As I am typing this, my stomach is tight, and my heart is pounding.
“Again, you are going against the grain, Tessa!” I say to myself. “Don’t you have bills to pay? Don’t you have your mother to take care of? Can’t you just go along with the program, for once?
But… but…. my heart replies…. what about the truth? What about the truth without which my species will continue walking in circles and lying to itself until we all die?
My loyalty lies with my species.
It so happens that I have a brain, a heart, and a strong sense of balance. When things go out of balance, I suffer. And when I see my friends, acquaintances, and even role models, embrace the paradigm in which American common identity has to be rebuilt (“again”) around the common enemy, my heart explodes.
A part of my problem is that this time around, the enemy is me.
I am Russian. And not only I am Russian, but I am a Russian-born redhead who was questioned by the feds (with cruelty) years ago about being a spy. Except they totally f*cked up, and after tormenting my existence for some time, after jail, after physical cruelty, after I divorced the abusive man who cold-heartedly arranged for it in the first place, they forgot about me (hopefully). I was able to move on and rebuild my life.
And now my horror is back.
Over the past couple of years, I have watched my world plunge into insanity, and my stressed out intellectual friends embrace the kind of enlightened darkness that I do not fathom. Over the past couple of years, I have been shrinking, self-censoring, feeling afraid, feeling that my income will cease if I don’t pretend… all because I am Russian, and I have not taken in enough poison to take propaganda seriously—any propaganda, not from Moscow, and not from New York. The two are so similar that I just want to cry.
Over the past couple of years, both of my home countries have been engaging in an act of throwing turds at one another—but for some reason, my American compatriots think that their turds are actually honey (which I am sure is a mirror reflection of the situation across the ocean—but I live here, my senses are tuned to living here, and it’s been a murder of my soul).
I am more than happy to go all intellectual and analytical on the topic, to get into it on a factual basis, to dissect narratives, to point our glaring errors and subtle omissions, to look at specific articles and specific quotes and demonstrate how exactly these carefully crafted verbal sequences stress people out and cast a spell… I can… but does anybody want me to?
Are my beloved friends looking for honest human truth (in which the dynamic of “us vs. them” would be very different from what the screen wants us to believe), or are they looking to hear what the ghost of stress that has attached its feelers to their hearts and their intellects, is whispering into their ear (and what is then repeated a thousand times over by the echo chamber to which I don’t belong because my heart doesn’t allow me)?
I hide it really well—but I am afraid that my Russianness in combination with my inner honesty will get me in trouble. I wonder if people in the early early Nazi Germany felt this way. I wonder…
A part of the problem is civilizational and not specific to any country or any government. We all live in an ultra commercial culture, and we are all under pressure to continue eating. People on the ground may very well be in possession of sincere feelings and honest opinions—and may even evolve their views in a normal human fashion, depending on available facts and stress levels—but the money dispenser throws money where it wants to. And we need to eat. The narrative is controlled simply by selective financing (going homeless because you can’t find a job based on your views is not much better than being jailed for your views). And, say, I could easily criticize both Russian propaganda and American propaganda (they are both toxic, and I can’t stand either)—and depending on whom I criticize, there would be different “buyers,” different parties willing to pay me and promote me… truth and balance be damned.
So here I am, staring in pain at this narrative suggesting that we, the good guys we, want to unite America over hating the damn Russians (and we can say whatever we want about nuance and about not implicating the entire Russian population—but when folks hear those speeches coming from their heroes, the practical result is hate and suspicion. Just ask a Russian!)
The reason this proposition of absolution sells so well, is trivial— the method seems to work like a charm every time.
What sells is providing folks with a reason to feel good about themselves—”better than others” is even better— without making them do any work or take any responsibility,
The “make something out of nothing” formula is social media gold. I have professionally done social media for an (ethical and American) news brand for years. I know what works with the physical tips of my fingers. It’s been depressing me since the dawn of social media.
“It’s not your fault. It’s Russia that cast a spell on you. All you have to do is to disown Russia’s spell, and everything is going to be alright. Just follow my words. Just follow my loving guidance, and we will remove Russia’s spell, and you will be healthy again.”
Except, it’s a spell, too.
It is a spell that hides the need to face the responsibility for own bad choices, for the problems America has, for the cruelty towards its own poor and especially toward the people abroad, for its horrendous foreign policy, for its racism, for infecting the entire world with superficial commercialism (including Russia… even the facial expression of many of my compatriots looks American today… that distinct expression that many people not born in America can tell from a mile apart… I see it outside of New York all the time).
Here is another example of casting a spell:
“Authoritarian countries like Russia…” Well, hello. Russia is a capitalist oligarchy. America is a capitalist oligarchy, too. The only difference is that when the American elites f*ck you in the arse, they smile and use vaseline. Of course, the Russian government is scum. And so are the Russian oligarchs. But what do you think the American government is, angels and butterflies? And American corporate and financial elites? Will they spare a penny for you if you were dying in the street?
Let’s feel it. Let’s feel it on a fundamental human level. Russian intelligence agencies and American intelligence agencies have a lot more in common with each other than they do with most of us. They will sacrifice any of us in a blink of an eye if they need to. Chop chop, you are now an enemy. Now, die.
And yes, there is a difference between corruption in Russia and in America. Russian culture is super blunt and straightforward. There is no need to mask corruption. It’s straight in your face. “Yes, I can do whatever I want, and there is nothing you can do about it. Bwahahahaha.” American culture is diplomatic about it (although, judging from the popularity of Trump…. ah, never mind). Corporations and their supporters in politics will treat their little ants like crap, but they will use vaseline on them, and they will say “thank you.” And when they run out of vaseline (which seems to be the situation today, since greed has gotten obnoxious), they will dehumanize the demographic they are currently f*cking most fiercely so that the rest of us feel that those “other” people really asked for it.
Now, of course, “the Russians,” just like everybody else, are at it all day trying to tilt the balance in their favor. There is nothing special about Russia. There is nothing special about America. It’s one human desire for dignity, plus a bunch of twisted power-hungry individuals, plus spiritual laziness, plus love.
The recent renewal of Cold War is just bad magic. Truth be told, “the Russians” would not be able to do anything if America didn’t have such strange karma.
It’s time to take responsibility.