Tag Archives: censorship

War By Other (Ineffective) Means

I don’t normally do two posts in one day, but since I learned about the Ukrainian government’s recent decision to block Yandex, VKontakte (VK), and certain other Russian social networking sites, I can’t keep silent. I don’t really use VK or Yandex anymore, but for other reasons I won’t get into, this really struck a personal chord with me.

Suffice it to say that I have, in recent times, become intimately acquainted with Ukraine’s still Soviet Union-like bureaucracy. At times it has proven even more backward than that of Russia. I will also state that this kind bureaucracy exists in a sphere that is vital to Ukraine’s national security and its ability to defend itself against a certain foreign invasion and occupation (none of this knowledge is even remotely secret or even obscure, just so you know). Without going into detail I will say that Ukraine’s war effort is concretely hindered by such backwardness, just as it is hindered by endemic corruption. So imagine my rage when the latest “patriotic” outburst from the authorities is not in fact a sweeping reform meant to clean up this clusterfuck or any major corruption issues, but rather a very Kremlin-like decision to ban several social networks, including ones people use for their email.

First let me smack down a few arguments I’ve heard in favor of the ban.

Yes, VK and the other social network are potential security risks (at the user level) and yes, they can be a vector for Russian propaganda. On the other hand, both of these work both ways. Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) investigators have used sites like VK to determine the location of Russian soldiers on Ukrainian territory, along with other vital pieces of information. VK is still being used by OSINT gatherers because even now it seems the Russian military has not yet developed the concept of OPSEC. And as for the propaganda and Kremlin-linked pages, these also provided crucial information to Ukrainian and pro-Ukrainian activists and investigators, who not surprisingly often do a far better job than the governments’ organs. That’s basically over now.

And speaking of propaganda, the Russian press is having a field day with the news. While Russia has banned thousands of sites, they’ve only banned one social network so far, and it’s the one everyone hates- LinkedIn. But this recent move must have Russia’s state media bosses popping champagne, because this fits their narrative perfectly.

Remember the main message of Kremlin propaganda. It isn’t that Russia is so great or better than the West. Rather it is that everywhere else is just as bad, and that trying to make improvements will just destabilize your already-bad situation and make it worse. Moreover, the Russian state media insists that things like freedom of press and freedom of speech are just illusions. This is why one favorite trope of Russian propaganda is to publish videos which were supposedly “banned in the US!” The bottom line of almost everything they put out is that everybody’s bad, so why bother striving for something that’s just a mirage? The Ukrainian government has pulled some pretty Kremlin-like moves before, but nothing like this to date, and this can’t even really be called Kremlin-like since the Russian government hasn’t even reached that point yet.

Another argument is that this is justified because there is a war. Very well- fight the war then. Launch an offensive, shore up positions, and/or reach out to the population to mobilize them for defense. Do something other than piddly bullshit that just makes you look worse and doesn’t actually hurt Russia in any way. This is what Ukrainian politicians are doing in order to avoid actually fighting the war. Doing that might force them to curtail or *gasp!* cease their own personal enrichment. Thousands of ordinary Ukrainians have made sacrifices, even the ultimate sacrifice in this war, but the leadership sure as hell doesn’t want to sacrifice anything.

I might also add that VK and other Russian social networks haven’t been doing anything now that they weren’t already doing since the war began in the spring of 2014. If it’s right to ban them now and this banning is necessary for the war effort, why wasn’t this done back in 2014, 2015, or even 2016? Why hasn’t all trade with Russia been subject to sanctions since 2014? I’ll tell you why- because this excuse is bullshit.

Having got those objections out of the way, let me say that while my loyalty to Ukraine’s cause is unshaken, I am now more convinced than ever that Ukraine’s “leadership” is in no way serious about fighting this war. They’d rather go to the West with their hand out in hopes that if they look pitiful enough big-brother NATO will step in and solve the situation somehow. I say “solve” because what I think they’d much rather see Russia just go back to the status quo border-wise so they can continue making lucrative deals with their Russian counterparts while simultaneously reaping the benefits of European Union integration. I don’t trust any of these people any further than I could throw them.

Am I shouting “ZRADA!!!” (Treason!)?  No. To accuse them of treason is to suggest that you had some faith in them in the beginning. I don’t put any faith in politicians or governments; I’ve put my faith in the Ukrainian people and their repeatedly-demonstrated abilities for self-organization. I can only hope more will realize their own powers and abilities and reject the narrow range of views proffered by these clowns who call themselves leaders.

I think this just shows how precarious the situation is for those inside and outside of Ukraine who truly want the country to succeed. It is a constant struggle against foreign aggression in front and mind-numbing incompetence and corruption in the rear. For my part I’ll keep fighting the good fight, but I won’t be doing it on VKontakte, that’s for sure.

 

 

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“Political Correctness” is Bullshit: A Guide

This post is a bit general, but I feel it’s really needed. Recently I got into it with an otherwise rational conservative on Twitter. This individual, who awed audiences with his rapid fire takedown of Trump supporters, was trying to distance the GOP and the conservative movement from Trump and his following, and I wasn’t going to let that slide.

The individual claimed that PC, better known as political correctness, is responsible for the rise of Donald Trump. No, not it’s not, actually. If anything, the media constantly blowing alleged incidents of PC way out of proportion has helped Trump’s campaign, but no, political correctness is nowhere near as responsible for the rise of Trump. Trump’s success is largely due to nearly three decades of conservatives spreading dog whistles, conspiracy theories, and moral panics. This Twitter personality was engaging in a typical right-wing tactic; claim you’re upset and indignant about the rise of the far-right, but blame the left for creating it. Essentially it’s a form of blackmail- either shut up and do what we say, otherwise we won’t be responsible for those of us that resort to extremes.

What I found funny about the experience is how quickly this otherwise very logical, educated person who displays sharp rhetorical skills was reduced to elementary logical fallacies when forced to actually explain political correctness. He could only offer one anecdote that supposedly proves his point, and it was a weak one at that. Once again I, a Marxist, had to explain capitalism to one of its die-hard advocates. For the benefit of other folks like him, I decided to write this comprehensive guide to political correctness and why it’s bullshit. You’re welcome.

Political Correctness is too vague

If you can’t even give a concrete definition for the thing you’re convinced is ruining your country, you might want to rethink the basis of your ideology. At first glance, the idea of political correctness seems simple enough- political correctness is a state of affairs where people are one way or another forced to censor themselves to avoid offending people.

