As much as Russian society has been going full potato this year, I still have this lingering fear about moving to the United States. People who find me critical of Russia often fail to understand the concept that I live here, work here, and have in fact spent most of my adult life here. Ergo I talk about the society in which I live, the society which is my daily reality. When I lived in America, guess what society I criticized the most? Once I do move back to America, I will have a lot to deal with, and I will have lost a certain luxury that living in any non-English speaking country provides.
This can be hard to explain to anyone who is monolingual, but I’m going to try. You see, there is a certain level of fluency one can achieve where the foreign language is not as natural as your native language, but you can still understand virtually anything someone is saying so long as you pay attention. In other words, if I’m out on the street or in a supermarket, I can pick up all kinds of Russian conversation, but if I choose not to “tune in” it basically becomes background gibberish that can be easily ignored. This comes in handy on those many summer nights when drunk people decide to have parties throughout the night. It also means that when someone is expressing an idiotic opinion, such as the idea that America shot down the Malaysian airliner to cover up the genocide of Donbass children by their “Greywater” mercenaries, this ridiculous idea is unlikely to be noticed and processed by my brain. If I should realize that someone is sounding off with similar bullshit, I can just tune them out. Since I don’t constantly watch Russian TV or videos, and I rarely have to communicate in Russian on most days beyond a few sentences, it’s unlikely that I’ll lose this ability.
Now to some this might sound like a deficiency, but it’s actually quite a luxury. On the few occasions that I’ve been able to visit the US in the past decade, the first and most shocking thing upon arriving at JFK in New York is hearing English being spoken everywhere. Suddenly you understand everything that everybody is saying all the time. You feel as though you’re eavesdropping on everyone around you whether you like it or not. You recognize signs and notices instantly, without any effort to consider them. They are just there and the message is already in your brain before you know it. Having experienced this two times in the US, and following American politics as best as I can from abroad, I realize that I’m going to be in for some serious bullshit when I finally do move back.
Why am I writing about this now? Is it really so bad to be able to readily understand and process Americans expressing opinions out loud, in public? You tell me:
Yep, this is the kind of bullshit I have to look forward to in the US- I mean the opinion, not “Obamacare.” That’s another matter entirely. Now I think readers on this blog can probably surmise that no, Stalin did not in fact say this. I also wonder if the hammer and sickle was put next to the portrait just to make sure that the audience for this picture understands that he was a Communist. All of this is beside the point though. The point is that a vast majority of American citizens are intellectually lazy beyond all recognition, and they suffer for it.
First of all, the so-called Affordable Care Act was signed by Obama on 23 March 2010. This after roughly a year of debate and public discussion, complete with near-constant news coverage. Single payer healthcare, which is the closest thing possible to “socialized medicine,” was off the table for discussion from the very beginning. Next came the widely discussed “public option,” whereby the government would sell its own health insurance so as to force private providers to compete. This is basically a market-based solution but even that was too Communist for pot-bellied old white people. Finally Obama settled with a plan which was originally devised by the conservative Heritage Foundation, wherein people are forced to buy healthcare from for-profit providers. Since the insurance companies are still private, such a system would have been literally impossible in the Soviet Union or any other socialist country, seeing as how they all abolished that form of private property.
Information about every conceivable detail of the law and its provisions has been readily available to anyone with even temporary access to the internet or a public library. That same access can be used to look up things such as “socialized medicine,” and “single payer healthcare.” One can learn about how virtually all industrialized have some form of single payer healthcare, and that so long as it is well funded, these systems work. The better the system, the better the health statistics of the country. Cuba, in spite of a blockade spanning decades and which continues to this day, still has some of the best health statistics in the region, with many indicators such as life expectancy actually rivaling those of the United States. Virtually every criticism which can be raised against Cuba’s health care system can be attributed to the embargo. So even in a tiny island blockaded by the world’s greatest superpower, “socialized medicine” works miracles. That phony, ignorant picture was posted on Facebook, and commented on by other morons who also managed to secure Facebook accounts. There is no excuse as to why they cannot Google “Affordable Care Act.” None whatsoever.
