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#131- Dictators, Immigration, #metoo, and other Imponderables A Conversation with Masha Gessen

 
GAD
 
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GAD
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04 July 2018 15:40
 
Antisocialdarwinist - 04 July 2018 02:39 PM
GAD - 04 July 2018 09:46 AM
Antisocialdarwinist - 04 July 2018 08:06 AM

I thought Gessen’s depiction of Russian foreign/defense policy was pretty biased. She takes the Neocon/Liberal Hawk (Cold Warrior) position—which, unfortunately, is the only one our “mainstream media” chooses to parrot. Her claim that there is no “public opinion” in Russia—that Russians only believe the US is the enemy because they can’t form their own opinions thanks to Putin’s stranglehold on the media—is bullshit. It may be true that Putin has a stranglehold on Russian media, but Russians nevertheless have very good reasons to see the US as their enemy based purely on our own actions. Russia is like a wounded animal cornered by NATO. Its reaction—Crimea, eastern Ukraine—is exactly what we should expect. I’d wager to say that our own policies have done more to help Putin than hurt him, by giving Russians an enemy to rally against.

How do you know? He is a dictator, what county run by a dictator has ever not gone down in flames? What actions did NATO do that justify Crimea, eastern Ukraine?

Do you recall what prompted the annexation of Crimea and the subsequent Russian interference in eastern Ukraine?

I’m asking you what NATO did that forced Russia to do what it did, as you claimed it.

 
 
Antisocialdarwinist
 
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Antisocialdarwinist
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04 July 2018 15:46
 
GAD - 04 July 2018 03:40 PM
Antisocialdarwinist - 04 July 2018 02:39 PM
GAD - 04 July 2018 09:46 AM
Antisocialdarwinist - 04 July 2018 08:06 AM

I thought Gessen’s depiction of Russian foreign/defense policy was pretty biased. She takes the Neocon/Liberal Hawk (Cold Warrior) position—which, unfortunately, is the only one our “mainstream media” chooses to parrot. Her claim that there is no “public opinion” in Russia—that Russians only believe the US is the enemy because they can’t form their own opinions thanks to Putin’s stranglehold on the media—is bullshit. It may be true that Putin has a stranglehold on Russian media, but Russians nevertheless have very good reasons to see the US as their enemy based purely on our own actions. Russia is like a wounded animal cornered by NATO. Its reaction—Crimea, eastern Ukraine—is exactly what we should expect. I’d wager to say that our own policies have done more to help Putin than hurt him, by giving Russians an enemy to rally against.

How do you know? He is a dictator, what county run by a dictator has ever not gone down in flames? What actions did NATO do that justify Crimea, eastern Ukraine?

Do you recall what prompted the annexation of Crimea and the subsequent Russian interference in eastern Ukraine?

I’m asking you what NATO did that forced Russia to do what it did, as you claimed it.

They were pushing for Ukraine to join NATO.

 
 
GAD
 
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GAD
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04 July 2018 15:49
 
Antisocialdarwinist - 04 July 2018 03:46 PM
GAD - 04 July 2018 03:40 PM
Antisocialdarwinist - 04 July 2018 02:39 PM
GAD - 04 July 2018 09:46 AM
Antisocialdarwinist - 04 July 2018 08:06 AM

I thought Gessen’s depiction of Russian foreign/defense policy was pretty biased. She takes the Neocon/Liberal Hawk (Cold Warrior) position—which, unfortunately, is the only one our “mainstream media” chooses to parrot. Her claim that there is no “public opinion” in Russia—that Russians only believe the US is the enemy because they can’t form their own opinions thanks to Putin’s stranglehold on the media—is bullshit. It may be true that Putin has a stranglehold on Russian media, but Russians nevertheless have very good reasons to see the US as their enemy based purely on our own actions. Russia is like a wounded animal cornered by NATO. Its reaction—Crimea, eastern Ukraine—is exactly what we should expect. I’d wager to say that our own policies have done more to help Putin than hurt him, by giving Russians an enemy to rally against.

How do you know? He is a dictator, what county run by a dictator has ever not gone down in flames? What actions did NATO do that justify Crimea, eastern Ukraine?

Do you recall what prompted the annexation of Crimea and the subsequent Russian interference in eastern Ukraine?

I’m asking you what NATO did that forced Russia to do what it did, as you claimed it.

They were pushing for Ukraine to join NATO.

And so a country that even thinks about doing something Russia doesn’t like justifies taking it over?

