Monthly Archives: November 2014

Everyone a very special, unique victim

Trigger warnings: Words, paragraphs without indentation, reality

Guys, I have a story to tell you. Remember when you were a little kid and your kindergarten class or Sunday school was having a sing along? When you were older, did you sing pop songs of your youth with your other teenage friends? Fun, right? Maybe for you, with your privilege. For me those experiences were hell. Pure, Auschwitzian hell.

You see, I have a rare condition, a disability in fact, which makes it almost impossible for me to understand the lyrics to songs. To my ears, everyone is singing like Kurt Cobain, and I can only hope to approximate the words as I hear them. Obviously if I read the lyrics I can then decipher them by ear, but since I don’t actually hear them most of the time I tend to forget the words and go back to my state of everything being unintelligible.

The results are horrible. I can’t sing a few lines of pop songs I’ve loved for years. I’m terrible at karaoke.  Music is such an important part of our lives, and yet I cannot enjoy it on the same level as other, audio-privileged people. If there were any justice in this society, vocalists would be required to enunciate more clearly for the sake of people like me. But alas, we live in a world where the privileged oppress the disadvantaged.

Indeed, some audio privileged individuals would even claim that I’m making this up, or that my condition doesn’t exist. How could they do that? Don’t they realize that this condition of mine is actually a type of disability? Do they not know how oppressive they are when they question someone’s disability or personal suffering? What matters is someone’s lived experience, not whether that experience is actually “real.”  You don’t question a person’s suffering!

Everything I’ve written about having problems deciphering lyrics is more or less true, and I do suck at karaoke. That being said, a lot of people tend to mishear lyrics, and there may actually be some kind of medical explanation for this. Is it a disability? No. To treat something like this as a disability would be trivializing real disabilities, and most obviously a total slap in the face to deaf people. And yet today we have people who would have you believe that struggling with an obscure condition which entails extreme discomfort in response to certain repetitive sounds is akin to surviving the killing field of Cambodia or something.  Now just by questioning this condition of “misophonia,” I’m liable to take some serious flak. I questioned someone’s self-proclaimed suffering, specifically a white American girl who is in college. When someone tells you about their suffering or their personal struggle, you must take every word they say as literal gospel, otherwise you’re attacking the victim.  Never mind the well known fact that there are literally thousands of phony war vets all over the United States, nearly all of them claiming severe PTSD. Nobody would ever exaggerate the symptoms of a rare neurological disorder. Never.

The cult of victimhood has become a common topic among my friends and I. One of them wrote their own article on the topic. Each friend has their hypothesis of what’s behind the cult. Personally I see it as a convergence of several factors, among them being the desire not only for attention, but also as my other friends have put it, to create a sort of story arc for their “character.” Life is a film and they are the protagonist.  The cinematic approach to life is definitely “a thing” as they say these days. I and many other before me have noted that the problem with many “nice guys” is that they see themselves as the protagonist of their own biopic, and they have been conditioned to expect a “love interest” to appear at some point. In reality, without proper habits and social skills, one could go one’s whole life never so much as being intimate with a woman. Expecting the appearance of the love interest character is just one manifestation of the cinematic view of life.

Every story needs conflict, so naturally conflict becomes a big part of our personal character arc. As the writers of Cracked.com have pointed out numerous times in both articles and podcasts, many of our favorite films pit our lone protagonist against massive odds without any help. Americans have been conditioned to feel uneasy about a hero or heroine who has too much assistance in their quest. That’s why many heroes are orphans, and why mentor figures must be killed before the final act.  That’s why history is often rewritten to make it seem like this or that famous individual had to struggle with constant rejection and derision.

The other half of the victim cult equation is bound up with the bankrupt theories of “intersectionality” and “privilege.” Privilege theory creates a culture of what one friend has called one-downsmanship, and people with obvious privilege are thus compelled to try to come up with some sort of disadvantage that somehow negates that privilege or at least mitigates it slightly. “Sure, I’m a physically attractive white girl with a college degree! But I have severe allergies all year round!” So you combine the need to feel like the super-unique hero of your own personal movie with the desire to mitigate your real or imagined “privilege” and you end up with a strong incentive to overstate your suffering and sometimes just plain make shit up.