It is said that ignorant people like this don’t read or do research. No, they “do research.” They’ll happily fork over money to some ex-radio DJ for his new book about “what’s destroying America”(HINT: It’s liberals and the breakdown of the family!). They religiously watch the news…on Fox. They love watching Youtube videos with some jackass wearing multi-cam telling them about how to survive the coming UN invasion. What they won’t do, under any circumstances is type a few words into Google to read even the most basic information about something they are apparently very concerned about. The Affordable Care Act has a Wikipedia page. The UN’s Agenda 21 has one as well. This is not to say that everything you might find on that page is accurate, but you will find links to the original sources, and at the very least you should know what you are criticizing.
I struggle over whether I should call this stupidity or extreme laziness. These people always see themselves as being informed, but they religiously get their information from a narrow field of approved sources. I’ve had a lot of interaction with conservatives in the past, and there’s one which I regularly communicate with since moving abroad. What’s interesting is how she’ll rant about this horrible thing Obama is supposedly doing, and half the time it’s either some manufactured scandal of the week that never happened, or it’s something that plenty of other presidents have done long before Obama came along. Virtually every time I inform her that this information can be easily verified, and whenever I do this I’m always hit with this sob-story about how busy she is and how she doesn’t have time to check simple facts. There’s time to browse the internet and read those horror stories, but no time to open a tab, type a few words into Google, or check out Snopes.com. I’ve never quite understood this form of logic, that you are confronted with some story and your reaction is, “I must believe this story and get angry about it right now.” Then when confronted even with mild skepticism from someone else, rather than wondering if you’ve been had you inform them that you don’t have time to check and see if something you’re really upset about might be utter bullshit. You think they’d be relieved to know that Obama won’t be imposing Sharia law in public places after taking your guns and forcing your kids to marry partners of the same sex. But no, some people just prefer being angry and afraid all the time.
Is it stupidity? Yes, I do think this is a just label in this case. We’re not talking about ignorance, but rather willful ignorance. These people know that they have other avenues of information regarding the things they are so worried about. To use the words of Fred Clark, internet-famous for his hilarious but informative dissections of the Left Behind series of novels, these people don’t believe stupid things because they are stupid, they become stupid because they believe stupid things. What I mean is that in order for a person to believe, for example, that Obamacare is “socialized medicine” and that this will lead America to Soviet Communism, one must be actively ignorant. One must avoid reading anything about the ACA from an even remotely neutral point of view, as well as avoid learning anything about countries which actually have single-payer healthcare. This just isn’t as easy to do these days with so much access to information. Since the ACA is the law and no doubt many conservatives have signed up, they must understand that they are paying a private company which would not exist under socialism, yet they ignore this. They live in a world surrounded by private corporations and businesses wielding a massive amount of power, even over the personal lives of their own employees, and yet they continue to loudly proclaim that their country is on the verge of Marxist socialism, if it isn’t there already. It takes conscious effort to eat a breakfast consisting of products made by different private companies, get in a car also made by a private corporation, go to work in a private business, consume private media via radio, television, and internet, go shopping in a private supermarket, and then as you eat your roast chicken which came from a privately-owned agribusiness company, lecture your wife and kids about how Obama has turned America socialist. Likewise, it also takes effort for many of these people, who often receive some form of government benefits one way or another, to insist that “big government” is socialism and that welfare is bankrupting the country. Numerous individuals recount hearing rants like this from people who are actually state and sometimes federal employees.
Discourse on Russia often shows the distinction between simple ignorance and active stupidity. It is terrifyingly easy to get Russia wrong, seeing as how most press on the subject is ridiculously one-sided and biased towards one side or the other. In the roughly seven years between my first visit to Russia and my return in 2006, I was duped both by the Western press and the Russian foreign-language media. The former said Putin was a strong man who was standing up to the West and restoring Russia’s pride. I saw that as a good thing and thus I believed it. The Russian press just backed that up. In this case, I had prior experience in the country, something many people don’t have, plus I was actively using the information at my fingertips via the internet so as to be informed. And yet I was wrong, utterly, totally wrong. Now at this point I could have just rejected the reality I woke up to every day. I could have dismissed the anecdotes of hundreds of Russian citizens I knew. I could have pretended all manner of things never happened, or I could have dismissed them by thinking of an example of a similar thing that happened once in the United States. I could have ignored reality and lived in a fantasy land, but what would that have brought me, aside from a lucrative career at RT? No, I prefer living in reality, however ugly that may be.
