Tag Archives: Venezuela

Welcome to Camp Reality!

Post dedicated to John, who came up with the name Camp Reality.
Has this ever happened to you? You’re from an authoritarian country whose dictatorial leaders rob the population of the nation’s natural wealth, squirreling it away in Western banks and real estate. It’s so bad that you had to leave your homeland. But, as it turns out, the regime you fled publicly attacks the United States and blames economic problems on being “surrounded by enemies?” Now, every time you try to explain the plight of your people to American leftists who are in many cases fighting for the same social justice you’d like to see in your country, you’re accused of being a secret millionaire, billionaire, or a dupe of the CIA. You try to explain why the sources they are using are worthless and you suggest other info, but they act as though their access to internet makes their opinion equal to yours, even if they’ve never had so much as a passport. Is there anything you can do? NOW THERE IS! 

You can recommend your friends take a very special summer vacation to Camp Reality (TM)! At Camp Reality, they won’t be able to hide from the truth using the internet and confirmation bias to pick sources of information which confirm their worldview. No, here at Camp Reality, they’ll get the most realistic hands-on experience of living under a 21st century authoritarian kleptocratic regime! Inspired by the groundbreaking work on racism by Jane Elliot, Camp Reality teaches people who live in the privileged West who like to live vicariously through countries, regimes, and people they may never have encountered in person what it’s actually like to live under those regimes they have deemed to be “anti-imperialist” simply due to public rhetoric and propaganda.

After signing an extremely detailed 45-page legal waiver which temporarily suspends any rights they might have under their own government, entrants to the camp will have their choice of three different “difficulty levels” based on three different types of real-world authoritarian regimes.

 

Level 1: Easy Mode

This mode is designed to replicate conditions in a 21st century soft dictatorship, specifically the Russian Federation. In the early days you’ll experience chaos as corrupt officials and police either fail to protect your property or actively help criminal groups. After week one, attendees may breathe a sigh of relief when a new leader promises to bring stability. All seems well and you’re prospering until you start to realize that the old gangsters have just been replaced by new ones, and now the state becomes more and more overbearing. Eventually the “economy” starts to decline, the leader changes the constitution so he doesn’t have to leave office, and suddenly you can be facing criminal charges for sharing a joke on social media. If you speak out, you’ll be deemed a traitor who hates your country, often by simulated leaders whose own simulated family members live in luxury in Europe. Hopefully your business doesn’t get raided by someone connected or wiped out when the leader starts a needless war and invents “counter-sanctions” in response to the sanctions he provoked with his own short-sighted actions.

Level 2: Hard Mode

This mode is modeled after countries like Venezuela. Your leader endlessly rants about “Yankee imperialism” while his cronies skim money out of the state oil company and stash it away in Yankee banks and real estate. After a while, the store shelves are empty and you’ll spend at least one whole week trying to scrounge for food. You’ll get a chance to tell simulated Western social media users about the conditions in your country, only to be told that you’re just some “millionaire who lost his land” or a dupe of the CIA calling for military intervention for “regime change.” These people will then bombard you with articles from “your” country’s state media and the state media outlets of government friendly regimes to tell you what’s really happening.

Level 3: NIGHTMARE! 

This mode is based on Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian regime. We ask that attendees choosing this mode please read the legal waiver very thoroughly and wear comfortable, NON-FLAMMABLE clothing.

After surviving attending Camp Reality, your friends and family members will have learned a valuable lesson in empathy and how social justice without internationalist solidarity can often be a slippery slope to fascism. But don’t take our word for it, read these testimonials from actual attendees of Camp Reality!

“Since I came of age around 2003, I used to compare every international crisis to the Iraq invasion of that year. After attending Camp Reality, I learned that not every regime the US government criticizes is really just trying to fight for its people against the influence of transnational corporations. As it turns out, some regimes really do just suck, and criticism from the US government isn’t the same as openly advocating for a massive invasion as the Bush administration clearly did in late 2002 to early 2003!”    -Carla, 32,  Hard Mode

 

“I used to think the only reason Western media was so critical of Putin is because he made Russia strong again and he opposed NATO. After spending a month in a simulated regime modeled after Putin’s I realized that NATO encirclement was really just an excuse for authoritarian measures and for why my country lagged behind Europe despite massive wealth in natural resources. I also learned that when I posted about this online, I was accused of being a traitor and a Western agent even though I really just wanted to see my country succeed. I think the best touch was how when I brought up problems, people would tell me about something terrible in America as though that had any relevance to the issue I was trying to discuss. It’s the same thing I used to do online!”   –Ryan, 26, Easy Mode

 

“Oh God! Oh God! I…I…I can’t….I don’t even…Who, who are you? Am I safe? Is this safe?!”    –Meghan, 28, NIGHTMARE!

So why delay? Tell your insufferably edgy little shit of a cousin to put their money where their mouth is today and send them to CAMP REALITY!

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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.