“Do it to Julia! Do it to Julia! Not me! Julia! I don’t care what you do to her. Tear her face off, strip her to the bones. Not me! Julia! Not me!”
This article is not meant to tap into any existing set of comfy slogans and preconditions. My views are based on my own life. I am not taking sides because my only side is human (and by the way, boo to the marketers who use this meaningful word for bling—unless of course they have hungry children at home).
Personally, I am not a liberal, not a conservative—but an immigrant with a sense of history and a fair amount of ‘interesting’ life experiences under my belt—and to me, the entire thing unfolding before my eyes, from horizon to horizon, is tragically childish and profit-driven from every direction. It’s not like a child climbing on top of a chair to read a poem in hopes of getting a round of applause; it’s more like a child with matches climbing on top a chair that is missing a leg, to sell a fictional belief, for money. But even that, on a closer look, turns out to be a hologram installed to distract the spectators from the fact that they are being robbed by the real robbers (who are building a space ship to get the fuck out of here as soon as they can)…
As you read it, I dare you to agree and disagree with parts of it, to respond like a complex human being you are, and not go robot on me because it may ‘attack’ some of your slogans, and you don’t quite know how to position your reaction. I have faith in you. Nuanced conversations are a sign of mutual respect. Plus, let’s face it. You and I are not that famous, and we don’t have to position anything. We can simply be human and aspire to do good. Onward.
Let me start with a video of my favorite U.S. president. His speech is poignant.
Of course, poignant or not, it still caters to the tastes of the people—while the people care about their immediate gain and don’t really want to think about the root cause of the imbalance or about their social or spiritual responsibilities. If he were to address the root cause—at the expense of even lesser popularity—he would have said, ‘Our great nation started with a genocide. We have to face the morbid truth, and make amends so that we can all heal and move forward, in peace and fairness.’
But people usually aren’t ready to do the work, and that’s just how it is. Consumers want to consume.
To his honor though, Carter signed the American Indian Religious Freedom Act in 1978, the law that finally made it legal for Natives to practice traditional beliefs (until 1978, it was illegal).
Carter is the only U.S. president known to me who aspired to be more than a function, more than career- or showman. He actually tried to serve—which is rare—and I respect him for that.
And now to the present day!!
To me personally, the famed ‘shithole countries’ remark is a cringe-inducing disgrace because it reveals a shallow spirit who doesn’t remember his roots and doesn’t know gratitude. This extremely young country started with dirty (uninvited, and completely illegal) immigrants setting foot on the American shores, surviving the first hardships exclusively thanks to the kindness the locals, paying the locals back by murdering them and forcing them off their land, and then attributing the newly found riches exclusively to own hard work, forgetting the magical availability of a whole new continent to play with. And now that we are all washed up, no more dirty immigrants are welcome. There are only so many seats at the table. There is not enough food for us.
Why such short memory? Ingratitude is a grave sin.
Besides, our current economy seems to be functioning much like a holographic version of the Tinder app with a whiff of traditional feudalism and a drop of Sparta, where different psychological types get played against each other, and five and a half dellusionally greedy people at the very top own almost everything—letting the rest of us, millionaires and paupers, go at each others’ throats for remaining fatty crumbs.
Trump’s remark exposed the old feeling that already exists. It has existed for a long time, and the only thing he did was say it. The desire of scapegoating the other is far more complex than any slogan, and it is the fear and the tiredness that make people beg, “It’s enough. Don’t do it to us, please. Do it to them instead.”
Truly, we the people get the leaders we deserve.
On the subject of shitholes though, we can moralize all day but did it not expose our actual civilizational roots? Didn’t the land grab and the bloodbath served to the original people of this continent grow out of the idea of
being worthier than the dirty savage fixing a shithole and making it more familiar, like Europe? I am using the word “Europe” to describe a particular culture, a particular way of going about theology and business, not the actual ancestry, since “Europe” has a complex story of its own (even though I do fear that our culture will go down in history with a pale face meme).
