Category Archives: Off-topic

FREE AT LAST!

I know this isn’t going to reach all of my readers, but some of my long time followers are probably aware that my old Twitter account got permanently suspended last week. In the past month it had twice come under malicious mass-reporting attack; suspect is a cowardly, right-wing pro-Kremlin account (it poses as anti-Russian but its behavior gives it away). The fact is that when you have a certain amount of followers over so many years, you’re going to make a lot of enemies, and Twitter is extremely vulnerable to malicious activity. Honestly I’m surprised the troll factory had left me alone as long as it did.

Evading a Twitter ban for someone like me is laughably easy, given that Twitter is arguably one of the dumbest tech companies in existence. But unlike the last time I caught a 1-week temporary ban, I haven’t yet created an alternate account (at least one that I actually use). That decision is deliberate, as well, because as much as I hate to get personal on the internet, I must admit- getting banned from Twitter was the best thing that could possibly happen to me right now. 

How can I describe the feeling? I think this nails it:

shawshank

To give you an idea of how much more I accomplished when I didn’t have Hellsite distracting me, let me give you one simple example. When I was off the site for that week, I went back to this screenplay I’d been writing before I took time off from that, mostly to write a book pitch. I’d had about six pages, roughly three short scenes. I’d been meaning to get back to it after I submitted the aforementioned pitch, but I just never got around to it. Without Twitter, I end up adding another 20 pages to it, including the most crucial scenes of the first act. They unblock my account, and I got distracted again. The very next day after that, I got to page 65 and it’s in the third act. Going by the rule of thumb of one page equals roughly one minute of screen time, that’s over halfway through a feature-length film, soon to be my first completed work.

And of course that’s not all. I’ve had time to continue learning about graphic design, video production, and editing, and managed to release my longest video yet, the first using green screen effects (I realize this seems mundane to people versed in editing, but I’ve only just started studying this, totally on my own). For years I’d had this Youtube channel and done virtually nothing with it, even after things like free time and lack of a stable income were no longer issues for me. Now I’m actually doing something with it.

Lately I’ve had a lot of other ideas for videos and now, with fewer distractions, I’ll actually be able to complete them. Plus I managed to complete a lengthy theoretical article on recent events in Syria that should be published in the near future.

And that’s not all- an added bonus is that Twitter seems to have scrubbed my past tweets, which means it’s going to be a lot harder for someone to cherry-pick some out-of-context tweets from several years ago and try to pull a James Gunn on me (it helps that I didn’t make the kind of “jokes” that Gunn did).

Addiction is a strange phenomenon. A person can be addicted to nearly anything, and what has zero pull on one person might completely destroy another. I’ve never understand, for example, an alcoholic’s need to drink. I’ve tried some pretty hard drugs without feeling the slightest need to take them habitually. On the other hand, I struggled with nicotine addiction for years. Social media addiction may sound like some kind of trendy, made-up condition, but anything that releases dopamine can become addictive, and social media can certainly do just that.

Just as someone can become addicted to opioids when they a prescribed as a treatment, I believe my social media addiction was caused by certain aspects of expat life, which at times is very isolating. Even when I had a regular job it was usually about twenty hours a week, leaving a lot of free time. Starting with Facebook, social media was a vital tool to keep in touch with friends and family in the English-speaking world, and that has added value when you’re living in a place where expressing yourself in your native language isn’t always possible on a daily basis.

I think like a lot of people I came to see Facebook as basically only useful as a rolodex to keep in touch with contacts, and I was gravitating away from the platform when, in December 2014, I got on the Hellsite, i.e. Twitter. In the beginning it made sense; people were just starting to pay attention to Russia Without BS and I was getting work in journalism for it. It was great for networking, and I certainly derived some benefits from it, but the rapid feedback and frenetic nature of the site clicked with my brain in ways that I knew were not exactly healthy.

Twitter can seem like a creative outlet but in reality it’s just a crutch for doing actual work. The only people I can think of directly making money off of Twitter are grifters using premium private Twitter accounts like John Schindler or Eric Garland. If you look at where the money is when it comes to content, it’s in videos, vlogging, podcasting, and yes, even articles. Even where monetization via ads is difficult or impossible, Patreon can make these things profitable. Sure, I may have got a few patrons out of Twitter, but there was no chance of attracting masses of patrons just for tweeting every day. I’m happy that my jokes seemed to have brought joy to a lot of people, but in the back of my mind I knew that this was distracting from so much more.

I might also add that Twitter is definitely a crutch for comedy. It’s simply too easy to rattle off jokes in reaction to other tweets. Sure, they may make a lot of people laugh, but that doesn’t make you a comedian and it won’t lead to acting or writing jobs. Killing it on Twitter is like being funny among your close friends and acquaintances; to some people it just comes naturally. Real comedy takes thought; a lot of work goes into it. I naturally get all kinds of funny ideas every day, and there was a time when some of those would stick and I would go home and write a post on here about it. But a shitpost on Twitter would get a massive rapid reaction, making it feel more rewarding.

