So You Live in a Dictatorship: Part I – You Have No Beliefs

Since I’m sick of writing about Russian hackers, and for the past two weeks I’ve wanted to punch anyone who says “fake news” unironically, I’ve decided to try something a little different. A bit more serious, if you will.

Recently I’ve noticed fellow writers, some of which I know personally, trying to communicate to Americans the signs to look out for in an authoritarian country. Unlike theorists who study these matters in academia, they are sharing knowledge that comes from personal experience in countries like Russia and Turkey. As I happen to have both knowledge and experience in both of those countries myself, I figured I might as well pitch in and tell my fellow Americans what to expect. Since this is the first in a series, I want to make a few disclaimers.

First of all, the point of this series isn’t to say that something is being imported from Russia. The problems I’m discussing here have grown out of purely American soil. The point is these problems are growing to the point where they resemble the situation in Russia, and trust me, that’s not where you want to be as a society. But also note that as I am compare things with Russia for the sake of analogy and helping Americans understand, don’t think that I’m implying that these things are somehow exclusive to Russia. You can easily find analogous situations in many countries around the world, including those with more or less functioning democracies.

More importantly, I’m purposely trying to skip general trends in favor of more specific aspects that don’t get noticed as frequently. There are plenty of writers who have tackled the proliferation of conspiracy theories in American politics, including myself. This is too general. Conspiracy theories have been extremely popular in America since 9/11, if not earlier. It’s not particularly difficult to understand either- 9/11 forced millions of average Americans to suddenly notice a world they’d ignored for decades, and while they were too lazy to pick up a book on Middle Eastern affairs, they all insist on having an opinion about the topic and appearing savvy. Hence the popularity of conspiracy theories, which are often like potato chips- one is never enough.

I want to focus on trends that are more specific, more subtle, but which I believe are far more dangerous. I want to highlight those things which I believe are making society collectively dumber. I watched in horror as certain ideas and modes of thinking cowed the great Russian people into submission to a tiny circle of lying thieves, who declared themselves patriots and defenders of the nation they have robbed. If Americans start adopting such ideas en masse, the country is doomed. Maybe not in the near future, maybe not in fifty years, but one simply cannot go on succeeding while being totally disconnected from material reality. Reality always wins.

With all that out of the way, let’s move forward with today’s topic. As you see in the title, it’s about beliefs, specifically people’s political beliefs and opinions. In a normal, healthy society, people at least comprehend the idea that other people have their own political beliefs, values, and so on. If a person calls themselves a conservative, they are most likely conservative. If they are liberal they are liberal, and so forth. People who are anti-abortion tend not to get abortions (yes, I know many do), and people that are for same-sex marriage typically don’t hate gay people. When things are working the way they’re supposed to be, we assume good faith when someone expresses an opinion.

In an unhealthy, modern authoritarian society, nobody really holds beliefs that oppose the powers that be. They are either being paid to espouse such beliefs by hostile foreign governments, or in more extreme cases they’re said to be on drugs. The latter explanation might sound amusing, but its been voiced multiple times by Russian opponents of Euromaidan and it was once used by Muammar Gaddafi against protesters in Benghazi. In this kind of unhealthy, authoritarian society, it’s not just that the people are espousing beliefs or engaging in activities only for money, and it’s not even that they don’t sincerely hold those beliefs. No, the real unique concept I’m getting at here is the idea that someone can consciously know that their values are wrong or harmful to the country, yet still espouse them for a paltry sum of cash.

If you want to know why this idea is prevalent in Russia it’s not too mysterious. Widespread poverty, wealth inequality, and a combination of cynicism and apathy towards politics leads to a political space wherein both the state and opposition parties often spend money on “rent-a-crowds,” which typically consist of pensioners and young students. It certainly isn’t just a Russian thing either; it still happens in Ukraine, and I’m sure many other countries. If Russia stands out, it is only because of the government’s long history of suppressing or co-opting civil society groups and NGOs, plus the constant propaganda narrative that spreads the aforementioned cynicism and apathy.