And even though memes can be super lame, who can blame the people whose ancestors were sacrificed to the entrepreneural ideals of a particular psychological type? Is it not unfair to always ask the same side to turn the other cheek — and let the other side do their thing?
Personally, I believe that every situation has deep roots, and without getting to those roots, we just keep walking in circles. I also believe that we don’t have much choice at this point: It’s ugly out there. Everybody is bullying everybody else for love and respect, and very few are loving. If we don’t admit to being vulnerable creatures born into a messy world, and don’t learn to respect each other’s life’s mystery, it’s fuckety fucked.
(But Tessa, come on, all known empires started out this way! Yes, you are right, they did, and I am starting to think that we, humans, are simply not qualified to run empires because we clearly can’t handle them without a delusion of grandeur getting to our heads — but this is not a video game, these are actual humans (my heart!), and besides that, turning a cold mind on the suffereing of your own unknown ancestors is a part of the problem. Just because we collectively forgot, doesn’t mean that our oblivion is not a sham. For instance, I strongly suspect that the most radical neo-nazis of the European persuastion are really looking desperately to connect with their ancestors. Becasue they don’t admit to their feeling of grief, it comes out very distorted and ugly. But the real force driving them is the hunger to connect to their roots becasue at some point, all of us knew where we came from.)
There is something special about the past few centuries of human history. Bringing in the alleged God’s special designations, Manifest Destiny, Holy Technology, and other pseudo-existential bullshit into the business of militarized human-to-human real estate transactions, is a relatively recent PR invention. An innovative approach to the public relations of disruption … it just messes with your head a little more than straightforward robbery. Don’t forget, we’ve been around for a very long time, and for thousands of years, people fought for things that you can touch: land, spouses, and so on. Now, the winner doesn’t just come to your turf and steal your shit: he also tells you that God, Darwin, the love of democracy, and the Future of Science made it so, and whoever ‘won,’ is clearly on the right side of history.)
And whoever lost is a… witch? (Also, it’s an excellent quick primer on democracy.)
Ascribing own preferences and limited perceptions to God’s will, to ‘science,’ to the notion of ‘progress,’ and to the lofty political ideals — and then
bullying disrupting the crap out of others on a mass scale, based on a theory that you took out of your arse — is a real benchmark of contemporary human creativity.
Speaking of creativity, here is Joseph Weizenbaum, a pioneer of artificial intelligence who also happened to possess great intelligence of his own (at 0:58):
[My theory is that the technological disruption of today is a digital and possibly—although we’ll see—bloodless heir of the Manigest Destiny ideology, and that the new ‘savage’ to be revealed to the public ears in the not so distant future, is the biological human who is reluctant to be integrated with the machine, due to being poorly educated, backwards in one’s thinking, and too attached to nature.]
And here is young Steve Jobs with a mad ego shine in his eyes introducing the famous 1984 commercial for a Mac (scroll to 4:00 for the commerical itself).
And the ultimate modern missionary, the father of singularity, Ray Kurtzweil, whose unique selling proposition to the masses is, wait for it, immortality. Is not having control of your life span that scary, Ray?
I think about this often. If I were to sum up the Western civilization (of which I am undoubtedly a child, and I own that part of me), I would say that it’s about rebelling against the ‘wilderness’ inside and outside and about turning places of such ‘wilderness’ (a.ka. ‘shitholes’) into quantifiable, utilitarian places of convenience and easy management (for the ones who are talking about it, anyway). Only then does a shithole become good.
Is it not so?
Of course, going against nature never quite works out. The lying pedophile priests and the massive oil spills bringing death to the animal world, are proof. And Ray Kutzweil, without a doubt, will die when it’s time for him to go. But in theory, it’s the transformation of the ‘chaos‘ into the ‘chosen type of order’ that makes us civilized — and ‘civilized’ is desirable because, everybody knows it is. All the thoughts and all the dead animal parts are neatly organized, wilderness is bad, mind control is good.