That’s not to say that Twitter was responsible for the decay of this blog. A lot of that had to do with my rapid, unplanned return to the States, my relocation across the country after that, my extremely strict fitness/martial arts regimen, researching ways to help Ukraine from overseas, and finally, this year, my general fatigue for Ukraine and Russia-related issues. By the same token, however, I cannot pretend that what little free time I had was often being eaten up by posting. If you add it up, it was still a lot of time and energy spent dunking on people who are often incredibly easy targets anyway. And I knew it was a problem. One reason I never installed the app on my phone is because I didn’t want notifications from social media annoying me all day. I tend to read a lot on my phone and I never would have read as much as I do had I been getting notifications popping up every few minutes, if not seconds.

I would advise anyone else starting to work in a creative field to be mindful of how you’re using social media. These days much of your work requires you to be at your computer with an internet connection, which means you’re often forced to work with a lot of potential distractions. There was a time for me when Twitter was something I just used to promote posts on this blog; then posting on Twitter became an end in itself. Twitter personality is not a career, period (okay Dril, maybe). I would also encourage anyone reading this who has had similar problems with social media, Twitter or otherwise to feel free to share their experience in the comments. You may help others or get help for yourself.

I realize that as I complete these new projects of mine, eventually it will become necessary to return to the Hellsite (Sorry, Jack, but there’s nothing you can do) in order to promote some of them. But the key word there is complete- I do not plan to return until I have a new body of work to promote, and all activity will be restricted to such promotion. Otherwise, that tab stays closed. Of course in the mean time any fans on Twitter are welcome to share and promote any videos they enjoy on the Youtube channel or this blog post for that matter, and I would greatly appreciate it. But I’m not starting a new account until I have real content to post. Till then, people can reach me through the contact info in the about section of this site.

Perhaps the funniest thing about all this is that it was quite possibly thanks to a pro-Kremlin troll that I was freed from something that had been holding my career back for years. And I will actually be able to benefit financially from this development, especially if that screenplay gets optioned or, inshallah, sold. I guess I should say to them, spasiba, suckers!

 

 

A Very Special Message

So I was happy to see the blog is once again getting a lot of engagement, seemingly due mostly to one of my recent posts, The Foreigner’s Guide to Appropriate Protests. I was a bit less amused to find that some of this attention is due to it being shared on several conservative and liberal subreddits. So while I made a decision to make this a humorous/satirical site a while back, forgive me for getting a bit serious for a moment.

If you’re one of those centrist liberals or conservatives who enjoyed the piece, here’s a special message for you: Fuck you, you hypocrite.

Yes, Western, particularly American leftists are ignorant about the situation in the rest of the world and arrogantly lecture people on how to behave in their own countries, but people like you not only do the same thing with protest movements abroad, but you even do it to your own people. You ignore the cause of a mass protest to focus on a window getting smashed or an upended trashcan. You whine about the lack of “civility.” Conservatives in particular are extremely fond of deliberately misinterpreting the message of a protest movement so that they can knock down a strawman, e.g. “All lives matter.”

And for the leftists whose nerves were struck by that satirical work- tough shit. You make fun of conservatives for not knowing the difference between Shiites and Sunni (though you probably couldn’t say what that is if asked right now), or for not knowing that Iranians aren’t Arab, but the truth is that so many years after 9/11 and Iraq, you’re not really that much more informed. What you’ve got is a serious case of Dunning-Kruger syndrome about the outside world, which is what happens when your frame of reference for how informed you are is comparing yourself to the dumbest people in the country. Think I’m being unfair? I just spent about half of my Twitter day slowly explaining to a bunch of self-proclaimed leftists that no, the Taliban wasn’t created or set up by the CIA, that it in fact didn’t exist as a fighting force until 1994, well after the US had all but abandoned Afghanistan, and no, they didn’t fund Bin Laden and he and his Arab volunteers actually weren’t a significant force in the mujahideen. Yes, I’ve been reading a lot of books on Afghanistan in recent years, but a lot of this stuff isn’t too hard to find. For example, you can learn about the role of Afghan Maoists in the Afghan-Soviet War from Wikipedia, of all places.

These days much of my timeline is filled with Syrians, Venezuelans, and Afghans all making a futile effort to get Western, mostly American leftists to actually listen to them and acknowledge that they might actually know a little more about their own countries’ history than people who may not even have a passport. Indeed, they may even know more than Oliver Stone or…gasp! St. Chomsky! The really infuriating thing about this is how all that intersectionality and respecting “lived experience” flies right out the window when it comes to a foreigner voicing an “incorrect” opinion. Look, being from a country doesn’t automatically make someone right, but at the very least, it demands you act a little less arrogant, and maybe listen more than you talk. Ask some follow up questions for a change. Again, it’s amazing that people who will call out someone for “mansplaining” will happily lecture a Syrian or Afghan on the politics of their own country, to which they’ve never been, whose language they cannot speak, based on shit they heard on RT or Democracy Now! 

You want to know the secret as to why I’ve never been a Chavez/Maduro backer despite being a socialist and at one time a self-identified Marxist-Leninist? It’s not just because Chavista Venezuela was never even remotely socialist. Part of it has to do with Venezuelans I’ve met over the years (oh I’m sure they were secretly millionaires in disguise though, right?) of course. But one of the biggest reasons was simply living in another authoritarian state where the leadership blames all its failures on shadowy Western conspiracies. That, and I’ve had friends who either lived under similar regimes. What you learn from this experience is that virtually all these regimes operate the same way. They all have a ruling class that siphons off money, usually form the export of natural resources, into the offshore accounts of the leader and his cronies. When times are good and commodity prices are high, some of that does manage to trickle down in the form of social safety nets. But when times get rough and it comes down to social programs for the masses or more luxury villas for the ruling class, the latter wins every time. And if the US and its allies criticize this or better yet, levy targeted sanctions- so much the better.