Look, chances are that if you’re living in America and you’ve either obtained a degree or you’re in a four-year university, you’re more privileged than me. Without exaggeration or fibbing I can paint a picture of my life that is characterized by poverty, disappointment, degradation, and a whole host of obstacles that had to be overcome. I could do that, but even if I didn’t change a single fact in my story, I’d still be painting you a distorted image. Sure, I grew up in a terrible neighborhood, but I also spent seven years in a wonderful one. I’ve been to poor public schools, but I graduated from one which was arguably the best in my city. Yes I missed out on a lot of events and milestones which everyone is supposed to experience growing up, but I also first went to Russia at the age of 16, while many adult Americans don’t even have a passport. I can tell my life story one way and come off as sounding incredibly privileged, or tell it another way and make it sound like I clawed my way out of horrible destitution. Guess which method would receive more attention?

Another problem with victim cultism is the idea that questioning the alleged sufferer is inherently evil. Most people would see nothing wrong with me calling out a phony combat vet even if he claims to have PTSD. On the other hand, if I question a person who has “mild OCD” or perhaps someone with an incredibly suspicious tale of “almost” sexual assault, I become literal Hitler. I’m sure that I’ve already marked myself as a Tumblr “shitlord” for life simply for implying that there could ever be a phony story of sexual assault. The problem with creating a culture where its taboo to even question these personal anecdotes is that it emboldens those who use lying to get attention. It also means that liars will put less and less effort into their stories, only further trivializing and exploiting the suffering of people who actually experienced things such as sexual assault or violent combat.  As soon as you start telling people that horror stories, no matter how unbelievable, must be accepted without question, and this is coupled with massive amounts of attention heaped upon any victim that comes forth, you’re basically opening the door to all manner of pathological liars.

It is unlikely that the cinema-based worldview will disappear any time in the near future. Since movies, TV shows, novels, and video games constitute an integral part of our modern world, it may be impossible to totally eliminate our mind’s desire to create our own story arc. This isn’t necessarily a terrible thing; with awareness of this tendency, we might at least be able to control ourselves and take notice when we’re slipping from reality into fantasy.  We also cannot turn back the clock on social media, which encourages us to be our own star, but we can train ourselves to look at it in a more realistic way. We can stress that one’s uniqueness should be based primarily on accomplishments rather than alleged suffering and slights, but then again, maybe putting so much stress on being a unique individual is part of the problem in the first place. How does one actually measure uniqueness or individuality?  When one feels they can no longer compete for individuality in the realm of fashion or music, and when they lack any remarkable talent, victimhood looks very attractive as an avenue to attention.

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Fun facts!

So Russia’s top oil exec is saying that the price may drop to $60 a barrel by the middle of next year, and currently it stands at $73. This is a bit important considering how the 2015 budget was planned out based on an oil price of $100 a barrel. Yeah, do the math for a bit. Now what can you do when your living standards are plummeting, the currency is falling through the floor, and the market has slashed more than a quarter of your budget? Why you go and spend nearly 2 billion rubles on “spiritual education centers” for the Orthodox Church, of course.  Who cares about that pesky constitution, which in Article 14 clearly defines Russia as a “secular state” with full separation between the state and religion?

The money is being provided via the “Reinforcement of National Unity” program, but I can’t help but notice that nothing is said about building spiritual education centers for any of Russia’s other major religions. In fact, the construction of new mosques is banned in Moscow, in spite of the constitution’s text about all religions being separate from the state and equal before the law. Hmmm…It’s as if they don’t follow the constitution at all here.

Obviously we have a serious problem with separation of church and state in the US. I don’t mean to belittle the work of those who tirelessly struggle to keep religious fundamentalists out of our school textbooks and to prevent them from dominating our military. However, I think we can all agree that we’d be out in the streets for days if we found out that the American federal government was spending the equivalent of 2 billion rubles on the construction of schools for one particular Christian sect.