 
 
Antisocialdarwinist
 
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Antisocialdarwinist
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04 July 2018 16:13
 
GAD - 04 July 2018 03:49 PM
Antisocialdarwinist - 04 July 2018 03:46 PM
GAD - 04 July 2018 03:40 PM
Antisocialdarwinist - 04 July 2018 02:39 PM
GAD - 04 July 2018 09:46 AM
Antisocialdarwinist - 04 July 2018 08:06 AM

I thought Gessen’s depiction of Russian foreign/defense policy was pretty biased. She takes the Neocon/Liberal Hawk (Cold Warrior) position—which, unfortunately, is the only one our “mainstream media” chooses to parrot. Her claim that there is no “public opinion” in Russia—that Russians only believe the US is the enemy because they can’t form their own opinions thanks to Putin’s stranglehold on the media—is bullshit. It may be true that Putin has a stranglehold on Russian media, but Russians nevertheless have very good reasons to see the US as their enemy based purely on our own actions. Russia is like a wounded animal cornered by NATO. Its reaction—Crimea, eastern Ukraine—is exactly what we should expect. I’d wager to say that our own policies have done more to help Putin than hurt him, by giving Russians an enemy to rally against.

How do you know? He is a dictator, what county run by a dictator has ever not gone down in flames? What actions did NATO do that justify Crimea, eastern Ukraine?

Do you recall what prompted the annexation of Crimea and the subsequent Russian interference in eastern Ukraine?

I’m asking you what NATO did that forced Russia to do what it did, as you claimed it.

They were pushing for Ukraine to join NATO.

And so a country that even thinks about doing something Russia doesn’t like justifies taking it over?

Depends on what the “something” is. In this case, the “something” was Russia’s navy base at Sevastopol. To say that Sevastopol is the Russian Pearl Harbor would be to understate its strategic and historical significance to Russia.

Whether preventing Sevastopol’s loss to an organization whose raison d’etre is to oppose Russia justifies annexing Crimea is a matter of opinion. But, since the Russian decision to do so was one hundred percent predictable, NATO’s push can only be explained in terms of deliberately provoking the Russians into an act of war. This was another “Bay of Pigs” scenario, only instead of the CIA trying to force Kennedy’s hand into invading Cuba, it was NATO trying to force Obama’s hand into going to war with Russia.

 
 
sojourner
 
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04 July 2018 17:00
 
Antisocialdarwinist - 04 July 2018 04:13 PM

Depends on what the “something” is. In this case, the “something” was Russia’s navy base at Sevastopol. To say that Sevastopol is the Russian Pearl Harbor would be to understate its strategic and historical significance to Russia.

Whether preventing Sevastopol’s loss to an organization whose raison d’etre is to oppose Russia justifies annexing Crimea is a matter of opinion. But, since the Russian decision to do so was one hundred percent predictable, NATO’s push can only be explained in terms of deliberately provoking the Russians into an act of war. This was another “Bay of Pigs” scenario, only instead of the CIA trying to force Kennedy’s hand into invading Cuba, it was NATO trying to force Obama’s hand into going to war with Russia.


I thought it was much more about the EU than NATO - and the Ukraine certainly does have the right to self-determination in deciding if they want to join the EU.


I believe the point of contention was not even that Russia debated this (Ukraine’s sovereignty and their right to elect their own leaders and make their own decisions regarding the EU,) at least not officially - I think the stated point of contention was that they believed the West (and, specifically, Hillary Clinton, like literally, entirely on her own in her Clinton-mobile or whatever, Marvel Comics style,) was responsible for the street protests and eventual overthrow of the elected President. That President (Yanukovych) had put the brakes on Ukraine–European Union Association Agreement, and Ukrainians were angry about it.


I gotta say, I don’t get the point in trying to turn the Ukraine situation into some sort of sob story for Russia, which I feel people like Chomsky have done (to a degree.) Granted, it is much more complex than people make it out to be I think, and I think it involved a long tit-for-tat political battle on both sides. But Russia was not some sad little victim there - they got their guy in by poisoning Viktor Yushchenko with Agent Orange, permanently disfiguring him; are reported to be systematically disappearing and murdering Ukrainian dissidents; committing violations against minorities in Crimea, and, although this one is more hearsay, forcing Crimean business people to pay up to their mafia-empire to keep operating.


To be fair, I’m not saying the Ukrainians were choir kids either - there are reports of ethnic cleansing and violent neo-Nazi-esque groups on that side. But to my mind, this one is reeeeeally a stretch on the standard liberal “If only the West would play nicer everything would be better” line. I’m not saying there are cases where that isn’t true, but I don’t think this is one of them. The encroachment on what Russia feels is their turf is largely about free markets (as in, letting countries make their own decisions about who they want to ally with,) and in the current model, with freedom of choice, that encroachment and the ensuing anger was always going to happen one way or another. I will say that post-Crimea, Russia did seem to realize this and shifted gears somewhat towards making their own alliances and churning out propaganda, so I think on some level they must have realized this as well. They seem to be trying to create a market for their own culture rather than just assuming the Soviet bloc will somehow always stay together because it was together at one point.