All of these regimes use similar tactics. Harassment of dissidents with plausible deniability. Consolidation and control over the media. Pro-regime rallies consisting of paid pensioners, public school and university students, and state workers. Constant promotion of bullshit conspiracy theories. Most of all, there’s always some kind of narrative about how the regime is coming under pressure because it has some great worldview that is opposed to the greedy Yankee hegemony. In Venezuela it was “21st century socialism.” In Syria it’s Baathism. In Russia it was “sovereign democracy.” In virtually every case, we’re told that this is an expression of the country’s sovereignty and self-determination, and the only reason why the US or the West criticizes it is because this country is going its own way and now kowtowing to the imperialist hegemony. The problem is, that in most cases the vast majority of people in those nations were never asked if they wanted to live under a corrupt and authoritarian regime that steals their country’s national wealth in exchange for supposedly “standing up to the West.” Believe it or not, but most of these people want things like food, shelter, and the opportunity to better their lives without having to have personal connections to the right family, bureaucrat, military officer, etc.

Do these experiences of mine make me an expert on Venezuela? Hell no. But living so long under Putin, plus the experiences related to me by people who lived under other dictatorial regimes has given me an ability to understand and filter information a little bit better because I’ve personally witnessed things that are near-identical to what these people are describing. Could I be wrong? Perhaps. Maybe these near identical things are just a coincidence, i.e. Maduro’s a genuine leftist who really is under siege by the US and this is responsible for his situation as opposed to his own mismanagement, while Putin is totally lying when he says similar things. But you know what? Occam’s Razor says we live in a capitalist world where states are run by ruling classes, not their working people, and it also says that if some country has some great popular ideology, it would probably be a lot more successful and the masses would support it. It’s a rule of thumb, but a pretty useful one.

The basis of a moral society, a socialist society, must in large part be empathy. It must be the concept that other people, in your community or thousands of miles away, have many of the same desires you have. If you have the desire for a better life and the will to resist oppression, you must recognize that other people also have a right to these things, regardless of their government’s relationship with the US. If not, you’re essentially dismissing those people as inferior, something less than human.

A while back, I encountered a rather burnt-out individual who turned on the left due to encountering so many leftists who refused to listen to anything Syrians had to say about their country, instead dismissing them as dupes of the CIA and Islamophobic caricatures of “jihadist headchoppers.” According to this individual, Western leftists are racists who “want these problematic people to die,” people referring not just to Syrians but also Afghans, Ukrainians, Nicaraguans, and other nationalities whose right to resist is denied by the privileged Western left.

I decided that person is far too burnt out and angry to have any use in politics, but after seeing how some icons of the American left write about Afghans and now Venezuelans, it almost makes me wonder if on some subconscious level maybe these people do want all those masses whose reality contradicts their personal narrative to die. Not so much to be killed, but to simply disappear, to be erased. If all these people would simply be silenced one way or another, the Western leftist would never have to struggle with the failings of their simplistic worldview. It’s so easy to dismiss someone’s lived experience, contemporary or historical, if you can just write them off as a kulak, a bourgeoisie, a jihadist, a dupe of the CIA. Then you don’t have to feel bad about your fetish for Soviet aesthetics or your admiration for a regime in a country you’ve never visited.

I realize this is a hard pill for a lot of the Western left to swallow, but look at it this way. You’ve been doing things more or less the same way for a long time now. Where are your results? What genuine US imperialism have you genuinely prevented? Who is in power in your country and what policies are they promoting? For nearly all my life, you’ve had a parade of neoliberals and fascists. You’re at a point now where voting for neoliberals has often becoming your only way to keep literal fascists out of power. Hell, the fascists in America are some of the dumbest people on the planet and yet they’re still running circles around you. So with that track record of solid failure after failure, maybe, just maybe, it’s time to start reevaluating your movement and your ideology to see if there aren’t any flaws in there that might actually be benefiting the far-right and hampering your own success.

Or you can dismiss me as an “ultra-leftist” or “Ukrainian fascist” (because associating ethnic groups with political ideologies is fine for some countries!), and we can watch this all play out. Me, I’ve already seen this show. All those things you think can’t happen here; I see them happening. So if you don’t know what life is like under people like Yanukovych, Putin, Maduro, or perhaps worst of all, Assad, keep on doing what you’re doing, and one day you’ll get a taste of it right here.

 

An Announcement: Change of Format

So I have a big announcement. Recent events have made me come to some important decisions about the direction of this blog. First of all, following in footsteps of the site Tumblr, I will no longer be hosting hardcore porn here. Tasteful erotica only from here on out. Secondly, and more importantly, I’ve decided to change the format of the blog.

From here on out, it will still focus on Russia and Ukraine, but instead of serious analysis and long-reads it will be primarily dedicated to entertaining content, mainly satire. This doesn’t mean I’m giving up writing on serious topics, it’s just from now on those writings will be published in other venues geared toward certain audiences. I’ve often had to moderate how I present my own views on this site to give it more mass appeal, and now that I have other avenues for publishing my work, I prefer to present my views more directly on sites that cater to a more receptive niche. Naturally I will still post links to any important works on Twitter, the Facebook page, and Patreon for anyone who is interested in that content.