The message of the state propaganda is consistent: “You can’t know what’s real and what’s not, so why protest? Why believe in anything? Those who say they’re trying to make the country better- who’s to say it’s not all a charade? Even if they’re not working for some foreign government, how do you know for sure? Nobody really believes in those so-called democratic values. It’s just a lie Western leaders and their lackeys use to cover up their own corruption. Deep down they’re no better than your own leaders. At least with them you have stability. Rock the boat and who knows what will happen?” I could go on but you get the idea.

The “lesson” for the audience is that if you see some figure like Alexei Navalny saying he wants to fight corruption in Russia and make the country more advanced and prosperous, it’s all lies. He really just wants to weaken and destroy Russia for his American paymasters, and he knows this. He “knows” that his activities are somehow hurting Russia, but he does it anyway and claims to be a patriot.

Now with the rise of Trump I have identified a similar current in America. Specifically, we’re starting to see people imply that their opponents actually consciously know their beliefs are wrong, but they keep espousing them anyway because they have some nefarious ulterior motives.  I don’t want to speak for those who were actually alive during the anti-war movement of the 60’s, but I do think I have enough experience to say that there’s definitely been a shift. During the Bush years, for example, we anti-war protesters were seen as weak or hopeless naive, but people didn’t typically question whether we really opposed the war on Iraq. In other words, it was “you oppose that war but you’re wrong because…” That’s a setup for a debate at least.

Nowadays the accusations have evolved. Now the “mainstream media” journalists know that they’re lying about Trump, but they’re doing it anyway. George Soros is a liberal with Jewish heritage who says he just wants to promote democracy and individual rights, but he’s supposedly funding neo-Nazis, “socialists, and Islamic fundamentalists around the world (I’d love someone to explain the endgame of that plan). Thousands of climate scientists around the world know that they’re lying about climate change, but they keep doing research on it and receiving funding just the same. It’s starting to be less “your opinion is wrong” and more “you don’t really believe that.”

If I had to trace where such ideas come from, I’d probably say it’s rooted in American religious conservatism, something I have a lot of experience in. There’s a more-or-less common belief among many American Christian fundamentalists that can help explain. For my foreign readers, know that a great many American churches, including some that are extremely wealthy and influential in politics, have an obsession with what some call “End Times prophesy.” This is typically associated with the book of Revelation in the Bible, and the end of the world and the second coming of Christ is the basis for the wildly popular Left Behind series of novels and films. There are actually many different interpretations of that “prophesy,” and if anyone wants to delve into the details of the particular version as told by Left Behind, I seriously recommend reading the work of Fred Clark on the subject. It is both informative and incredibly entertaining. But I digress.

A key feature of a lot of this prophesy is that it posits a near future which resembles our present, and in which miraculous events happen on an almost daily basis. Just to give you an example out of Left Behind, the story starts with Russia, Ethiopia, and several Muslim countries launching a massive, unprovoked attack on Israel with their entire air forces as well as ballistic missiles. God steps in and utterly destroys all the attackers and their missiles in one fell swoop. Next -and this is the most important part of the book- there is “the rapture,” where God miraculously gathers up his loyal true Christians and all innocent children born or unborn in an instant. This is followed by the rise of the Anti-Christ, who creates an unholy New World Order which persecutes Christians. The Anti-Christ is also endowed with miraculous powers, which he is supposed to display on at least one occasion (resurrection after death).

Throughout this story, which the Left Behind authors claim is based on a “literal” interpretation of the Bible (HINT: It’s not), millions of people engage in all manner of un-Christian behavior in spite of the fact that miracles foretold in the Bible are happening before their very eyes. Let that sink in for a second. The authors, and many other people like them, tell us that these are real things that will happen in the future, things that are foretold in the very same Bibles that are available in almost every hotel room in America. But just like in that Bible and just like countless preachers have been telling us for decades, millions of people simply disappear in a flash in front of our very eyes, while at the same time millions of other people will continue to doubt the veracity of Christianity and either cling to their old religions or join the new world religion of that really charismatic world leader who happens to look like the personification of Satan and can’t stop laughing maniacally at press conferences. If you’re struggling to get your head around that sentence don’t feel bad; it’s totally mindboggling.