And that’s an important point to keep in mind in case you’re a reader who thinks I’m being unfair to conservative or right-wing people. First of all, I’m well aware of leftist being similarly duped by Facebook memes and conspiracy theories. I’ve had to spend a fair bit of time debunking Russian propaganda about the Donbass for many leftist friends, and I’ve definitely lost more than a handful for exposing the deceptive efforts of Russian nationalists to deceive leftists in the non-Russian speaking world. Far more important, however, is the fact that I come from conservative roots and was for a significant portion of my life quite radically right wing. Why did I change? Well the simple answer is that I grew up, but a large part of it had to do with me repeatedly finding out that I’d been lied to by the intellectual figures I’d trusted, from talk-radio pundits to obscure, radical authors. Each lie I discovered made me wonder what else they were lying about. And over time I started to learn, through actual research which takes time, money, and effort, that almost every conservative claim, when held up to scientific scrutiny, crumbles. Crime is out of control and our streets are war zones? I was hearing that since my childhood in the late-80’s and early 90’s. Too bad violent crime has been declining during that same period. Teen pregnancy is through the roof and kids are having kids? Well actually that’s been declining in America for quite some time, and if it weren’t for abstinence-only sex education it would probably lower in accordance with other industrialized countries which teach comprehensive sex ed. The government’s gonna take our guns? Really? When are they going to get around to that? I’ve read the work of people who said this would happen in the 70’s, even the 60’s. What is taking them so long? Liberals and leftists have their delusions, but they generally aren’t the sort which can be debunked with a simple Google search or a trip to Snopes. That tells you something about which side is closer to reality.
A lot has been said and written about the ignorance of Russians’ regarding society in Europe and the United States. Mark Adomanis and many others including myself have pointed out that Russians seem to live in an alternate reality. That may very well be the case, but they actually have an excuse. Their media is almost entirely controlled by the same people. The main “opposition” parties go along with the government most of the time and the one Russian Duma deputy who dared voice his opposition and vote his conscience has been repeatedly attacked and threatened for doing so. Independent activists and journalists have been assaulted by unknown thugs who are rarely caught. While Russia has some of the most internet and computer savvy people in the world, the percentage of the population with regular internet access is much lower than people realize, and more importantly few of those people can speak English. Understanding English means being able to read news from a variety of different sources, from RT to Al Jazeera or CCTV. One need not depend on the BBC or Voice of America. In fact, being able to understand fluent English and examine just the US media alone would tell any viewer that there are many competing points of view in America. What tends to happen instead is that pro-Kremlin forces happily cherry-pick and translate blatantly anti-Russian points of view and then present these to the public as representative. The audience rarely has any way of checking these claims for themselves, much less refuting them.
So perhaps before we laugh at them for believing that the two crashed Malaysian airliners were actually the same plane, captured and then shot down by the US to justify anti-Russian policies, we ought to consider how popular idiotic beliefs about the Illuminati, chem trails, and GMOs are in the West, among people on the left and right. Perhaps we ought to examine the question of how so many Americans actually believe that libertarianism is a valid philosophy in spite of the fact that it has failed miserably anywhere its been tried, and to the extent that anything like libertarian policies have been implemented, life was that much worse. Maybe we ought to think about how millions of Americans, though surrounded by, working for, and in some cases owning private businesses, still believe that the United States is teetering on the edge of Soviet socialism. Maybe we should speak up at the Thanksgiving table when your uncle starts ranting about government handouts in spite of the fact that he receives a pension from his former federal job, plus social security. For all their faults, the Russians have an excuse for their failure to be informed. What is America’s?