When I began this blog, it was about writing something I knew in order to stand out and eventually transition into entertainment writing. Unfortunately, I never fully got the opportunity to make that transition, so instead of waiting for that opportunity I’m just going to start doing it here. This means I’ll be doing a lot more Onion-style satirical pieces as well as other humorous articles and lists. Hopefully no more of them end up on Johnson’s Russia List. I’m hoping this will boost readership but also make it possible to post much more frequently as I am free to further exercise my creativity.

Of course none of this applies to Twitter, where there is no line between serious analysis and shitposting. I’m definitely not leaving that hellsite no matter how much I wish I could.

Anyway, prepare for an even more light-hearted Russia Without BS that takes the daily news of our current Hellworld and makes it a little more palatable with a dash of that absurdist shitposting style I’ve managed to craft over these past few years.

Anarchism and the Military: A Wake-Up Call

So I saw something that never ceases to drive me up the wall when I hear anarchists talking about it, despite how much more sympathetic I have grown to anarchism over the past few years. This rant, which I’ve managed to suppress for many years, was provoked by a Youtube video by an anarchist whose identity I will conceal because I like a lot of their other work. In fact, I like their work more than most of the other Youtube anarchists because unlike them, this individual doesn’t seem to think citing Homage to Catalonia is such a great source to “prove” that anarcho-syndicalism can work. But they touched on a topic that anarchists have often expounded on with zero practical knowledge or expertise, and it’s one of those core issues that any revolution is going to have to solve if its advocates want to get beyond bike co-ops and squatting.

First, a little context. The individual in question was explaining one of the basic concepts of anarchism, the idea of abolishing unjustified hierarchy. For those who aren’t aware, this concept means that if some form of authority can’t be justified by providing some social benefit, it should be abolished or at least severely curtailed. Now the author brings up a common objection, namely how such a community would defend itself without a disciplined, standing army. And here, dear readers, is where we find ourselves face to face with one of anarchism’s biggest flaws.

In the past, when I would ask anarchists about this topic, their answer was simply “guerrilla warfare!” This they would back up by pointing out examples such as the Vietnamese National Liberation Front, the Afghan-Soviet War, and the insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan. In this case, the author brings up Al Qaeda and the Islamic State, pointing out that while they are obviously horrible from an ideological point of view, their ongoing existence proves the efficacy of decentralized irregular forces holding off highly advanced military forces. Okay, now that I’ve articulated that I need to take a pause…

spongebob

This is a very, very bad idea that anarchism must do away with if it is ever to have any practical success in the modern world. Where do I even begin? Well if we start with pretty much every example anarchists give of successful guerrilla warfare, and contrary to common belief there are more failed insurgencies than successful ones even in the heyday of the guerrilla in the post-WWII 20th century, none of them were won by forces emulating anything remotely resembling anarchist principles. Vietnam is a really obvious example, and I should also point out that the idea of Vietnam as an insurgency is somewhat mistaken. As one author more accurately described it, it was more like a “low-intensity conventional conflict.” The popular notion of the war was that it was fought mainly by peasants in “black pyjamas” who tended the rice paddies during the day and took up arms at night. This, to anyone with a cursory knowledge of the conflict, is totally wrong. The core of the Vietcong were the so-called “main force” units, which had uniforms. Then you had regional forces, and finally those villagers taking potshots after work or setting punji traps were local militias with limited combat value. And of course as the war went on, the Communist side increasingly resorted to using North Vietnamese Army regulars. Lastly, this whole war was controlled by a state with a rigid hierarchical system.

The Afghan Mujaheddin were far more decentralized, by contrast, but they were largely supported and given shelter by authoritarian states like Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and China, not to mention the liberal democratic US. Besides that, decentralization didn’t necessarily work out better; even before the toppling of the Najibullah government in 1992, the various factions, most notably those of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Ahmad Shah Massoud, were already fighting amongst each other. After that, civil war broke out between various warlords until a certain enterprising young religious student named Omar decided to put a stop to that shit and kicked off a holy war by hanging some corrupt officials in Kandahar from the barrel of a tank gun. You probably know this movement as the Taliban, but what many Westerners don’t know is that one reason why the Taliban were so successful in the civil war apart from Pakistani support was that they were often embraced by the local population (especially Pashtuns), because they brought order and stability to a populace that was weary of years of chaotic civil war.

And what about Al Qaeda and the Islamic State? Well this comparison is terrible because while yes, Al Qaeda has shown remarkable resilience, they have rarely if ever controlled any  geographical territory apart from tenuous control in some locales in Syria at times. The Islamic State, on the other hand, improved on this by trying to establish some kind of territorial state, but at the same time this doomed it to destruction because it brought its fighters, infrastructure, and existence into the open to be bombed mercilessly by the coalition. Also when it comes to ISIS, Al Qaeda, and the Taliban, it’s also important to keep in mind that suicide tactics are a regular part of their doctrine. This has made ISIS particularly difficult to fight on the ground, as we saw with the battles for Mosul and Raqqa. Apart from sowing countless improvised mines and boobytraps, imagine having to deal with this on a daily basis:

The point I want to make here is that ISIS, Al Qaeda, and the Taliban all recruit people who are willing to die intentionally, which incidentally is one factor that enables them to carry out an ongoing insurgency against a far more advanced adversary. It’s a lot easier to carry out a successful attack on a much better-equipped adversary if you remove the part about surviving from your mission planning. Somehow I don’t see the folks at punk shows or co-ops signing up to drive VBIEDs, so differences in ideology alone aren’t the reason why this isn’t a viable option for anarchist defense. And before moving on I should point out that even in those other cases of successful unconventional warfare, the guerrillas typically took far more casualties than their enemies, to the point of sometimes losing every engagement above the tactical level. As a result these conflicts spanned many years, if not decades in the case of Vietnam’s struggle for unification and independence. Obviously it takes iron will and discipline to carry out such a conflict, and while I would not say that you must have a rigid hierarchical political/military to achieve that level of discipline, any successful revolutionary movement banking on a decentralized guerrilla warfare strategy has to achieve it somehow.

When we look at anarchist military history, it’s not too promising. Nestor Makhno was said to wage a guerrilla struggle, which is true to an extent, but one problem is that sources on Makhno are hard to come by, often either written by his partisans or detractors. Southeast Ukraine doesn’t lend itself well to guerrilla warfare, which is why Makhno’s hit and run tactics were more likely a matter of mobility as opposed to using restrictive terrain the way the Vietcong used the jungle or the Afghan Mujaheddin used mountains. Cavalry allowed Makhno’s forces to show up were they were not expected, and mounting machine guns on horse-drawn carts, the famous “tachanka,” made it possible to rapidly strike an enemy and retreat before they could adequately react, particularly if they were foot infantry. Still, Makhno lost. Now here most anarchists would say that this is because the Bolsheviks stabbed him in the back, and because they refused to send adequate arms and supplies to his Revolutionary Insurgent Army of Ukraine. This argument, however, is irrelevant. In order to abolish the state and then defend the society with which you replace it, you will inevitably have to resort to force. If you cannot supply your revolution with the necessary arms, that’s on you. The Bolsheviks found a way to do it. The Poles did it. “The Bolsheviks wouldn’t give them arms” is really saying “they failed to properly organize their revolution.” As Omar Bradley put it: “Amateurs- strategy. Professionals talk logistics.” I could go on to Catalonia as well, but that’s just another Dolchstoßlegende (stab-in-the-back-legend) related to the “May Days of 1937.”

I’m not saying you can’t build an effective military force without resorting to traditional authoritarian hierarchies like we see in existing military forces. Yes, the system we see in the world’s best military (AMERICUH!!!) is hierarchical and disciplined, especially in the Marine Corps, arguably one of the finest fighting forces in history (crayon eating notwithstanding). However, the conventional military culture, even among the best of organizations, can often be extremely arbitrary and stifling, leading to things like stagnation, failure to adapt to new forms of warfare, and even nepotism and corruption. Nobody spends any amount of time in the military without acquiring dozens of examples of ineffective leadership and idiocy that is often impossible to convey to civilians who have never experienced it. Moreover, it’s not hard to make the case that military forces that encourage individual initiative and creative, mission-oriented tactics historically do better than rigid, authoritarian armies. So what I’m basically saying here is that your revolutionary forces need strong discipline and will, but this does not at all mean that this must be achieved via rigid hierarchy and authoritarian culture. That being said, it’s important to note that hierarchies of some sort tend to be inevitable in military organizations, but at least they need not be “unjustified.”

There is a wider lesson anarchists must learn as well from history. Remember that anecdote about the Taliban’s early successes in Afghanistan? There was a similar situation with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, whereby ordinary Sunnis who might have had zero interest in building a Salafi-jihadist Caliphate accepted and even embraced the IS fighters due to instability and persecution. See whether it’s the Taliban or the Islamic State, while the rules they bring are Draconian with out a doubt, they often applied these rules in a very regular, predictable way, while often putting an end to all kinds of criminal activity and corruption wherever they took over. Consider this horrible dilemma countless people have had to make at certain points in history:

-Live your life without any assurance that your person or property will be respected. You are fair game for authorities who may be of another faith and/or tribe, or just random bandits who know there will be no repercussion for any malicious actions they take against you.

-Accept the authority of a strict authoritarian movement which, while imposing new rules on you, also will impose order and predictability protecting your property and person.

Humans do not naturally crave authoritarian systems or rigid hierarchy, nor do they inherently require them. But one thing we do naturally prefer is stability in favor of chaos. Therefore, any anti-authoritarian revolutionary movement, if it is to be successful, must one way or another establish relative stability and predictability. If your movement insists on deciding every issue with consensus-based councils, for example, it had better make sure people’s basic rights are well-protected and basic needs are met, otherwise people will inevitably seek out whomever can provide these things or convincingly promise them, even if those alternatives are also more authoritarian.

These facts are well-established by history, but they are not death-blows to anarchism or anti-authoritarian socialism, which incidentally is the only socialism really worth fighting for. It’s much better to look at them as challenges that need to be overcome by any movement that truly seeks to liberate people, regardless of what it calls itself. The Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Syria has given us a wealth of information to study in this regards. Unfortunately, many idealists overstate the extent to which politics in “Rojava” as it was once internationally known, were bottom-up and “stateless.” In reality, the PYD is quite hierarchical and the territory under their control isn’t exactly run by direct democracy. That being said, no objective observer can deny that they have made some stunning progress in some fields, most notably women’s rights.

