A reader recently brought up an interesting phenomenon that I and several friends have noticed. I cannot speak for that particular reader, but as for those friends and myself, none of us could be regarded as flag-waving American patriots. I have a reputation for consistently and constantly attacking American foreign and domestic policies, and I personally regard patriotism as a submissive, slave-mentality toward masters who are diametrically opposed to your interests. That being said, even I find myself suddenly evolving into this defender of America, to the point that someone hearing my words out of context might come to some very strange assumptions about me. How does this happen?
Self-censorship is something you need to get used to when you live in Russia. Yes, you’re kind of free to say what you want here, particularly if it’s in English and aimed at a non-Russian audience, but then again you’re kinda not. The concept of free speech doesn’t truly exist in Russia because any speech can be characterized as “propaganda,” thus it is not merely dissent but part of the “information war” and you are a “fifth columnist.” This “information war” is the excuse for censoring, investigating, and even arresting people. And no, I’m terribly sorry, but it isn’t like that in America. I was at anti-war protests during the Bush years, when that “you’re with us or against us” attitude was at its height. Sure there was intimidation and name-calling, but in the end there was very little if anything the state could do to people like me. Because you never actually know the rules or boundaries, you always censor yourself. You pull your punches or you try to make your work as insignificant to the Russian state as possible. This blog would be far more popular if I did more to promote it. It’s just advantageous for it not to be so popular. A strictly English-language blog targeting non-Russian audiences is less likely to be perceived as a threat to paranoid bureaucrats.
There are actually some other factors which lead to self-censorship, however, and they serve as the driving force which turns dissidents like me into American “patriots.” For one thing, actual American “patriots” typically don’t know shit about the world. Therefore when they praise America, they have no idea what is actually good about that country. Most of the time the very same people are willingly helping to destroy those better aspects of American society. Living in a country like Russia, I not only understand what is actually valuable in America, but I also know what our country could become if we keep listening to demagogues, phony advocates for the working class, religious fanatics, and think tank-paid hacks.
The most important factor behind this phenomenon, however, is the reluctance to be seen as a “useful idiot.” No other factor has caused me to be so hostile to the Russian political line as of late. You see, in the past I’d look at a channel like RT and say it was a good platform for people like me to air our political views. I could get on there any day and let loose salvo after salvo at the American system, hitting targets ranging from our idiotic electoral system to our think tank-inspired slave mentality towards the capitalist class. In recent times, however, I could not even fathom going on RT and doing that. The reason has absolutely nothing to do with me changing my stance on any of those issues. I welcome more radicalization in American politics. The problem is that the mindset of RT and its masters is nothing like mine. They would give me a platform to speak, not because they agree with anything I say, but simply because I’d be bashing America. That, incidentally, is exactly how Fox News and their fans would view my words. Both sides consider me a traitor, but one side has use for such a traitor. I’m terribly sorry but that simply doesn’t work for me. When I criticize something in America, it is because I feel that this thing is detrimental to actual Americans. Likewise when I do the same in regards to Russia, it is because I feel the thing in question is detrimental to citizens of Russia. People like me oppose the status quo and its power, period.
One thing you quickly learn in Russia is that when you criticize America, your Russian listeners’ eyes suddenly light up. Occasionally they are happy to share complaints about Russia so long as you’re swapping stories tit-for-tat. Point out that Russia has it much worse in most cases, or that Russia suffers from problems which are unheard of in the US or at least Western Europe, and you’re new best friend’s mood will quickly grow cold. In truth, pointing out an advantage of America over Russia is not some kind of slight against Russia as most Russians interpret it. It’s not an “information war.” Keep in mind that history is full of successful revolutions where leaders of backward countries said, “We are backward. We are way behind those other countries. We must change our ways and catch up, no matter the cost.” One of those historical examples was Russia itself, incidentally. One-sided criticism of Russia is actually far more constructive since first of all, any analogous problems in America don’t negate those in Russia, and secondly, it gives Russia goals to aim for. If Russia manages to fix her problems and America does not, then that’s on America.
Lastly, I have to say that I get quite annoyed whenever I’m criticizing America or even Russia and I suddenly find myself acquiring fans from one side or another. If I start railing against Evromaidan and Ukrainian nationalism, I’ll attract Russians whose politics are 180 degrees the opposite of mine. They see me attacking their opponents and that gives them a hard-on. Conversely, criticizing Russia attracts Ukrainian nationalists and other assorted Maidan fans. There are only two solution to this. You can take a pause to slap the circle-jerkers in the face, which inevitably causes massive butt-rage and whining, or you can just carefully censor yourself and make sure everything is so balanced as to preemptively attack both sides from the start. Neither option is particularly desirable.
Then again, you could just not write anything at all. Funny how that kind of censorship works.