 
 
GAD
 
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GAD
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04 July 2018 18:05
 
Antisocialdarwinist - 04 July 2018 04:13 PM
GAD - 04 July 2018 03:49 PM
Antisocialdarwinist - 04 July 2018 03:46 PM
GAD - 04 July 2018 03:40 PM
Antisocialdarwinist - 04 July 2018 02:39 PM
GAD - 04 July 2018 09:46 AM
Antisocialdarwinist - 04 July 2018 08:06 AM

I thought Gessen’s depiction of Russian foreign/defense policy was pretty biased. She takes the Neocon/Liberal Hawk (Cold Warrior) position—which, unfortunately, is the only one our “mainstream media” chooses to parrot. Her claim that there is no “public opinion” in Russia—that Russians only believe the US is the enemy because they can’t form their own opinions thanks to Putin’s stranglehold on the media—is bullshit. It may be true that Putin has a stranglehold on Russian media, but Russians nevertheless have very good reasons to see the US as their enemy based purely on our own actions. Russia is like a wounded animal cornered by NATO. Its reaction—Crimea, eastern Ukraine—is exactly what we should expect. I’d wager to say that our own policies have done more to help Putin than hurt him, by giving Russians an enemy to rally against.

How do you know? He is a dictator, what county run by a dictator has ever not gone down in flames? What actions did NATO do that justify Crimea, eastern Ukraine?

Do you recall what prompted the annexation of Crimea and the subsequent Russian interference in eastern Ukraine?

I’m asking you what NATO did that forced Russia to do what it did, as you claimed it.

They were pushing for Ukraine to join NATO.

And so a country that even thinks about doing something Russia doesn’t like justifies taking it over?

Depends on what the “something” is. In this case, the “something” was Russia’s navy base at Sevastopol. To say that Sevastopol is the Russian Pearl Harbor would be to understate its strategic and historical significance to Russia.

Whether preventing Sevastopol’s loss to an organization whose raison d’etre is to oppose Russia justifies annexing Crimea is a matter of opinion. But, since the Russian decision to do so was one hundred percent predictable, NATO’s push can only be explained in terms of deliberately provoking the Russians into an act of war. This was another “Bay of Pigs” scenario, only instead of the CIA trying to force Kennedy’s hand into invading Cuba, it was NATO trying to force Obama’s hand into going to war with Russia.

They were renting, if you were renting and your landlord said he was thinking about selling, is it justified for you to then use force to take their home?

 

 
 
mapadofu
 
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04 July 2018 18:31
 

I wasn’t saying that the techniques used are subtle (some of them require being overt) I’m saying that the set of mental accommodations required by individuals are subtle.  We’re not talking about 2+2+5 here, maybe just a bit of “go along to get along”

I figure there are at least two ways for public opinion to evaporate.  People just checking out, giving up on the idea of being an active citizen, and thus not really even having informed opinions.  The other way is to be savvy enough to not make your true opinions public.  Any combination of these could make people likely to just reiterate media stories (note I don’t interpret Masha’s quip too literally).  And I don’t think that this level of bias requires Stalin levels of oppression, especially since Putin’s hold on power has lasted 20ish years.

This leaves aside the idea that even if individual opinions exist, public opinion doesn’t exist as a social/political force that actually affects the operation of the autocracy; which is another, less literal, interpretation.

 
Antisocialdarwinist
 
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04 July 2018 18:40
 

They were “renting” with the expectation that they would continue to “rent.” But then their “landlord” was illegally forced out by a US-backed, anti-Russian faction (the so-called “Maidan protesters,” who were quickly usurped by neo-Nazi fascists), thereby precipitating the civil war that continues to this day. Roughly half the people in Ukraine prefer Russia, the other half prefer Europe. The people in eastern Ukraine (including the people in Crimea) are the ones who prefer Russia. So, to the extent that “justification” is even relevant, I can understand how the Russians would see their annexation of Crimea as justified.

What’s more relevant is that we knew how the Russians would inevitably respond, but—depending on how cynical you are—we at best provoked them anyway and at worst provoked them deliberately, under the guise of spreading “democracy.”