If we look at how the term PC is applied in practice, however, and we look at who applies it most often, we see a little problem. To be sure, Bill Maher, typically identified as a leftist of sorts, hosted a TV talk show called Politically Incorrect. This would make you think that political correctness can apply to either side of the spectrum. That assumption, of course, is wrong.

Remember what happened when football player Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the national anthem in a silent protest against racism and police brutality? How many commentators did you see come on and say, “Come on, people! It’s just a song! Stop being so PC!” What actually happened was the people most likely to declare themselves politically incorrect went apeshit over a guy not standing for a song that became the official anthem of the United States in 1931, whose melody is based on a drinking song for a poetry society, and whose lyrics come from a war we basically lost.

I don’t have to stop with that example. Next time you see someone telling everyone how politically incorrect he is, mention that racism against minorities is still a serious problem in the US. Go online and say you are a feminist who has some concerns about the portrayal of females in video games. See what happens.

What we see here is that the term PC doesn’t really mean not offending anyone, what it really means is not offending minorities and other marginalized people. Or in other words, trying to avoid offending such people is PC and there bad, if not worse than Nazi Germany, whereas mocking those things that middle class white (often male) America loves and cherishes is somehow objectively offensive and wrong. And no, I’m not going to jump on the bandwagon and offer any theories about how “punching up” is better than “punching down.” But I think it’s fair to say that if you think punching down is hilarious and courageous while punching up is wrong or somehow more worthy of criticism, you are kind of an ass.

The Price of Political Incorrectness

To support their claims of a dystopian world suffering under the iron heel of political correctness, self-proclaimed warriors against PC often bring up the example of online “lynch mobs” attacking people over a joke or otherwise controversial statement. Granted, there are many problems with this kind of behavior.

As someone who is a part of the radical left and who does still interact with the Western left online, I’m more qualified to speak about the self-censorship and intimidation that goes on thanks to so-called “call-out culture.” That being said, those who have no desire to be associated with the radical left, or more importantly those who loudly proclaim their political incorrectness, really have no reason to whine about being called racist, sexist, or whatever. Nobody’s going to potentially destroy your activist reputation by claiming some innocuous remark was in fact highly offensive to non-hetero-normative people.  Essentially your whining is like me getting super upset about Catholics believing in the Transubstantiation even though I’m not religious at all. It’s not my problem.

Getting back to the topic of online mobs, also known as “brigading” in some circles, it’s first very important to remember that this kind of thing goes both ways. And if you’re keeping score, you’ll undoubtedly find that it’s the so-called “politically correct” side that tends to get the worst backlash. Again, go on Youtube or Twitter and proclaim yourself to be a feminist. Make a few humble suggestions about how video game companies could better appeal to female gamers. Then brace yourself for a withering barrage of abuse from morons and pseudo-intellectuals who will “rationally” prove how you’re part of a conspiracy to destroy video games and masculinity in between the constant rape and death threats you’ll be getting.

But what about people who lose their jobs due to expressing their views in public? This is where I find conservative whining to be at peak irony. Ed from the blog Gin & Tacos pointed out how odd it was that Republicans, people who typically believe that employment should be “at-will” and frequently say nobody owes you a job, suddenly turn on the successful “job-creating” class when someone’s career is threatened over making “politically incorrect” comments. Again, they don’t raise the issue of free speech in all cases, such as that of Ward Churchill, the aforementioned Capernick, or Bill Maher, but they’re the first to cry persecution whenever someone is fired for making a comment that’s racist, sexist, or homophobic.

Here’s a little primer on how the 1st Amendment of the Constitution works, for all you confused conservatives out there. Put simply, it protects you from being punished by the government for expressing potentially unpopular ideas. It does not protect you from the consequences of that expression. While it does technically protect you from violence insofar as police are obligated to stop and arrest anyone who commits a crime against you in response to your expression, it does not guarantee you freedom from criticism, nor does it guarantee you’ll get to keep your job. I think even the densest Trump supporter can understand that a McDonald’s worker who openly uses profanity on the job will be fired, and plenty of liberals would agree as well.

On the topic of jobs, I am always dumbfounded when I have to explain the concept of private companies and their bottom lines to fervent advocates of unrestrained capitalism and the private sector. Apparently, if Wal-Mart fires a worker for talking about unionizing, that’s just fine, but if some high level employee gets fired for making racist statements in public, it’s a tragedy and their 1st Amendment rights are being violated. I guess this time it would be perfectly justified if the government intervened and forced the company to keep their employee even if people are threatening them with a boycott.

And no, boycotts are not a form of censorship either. Nobody is required to buy your product or service. If a group of people is offended by one of your employees and threatens a boycott, you have a simple business decision to make. You can decide you’re willing to take the hit, or you can apologize to the offended group and do something to make amends- like canning the employee who caused you those problems in the first place.

But if that’s something you conservatives just can’t swallow, I have a couple of other proposals that could potentially solve this problem of free speech in the work place. One is greater unionization. The other is a universal basic income, making jobs much less of a necessity. What say you, conservatives?

Relative Costs

Forgive me if it’s hard to take Americans seriously when they complain about the tyranny of political correctness. I happen to live in a country where people have been jailed for posting, retweeting, and even liking content on social media. Just today this poor young man was jailed. His crime? He made a blog post showing how he caught a Pokemon in a church; he didn’t even disturb the service in any way. But even if we look in Western and in particular, American society, we see there are definitely big differences in oppression.

Saying something homophobic can get your fired, you say? Please tell that to all those gays and lesbians who were booted out of the military for being outed. In fact, as of 2015 there were 28 states where it’s legal to fire someone for being gay.  At least you can control what you say in public or online.

Moreover, for decades LGBT have faced violence, sometimes death, just for being honest about themselves or failing to adequately hide it. When you hear about someone making homophobic statements and facing a backlash, take some time to think about how much society has progressed to the point where LGBT people feel safe enough to express their discomfort in public. And when you hear someone complaining about an online “lynch mob,” take a moment to think of what used to happen to black Americans when they asked for equal rights. Maybe you’ll realize the word “lynch” probably isn’t the best word choice.

More Free Speech, Not Less

The point I’m making here is that while yes, we do see more people getting into some kind of trouble for offending different groups, it doesn’t mean we have less free speech; society as a whole has more. When minorities such as Asian Americans (a group which still faces an appalling amount of racism and stereotyping) or transexual people feel confident enough to publicly express their opinions online, in means we have more people expressing opinions, not fewer.