Furthermore, many of the examples where the PYD has failed in terms of realizing the stateless, direct democracy it preaches can be reasonably explained by the exigencies of a bitter war and the precarious situation they face between Turkey, the Assad regime, Russia, Iran, and the Kurdish Regional Government in Iraq. The PYD have been described as being extreme pragmatists. Perhaps some, and perhaps even myself, might say they’ve been a bit too pragmatic. But whatever the case, any revolution will have to face the conditions PYD faces, if not worse. I suggest planning accordingly, because in the last thing socialism needs is yet another romanticized lost cause that was drowned in blood because those who fought for it  put theoretical principle over practical reality. The freest society on Earth is no use to humanity if it remains nothing but a besieged enclave or worse, if it is wiped out in a matter of weeks.

 

Inoculation

I spend a lot of time wondering about how reasonably intelligent people start to believe in not-so-intelligent ideas, especially since I myself have been down a few rabbit holes of idiocy at several points in my lifetime. But while the “why” is very important, there is also the matter of what to do about it. Are there things one can do to avoid falling for wholly irrational, tribal worldviews? Is there a vaccine against this? I have a couple suggestions.

When looking back on some of the dumber ideas I fell for in my youth (not counting the religious conservative worldview I was raised with), I sometimes wonder if they were unavoidable, and that if I went in one direction rather than another this was only due to circumstances and experiences. I believe to some extent that young males, well into their twenties, are imbued with a sense of hubris that emboldens them and motivates them to hold fast to the most idiotic beliefs at times. Witness the confidence of some of these alt-right followers display when expounding on society and politics and you’ll see what I mean. Each one is a Dunning-Kruger case study. Now granted, many people carry this overconfidence well past their 20’s, but that’s the thing- either you become self-aware, grow up, and correct yourself, or you remain an overconfident blowhard to the end. The latter of those, incidentally, can lead to a very lucrative career on Youtube or if you’re lucky, Fox News.

What is it that young males (and let’s face it, males tend to fall for this far more often) are so susceptible to? If I had to define it in one word, I’d say epiphany. By epiphany I mean this specific realization that one factor somehow explains the whole system, and when you come to that realization, that epiphany, you now have gained all the knowledge you to truly understand the world around you. That knowledge is like a filter you can apply to any situation, be it a news story, an upcoming election, or some kind of international conflict. In fact, a lot of people who fall for this kind of thing have given that epiphany a name- the red pill. Being “redpilled” has different meanings whether it’s being used by MRAs (“Men’s Rights Advocates) or neo-Nazis; the former see the red pill as understanding that women secretly rule society while the latter say it’s the Jews, although there’s a lot of overlap between the two ideologies these days.

There are left-wing versions of this too. These can range from the general “anti-hegemony,” Chomsky-ite worldview,  whereby everything bad can be explained by the influence of the US and its close allies. Or it can manifest in an extremely mechanical application of Marxist class theory, whereby everything is reduced to class, and specifically class as understood by Marx in his own time, rather than material reality in the present. Marx’s greatest contribution to history was an analysis and critique of capitalism. He did not develop some kind of esoteric knowledge which could explain the workings of all things and allow those with that knowledge to control the flow of history. Some leftists either do not know or forget that Marxist theory is a method for analyzing certain aspects of human society and its evolution, not an answer to all life’s questions or a cure-all for in any every social problem. The misapplication and manipulation of Marxist theory has been disastrous, to say the least.

A corollary to the epiphany is that it is typically forbidden or taboo, and this is used as evidence that it is correct. For example, there is a quotation misattributed to Voltaire which goes: “To determine the true rulers of any society, all you must do is ask yourself this question: Who is it that I am not permitted to criticize?” In fact, the quote in question most likely originates from the white nationalist leader and convicted pedophile Kevin Alfred Strom. There’s a good lesson in that; sure, it may be taboo to praise Hitler in public or to defend the gulag system in our modern society, but it is also taboo to defend pedophilia or cannibalism. In other words, being taboo doesn’t necessarily make something right, either factually or morally. Some things are taboo for a reason and they should remain so.

So my advice to the young men out there (because again, it’s mostly a male thing) is this: If anyone tells you this one weird trick that explains the whole system, be very cautious. Remember that skepticism is the default position you should be in with all extraordinary claims, and any claim that purports to explain the whole world is certainly extraordinary. Yes, material reality shows we live in a capitalist world divided into antagonistic classes, but there are many other factors outside of these two established facts which weigh heavily on events. Even concepts like determining who has power and how doesn’t can only really work as rules of thumb. And I don’t think I should have to even point out that any theory that claims the world is run by a cabal of Jews, secret societies, feminists, etc. is clearly bullshit and can be simply dismissed.

While that advice is for the potential audience for such flawed ideologies, what can society do to help foster critical thinking? I have often noted how for many people, the response to the “America can do no wrong” narrative of their upbringing and our political discourse is simply “America can do no right,” as opposed to a more critical and nuanced point of view. It is this kind of thinking that leads “dissidents” to identify with and praise regimes that have done either worse things than the US, or at least did no better.