The baby is safe (at least in our minds). Not like the babies in shithole places.
(Disclaimer: It’s only the subjective human heart of the peasant that is not to be trusted or heeded. The subjective desires and opinions of the Master are sacred, and denying them is synonymos with defying freedom.)
Here is a colorful example of perceived baby safety, and of using the #science brand to sell tobacco to pregnant women (by the way).
[I didn’t know this until recently but evidently, around sixty years ago, American doctors advised young women to smoke during pregnancy, it was supposed to ‘calm them down.’ Not only was it ‘proven to be safe’ but it was also ‘good for you’! And sure, it is possible that at the time, scientists knew less about the harmful side effects of smoking — but it is also a known fact that companies routinely suppress research that may lead to a decrease in sales.]
This ‘safe’ science reminds me of today’s technology that is ‘safe’ until it isn’t…
And Trump? About that in a second.
That was my psychoeconomic theory on bullshit as it applies to the military pursuits and commercial branding — somehow, it always boils down to money and satisfying the hungiest madmen in the room! And now, to the touchy feely part of the speech where I get to piss people off by yelling at everybody while offering unsolicited advice.
How do you feel, Tessa?
I am glad you asked! I am mad. Mad, mad, mad. You are probably used to the sight of me hugging trees all day but now, I am mad.
I am mad at every aspect of inhumanity, at every variation of bullshit, and at everybody who wants to be right instead of true.
I am mad about the cartoonish Trump who is so unhinged that even my Russian-born self who filters out 99% of political bullshit on the grounds of it being cynical theater for the masses, has to occasionally pinch myself. Come on, there are some minimal requirements for the format of lying that modern politicians are supposed to abide by. Who do you think you are, an artist? Unless you are the talent entertaining the public on the upper deck of the Titanic — while hiding your life vest behind the bass amp — you don’t get the artist privilege to publicly self-express. It’s hard enough without you constantly titillating the media for retweets, and the media tearing you apart for clicks. My performance art detectors are at one thousand and eleven.
Haven’t you learned anything from your precedessors? Hasn’t anybody taught you to lie palatably? That’s what politicians do. They bullshit in a pleasant way and takes bribes quietly. That’s what people watching TV expect from your job title. Sucks, I know, but hey, welcome to Earth. So where is your veneer, I am asking you? Give the people some veneer, dammit, don’t you see how stressed everybody is? You make things up left and right when it fits you and yet, when you could say the right thing to keep everybody calmer, you don’t bother. How about a little compassion for the peasants?
Of course, you bomb the ‘shithole countries’ just like the other guys did—but they, mind you, used ADULT LANGUAGE when they talked about it, and very few even noticed. What’s wrong with you?
I understand that you are a showman and a hustler and not really a politician. I know that you have single-handedly resurrected the dying ratings of several otherwise rather monotonous media outlets on both side of the aisle. I will probably never find out if you are actually getting paid to do exactly what you are doing. In fact, if I were the media outlets that scorch you daily, I would be secretly sending you checks and ‘thank you’ letters because God knows, you are driving traffic like a motherfucker. Frankly, I don’t even know if you care enough to believe in any of the outrageous things that come out of your mouth. Maybe you just like to see Twitter explode. And maybe you are the talent entertaining the public on the upper deck of the Titanic. Aren’t the powerful ones building bunkers and investing billions into hopefully finding an escape to another planet?
In any case, you are no rebel. You are not draining any swamps. And you can probably be seen drinking the bubbly with your alleged enemies whenever you guys run into each other at fancy parties, and laugh your hearts out at us, the silly ants, the gullible mortals.
Now, my left-leaning friends. If you are disgusted by the crude remarks — but you love the past leaders who bombed the shithole countries while looking beautiful, where is your heart? I am interested in your sincere feelings and in the cosmopolitcan human to human relationships. What does your heart tell you? I reject the rational explanation borrowed from your favorite news anchor. The news anchor is sitting in a warm studio, sipping coffee, and getting a salary. The news anchor will not lose their job because their studio building has been bombed.