And you know what? Some of those opinions are going to be downright stupid. Just because various minorities face oppression or marginalization doesn’t mean every single thing a specific member of that group says is automatically right or intelligent. They don’t have get a magical protection against criticism either. Just realize that if your arguments are rooted in racism or homophobia as opposed to sound logic, people are probably going to dismiss you offhand. And if you are using sound logic and they just dismiss you as a racist, sexist, or whatever- fine. Maybe that person is just a jackass. It doesn’t mean they wield some kind of power over you.

Why Are You Still Here?

The funniest thing about this mass hysteria over political correctness is that it’s been around for a long time. I remember hearing all about it in the early 90’s. I was routinely told that by the time I reached high school, we wouldn’t be allowed to say the word Christmas in school, and we’d be using terms like “vertically challenged” to describe people of short height. Well guess what- throughout high school I managed to be an insufferable little shit spouting off many racist, sexist, and homophobic opinions without ever really facing any serious consequences for doing so. I’m sure being a white, heterosexual male couldn’t have had anything to do with that!

In case you’re not catching on. Look around you. How easy is it for you to find articles in the major media outlets decrying the spread of “political correctness” or “safe spaces” versus articles in the same outlets specifically advocating political correctness or something like it? How many bills have been introduced in Congress to ban some kind of expression lately?

What do you see on TV? One of America’s most popular shows was (and perhaps still is) South Park. Would you consider that a particularly politically correct show? Try exercising a little empathy, possibly for the first time in your life, and browse Youtube or watch TV with the intent to note anything that could potentially be offensive to various minority groups, women, LGBT people, etc. Use your imagination.

Take a look at Youtube and see how many comedians, talk show hosts, and Youtube personalities have successfully made their career off of proclaiming themselves to be “politically incorrect” or just constantly complaining about political correctness. Yes, some folks get banned from Youtube or Twitter for their opinions, but once again- these are private companies. They are allowed to make their own terms of service and you agree to them when you sign up.

Conclusion- Stop Whining!

Perhaps one of the biggest ironies of the PC backlash is that it alleges certain people are too sensitive when in reality, the most sensitive people tend to be those who claim to hate PC. In academia and on the internet, the most radical, often absurd incarnations of “intersectionality” any related theories may seem highly influential, but in the real world they’re not. Keep in mind that many of those people you see calling for censorship or generally being absurd are oftentimes early twenty-something college students who never had any political thoughts whatsoever before graduating high school. Don’t expect balance and moderation from them. If you can’t get along with them online- avoid them. It’s not difficult to do so, and isn’t that what you’re always telling the so-called PC crowd to do anyway?

Ultimately, as groups that were formerly marginalized find their voice in society, and assuming we take them seriously rather than going into a hysterical panic, we’ll eventually find some kind of balance as to what’s considered acceptable discourse. If that sounds oppressive to you, please consider how concretely oppressive it is today that people can no longer use racial slurs in everyday conversation without provoking outrage. Is that really so terrible? Nobody throws you in jail for saying it, but other people are free to express their disgust and anger. There will always be narcissistic individuals of all groups who will insist that the rest of society bend to their specific feelings and desires, in the same way that a minority of whites still demands that they be allowed to spout off racist and misogynistic opinions with no consequences whatsoever. We don’t have to cater to any of those people- just make a sincere effort to be more inclusive towards those who are currently, through no fault of their own, marginalized.

And whatever you do, please to not lay responsibility for Trump or the rise of the far right at those who just wanted to make the world less racist, sexist, and generally oppressive. These phenomena owe far more to the spread of conspiracy theories about an oppressive PC elite that are driving Western civilization toward an apocalypse, not to mention the general mainstreaming of ideas that are genuinely racist, misogynistic, homophobic, and so forth.

Fear and Weakness in Russia

If you’re not familiar with Cracked.com’s Jason Pargin(aka David Wong), you’re really missing out. Though Pargin is a veteran Cracked writer, I first started paying more attention to him when I started listening to the Cracked podcast. You may call him idealistic, you may call him somewhat out-of-touch, but in my opinion this guy puts forth some very strong ideas and even when I disagree with them they are at least very well argued.

Recently Pargin published an article entitled “6 Ways to Keep Terrorists from Ruining the World.”  In it, the author makes some compelling arguments about the need to resist our primitive urges in response to outrageous attacks like those which recently occurred in Paris. He eviscerates the faulty, child-like logic of those who insist on striking back with reckless abandon and the fear-mongering which causes people to give up cherished freedoms in exchange for protection against threats which are in fact incredibly rare. He also points out that fanatics, of all sorts, are themselves driven by fear. They are by no means cowards, but ultimately they are compelled by a deep-seated fear that the world has rejected them and their ideas, thus they can only rely on force to get them across. To use Pargin’s analogy, an omnipotent god wouldn’t care if humans mocked his prophet, and no truly faithful Muslim would feel their faith shaken by such mockery. It is the Salafists and like-minded fanatics whose faith is weak; they hope that by creating a society whereby their values are imposed on everyone by force, they won’t be tempted and their fragile dedication to the faith won’t be shaken.

I think that this is very applicable to Russia today in a number of ways. Edward Lucas, Timothy Snyder, and other Western media pundits want to portray Russia as a menace to the world. They highlight the ever intensifying crackdown against dissent in Russia and then point to the seizure of the Crimea and the war in the Donbas as proof that there is this rising Russian menace, another “clash of civilizations” if you will. The truth is that this class of civilizations is as much of a fraud as that which was said to exist between the West and “Islam.” Russia isn’t a rival civilization or even an ideological opponent. It is simply a failing dictatorship whose leaders are scrambling to cling to power, knowing that they have nowhere to run. Can it do damage as it collapses, sure. Should the West panic and engage in cowardly hysterics which only please the Kremlin’s pseudo-intellectuals? No.

First let us deal with this alleged threat that Russia poses to the world. It is true to some extent that the Kremlin did not think very much beyond the seizure of Crimea; this was a move of desperation. But to the extent that they did expect some hostile pressure from the West, I think they welcomed it. Putin needed to bring the conflict of the West home to ordinary Russians. When times were good, the majority of people didn’t care about the TV’s droning on about NATO and America’s “grand chessboard” conspiracy. Everyone knew that the problems they saw around them were due to the system, but they had the money to travel abroad, learn foreign languages, buy video game consoles, and amuse themselves with iPhones. Of course Russia’s economy started to take a turn for the worse even before 2014, and there’s a very good chance that Putin was made aware of the storm clouds on the horizon. Actually provoking a real conflict with the West helped distract people before that storm occurred. When the West refused to pass sanctions on Russia that would affect ordinary people, Putin handled that for them with his food imports ban.