It seems to me, though I may be wrong, that if we didn’t teach American exceptionalism, if we didn’t teach the “America is the greatest thing in the history of anything, ever” narrative in schools, then we might prevent the opposite idiotic idea, that any regime in a spat with the US must be good or have a righteous cause. In many ways, that view seems to stem from the aforementioned epiphany, and the idea that America and its hegemony is the lens through which we should view all global politics is basically an epiphany. It is and example of “everything they taught you was wrong, here’s the truth.” So what would happen if we didn’t teach that way anymore?

If we just taught US history accurately, warts and all, then revelations of its crimes wouldn’t seem so groundbreaking because, after all, they’d already be revealed. The fairy-tale version of American history is lying to children, and when people figure out they’ve been lied to they tend to get angry. So angry, in fact, that they might even be receptive to someone else’s lies, so long as they go against the lies they’ve already been told.

Of course it’s one thing to say how history ought to be taught and another to actually get the system to teach it. I remember Cracked.com’s Jason Pargin making the very correct point that the reason country’s teach history in schools isn’t to actually teach what happened, i.e. history. The “lesson” you’re supposed to get from history class is that the present order in your country is fair, just, and good, and more importantly- people did certain things in the past so you should do them too. If we taught history as it is, the authorities would have a revolt on their hands.

A Bad Cartoon

This cartoon:

pokemon

I hate it. It keeps popping up in my feed, usually for the purpose of mockery, but it still makes me angry. This is less funny than a New Yorker cartoon. This has no point whatsoever. I get what the boomer/possibly elderly cartoonist was going for here, and yet it still sucks because there could have been an actual joke in this. Hell, even Hillary Clinton’s “Pokemon go to the polls” line was a better joke than this. I have to dissect this. I have to do a fucking autopsy on this abomination.

Let’s start with the really freakin’ obvious- the kid likes Pokemon Go. “Oh but how do you know that?” you ask, dickishly. “What makes you so sure?” Yes, the cartoonist actually lazier than Jim “I’ll-make-a-cat-that-has-no-job-but-hates-Mondays” Davis was thorough enough to give him a T-shirt that says “I (heart) Pokemon Go” on it, plus the phone appears to say Pokemon Go on its screen. Why not just go full-on Ben Garrison and label the kid “POKEMON GO FANATIC?”

Alright now, let’s get to Dad. Ah yes, suburban boomer dad whose wife is having an affair if there’s any justice in this world. What can’t we say about him? I mean is this guy surprised his kid’s not interested in the thrilling bedtime story that is “Jack and Jill?” Forget Pokemon Go for a second; that kid would probably rather listen to Day of the Jackal than a stupid poem. You’ve got to read the room. When I was little, my mother found ways to reuse children’s books in ways that kept me interested, for example, she’d read all the words in the book backwards- the individual words, not the story itself. Let me tell you to a four-year-old, that routine simply kills. And that’s how you take a 25-page children’s book and stretch it so it goes further. Oh yeah and speaking of books….

WHY ON ALLAH’S GREEN EARTH is he reading “Jack and Jill” out of a book? The entire poem is six lines. SIX GODDAMNED LINES! Boomer dad hasn’t memorized that poem by now? What was he like: “What will I tell little (INSERT WASP-IEST NAME IMAGINABLE HERE) for a bedtime story? I know! I’ll tell him that old chestnut, “Jack and Jill.” Young people love that classic! How’s it go? Oh right! Jack and Jill went up the hill to…uh…err. What were they doing again? Darn it I’d better go get my leatherbound hardback edition of stupid poems kids are taught in kindergarten!” You incompetent son of a bitch. You fraud.

And that’s that. The dad tries to read a stupid poem to his kid and the kid, in the most diplomatic way possible, tries to steer the conversation towards Pokemon Go because frankly, he’s under a lot of stress. He hears Mom and Dad arguing. The game helps him focus and take his mind off of it. His teachers, while somewhat concerned about all their pupils’ obsession with the game, notes that he is in a good mood and socializes well with others because they’re playing the game too. He’s not an outcast like the neighbor boy whose parents, equally lame as the dad here, expressly forbid him to play Pokemon Go like all the normal kids his age.

In short, son doesn’t want to hear about your dumbass poem and pails of water. Maybe you could tell him some of your heroic war stories- oh wait, you don’t have any, because back in the 60’s you were taking advantage of the post-war boom to douse yourself in sex and drugs, only to make a complete 180 degree turn later in life and vote to destroy the country and environment election after election because you want more tax cuts. And what will you spend that extra money on? Bullshit from Home Depot or Bed, Bath, and Beyond, because you never accomplished anything of merit, because you never knew what struggle was. You’re idea of an accomplishment is putting on a great Super Bowl Party and showing off your workbench you never use because you have no actual skills, your flatscreen TV (it’s three inches bigger than next-door Dave’s!), and your new BBQ grill.

There. There’s the dumbest cartoon ever to be put on paper. It’s even dumber than Ben Garrison’s work, if only because Garrison, as batshit insane as he is, tries to make a point. Even the dumbest point ever serves some purpose in this world gone mad. This technophobic boomerific cartoon does none of that. It killed trees and nothing more. This is the kind of thing that drives characters in Lovecraft stories insane just from staring at it too long. Hell maybe that’s what happened to me after seeing this imbecilic trash pop up in so many places on this cursed labyrinth they call the internet. Maybe it’s already happening to you too. Embrace madness.