It’s even worse news if your Jewish. See, something like a third  of the Jews are supposed to notice all these miracles that happen to line up with Biblical prophesy and do the most logical thing that anyone would do- embrace Jesus Christ as their Lord and savior. But the other two thirds are going to see all these miracles and still remain loyal to their ancient faith in spite of seeing concrete evidence that it and every other religion except the true Christianity of John Hagee Ministries is flat out false. In the books, in fact, tens of millions of people around the world rapidly embrace the new one-world religion of the Anti-Christ without any significant protest. Tens of millions of Hindus, Muslims, “wrong” Christians like Catholics and Orthodox- they just totally cast off their traditional beliefs and embrace a totally different religion because- Bible.

That, by the way, isn’t just limited to their prophesy. There’s a cringeworthy Christian film called God’s Not Dead, about a Christian college student debating the existence of God with his atheist philosophy professor. In the trailer, the caricature of an atheist played by Kevin Sorbo tells his class to write the phrase “God Is Dead” in their notebooks. Only our “true Christian” protagonist objects to this. There were no observant Jews in the class, no Muslims, not even a pretentious agnostic. Or perhaps there were Muslims or Jews present, but they didn’t take their faith seriously enough to stand up for it, unlike our Christian hero.

 

Now this might seem like we’ve drifted very far from the topic, but I hope the reader is starting to recognize a pattern. In this authoritarian, religious fundamentalist worldview, people don’t sincerely believe in other religions or doubt the existence of God. They actually know they’re wrong, but they just want to sin because they are wicked or manipulated by Satan.

Of course in that type of Christianity, those who continue being “wicked” deserve eternal torment in hell. In more secular political world, people who espouse the wrong views are worthy of extermination, violence, or at the very least their own words can be totally dismissed without debate. After all, if someone is willingly engaging in “evil” and refuses to admit it, why even try to debate them or understand what they’re saying? Those journalists “know” they are making up “lies” about Trump, and they just keep doing it. Their editors know the stories are full of lies and they keep running them. Why? Because they really want to destroy America, of course!

So here’s what you folks in the States can expect a lot of in the near future. Don’t expect people to actually engage with your opinion or try to debate you. Expect to be labeled a “shill.” You’ll be accused of working for George Soros, the Clinton Foundation, the CIA, or the Mossad. You don’t actually believe in those things you’re saying or writing online. Only your opponent has sincerely held beliefs, opinions, and values. You’re just saying those things for the paycheck, and one day you’ll get what’s coming to you, shill!

This is one reason why watching liberal centrists whine about what’s supposedly happening to “the discourse” is so pathetic. There is no discourse when one cannot actually hold any beliefs that are opposed to the regime or its supporters. American liberals aren’t going to somehow coax Trump’s rabid supporters back to the debate table with appeals to reason. One does not debate with conspiratorial New World Order agents who cover up the truth about a child sex-slavery ring operating in the basement of a pizza restaurant! Nor will they express any pity for the poor liberals when they inevitably become victims of violence and intimidation. They had it coming for trying to destroy America!

The the authoritarian society that might be in America’s near future, it won’t be a question of your beliefs conflicting with those of the powers that be. You won’t be allowed to even have your own beliefs.

 

 

 

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16 thoughts on “So You Live in a Dictatorship: Part I – You Have No Beliefs

  1. AndyT

    Exactly.

    In Italy, we have a word for this attitude: “sfascismo” (a pun based on “fascismo” and “sfasciare”, i.e. breaking everything into pieces).

    In their worldview, everything contrasting their dogma is corrupt, manipulated or fake.

    They don’t talk to journalists because the latter are “NWO-shills” (usually, they then complain because “mainstream media doesn’t want to hear them”).

    They say Courts are corrupt (but that doesn’t prevent them from filing an endless string of lawsuits against critics and opponents).

    Today, an Italian politician has been simbolically “arrested” (and actually beaten) by a populist “squad”… But they’re “the real oppressed”!

    Reply
    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      It reminds me of the Birther conspiracy surrounding Obama. I can see how people could hold onto the conspiracy in the first year or so, when people kept filing lawsuits in different courts. But well into Obama’s second term? I’m sorry but if you still believe at that point then you’re essentially saying that every court in America is corrupt, and there’s nobody in the Republican establishment who wants to easily unseat the Democratic president and basically ruin the party for the foreseeable future.