While Russia still has the Crimea for the immediate future, it’s very likely that the peninsula is to be the iceberg that sinks the RMS Putin. Providing electricity, water, and social services to the federal subject has proven extremely difficult for the regime. One Putin crony pulled out of the Kerch bridge project. While another Putin crony(of course) stepped in to replace him, there’s still no reason to believe that building this bridge is legally or even physically possible. The Crimea needs major infrastructure support and improvement from a country that has proven itself incapable of keeping such projects from going ridiculously over-budget thanks to corruption. Not to mention the fact that Putin will have to garrison the Crimea with his best and most loyal troops, since whenever Russia’s inevitable economic meltdown occurs, local politicians in the Crimea have a magic ticket to freedom that most Russian regions don’t- referendum.

Many countries possess the military strength to annex a part of their neighbor. This doesn’t mean they can sustain their gains and succeed in the long run. Russia took advantage of a weak, corruption-ridden neighbor and then failed to sustain a successful insurgency in the Donbas; now they are paying the price. This is no Third Reich, or even a Second Reich for that matter. When Western leaders talk about Russia as a menace and a threat, it only strokes the ego of the Kremlin’s main constituency. Getting down in the sandbox with Russia only buys precious time for the regime.

As for the domestic crackdown on freedoms, this is of course primarily a problem for the Russian people. Right now many people have elected to go into a fantasy world where Putin knows best and the country will endure any hardship, but they know better. They know this society doesn’t care for them and they also know that Putin and his elite live in a completely different world than them. It is a world of summer-long vacations in the south of France, fishing trips in Norway, expensive restaurants, luxury cars, Swiss watches, and palaces surrounded by three-meter-high walls.  They know that when Putin or one of his cronies talks about “we,” there is no “we.” Since 1991 Russians have lived in a callous, dog-eat-dog society and nothing substantial changed. Even in the middle of the last decade when living standards were high due to oil prices,  sound policy, and cheap credit, Russia never solved the social problems of the 90’s.  Every ordinary citizen knows this whether they will still openly admit it or not.

One must always keep this in mind when reading about the latest crackdown by authorities, whether it’s threats against films which supposedly break down “national unity” and “values,” or laws which ban “undesirable companies” that supposedly pose a “threat” to the security of the state. Instead of acting as if Russia is turning into a new Third Reich that is menacing Europe, as yourself the following:

How strong can a state be if its leaders believe it can be threatened by movies, TV shows, NGOs, and random companies?

Oh yes, I know that there are US-funded NGOs that promote policies favorable to the US, but here’s the thing: If your state and society is healthy and in good shape, those organizations would be utterly ineffective. The US knows damned well that they can’t send NGOs into European welfare states and get people to overthrow their governments just to privatize their pensions and healthcare systems. When it comes to social problems, these countries have functioning civil society organizations and non-profits, which precludes any American attempt to dominate in that field.  This argument, which assumes anyone who doesn’t obey Moscow’s wishes must be a marionette of the US State Department is insulting and childish. It’s also projection, given the Russian government’s well-known practice of using bribes and gifts to organize political organizations and swell their ranks at rallies.

How weak is Russia that it is threatened by movies? Why is it so weak after 15 years under this supposedly great Russian leader, for whom there is no replacement? There can be no debate on this matter of weakness. The Russian side insists that they are in a conflict with the West, yet we don’t see the United States or its allies adopting law after law restricting protesting, blocking websites, harassing media entities, and so on. The Russian state is not strong. It’s pathetically weak. Strong states are not threatened by movies and websites, period.

In fact the United States is a great example of this. Only ten years after the ratification of the constitution which enshrined freedom of speech among other rights, the John Adams signed the Alien and Sedition Act, which made criticism of the federal government illegal. In the antebellum period, the slave-owning class used its power within government to suppress and intimidate abolitionists. In “Bleeding Kansas,” the so-called “Border Ruffians” from Missouri demanded that the new territorial government ban criticism of slavery. Southerners sent threatening letters to Harriet Beecher Stowe for writing Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Unable to defend their so-called rights in open debate, they had to resort to violence and the force of the state.

The militant labor movement in the late 19th and early 20th century saw more crackdowns, deportations, and extra-legal intimidation of people deemed to be a threat to order in America. The First World War brought the Espionage Act, which has the notorious honor of being responsible for the jailing of a filmmaker for creating what he thought would be seen as a patriotic film about the American revolution.  Then you’ve got the Palmer raids, the Smith Act, the era of McCarthyism, COINTELPRO, etc.  Fast forward to today and a simple search on Youtube reveals dozens of men showing off their military equipment and weapons, declaring themselves ready to defend themselves from the federal government if necessary. Neo-Nazi groups hold festivals on their private land and declare that they will one day overthrow the US government in a “white revolution.” Neo-confederates hold public conferences and speak about secession. Hell, the governor of Texas openly talked about secession.  Don’t get excited, geopolitical experts. If there were any real danger of secession, the president would have done something about it.

That’s just the point, though. The reason America let’s people run around on their own land with AR-15’s imagining that they’re training for a coming guerrilla war against the feds, the reason why it allows people to sling their weapons and attend anti-government protests in public squares, is because the government isn’t afraid. It’s not just that it’s not afraid of these people because they know they could splatter them all day long with drones either. It’s mainly because they know that Johnny electric scooter with his tricorne hat, Ruger Mini-14, and cardboard sign about watering the tree of liberty with the blood of tyrants isn’t likely to do jack shit. He’ll go to his little protest and scream himself hoarse about his crushing tax burden and how that $60 the feds take out of his paycheck is the one thing keeping him from starting his own business and becoming a millionaire captain of industry, but when it’s all over him and all the other barrel-chested white guys are going to get back in their SUVs and hit Wal-Mart on the way home to get some ridiculous deals on double-stuff Oreos and Hungry-Man brand TV dinners.

I’m not just going to pick on the right here either. From the government’s perspective the worst thing any left-wing demonstration is going to lead to is property destruction, maybe a little arson and looting here and there. Yet that level of rebellion has often been matched if not exceeded by less political events such as championship victories, Woodstock ’99, and that pumpkin festival riot. Yeah, I just wrote that. Dozens of left-wing protests by super radical black block anarchists were eclipsed in terms of revolutionary violence by a pumpkin festival. Like their Tea Party equivalents, most of these people will go back to their daily lives of consumption and entertainment.

