for legalized weed. It’s a cliche to find a libertarian who is an outspoken atheist yet for some unknown reason is extremely opposed to abortion or gay marriage. I have to include something about libertarians in here, however, because it seems RT loves libertarians and libertarians love RT.
I get it, libertarians. You love Russia’s state-owned media enterprise because it gives you a product which you subjectively value far higher than that of the American market-based media. I know you love how RT has stories about your beloved Bitcoin which is sure to end the Fed and which is the only other thing besides gold which has value. But I’ve got some bad news for you. Russia is full of government intervention, state-owned enterprises or partially state-owned enterprises, and basically the entire Russian system is the opposite of what you libertarians claim you want. Do you know why this state of affairs exists? It’s because one day in the 90’s, Russia was libertarian paradise. What commercial laws existed were practically unenforceable, and the government wasn’t even able to collect taxes. Rather than becoming a rational, Randian utopia, the country sank into chaos and was only saved by re-nationalizing enterprises and strengthening the role of the state. Oh yeah, Bitcoin isn’t legal in Russia either. Sorry.
Myth 8: One more thing about family values
The family is held as sacrosanct in Russia, or at least that’s what you hear people say. Reality is a different matter, however, if you spend enough time in the courtyards of the city. It’s not uncommon to see a father pushing his baby in a stroller, bottle of beer in hand. Mothers too. At night, past eleven, young fathers and mothers will gather in the playgrounds to drink, smoke, scream, and fight, sometimes while their young children play nearby. I’ve observed this behavior consistently for over four years in one neighborhood and not once have police ever been called despite loud arguments, physical fighting, and sometimes incoherent screaming.
I had to cut this short because if I did not, this one article could be a stand-alone book. I realize that this sounds really grim, and yes I am compiling some of the worst things about Russia in one article. Like I said before though, it’s the “paleo-conservatives,” American Eurasianists, Team Russia fanatics, and even Vladimir “Christian values” Putin himself who opened the door to this examination. The Netherlands doesn’t go around screaming about traditional Christian values, so they don’t get the same treatment. Don’t make claims you can’t back up, pure and simple.
Perhaps someone could claim that all of this doesn’t matter because at least Russian society espouses traditional values and an ideological bent which appeals to that particular individual. If you’re that individual, however, I must ask- Do you even care if it’s real? Is it enough for you to see the outward image of a state that claims to uphold values you believe in, while the reality of everyday life in that society is the complete opposite? If that’s all you want, maybe this is a good time to start rethinking your “values” if not your whole worldview. I am an extremely left-wing person and I can tell you that I would not go to bat for some state simply because it hoisted a red flag and claimed to be socialist.
Finally, if we just ignore all this pesky reality and assume that Russia is a traditional conservative country, is that even good? I mean it’s been this way since 1991, and Russia has yet to become a real economic power in the world. It had a shot a few years ago but according to the finance ministry thinks aren’t looking too good at the moment and time is running out as other nations figure out ways to compete with Russia in the natural gas market. While it might seem simplistic, have you ever noticed that countries which are highly traditional tend to be extremely poor, and those which are far more liberal tend to be the richest? It’s not that liberal values make a country rich, but usually vice versa. Governments and ideologues who can’t offer their people higher standards of living and opportunity fall back on vague, abstract ideas like “tradition,” or “spiritual values.”
Yes, yes, I know all those foolish, tolerant liberal countries will surely collapse any day now, but depending on where you start Russia’s has about 23-25 years, and the liberal Sodom and Gomorrah countries still enjoy far higher standards of living while Russia is floundering. Better hope they collapse real soon otherwise this will start to look embarrassing!