      Reply
      1. AndyT

        Another example of this schizophrenic approach: in Italy, Renzi’s defeat has led to a new Democrat cabinet led by his former Minister of Foreign Affairs.

        Most of those “Constitution defenders” who voted against Renzi’s proposed reform are now protesting because “the new PM hasn’t been elected”.

        But… oh, look!

        The Constitution – that lofty Law they have praised so eagerly – doesn’t say the PM has to be “elected”: in fact, he/she’s appointed by the President…

        And since the Democrats and theirs allies still hold the majority in both branches of the Parliament, the new cabinet has obtained the required confidence vote.

        How can they yell against the very same thing they have been publicly defended for months?

  2. Alek Davis

    This is so perceptive. Within the last few years I also noticed a trend that is shared by my Christian (mostly Russian Christian) and pro-Putin (with or without religious affiliation) friends: they both seem to be turning into fact agnostic (or truth nihilists). When facing facts about something (fake stories, stupid memes, etc), the response normally turns to: but how do you know that your “facts” are true? and what is “truth” after all? nobody can know truth anymore. So I pretty much gave up on engaging with them. People seem to stop caring about facts, truth, accuracy, etc. It’s all about beliefs these days. Welcome to the XXI century!

    Reply
  3. Mr. Hack

    I wouldn’t worry about it all that much Jim (there are worse things than being labeled a ‘shill’). For the last few years I had to encounter the empty banter of many conservative types who were sure that Obama was going to establish a dictatorship and bypass any elections at all (really). This was a supposed measured response to his penchant to rely on so many executive orders (actually an innovation I believe started by Bush 43). Now, no doubt, Trump’s right wing persona will fuel similar prognostications about his future stranglehold on the governance of the old USA. I suspect that the democratic spirit will once again be resurrected in four years and if Trump’s promises veer too far off from his promised vision of an American utopia, he’ll be exchanged yet again for another able bodied sort.

    Reply
    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      I too can remember leftists playing Chicken Little under Bush. My favorite example was: “Bush will declare war on Iran just before November 2004 so he can cancel the election.”

      But change is definitely coming, even though it won’t be something dramatic and it won’t necessarily be directly from the government.

      Look at Russia or Turkey, for example. It’s not like Putin is sending stormtroops around to haul off dissidents in the middle of the night (though police and FSB have been going door-to-door a lot more often as of late). The authoritarianism here comes in the form of bogus legal cases, “signals” to regime supporters that someone is a traitor and thus fair game, and so on.

      Then there’s also Trump’s ties with the business world. He’s almost certain to abuse his authority and he or his families can use lawsuits to tie down the press for reporting on it.

      Reply
  4. asmoeth

    Polish case: “you’re protesting, because you were financially connected or politically affiliated with the previous government, and now you lost privileges, power and money” or “you’re protesting, because our policies are threatening your vested interests”. Also, our national specialty seems to be accusing others of hypocrisy (i.e. “why haven’t you criticised the previous government?”).

    Reply
  5. Jae-hyeon

    The message of the state propaganda is consistent: “You can’t know what’s real and what’s not, so why protest? Why believe in anything? …[“]

    I may have missed something here, but doesn’t state propaganda – especially when it comes straight from the mouth of the President – impose definite ideas (i.e., propositions that can either be affirmed or denied) of what’s really going on, as opposed to straight-up skepticism? Such as: there were no Russian troops in the Donbass, the annexation of Crimea was a rescue operation for ethnic Russians, Russia is threatened by NATO encirclement, Putin is the savior of Russia, etc.

    Also, I’d be curious to know whether you’re familiar with Father Seraphim Rose, the zealous American convert to Russian Orthodoxy who’d traded Nietzsche for Dostoevsky. Have you ever seen his books (which were translated into Russian and secretly circulated in the Soviet Union) being sold in Moscow or elsewhere? He had a lot to say about the end times, as well as the restoration of the Holy Russian Orthodox Empire. He was a major formative influence on me and I was very much under his sway during most of my university years, when I was an aspiring Orthodox Christian.