The US government has certainly failed to maintain its standards of living in recent decades, but even when it fails it survives because aside from having a competitive if not very narrow political system, it allows people to gripe, protest, and carry around signs that say, “We came unarmed, this time!” Even if there isn’t much pluralism in the government, there’s pluralism in the discourse. If you’re not satisfied with mainstream conservatives, there’s always Glenn Beck, Ron Paul, or Alex Jones. If you’re fed up with Democratic “bipartisanship” there’s shows like The Young TurksThe Daily Show, and Democracy Now! If you’re sick of the entire US media there’s the CBC, BBC, Al Jazeera, and even RT.

Russia’s leaders can’t allow that kind of pluralism and freedom. They know that they have stolen from their people, in fact they have stolen their entire future. When oil prices were high like the growth rates, they had little reason to worry. Russians were happy to ignore politics and pursue their own interests. Now that things are bad, however, there’s no longer enough to satisfy everyone. Naturally when it comes down to the Russian people and their masters, the latter decide in favor of themselves first and foremost. In this system the people only get what spills over.

This is why they wrap themselves in the flag and preach about patriotism and national values. They know they have betrayed their country and its people, but they believe that passing all kinds of “patriotic” legislation will keep people from realizing this. They know they are immoral, in fact amoral, yet they actually believe nobody will realize it so long as they constantly preach about defending morality. In case they do realize it, the laws will keep them from speaking out. They believe that by preaching about morality, people will assume they are moral. They claim to be defending Russian culture, but in fact they are destroying it because they increasingly rely on Russia’s worst, most incompetent members of society while fearing and suppressing its most talented. This is the natural result of rewarding and encouraging “patriotism” based on empty phrases and useless gestures.

They’re afraid, and they feel the need to force patriotism on the Russian people because they cannot provide anything that would give people a reason to be patriotic. Whereas the US and Western countries at least maintain naive hopes among their population, Russia’s population has never recovered from the cynicism of the 90’s, and Putin’s regime positively thrives on it.  Thus they talk about banning or at least limiting foreign films to support their own cinema, yet when they attempt to produce a patriotic film it ends up being more insulting to the Russian people and their history than anything Hollywood has ever made. Perhaps it’s because just like Russia’s leadership, their star filmmakers can’t hide their utter contempt for their countrymen even as they attempt to teach them lessons in patriotism.

Fear, dear readers. Every crackdown, every new law, every hysterical conspiracy theory of this regime is nothing but an expression of fear. They looked at Maidan and realized how a little spark over one issue led to the flight of a president and the collapse of his party. Unlike Yanukovych, many of these people have nowhere to run. Thus they must distract the Russian people as long as possible, stealing every last ruble they can get their hands on, hoping to buy time to figure out what they’re going to do. For those people who aren’t so easily distracted, they empower and organize the worst of Russian society, thugs and hooligans, and turn them loose on the only people who could actually save Russia, the educated, the intellectuals, the people with new ideas. Those people are dangerous to a guilty, traitorous leadership which has nothing of value to offer the people. In short, they aren’t courageously standing up for Russia’s values because they have no values. They are flailing in the dark at phantoms, accusing them of being financed by the US because they are too afraid to acknowledge their responsibility. They are scared out of their wits.

The Russian regime can ban all the films, NGOs, companies, and organizations it likes. It can organize thugs to harass even the smallest demonstrations. This is what regimes do when they’re scared- back arched, hairs raised, tail all puffed up. Ultimately, however, none of this will save them. All it does is intensify the amount of hate they will find arrayed against them when they can no longer contain the pressure that they built up in society. The more brutally they crack down, the more brutal the reaction will be when the explosion comes. It’s a difference between early retirement and being dragged bloody through the street by a shouting mob. Let them crow about patriotism and defending their values. They’re just sowing the wind.

But they have newspapers! – Misconceptions about modern dictatorships

A typical Western Russophile argument, launched whenever there is talk of Russia being a dictatorship, is that Russia can’t possibly be a dictatorship because it has lots of different newspapers. Indeed, there are many newspapers in Russia and a few of them are quite critical of the government. I often find this argument amusing, if only because were the Russian government to shut down any of these newspapers, those same Russophiles would be the first in line to declare that this was totally justified, as the paper in question was no doubt a foreign-financed propaganda organ aimed at supporting the overthrow of the government.  Nonetheless, so long as there are critical publications like Novaya Gazeta, Team Russia will uphold this as proof that Russia as has much freedom of press as the US or any European country.

Of course this claim is nonsense. It doesn’t take much searching to find yet another story about the Russian state harassing independent media sources, or mysterious violent assaults on people who work for such outlets or independent organizations. But if we ignore all the harassment, assaults, and selectively applied laws and regulations, this argument does nothing to prove that Russia isn’t a dictatorship. The problem is that our understanding of dictatorships is totally flawed. It proceeds largely from Hannah Arendt’s deeply flawed concept of “totalitarianism” at best, and at worst it comes from dystopian science fiction like 1984 or the far more recent V for Vendetta. We have been conditioned to assume dictatorships must consist of uniformly grey apartment blocks, murals of the Great Leader, and loudspeakers blaring political propaganda.  The state ceaselessly works to stamp out any dissent, even unvoiced mental dissent, i.e. “thought crime.” The media, apart from the aforementioned ubiquitous loudspeakers, consists of omnipresent TV screens with presenters blathering on and on about the Glorious Great Leader’s most recent accomplishments and the need to weed out enemies of the state.

Books and films about this sort of dictatorship appeal to us because their heroes are always vastly outnumbered underdogs challenging the system. We have been taught that dictatorships and oppressive systems thrive off of conformity, and of course we don’t want to conform. We’d like to believe that we’d be that one person who, in spite of the threat of torture or death, would defiantly shout that 2 + 2 = 4. Unfortunately, this sort of dictatorship, particularly in the post-war era, is virtually non-existent. The closest you get is North Korea. Few dictatorships ever achieved that level of control.  What is more, dictatorships of this sort don’t manage to get join the ranks of the wealthiest industrial countries; more often than not, they are financed and controlled by them instead.