 

 

No, Russia Didn’t Make People Hate The Last Jedi

One clickbait story that’s been making the rounds lately is how Russian trolls may have influence or been involved in the hate campaign against Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Naturally, these articles range from the more thought-out and cautious, to…eh…whatever the hell this is supposed to be. The reaction, especially in some of the cinephile groups I frequent, was, as you might imagine, pretty incredulous. It mostly amounted to people posting links to the more clickbait-y versions of the story with a comment like: “LOL! Looks like Disney is trying to blame RUSSIA for people not liking Last Jedi!”

The problem is, if anyone had bothered to look, this whole story is based on one academic paper by one Morten Bay at the University of Southern California. Moreover, even reading the description in the link shows that the thesis of the paper is nothing remotely resembling an accusation that the backlash against The Last Jedi was driven by Russian bots or trolls. It makes a comparison between the Russian information campaign of 2016 and some of the Twitter activity directed toward The Last Jedi and its director Rian Johnson, and it notes how the activities of some of the accounts involved in the backlash resembled those of known Russian bots and trolls, but when it actually gets to the topic of Russian involvement in the hate campaign, it in no way implies that they were driving it. In fact, from what I read it doesn’t even state anything conclusive on whether any accounts were confirmed to be Russian trolls or bots. Most important of all- I did a CTRL-F search and did not find the magic kill-word “Hamilton.” Any time I see “Russian bots are tweeting about (insert trending news story here),” I run that simple procedure and I get a hit, I close the tab and save several minutes of precious time.

Personally I find it odd that in an economy that revolves so much around advertising, the media hasn’t yet figured out why a bunch of Russian troll accounts would tweet or retweet things about a super popular Star Wars film or any other trending news story. It’s not rocket science- they’re trying to garner an audience. Those who are familiar with the history of the so-called Internet Research Agency in St. Petersburg know that it initially focused on domestic audiences; it still is largely dedicated to this as far as we know. The purpose was to get Russians to rally behind Putin an his foreign policy aims. A typical tactic here would be to set up a social media account which posts about all kinds of mundane things like shopping or cooking, but which will, when needed, share or post some key government talking point. Imagine you follow some blog about recipes, but one day out of the blue there’s a post about how the CIA is supporting a Nazi coup d’etat in Ukraine. Many Twitter troll accounts act in a similar manner, sometimes going dormant for long periods of time before emerging with a different persona, for example.

One of the most important things for these trolls, of course, is to get followers, so naturally they’re going to be watching what topics trend and who’s following those topics. It doesn’t take a marketing genius to see that there was a huge buzz about Star Wars online, and apart from ideological affinities toward the far right, the Internet Research Agency (maybe I’ll just call them “The bad IRA” from now on) cannot have missed how easy it is to get a huge, dedicated following if you pander to the “anti-SJW/feminist” chuds. So you tweet something about how “Cultural Marxist SJWs are runining teh STAAAAAAAR WAAAAAAAAAARZ!!!!1” and voila! You have picked up some severely sexually frustrated but loyal followers.

And this gets back to what I’ve written about recently, about the real purpose of these information operations. They are not, as the grifters “narrative architects” or talking heads say, trying to “divide” America. This is the perspective from someone with privilege, power, and who is generally disconnected from daily reality for most Americans. Most Americans understand that we are extremely divided and have been for some time. The reality is that Russia’s influence operation is about creating unity, uniting polar opposites of the political spectrum around talking points or ideas that are in line with the Kremlin’s foreign policy goals and in some cases, its domestic agenda.

But before you can get anyone to start listening to your specially crafted talking points, you’ve got to get their attention and keep it. Hence the tweeting around trending topics, the hashtags, the memes, and so forth.

However, let us not lose sight of the biggest issue in all of this. Namely, that despite the fact that Rian Johnson had ambitious goals for The Last Jedi, he ultimately failed hard thanks to a number of mindbogglingly stupid decisions and poor writing, thus squandering all the film’s potential and possibly ruining the whole new trilogy. This, is of course, objective fact, and there is nothing the entire St. Petersburg troll factory could ever do to change that.

Don’t @ me.

…..

………

Okay let me just say something about this bullshit excuse where people say “What does it matter if Snoke doesn’t have a backstory? You didn’t question the Emperor’s backstory and they didn’t even say the name Palpatine in the original trilogy!” 

Mocking-Spongebob

“tHe eMpErOr dIdN’t hAvE a BaCkStOrY iN rEtUrN oF tHe jEdI! yOu’Re jUsT mAd yOuR sTuPiD fAn tHeOrY wAs wRoNg!” -Idiots

We knew in the original trilogy that the rebels were fighting the Galactic Empire, and empires are ruled by emperors. We naturally assumed an emperor had to exist and he’s mentioned throughout the trilogy! The First Order is not the Galactic Empire- in fact it’s not really very well explained what it is at all! Therefore it’s perfectly reasonable to want to know just who the hell Snoke is, why he’s leading the First Order, and why he’s so powerful. Also maybe explain why the hell the First Order has almost wiped out the rebellion almost immediately after said rebellion completely destroyed their massive home base in The Force Awakens. And why would you ever want to bring up fuel in a STAR WARS MOVIE?! None of this makes any sense! 

Goddammit, Rian! What were you even thinking?!