 
 
sojourner
 
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04 July 2018 19:20
 
mapadofu - 04 July 2018 06:31 PM

I wasn’t saying that the techniques used are subtle (some of them require being overt) I’m saying that the set of mental accommodations required by individuals are subtle.  We’re not talking about 2+2+5 here, maybe just a bit of “go along to get along”

I figure there are at least two ways for public opinion to evaporate.  People just checking out, giving up on the idea of being an active citizen, and thus not really even having informed opinions.  The other way is to be savvy enough to not make your true opinions public.  Any combination of these could make people likely to just reiterate media stories (note I don’t interpret Masha’s quip too literally).  And I don’t think that this level of bias requires Stalin levels of oppression, especially since Putin’s hold on power has lasted 20ish years.

This leaves aside the idea that even if individual opinions exist, public opinion doesn’t exist as a social/political force that actually affects the operation of the autocracy; which is another, less literal, interpretation.


I get what she’s saying - I’m just of the opinion that this isn’t necessarily the case. For one thing, Stalin era aside, current Russian culture just doesn’t seem like a place where people can be easily convinced to quietly sit on their hands and smile vacuously. They strike me as a rowdy lot, although admittedly I have never been to Russia and the Russian Americans I have known have been about as normal as can be. The most salient trait I can think of is that they seem to have a higher-than-average love of organic food, art, and interior design, but that aside, they’ve been about as typical a suburbanite/s as one can be. So maybe that is just how anyone seems when you only see them in online comments sections.


For another, I’m just not convinced that the arrow only points in one direction, from state to people. Yes, I think it is easier to present yourself as Super Awesome if you don’t have to deal with comedians who parody you and so on - the reason Putin shut down NTV, if I remember correctly, as it portrayed him rather harshly as a puppet or something. Whatever else you want to say about the US, politicians can be absolutely skewered on late night here, no question. So sure, I think if you took away any parody and satire and hard-hitting criticism and only showed people pictures of adoring fans clapping and cheering, then yes, we’re all human, we’re all susceptible to social cues, I think that would give anyone’s image a boost. But I don’t think it’s enough to maintain the kind of approval ratings that Putin does - I think for that, there has to be some element of responsiveness in the other direction, and something that people are responding to. Think of it this way - have you ever worked in a workplace where people didn’t bitch about the boss or management, even though that was, obviously, never the company line, the thing that was said at official meetings and so on in public? I can’t say that I have. Give people ten seconds and they will start complaining about something or other - I think this is just human nature. If that is not present there is probably some reason for it. You could posit a positive reason, a negative reason, or a grey area reason (people at Apple being enthralled by Steve Jobs in a vaguely cultish but generally productive way, for example,) but I don’t think it’s likely that the reason is, again, the arrow of opinion only points in one direction. I think that relationship takes much more overt and aggressive totalitarian control, and if that isn’t present, what one is witnessing is indeed probably something of a feedback loop - but that is, of course, just my opinion, I could be wrong on that.

 
 
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04 July 2018 20:19
 
NL. - 03 July 2018 04:32 PM

Where I find Russia very enigmatic and impossible to narrate in Western terms is in their bizarre power politics. (I was hoping Gessen would get into this but honestly, I’m not sure if she understands what this is about either.) I think there must be a genuinely different mindset there in order for that to make sense, either that or a lot of internal disorder that leads to self-contradictory moves. For example - creating a random provocation just when their international relationships seemed to be improving a bit, by poisoning two people (and endangering many more) in a very obvious, ‘send a message’ way, and then when hey, the message is sent, suddenly slamming it into reverse, trying to backpedal, and going “WaitWhatHuhWho? We didn’t poison anyone! Um, you poisoned them! Everyone is picking on us again!”.

There is no way to know for sure, but here is a plausible explanation:  Sending the message was necessary to prevent further defections, which in Putin’s calculation was more important than improving relationship with the West. Also, there is nothing to gain by admitting Russia’s role in the poisonings (or meddling in our elections for that matter).  It plays well domestically - “we are the good guys, we have been set up.”  And as an added bonus it could give a western government a cover of plausible deniability - see Trump’s comments on Russian meddling. 

 

 

 

 
Twissel
 
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04 July 2018 20:55
 

Bullshit on Ukraine joining NATO. They also had just extended the lease on the fleet base.

They wanted to join the EU, and the EU didn’t say no. But joining the common market is a process that takes decades, so there was no rush whatsoever for Russia. It was an invasion on a flimsy, fabricated excuse, nothing else.