In the post-war era, every country needs to portray itself as a democracy, no matter how spurious the claim might be. In the post-Cold War era, countries are expected to attract foreign investment, tourism, and to allow their citizens to travel. South Vietnam was a dictatorship, but I think their are few who would have claimed that it had strict rules and regulations. On the contrary, it was famous for graft, corruption, and nepotism. The same could be said for Iran under the Shah. Yes, these governments cracked down hard, but on dissent, not so much in general. They always put on a show for their Western patrons. This modern reality has made life very hard for more traditional dictatorships such as that of the late Saddam Hussein. The secret to running a successful modern dictatorship comes not from crackdowns, mass arrests, and loudspeakers, but rather from the absence of rule of law. For this reason, a modern dictatorship can sometimes seem freer than countries where rule of law exists.

To take one simple example, one of the most striking things I noticed about Russia when I returned in 2006 was the lax attitude toward intellectual property. In open markets, in little kiosks dotting the streets, and sometimes even on tables in underground crosswalks, one could find people hawking not only pirate DVDs, but even pirate software and games. I’m not complaining; I lived alone in a small town and I was thrilled that I could buy the entire Call of Duty series on one disc for about 150-200 rubles.  By contrast, the entertainment lobby in the US kept pushing for more and more Draconian laws against piracy. Do I need to bring up SOPA here?

While pirate movies and software might seem trivial, Russia has also been known for businesses keeping rather creative books, black salaries which are exempt from taxation, and attempts to get apartment owners to pay taxes on their property has often proven fruitless. Tax evasion in Russia is actually a necessity. The economy and millions of workers literally depend on it, and thus the government usually turns a blind eye. It also, of course, turns a blind eye to bribery and embezzlement, almost.  Due to the masses of bureaucrats with their hands out, business in Russia entails bribery and graft as a necessity, but of course this is against the law.  This means that everyone who does business of any sort must become dirty, and if they should run afoul of the wrong person, that dirt can be used to hang them.  It worked on Khodorkovsky, it worked on Navalny, and the latest victim might be Vladimir Yevtushenkov.

Whether you’re a businessman, a journalist, an entertainer, or even a performance artist, you can’t be sure as to where the boundaries lie. The modern dictatorship doesn’t necessarily crush you under the weight of countless rules and regulations; they may exist but be rarely enforced. It’s only when you cross the wrong person, someone with power, that you suddenly find yourself getting the hammer. Thus, instead of being controlled by the state, you control yourself because you’re afraid of crossing one of those invisible lines. Not that staying within the lines will necessarily save you. In short, there’s a reason why I decided not to have anything to do with any political activities in Russia whatsoever several years ago. There’s a reason why I don’t translate my work into Russian and distribute it more around the Russian internet. There’s a reason I don’t go seeking lots of attention in the media for “exposure.” And there’s a reason why I wrote all of that just now. It pays to be the “grey man.”

What of politics then? Successful modern dictatorships are those which can create a plausible illusion of liberal democracy. Russia does have, in theory, opposing parties and contested elections, does it not? Well if we ignore the ridiculously strict rules about party and candidate registration and the constant accusations of rigged elections, Russia’s mainstream opposition parties don’t offer much opposition. KPRF, the so-called Communist party seems happy to support the Russian oligarchy now that the Crimea has been annexed. Liberal Democratic Party leader Zhirinovsky has suggested that elections be done away with entirely, and that the rank of “Supreme Commander” be conferred on Vladimir Putin.  Strange actions for supposed opposition parties.  The one member of the Duma who dared stand against the tide now fears for his life. In the US, failing to vote your party line can get you into some hot water, at least with your own party, but you won’t be accused of treason and be forbidden to leave the country.  Yeah yeah, I know. Information war. Russia’s surrounded by enemies! But I thought that Russia has risen from her knees? I thought Putin saved Russia from the chaos of the 90’s and now it’s the West that’s decaying. So shouldn’t it be the West clamping down on their press and forcing their politicians to stay in line?  Aren’t they afraid of the rising Russian bear? If Russia is still fighting from an unequal position, why is it still unequal? Has Russia risen from her knees or not? Are the 90’s behind Russia or not?  Fuck it. Don’t even answer.

Of course Team Russia always swears up and down that they have criticisms of the government. Oh they’re just bursting with all kinds of scathing criticism! Turns out though, the criticism is always safe. The problem with Putin is always that he’s not being tough enough. He’s not doing enough to ram some contrived “ideology” down everyone’s throat. That way, in case he does decide to do that at a later date, he can always claim that he is giving in to popular demand.  “They wanted me to censor the internet! They wanted me to make religious schooling mandatory! They wanted me ban this or that.”  Any truly scathing criticism of Russian society is met with, “But that happens in America too,” even when it doesn’t, or at least not to that degree. As if that is supposed to solve any problems here.  So much for criticism.

Western journalists do carry a heavy share of blame for misrepresenting the nature of Russia’s dictatorship. They seem to be stuck in a Cold War paradigm, with the USSR as a model. They invoke Stalin even as the Russian state increasingly yet subtly erases the vestiges of socialism and replaces them with the glorification of Tsarism, imperialism, and clericalism.  Worse still, every time they try to portray Russia in that sci-fi dictatorship mold, even casual observers and short term visitors to Russia get confused if not offended. Casually browsing groups on the Russian social network VK.com is enough to dispel the idea that life in Russia resembles a dystopian science fiction novel.  The most offensive dissent is tolerated, so long as it is rendered impotent and disorganized. Then again, you still have to be careful.

That is the last feature of the modern dictatorship. These states love to portray themselves as strong, but they cannot help but reveal their weakness. Only a weak state fears bloggers, performance artists, and old women running charity organizations for soldiers.  More specifically, those in power realize that they are trapped in their position. At first they felt secure because they eliminated any real political opposition. Unfortunately, in the process they eliminated not only any potential leader who could carry on the business of running the state after they leave, but they have also eliminated every mechanism of changing the political system besides violent revolution.  They now have a tiger by the tail and cannot let go. That is why they gambled on the disastrous seizure of the Crimea, and the bizarre tragic comedy of “Novorossiya” in Eastern Ukraine. Like a compulsive gambler tossing the keys of his car into the pot, they’re willing to do anything to distract the people just a bit longer, anything for a few more months of high approval rating in the polls. If the people get fucked six months to a year down the road, who cares? What will they do? Vote for someone else?

