Happy to see that Kayvon Edson, the Boston Marathon bombing performance hoaxer, hails from my alma mater. This is actually the second time that a MassArt student has pranked Boston’s security state, the first being the 2007 Mooninite LED freak out. Always refreshing to see such competition between two different schools of theater (security vs. absurdist).
How to Read this Blog, Part I: On Russia
I was recently speaking with one of the few people I occasionally correspond with via Tumblr about this very blog and how it comes off to anyone other than the author. The response I got was that lately it had taken a “dark turn” evidenced by a lot of “pro-Russian content”. Previously, this blog was distinguished for its “New England appreciation albeit more personal” and also for the musings of a “young aesthete”. I promised to clarify my views of Russia and they are as follows.
Luckily, there are two articles which do a better job of this than I would in my own words.
The first article, written by Peter Turchin, a scientist and the son of a Soviet dissident, explains the historical reasoning behind the reclamation of Crimea as well as the geopolitical logic behind Putin’s recent actions. An understanding of geopolitical considerations is key for those readers who are still stuck in the Americocentric view of international relations which basically boils down to good guys going places where bad guys are and stopping them (or more accurately, stopping bad guys, sowing chaos and letting neighboring countries deal with the aftermath). As Turchin points out, not all geopolitical considerations are wholly rational which is why he notes the role that national honor plays in the Crimean situation. For a Western example of conflict where national honor trumps cold rationality, look at Britain’s commitment to the Falklands.
The second article adeptly describes the ideology of the Putin regime and how it acts as a counter to the ideals of the postmodern Western elite. The following excepts are particularly insightful:
"It’s an odd fact that living under the Old Left (i.e. Marxism-Leninism) inoculated Eastern Europeans from much of the New Left of the 1960s and after, with its emphasis on gender, sexuality, and race. ‘Critical Studies’ didn’t get far with people who had to live under the KGB; indeed, East Bloc secret police in the 1980s viewed all this – the feminism and the gay rights stuff especially – as bourgeois deviance and a subversive Western import. Since 1990, Western countries have made actual efforts to import that, but it’s met a lot of resistance, and doesn’t make much of an impression outside educated circles; which is why when educated Westerners meet, say, educated Poles, ‘they seem just like us’ – because they have accepted, verbatim, what we’ve told them is normative in a ‘developed’ society."
"The West, and the United States especially, have helped cause this by active promotion of the post-modernism that Russia now rejects. It is not a figment of Moscow’s imagination that the U.S. State Department encourages feminism and LGBT activism, at least in certain countries. When Washington, DC, considers having successful gay pride parades a key benchmark for ‘advancement’ in Eastern Europe, with the full support of U.S. diplomats, we should not be surprised when the Kremlin and its sympathizers move to counter this. My friends in Eastern Europe, most of whom are comfortable with gay rights and feminism, have nevertheless noted to me many times that it’s odd that the U.S. Government promotes such things in small, poor Eastern European countries it can intimidate but never, say, in Saudi Arabia."
"Moreover, there remains the question of just how universal post-modern Western values actually are outside educated elites. There is ample evidence that many average people in Eastern Europe who fear Russia nevertheless are closer to the Kremlin’s positions on cultural matters than to America’s. In Georgia, where loathing of Russians generally and Putin particularly is universal, resistance to LGBT rights and feminism remains deep and broad, with the support of the Orthodox Church, while much the same can be said of Moldova, where fears of Russian invasion are acute, but so are fears of Western social values. Neither is this resistance limited to the East. It can be found as well in Central Europe, among NATO and EU members. In Poland, the Catholic Church continues to resist post-modern sexual values – what they collectively term ‘gender,’ meaning feminism plus gay rights - leading one bishop to term this ‘a threat worse than Nazism and Communism combined.’ Strongly Catholic Croatia last December in a national referendum rejected same-sex marriage by a two-thirds margin, to the dismay of progressives across Europe. One of the big talking points from the Kremlin and the ROC is that Russia represents the actual global consensus on such matters, while the West is the decadent outlier. Its postmodernism, proclaimed Fr. Chaplin recently, ‘is increasingly marginal,’ adding that ‘it cannot cope with modern challenges,’ while Orthodox Christian, Chinese, Indian, Latin American and African civilizations share opposite values and will play an active role in building peaceful relations between civilizational systems. Given recent trends in sexual matters globally, with India and countries in Africa enacting harsh anti-gay laws, it is worth considering if Moscow has a valid point."
Schindler’s article focuses primarily on the Eurasianist, Orthodox, and Slavophile wing of the Putin regime, no doubt because they represent the most conservative, authoritarian and foreign aspects of Russia’s ruling ideology and thus are the biggest boogeymen for Western elites. What Schindler declines to mention is that there is a more Western oriented, liberal(ish) wing of the Putin regime epitomized by Vladislav Surkov. With a background in theater and PR, Surkov combines Machiavellian court politics with image management and a host of astroturf activist groups. He manipulates democracy in the same cynical manner it is done in the West but with much more style and panache. Much has also been made of Surkov’s modern artistic tastes (Ginsberg, Tupac, Pollock), his connection to the Skolkovo Innovation Center, and his literary works under the nom de plume Natan Dubovitsky.
The truth is that Putin’s ruling ideology is just as postmodern as the West, it just uses elements which are unique to Russia. Hence Putin’s ideology can simultaneously appeal to Orthodox Slavophiles, the Western-oriented intelligentsia, and those nostalgic for the Soviet Union. The proposed outcome is to offer something for everybody with the caveat that Russia as a whole is being protected and strengthened. This is the main difference between Putin and Western leaders (with perhaps the exception of Merkel), that he proceeds with the view of Russia’s national interest as the primary concern. The Western power elite, however, is beholden only to their interests as a global class while the nations they rule are given little consideration, treated more as companies to be selectively managed than as actual countries with unique histories and permanent populations. Obama is happy to sow violence and destruction halfway across the globe while paying little attention to the encroaching savagery south of the border even as it threatens our citizens and regional law enforcement. Indeed there is very little that is uniquely American about Obama, either as a individual or in his ruling ideology, outside of the progressive inclination to fetishize American blacks as inherently noble and cool. Likewise, what is so English about David Cameron besides the fact that he undoubtedly got buggered at public school, this being more a mark of class distinction than a national one. Indeed, the very notion of ruling with the interests of the nation as a whole is seen as uncouth and outdated to Western elites. Majoritarianism is only used when it means browbeating those with minority opinions, otherwise they all but state that their power is to be used solely to serve elite special interests. The result of this ruling style is the further weakening of the nation-state and increasing social Balkanization. With this in mind, is it any wonder why Putin’s style of rule has so many supporters across the world?