The message we send

“Tell me,” the question begins. “Are black Americans more aggressive?”  This is a pretty common question I’ve heard from Russians, going back to my earliest days here. Most of the time the person asking is an adult, professional, with higher education. While any Westerner reading this is probably already uncomfortable at the open racism of that question, to Russians it’s perfectly reasonable.  As I was already familiar with the issue of racism in Russia, I was never shocked to hear such a question, but rather somewhat baffled.  Why aggressive? Why anti-black racism in a country which was once the champion of black civil rights and anti-colonialism, and where the only black people you encounter are students who usually only live in Moscow.  Where do they get these ideas about black Americans?  The answer may shock you.

I didn’t know it at the time, but the answer was right in front of my face from the beginning. In my first year here, I needed to rapidly improve my language skills. Thus I tended to watch a lot of TV, particularly their music channels. Unlike MTV in America, the MTV channel in Russia and its local equivalent Muz TV actually played music videos, both foreign and domestic.  Of course the all the music they played was basically crap, but I was picking up Russian from the veejays, advertisements, and Russian pop songs with simple lyrics.  Naturally a lot of American songs were of the hip-hop genre. Can you see where this is going?

If you’re an intelligent, worldly person in the United States, you should realize that the culture surrounding modern hip-hop is not representative of black culture. Even people who harbor very racist stereotypes of black people usually have friendly interactions with black Americans on a daily basis. Indeed, some of their best friends are black! If you asked such a person that same question Russians have asked me, they’d be shocked and horrified. For one thing, overt racism is taboo in America. But more importantly, even if their views of black Americans are largely racist and negative, their personal experience with those black Americans they find acceptable prevents them from making such a blanket judgement. A typically oblivious statement you might hear goes something like this, “Oh sure, those guys who look like Lil’ Wayne are thugs, but my neighbors are black and we all get along fine!”

Now imagine you’re from another country and you don’t speak English. You’ve never been to the United States, and everything you know about that country comes from popular culture. On TV, videos like the one below are being beamed into your country every day:

Or try to make it to 1:30 of this shitty video.

For those who aren’t able to watch the video now, or anyone who doesn’t want to listen to shitty music just to get the point, the clip features the white band recording a song in a hip hop studio while several black artists watch. Of course, one of the spectators has the stereotypical 40oz bottle in a brown paper bag, which the guitarist knocks out of his hand and onto the floor. Next we see the black spectator roll up on the white band members, one of whom stares at the camera in terror before we see a tabloid magazine proclaim that they were “thrown out of the hood.” Their faces bear bruises and blood. Even though spilling the man’s beer was obviously an accident, violence ensues. The message is clear- black males are very aggressive, and the band was taking a risk going into a recording studio in “the hood.”

Let the reader participate in a similar experiment. Below is a pop video from Kazakhstan.

And another…

A lot of Kazakh pop videos use imagery which hearkens back to their nomadic heritage. While one can still find people living a nomadic lifestyle in Kazakhstan today, this is simply not the way of life for the majority of people. If this were all we saw of Kazakhstan, however, what conclusion would we logically come to about the Kazakh lifestyle? This isn’t entirely hypothetical. For most Westerners and especially Americans, the popular image of Kazakhstan was formed by the movie Borat. While those viewers more intelligent than the average stapler consciously know the film is a parody, few have any idea how off the mark that film was when it comes to Kazakhstan and Kazakh people. For one thing, Sacha Baron Cohen looks nothing like an ethnic Kazakh. Though Kazakhstan does indeed have a large population of ethnic Russians, Cohen’s character speaks in Polish in the film. Though it is a parody, the film clearly plays on old, racist tropes about Eastern Europe, such as poverty, widespread antisemitism, and rampant prostitution.  Cohen’s film isn’t a parody of anything. It’s a smear, a minstrel show which demeans both Slavs and ethnic Kazakhs, in spite of the latter not even being featured in the film. Yet that film is what many Americans will inevitably associate with Kazakhstan.