 
 
sojourner
 
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04 July 2018 21:21
 
Zanoza - 04 July 2018 08:19 PM
NL. - 03 July 2018 04:32 PM

Where I find Russia very enigmatic and impossible to narrate in Western terms is in their bizarre power politics. (I was hoping Gessen would get into this but honestly, I’m not sure if she understands what this is about either.) I think there must be a genuinely different mindset there in order for that to make sense, either that or a lot of internal disorder that leads to self-contradictory moves. For example - creating a random provocation just when their international relationships seemed to be improving a bit, by poisoning two people (and endangering many more) in a very obvious, ‘send a message’ way, and then when hey, the message is sent, suddenly slamming it into reverse, trying to backpedal, and going “WaitWhatHuhWho? We didn’t poison anyone! Um, you poisoned them! Everyone is picking on us again!”.

There is no way to know for sure, but here is a plausible explanation:  Sending the message was necessary to prevent further defections, which in Putin’s calculation was more important than improving relationship with the West. Also, there is nothing to gain by admitting Russia’s role in the poisonings (or meddling in our elections for that matter).  It plays well domestically - “we are the good guys, we have been set up.”  And as an added bonus it could give a western government a cover of plausible deniability - see Trump’s comments on Russian meddling.


I like to think that Putin is not that myopic (in that he thinks Russia is going to live in some kind of Happy Bubble where international relationships don’t matter), but then, my wishes and assumptions have nothing to do with reality I guess. “Not improving” their relationship with the West is different than engaging in random provocation, which is essentially what they did. By way of analogy - if someone said to you “You know, I decided my neighbor and I were never going to be good buddies, so I decided to take a dump on their lawn, because I needed to go and I figured, hey, what can it hurt, right?” - would you be like “Oh, totally, I follow your logic” or “Um…”

 
 
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05 July 2018 08:10
 

I very much enjoyed this podcast as an example that people can agree on some points, disagree on others, and in the end, have a valuable conversation. There were still a couple areas where I think Harris let Gessen off the hook a little easily.

1) When pressed on the idea that there is no such thing as “public opinion” in Russia, Gessen fell back on idea that the vast majority of Russians believe whatever they saw on TV yesterday. My immediate reaction was that you could say the same thing about Americans with the only difference being that different Americans are watching different things. The US has a polarized media and Russia has a singular media but in both cases, the people buy into whatever they are being told by the media they consume. I would have to say that people in both countries have “opinions” and in both cases those opinions are largely shaped by media.

2) I found Gessen’s insistence that the potential for Christian reactions to homosexuality to be equivalent to Muslim reactions somewhat disingenuous. Christians may harass, humiliate, offend, penalize and try to “reprogram” homosexuals. But to the extent that their reactions fall short of stoning people, then there is a difference. After being forced out of Russia, she chose to move her family to the US, despite the fact that the country has powerful Evangelical Christians “with guns.” She did not chose to move her family to Afghanistan or Yemen.

3) On multiple occasions Gessen precedes a claim with ‘As a lesbian Jew…’ And Harris even falls into this trap at least once. So disappointing as this move is rooted in the identity politics that Harris so often criticizes. Gessen’s ideas must be evaluated on their merits and not on her identity.

[ Edited: 05 July 2018 08:14 by sethg]
 
Jan_CAN
 
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05 July 2018 09:02
 
sethg - 05 July 2018 08:10 AM

3) On multiple occasions Gessen precedes a claim with ‘As a lesbian Jew…’ And Harris even falls into this trap at least once. So disappointing as this move is rooted in the identity politics that Harris so often criticizes. Gessen’s ideas must be evaluated on their merits and not on her identity.

Regardless of the debates and Harris’ views regarding ‘identity politics’, everyone has their own unique perspective, a person’s background and experiences matter, and these are not irrelevant to any discussion.

 
 
sethg
 
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05 July 2018 09:18
 
Jan_CAN - 05 July 2018 09:02 AM

Regardless of the debates and Harris’ views regarding ‘identity politics’, everyone has their own unique perspective, a person’s background and experiences matter, and these are not irrelevant to any discussion.

Yes. My point is not to discount Gessen’s background or experience. They are obviously relevant to this discussion and I learned quite a bit from her perspective. But her identity does not make her right on every topic or even a topic that is related to her identity. For example, one of her claims was that gay people are as likely to suffer the same fate at the hands of Evangelical or Orthodox Christians as they would at the hands of Fundamentalist Muslims. If this is the case, she should be providing evidence of stoning of gays and lesbians by Evangelicals in the US or Orthodox in Russia. This support is necessary for her statement to be true. The claim is no more true or untrue based on her identity;

(quote box repaired)

[ Edited: 05 July 2018 16:49 by Nhoj Morley]
 
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