    Here’s an excerpt from his lecture “The Future of Russia and the End of the World”:

    Archbishop Theophan of Poltava summed up in the 1930’s the prophecies which he had received from such elders as these: “You ask me about the near future and about the last times. I do not speak on my own, but give the revelation of the Elders: The coming of Antichrist draws nigh and is very near. The time separating us from him should be counted a matter of years and at most a matter of some decades. But before the coming of Antichrist Russia must yet be restored — to be sure, for a short time. And in Russia there must be a Tsar forechosen by the Lord Himself. He will be a man of burning faith, great mind and iron will. This much has been revealed about him. We shall await the fulfillment of what has been revealed. Judging by many signs it is drawing nigh, unless because of our sins the Lord God shall revoke, shall alter what has been promised. According to the witness of the word of God, this also happens” [The Orthodox Word, 1969, no. 4, p. 194].

    Thus we may see in the prophecies of these God-inspired men in the early part of this century a definite expectation of the restoration of Holy Russia, and even of an Orthodox Tsar, for a short time not long before the coming of Antichrist and the end of the world. This will be something miraculous and not an ordinary historical event. But at the same time it is something that depends upon the Russian people themselves, because God always acts through the free will of man. Just as Ninevah was spared when the people repented, and Jonah’s prophecies about its destruction proved false, so also the prophecies of the restoration of Russia will prove false if there is no repentance in the Russian people.

    Here is his short, analytical treatise on nihilism (NIHILISM: THE ROOT OF THE REVOLUTION OF THE MODERN AGE), written before he became a monk:

    http://oode.info/english/filosofia/nihilism_root_modern_age.htm#II.

    There’s also his book ORTHODOXY AND THE RELIGION OF THE FUTURE, which condemns new religious movements as well as old traditions, such as Hinduism.

    Aleksander Solzhenitsyn, whom Fr. Rose very much approved of, was apparently in favor of President Putin. One wonders what the hieromonk himself would’ve thought of Russia’s modern messiah.

    Reply
  6. Mr. Hack

    ‘ He will be a man of burning faith, great mind and iron will. This much has been revealed about him.’

    I don’t think that Putin quite fills the bill here. His penchant for private parties, that include importing rock & roll icons of bygone eras like Deep Purple and ABBA, don’t quite strike me as something a penitent Christian like you’re describing would be involved with. He seems much more like a decadent materialist than a fervent Orthodox Christian. Don’t tell me that those photo opts that he stages regularly with ROC heavyweight Patriarch Kirill have got you fooled? 🙂 🙂

    http://www.dailystar.co.uk/news/latest-news/539201/Vladimir-Putin-Russia-Wealth-Worth-Money-150-Billion-Richest-Man-Palace-Cars-Playboy

    Reply
    1. Jae-hyeon

      “Don’t tell me that those photo opts that he stages regularly with ROC heavyweight Patriarch Kirill have got you fooled?”

      As a Putin skeptic, I’m happy to say no; I’ve done enough research to know better than to take the man’s words and actions at face value. (Regarding Kirill, people probably still haven’t forgotten about his $30,000+ watch.) Indeed, I’d be suspicious even if I were Orthodox myself. Here’s an excerpt from a Financial Times article on Putin’s relationship with his rumored confessor Tikhon Shevkunov:

      Many in the church think the state may have overstepped the mark in its zeal to cover itself in the mantle of church legitimacy, and the scandal opened a row between high-ranking church dignitaries, such as Patriarch Kirill, and the formerly dissident clergy, many of whom seek reforms. “These medieval canons have nothing to do with state law,” says Father Mitrofanov. “They simply used the church as ‘ideological cover’ in the same way a Soviet court would use communist ideology to justify a decision.”

      Father Innokenty Pavlov, who retired from the church in 1993 and is a noted liberal opponent of the Orthodox establishment, says he doubts there is anything aside from political expediency behind the newly religious attitude of Russia’s rulers.