There’s the paradox though; they can’t vote. They can only rebel. Friends could stab you in the back and ride the masses’ rage to power, and as soon as they get that power, they’ll deliver you up to a crowd that’s demanding blood.  So that’s why you’ve got to crack down on bloggers, mimes, people holding invisible placards, musicians, journalists, artists, doctors, and so on. That’s why yesterday’s regime supporter needs to be careful about what they say today or tomorrow. Everybody must be kept in line with those invisible borders. Mass protest movements which topple governments can start with the most innocuous incidents, as both Arab Spring and Euromaidan proved. Those in power in Russia know damned well that people don’t throng to public squares and riot simply because the US State Department is paying them. They also know full well that they pay people to show up to their rallies, or compel or at least cajole state employees into attending such events. They know the grievances of many of these people are real, probably better than the protesters themselves.

Worse still, they know that many of their citizens have been abroad, and whether they will admit it in public today, they know deep down that something is very wrong with Russia’s way of life. In spite of being one of the most resource-rich countries in the world, you wouldn’t know it driving through provincial Russia or even walking through some parts of the capital. You wouldn’t know it from the fact that Russia’s economy barely tops that of the state of California.  No Russian citizen can be blind to the fact that in other industrialized countries, politicians and leaders change every few years. Even in China the leadership is almost entirely cleaned out and replaced with some regularity.  But in Russia there’s only Putin. Even Medvedev wasn’t good enough for a second term. It’s got to be Putin. He’s the only choice; he saved Russia. Yet if he saved Russia, why has it only produced one person capable of leading the state in over a decade?  Never mind, it’s just another one of those inconvenient questions.

Taking into account these facts, it’s no wonder the government is tripling the budget for its media machine and massively increasing military spending in spite of the fact that the finance minister has already declared the spending unrealistic. No wonder they’ve enacted more laws against the poorly-defined “extremism” and against independent media. To stave off the inevitable, they’ll resort to more traditional dictatorial methods, but none of it will work in the end. The USSR tried to fight against popular force and did so from a much more advantageous position. This was not enough to save it. I’m afraid all these traditional dictatorship tactics, dredged up by minds who have long since departed from reality and which took the wrong lessons from history, will only prevent Russia rising from the ashes after it’s all over. More likely than not, the man who usurps Putin will do so based on the promise that he will be the strong hand Russia needs, that he is a true patriot, and that he, not Putin, is capable of restoring Russia’s empire. Then the cycle of theft and corruption will begin anew with different names, and the process of decay and destruction of Russia will continue unabated.

Accountability

Rather excellent opinion piece in the Moscow TImes today, holding Ukraine’s Maidan-spawned regime accountable for its dictatorial laws. In a completely logical but unthinkable position in the often over-emotional tenor of discourse about Russia and the region, the author dares to point out that the new government looks suspiciously Russia’s authoritarian regime. Now there are some who will say, “But look at their situation! They’re in a war with a larger power!”  No, sorry, that excuse doesn’t fly for you. I know you. You’re the type who excludes context like that all the time, particularly in a way that always absolves capitalist Western countries. It’s no excuse for Assad, it’s no excuse for Gaddafi, but it’s an excuse for Poroshenko, a man who’s killing his own people? I know some of you moral warriors out there actually condemn Snowden for revealing the collection of meta data and private communication of innocent American citizens. So no, you don’t get to use context only when you feel like it, Mr/Ms Comment-leaver.  Now I have blown your mind because you’re wondering how I know you so well. Russian politics, my friend. It’s just too predictable.

Getting back to the content of the article, here’s a choice excerpt:

On July 29, Ukraine’s vice premier, Oleksandr Sych, said Ukraine would impose quotas and licensing to limit the number of foreign books allowed on the Ukrainian market. While these restrictions would not be confined to Russian publications, which make up the majority of the Ukrainian literary market, it was clear that they were the main concern. Sych even alleged that Russian books were aimed at “destabilizing the situation in Ukraine.”

There are two reasons why I chose this quote. The first is that the author neglected to mention that Sych is a member of the far-right nationalist part known as Svoboda. Svoboda is the party Maidan apologists would prefer you to forget, admitting instead to smaller, more marginalized groups like Praviy Sektor. Mention Svoboda and a meltdown will usually occur. At least that’s been my experience.

The second reason I mention this is because Russia, by contrast, isn’t nearly this hardcore in terms of censorship or linguistic discrimination. Russia can be extremely liberal with practically anything that doesn’t pose a threat to the regime. Keep in mind this is a country which to date has never banned Youtube, Twitter, or any social network. Russia only has one unacceptable, but otherwise trivial restriction on non-Russian languages, that being the requirement that they use Cyrillic-based alphabets. Obviously none of this prevents a speaker of those languages from writing or publishing material in a non-Cyrillic language if they so wish. The death of languages in Russia, even those of large minorities like the Tatars, is rooted in economics rather than conscious discrimination. Young people are drawn to major cities, where Russian is used, and then on to Moscow if they can afford it. This is the only path to social mobility for most people. In Moscow Tatar or Bashkir are basically useless. This process is obviously problematic, but it isn’t the kind of active, open discrimination that Sych calls for.  Speaking of Sych, you should check out his theories on women some time. Let’s just say this asshole is lucky that Tumblr hasn’t found him yet.  

In another apt comparison to Russia, the new Ukrainian government has banned the Communist Party, opening 300 criminal cases against members of that party. This goes to show that the concept of an independent judiciary is utterly unknown to these people. More importantly, according to the wording of the accusations against party members, it’s clear that many members of other parties currently in the government could just as easily have been charged with the same crimes. What we have here is a new regime which effectively legalized its own coming to power, then uses that power to charge its opponents for doing the same thing they allow themselves. Looks pretty Russian to me.  

I think the point of all this is that the new Ukrainian government doesn’t get a free pass just because it happens to be the underdog in a fight. And one can argue that as spurious as Moscow’s justifications have been, Maidan consciously and deliberately took on a nationalist character and stressed division on ethnic lines. They welcomed groups like Praviy Sektor and Svoboda as opposed to rejecting them and reaching out to people in the Crimea and the East. Rather than develop new ideas about the Ukrainian identity and Ukrainian citizenship, they decided to go back to the old, failed, nationalist victimhood fairy-tale of Ukraine and if you refuse to profess your belief in that canon then you must be a Putin-loving, Stalinist, Russian imperialist, fascist “vatnik.” So yeah they’re the underdog, but their barking helped bring this on, in the same way that Russia’s crowing against the West brought on sanctions and humilation. Underdog doesn’t mean right. Nazi Germany was an underdog, after all. You don’t support Nazi Germany, do you?