Let us now get back to the image of black Americans that our pop culture industry is exporting abroad. Both of the videos were played on Russian TV constantly in 2006 and 2007, among many other hip-hop videos. Video games such as Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, rife with all manner of hood stereotypes from music and Hollywood, were extremely popular here as well. This is how not only Russia, but much of the world experiences black America, because this is what America’s culture industry exports to the world.

These days within the borders of the US there is all kinds of discussion regarding the portrayal of black Americans and other ethnic groups on television, film, and in music. While there has been some progress stateside, it seems that nobody is even remotely concerned about what America is exporting overseas.  In fact, I’d argue that we’d probably make more progress at home if we started paying attention to the message we’re sending to the world about our own citizens. This is especially true now that we live in a time when Hollywood and other parts of the entertainment industry are aiming their products more toward foreign audiences than the domestic market. Our culture industry is essentially exporting minstrelsy and racist propaganda all over the world, yet most Americans, including those who are most concerned about these issues, have no idea that this is happening. Why do Russians wonder as to whether black Americans are more aggressive? Because that’s what our media has been telling them for years.

Mirror Image

Unfortunately my access to timely news from America is limited. Can anyone tell me if Obama has been taking over various media organs to stop the foreign-backed Orange revolution breaking out in Ferguson?  That the only reason people protest, right? Because someone pays them? Maybe I’ve been in Russia too long.

American Maidan

So as my readership is surely aware, the grand jury in the Michael Brown shooting case decided not to indict officer Darren Wilson. To use the words of Gin & Tacos blogger Ed, they didn’t even think the matter was worth discussing. Wilson was a cop, Brown was a young black male. Now of course the media will show us images of rioting, complete with burning police cars. Pundits and politicians will condemn the rioters. They’ll call them “thugs” and accuse them of destroying their own community. To all individuals who do so, and the American media as a whole, please hear my reply. Go fuck yourself.

There’s a breakdown of law and order? Okay, go fuck yourselves.They’re throwing Molotov cocktails? Go fuck yourself. They set a cop car on fire? Good, now go fuck yourselves. They smashed up a Denny’s? Not my property, go fuck yourselves.  Condemn the violence, call for order, go ahead and do all of that, but please don’t forget to go fuck yourselves. Do whatever you like, but more than anything I beg of you- go fuck yourselves. You owe the nation that much. Yourselves, go fuck.

Why such hostility? Well you see, the American media has a habit of jumping on the bandwagon of various protest movements, and often those movements which happen to advance America’s foreign policy goals in one way or another. No matter how lawless or violent these protests become, our media dutifully reports the protesters’ own narrative of the event with virtually no criticism. While Ukraine’s Euromaidan protests certainly had some just demands, there was a significant far right presence within the movement, and near the end there was an explosion of violence which involved Molotov cocktails, the occupation of buildings, and eventually firearms. Indeed, many protesters were unarmed and peaceful, but a very active, thuggish minority deliberately turned the protest into a battle without regard for the civilians who would be caught in the crossfire. If these words sound to you like blaming the victims, I invite you to watch the coverage of the Ferguson riots, because this is exactly what we have heard before and what we will be hearing for the next few weeks.

“Protesters beaten by police? They should have done what the police told them! Why didn’t they vacate the area when they were told? Why did they throw rocks at the police? They should have known this would provoke a violent response!”  This is how Americans respond to protests which get out of hand on American soil. Law and order in Kyiv mean nothing. Let me make this perfectly clear- in spite of my past criticisms of Maidan, I’m not condemning the idea of violent protests against a government. What I’m condemning is a ridiculous double standard whereby Americans and citizens of other Western countries are expected to meekly obey a policeman’s every command, while at the same time our media cheers on foreigners who engage in melee battles with police. In Ferguson they’re “destroying their own community,” but the people who burnt the center of Kyiv are heroic rebels. Condemn all, condemn none, or maybe take a more nuanced approach and discuss the conflict in a critical manner.

