So today I was reading the story of yet another RT employee who quit. The story is in many ways quite similar to other RT dissident narratives, and I indulged in a silent chuckle when the author said Max Kaiser is somehow helping the world, but by the time I got to the end something suddenly leaped out at me. Perhaps RT could actually have a positive effect in the world. Wait! At least hear me out before you throw that shoe at me!
While the author comes off as ridiculously idealist at times, take a look at this excerpt:
In an ideal world RT would not need to exist, but neither would the increasingly awful CNN, or the now even worse BBC World. If the only way we can evade a monopoly of ideas is by promoting the other side of the same coin, I want the other side to have its voice. But here is where we reach another problem, one that is perhaps even more harmful than having a coin with only one side: having chosen this damn coin in the first place, this flattened, two-sided fallacy as the representative of the world we desire, when issues don’t only have two sides, and they need not be so almost equally horrendous. This manufactured dissent created around the U.S. and Russia is extremely harmful because it helps entrench the belief that Russia and the U.S. are antithetical, when in fact they are much more like each other than Sweden is to the U.S., or Finland to England.
Now the reader can take issue with the author’s equivalency between RT on one hand, and CNN and BBC on the other. I personally want to look past that because I see something far more important. For one thing, the author is correct to suggest that America and Russia have more in common with each other than they do with other European nations, and it’s not a good thing. More importantly though, the author let’s us in on their realization, driven home by real life experience, that Russia is not antithetical to America. Russia is not the alternative to all the things we see wrong with the US.
If you’re a regular reader of this blog, that might sound awfully familiar. I’ve been pointing this out in numerous articles, mostly about RT. Now here’s another person who’s “been there,” so to speak, and comes away with the same conclusion. This could be a potential positive effect of RT. Whereas I actually had to physically move to Russia just to learn how it wasn’t an alternative to the American capitalism which had made me felt so alienated, this person only needed to experience Russia at a distance, in a smaller dose. It’s as if her bosses brought Russia to her.
So here we have a process which starts with RT and the rest of the Russian press portraying Russia as something it is not. This generally works on people who don’t care to dig deeper, who never imagine going to Russia, or who never plan to work for RT. But those who are most passionate about this idea of an alternative to hegemony will be drawn in, and therein lies the problem because Russia’s whole propaganda narrative is basically a cheesy sitcom plot where the teenage playboy tries to pull off two simultaneous dates on the same night. Everything goes smoothly until one date accidentally runs into the other. So it is with Russia. They get you worked up and passionate about how Russia is this heart of resistance to the capitalist, globalized hegemony, but this only works so long as you never call Russia’s bluff. As soon as you get to see what the “alternative” is, you suddenly realize that it isn’t an alternative at all, and in many ways its far worse than the system you were opposing.
One might object and say that there are few people who actually will put their money where their mouth is, be it by moving to Russia or working for a company like RT. Indeed that number is small, but these tend to be more sincere and passionate. One such person is worth ten or twenty internet-based shut-ins who wage war against “the hegemony” from their sweat soaked office chairs in their parents’ houses. As these more passionate, dedicated people learn the truth about these failed populist ideas that Russia’s been peddling, they’ll spread the word far and wide. Russia is not our savior, our bulwark against the system, they will say aloud. Russia is the system.
Time and travel has convinced me that “anti-hegemony” politics and the illusion of some kind of anti-imperialist bulwark against capitalism is one of the most ideologically bankrupt ideas ever to survive the Cold War. That is in fact where this dissident love of Russia is rooted. So many people want to believe that the Soviet Union, perhaps not as a socialist base but rather a powerful counterweight, still exists. They want to believe that they have a patron out there with an army and nuclear weapons. In reality their staunch defense of Russia and its policies essentially consigns millions of Russian citizens to indignities and suffering which these same people have never been subjected to by their own governments. That’s not to say they shouldn’t be protesting against their governments. On the contrary, they ought to be out in the streets more often instead of defending a foreign government that actually cares less about them than it does its own people, and there are few things Russia’s government cares less about than the Russian people.
So perhaps RT does have a positive effect. It lures people in, but Russia cannot deliver on its promises of an alternative. As a result, some people learn, as did Paula, as did I, that Russia is neither salvation nor an alternative to the problems of our capitalist world. Russia is just a symptom.