      “It seems our leaders learnt one useful thing from their scientific atheism classes,” he laughs: “Voltaire said ‘if there were no God it would be necessary to invent him’. They thought, what a good idea, let’s implement this.”

      https://www.ft.com/content/f2fcba3e-65be-11e2-a3db-00144feab49a

      As for materialism and corruption, you might be interested in Karen Dawisha’s book PUTIN’S KLEPTOCRACY, in case you haven’t read it yet.

      Regarding Putin’s actual beliefs, Jim once wrote that the President and his confidants didn’t believe in anything beyond personal power and survival (see his article http://readrussia.com/2015/06/30/what-putin-really-wants/), but I can’t help but continue to wonder…

      Reply
  7. Mr. Hack

    I’m glad that you weren’t fooled, however, I’m still wondering who you had in mind to fill the shoes of the Russian en-time ‘restorer czar’, if not Putin himself. Why bring up Fr. Rose’s prognostications?

    Reply
    1. Jae-hyeon

      I don’t believe in any of the aforementioned prophecies; I just cited them as examples. I brought up Fr. Rose because 1) I’m fairly well-versed in his work, 2) he covers a lot of the same topics treated in the present article, and 3) I was curious to know whether Jim had anything to say about him, as he is supposed to be quite popular in Russia.

      I don’t have anyone in mind to fit the bill of Tsar, but I can understand if one would endorse Putin for the throne. As many of his supporters inside and outside of Russia like to ask, “Who else is there?”

      Reply
  8. radfem2020

    It’s because telling people that they know you’re right deep down makes them get mad and huffy, even moreso when you tell them you aren’t taking them seriously. nobody wins arguments, but you can still laugh at mad virgin losers
    but whatever helps you sleep at night m’atheist

    Reply
    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      I’d buy that for the younger generation, but not the non-internet-raised older/middle-aged folks out there.

      Of course the younger ones have a strange definition of “mad” these days. Now it typically goes something like this-

      Troll: *ignorant, stupid, or edgy comment*

      Person who knows what they’re talking about: Actually that’s wrong, retard.

      Troll: LOL U MAD BRO?! U BUTTHURT! I DRINK LIBERAL TEARS!

      It’s really pathetic how overjoyed some of these losers are about the very concept of “making people mad.” I mean even if their targets actually are angry- so what? Is that the basis of a political ideology or a better society? Is that a good use of one’s limited time on this Earth?

      I’ve read the discussions of some alt-right people on that subject and when I see the glee they get from the idea of “making people mad” online, I think to myself that I’d rather shoot myself in the head than sink to that level where trolling people actually seems like a worthwhile pursuit.

      I mean yes, we’ve all done it, but when it becomes so central to one’s identity it’s time to either pull one’s head out of one’s ass, or just go and chug bleach.

      Reply
  9. Pingback: So You Live in a Dictatorship Part II- No Ideology | Russia Without BS

  10. Black_Rose

    There are some things that people say that make them “shills” or outright liars. Not everyone who says them is a shill, but someone on some level who promotes these lies are shills.

    Some examples of things that shills say.

    1. The Confederacy fought for “states rights” as opposed to preserving the institution of slavery.

    2. Russians hacked the US election.

    3. US missile defense in Europe is directed towards Iran as opposed to containing Russia

    However, calling people “shills” may not be entirely accurate, since the label does not provide one with precise tools to determine whether a particular belief is influenced by a system of propaganda or a product of self-delusion. For example, I would not say that most Holocaust deniers are shills since they engage in self-delusion by ignoring the evidence. Holocaust deniers really do not think that millions of Jews were murdered in gas chambers in the Reinhard camps and Auschwitz.

    As for 2, it is possible that even the people promoting the notion that Russia hacked the election really believe it. After all, they may have consumed their own propaganda that demonizes Russia as devious nefarious plotters, and it mentally easy for them to blame Russia. I called them shills because it seems that there is no prima facie case that Russia hacked the election. I haven’t read the leaks about Hillary Clinton, and I doubt many people have, so even if Russia hacked them, it is unlikely it influenced anyone’s opinion on Hillary Clinton. The statement that Russia hacked the election would only apply if they hacked voting machines. The most simple reason for Clinton’s loss is that she could not appeal to the “true left”; those that oppose neo-liberal globalization and do not like the US influence in Latin America.

    Reply

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