Difficult questions

So I’m a bit late to the party due to the other stories I’ve been working on recently, but in case you haven’t heard, a new law was passed in Russia requiring those who want to use public Wi-Fi services to show their passport and their personal data is to be recorded. Apparently there are some questions as to how this is actually supposed to work, but we’re not talking about a government known for carefully thinking things through.

Of course many of Russia’s bloggers collectively shit a massive brick over the measure, but the Communications Minister calmed their fears with a well-timed lie when he tweeted, “Identification of users (via bank cards, cell phone numbers, etc.) with access to public Wifi is a worldwide practice.” I’ve been to a great deal of European countries, Turkey, and China and I don’t remember going through anything like that just to use public Wifi.  But this is Russia and he said that is the case so that makes it reality.

Now you might ask why this measure is necessary? Luckily the Reuters article gives us an answer. It quotes a Duma deputy who said, “It’s about security. An information war is under way. Anonymous access to the Internet in public areas allows illegal activities to be carried out with impunity.” Sadly he didn’t say what illegal activities he was talking about.

The “information war” he’s referring to is a paranoid fantasy which resides in the heads of Russian ideologues and their followers. Many of them believe that the US military has offices set up in which Russian-speaking personnel post negative comments about Russia all over the Russian web. Those in the know are fully aware that this is a massive case of projection.  Believers in the “information war” are very concerned about propaganda attacks on Russia. For example, a CIA agent could spread a story claiming that Russia doesn’t respect people’s rights to free expression, in spite of the Constitution of the Russian Federation, and that the government is trying to deliberately limit the flow of information into the country so as to better control people. Preposterous I know, but that’s the kind of vicious propaganda which people could be exposed to if they are not properly controlled by their natural betters.

Of course this brings up something I shall call a “difficult question” for lack of a more suitable term. Difficult questions can be used to describe those questions which arise from the ridiculously contradictory nature of claims or ideas put forth by the government. No government can exist without creating them, but more effective, responsive, democratic regimes create less, while more exploitative, repressive regimes have a laundry list. Using the current difficult question as a starting point, I’d like to present a few other salient examples.

-If Russia must censor its media and internet in various ways because it is in an information war, why is it that its opponents,  such as the US, Canada, UK, etc. don’t feel the need to do this? Both the US and UK have their own Russia Today bureaus. I’ve never heard of people needing to submit any kind of identification in order to use public Wifi in these countries. Perhaps Russia must take these measures because it is at an extreme disadvantage by comparison. But then that begs the question…

-If Russia has supposedly risen from her knees and the West is crumbling and falling apart, if Russia has truly achieved parity, why would it be at such a disadvantage that it can’t allow its citizens the same rights that its chosen opponents allow their own citizens? Clearly the US government is not afraid that Americans watching RT poses a threat to stability. Is Russia truly able to stand on the same level as the US or not? If not, why not?

-If Western propaganda is totally false and most Russians support the government, why would they be tricked by that propaganda? Again, Western states don’t seem to be too worried that RT or Voice of Russia might corrupt their citizens and encourage them toward illegal anti-government activity.

-If claims about censorship and lack of free speech in Russia are just Western propaganda, why do we see so many proposals to ban and censor everything from TV channels to websites and individual films? Team Russia fans, even those who haven’t spent any time in Russia, will viciously attack claims that the Russian government doesn’t respect the concept of free expression. Yet whenever they are faced with a government initiative to ban something, they are always quick to provide a flimsy excuse as to why this particular thing must be banned.

-If Russia truly is getting stronger, why is it necessary for increased security measures and a crackdown on innocuous activity such as using public WiFi?

-If Russia’s press isn’t totally controlled, why don’t we see mainstream discussion in opposition to these measures? What I mean is if we consider the revelations of Snowden, for example, it isn’t hard to find dozens of media outlets discussing the implications of what he revealed, and there is a national discourse about the danger posed not by Snowden’s actions but by the government spying on US citizens. Where is the mainstream debate about this? Who is Russia’s Glenn Greenwald or Seymour Hersh? I mean this is a free society right?Claims to the contrary are nothing but dastardly Western propaganda, right?

-If it’s just fine that Russia gets cut off from the West and it doesn’t need the European Union, why was it cuddling up to the EU for years? Why were they still trying to negotiate a visa-free regime with the EU even in early 2014? Why were they trying to attract EU investment and why were Russia’s elite buying real estate and doing so much business in Europe?  If Russia was supposed to be some great rival to “Western hegemony,” why were its leaders and businessmen handing so much of Russia’s natural wealth over to the West? They claim they can replace the West with China, but why weren’t they doing this for the last 8-10 years or so, while they were supposedly opposing the West?

-If Europe is a land of degeneracy, why does the son of traditional values advocate and Duma deputy Yelena Mizulina live in Belgium with his own business there? Why do they send their impressionable children to the degenerate West, as Lavrov did with his daughter. Is he not afraid that she will be corrupted by the cosmopolitan, tolerant, gay-friendly atmosphere of New York City?

-If the uprising in “Novorossiya” is so popular, why haven’t we seen any kind of guerrilla activity in areas recaptured by the Ukrainian government forces? We’re told these are bloodthirsty Banderites who oppress Russian speakers, and yet nobody seems to be taking pot-shots at their personnel in the rear, nor sabotaging their equipment.

-Why does the government or its lackeys claim to care about the protection and defense of Russian speakers in East Ukraine, while simultaneously insisting that it hasn’t given the rebels any material support of any kind? It is this state’s media that claims these people are in danger of being exterminated by fascists, and yet at the same time it proclaims to the world that it is doing nothing to help those who are fighting against them. That’s a bit odd, is it not?

Obviously this list could go on and on. As it turns out, when you lie to people and you don’t bother to carefully construct those lies so as to make them at least somewhat believable, you end up painting yourself into this corner because they all compound on one another with frightening rapidity. This is particularly the case when the audience you’re telling those lies to can still easily find the truth, assuming they don’t know it already. Right now Russia’s on a jingoism binge so millions of people are deliberately suppressing their own personal knowledge and experience regarding the things they have seen and those which they see every day. Of course people can only put up with a limited amount of cognitive dissonance. No doubt many insta-patriots are asking themselves similar questions to those posed here, and as the battle for Novorossiya is quickly becoming a total route in spite of Ukraine’s near-failed state status, those difficult questions are going to multiply quite quickly.