Part of me suspects that one reason for the media love affair with foreign protests is that we’re expected to live vicariously through the actions of protesters on the other side of the planet. We’re encouraged to show solidarity with them via social media, and in so doing, we get to imagine that we’re part of some revolutionary movement, something totally forbidden to us at home.  We’re supposed to cheer those who threw Molotovs in Kyiv, while in the US numerous activists have been arrested on spurious claims that they were conspiring to make Molotov cocktails.  Resistance is for those foreigners in a far off land you don’t understand, American, at home you will obey.

The Maidan protesters wanted their government to sign a trade agreement with the European Union. Ferguson residents want assurances that their police won’t be able to murder their sons with impunity.  I think the latter warrants a bit more leeway than the former.  So to every member of the American media who uncritically came out in support for Euromaidan yet condemns the reaction in Missouri, I cannot stress this enough. Go fuck yourselves. To the protesters, you’re America’s Maidan, only more righteous in cause. Burn it to the ground.

“Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”    –Abraham Lincoln, 2nd inaugural address

A very cold day in hell

Hell must have frozen over, because a Kremlin-linked Russian nationalist has actually taken responsibility for something.  Igor “Strelkov” Girkin, former rebel military commander in Eastern Ukraine and a Russian citizen with ties to intelligence services, has actually claimed personal responsibility for what has happened, and what is currently happening in Ukraine. He has apparently admitted the following:

-There was no real conflict in Ukraine until his unit crossed the border, i.e. from Russia.

-At first, “90 percent” of the rebel forces were local. That apparently changed as they were joined by thousands of Russian military personnel supposedly “on vacation.”

-Russia has definitely been sending material aid to the rebels, in spite of what it has claimed thus far.

-Those who created the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics never intended to create functional states(no shit). They were betting on Russia absorbing them like the Crimea, but instead the Kremlin told them to open a dialog with Kyiv. Even recently, Russia refused to recognize their recent elections. It is curious that Russia’s stance seems to have changed after the first round of modest sanctions were levied on key individuals after the Crimean annexation. It’s hard to pretend as though this wasn’t driven by fear and cold, calculating self-interest on the part of Moscow’s oligarch elite.

The article also notes how Strelkov seemed to “disappear” from state run newscasts, implying that he might have fallen out of favor with the Kremlin’s media. Given the importance of what Strelkov has now admitted, and the fact that he is all but refuting Moscow’s denials about helping the rebellion in Ukraine, it seems that he may be in danger of disappearing altogether.  Months ago Russian nationalist figures were praising him as a potential replacement to Putin, thus marking him as a potential threat to the leader. That alone was bad enough. After this, Mr. Girkin might want to consider slipping across the border and running like hell, before he meets those ever dangerous “unknown masked assailants” who plague Russia’s dissidents and journalists.

Spilling secrets

Anyone paying attention to the news lately has probably noticed Russia’s impotent flopping around on the world stage, in an attempt to appear relevant and threatening on the world stage, and to distract from the fact that its corrupt oligarchy basically stole Russia’s future. Much of said flopping consists of running all kinds of military drills, many of which have led to airspace violations all over Eastern Europe.  Well guess what- turns out all these drills are great training for NATO pilots and radar crews. Not only that, but this has spurred new efforts by Eastern NATO countries to revamp their whole military arsenals with updated equipment. Countries like Sweden and Finland are now considering joining the alliance. Great job, Putin! You found a way to expand NATO when its own leaders were stumped!

Russia’s only hope to do significant damage in a war with a NATO country would necessarily be based on surprise. There are many new Russian weapons which haven’t really been tested in combat against a NATO-equipped foe, and Russia hasn’t been in a conventional war since August of 2008. Now that element of surprise has been pissed away, along with Russia’s economy, reputation, standards of living, and hope for the future. Good one, Vladimir! Are you absolutely sure you still want to go on taking advice from the delusional dipshits you’ve been listening to for the past few years?

The linked article does contain a couple factual errors that I must point out, however. It refers to Moldovan and Georgian territory supposedly annexed by Putin.  In reality the territories in question were taken by local forces with Russian help in the early 90’s.