I want you to tell me what you feel when you look at the photos of the children with their limbs torn off so that we can keep our gas prices down and our arms contractors fat. Out of sight, out of mind? Can you please locate your heart?
A philosophical tangent: Amazingly, you, I, and even your disgusting Donald Trump, have an important thing in common. All of us are ultimately driven by the desire to self-express. Why? It is because of how we humans are made, and because the society we live in is an utter shitfhole when it comes to respect and non-commercial self-expression. So wherever we are, rich or poor, famous or obscure, our spirits, like grass under the asphalt, look for ways to make themselves known. (I am not retracting my prior statement about Trump’s self-expression though. Not on my upper deck!!)
I understand that it is incredibly frustrating to be aware of the many injustices around, to have the desire to feel that feeling of being empowered to change the world for the better, but not be actually able to change the world for the better, at least not fast enough to enjoy the thrill. It is a very humbling experience (welcome to Earth, you now know the humility many people before us have experienced). Humility, as I point out at length in my speech for the right-leaning people, does not seem to be a core American value, hence many problems.
That feeling of saving and protecting is a very good instinct, especially when combined with wisdom and emotional maturity. However, an important question: If you are willing to demand that others heed your values of justice as you see them, are you also willing to listen to the ‘others’ who tell you that your politicians, ugly or pretty, are killing their elders and their children, so that you can keep enjoying your life style? Are you self-expressing to be useful, to serve, or are you just self-expressing to feel the feeling? And do you think that it was as ‘weird’ to rage against slavery or murdered Natives in the past as it is ‘weird’ today to say too much about the perpetual war whose sole purpose is to keep corrupt individuals rolling in cash?
I have a suspicion that we are all so starved for love and recognition that we collectively act like a tired victim of domestic abuse. When we meet a politician who does not verbally assault us and who tells us that we are pretty and worthy, we convince ourselves that he or she is the one. We are afraid to look for actual proof. Proof like, maybe, not cheating on us with the banks, or not being the ‘yes’ men and women to the merchants of murder, or… Stop! If you let yourself think about it too much, then it may turn out that your good guy is kind of shady, too, and what about that love? No. Just stop. I know (s)he loves me.
‘Please just don’t do it to me. Do it to them instead.’
And you, my right-leaning friends, I often see you campaigning for other people to be less sensitive. I don’t know how to break it to you smoothly and without the shock value, but to my very cynical immigrant senses, the difference in the sensitivity levels between an average conservative American and an average liberal American is nill, at least when compared to my hardened compatriots. The talking points and the points of major irritation are different — but the desire to impose one’s identity upon others and to have the last word in every conversation is suspiciously similar. Whatever the idea is, it cannot be just something that works well for one person, it has to be a cause with a fleet of ponies and a sense of moral superiority, where the winner takes all.
I suspect it has to do with the psychological foundations. A soul of a nation has a longer span than a single human life (and the nation itself has its roots in the civilization that spun it). An entity that started with sacrificing many independent people (who lived free and were not looking for moral or financial guidance or domination) to a profit-squeezing machine, is trying to continue on the same path, no matter the slogan. There are better times and worse times, better places to be and worse places to be, better slogans and worse slogans, people who are gloriously amazing and peope who are shamefully shitty, like anywhere — but a victory march as the main cultural value is a constant. Success means amassment of power and things, and not spiritual freedom, joy, or genuine voluntary love of the unpoisoned community. That’s a dependency that barely makes the nation happy (even though if one manages to carve out a niche and has enough wisdom to focus on what’s real, it’s a blissful place).
Now, it is entirely possible that if I were born here, I would be the same way. I will never know that, and I will never feel the nuances of the American culture as accurately as somebody who was born into it. When I was growing up, I was taught to practice modesty. And even though it clearly didn’t stick, and even though my compatriots have a sense of exceptionalism of their own, I have officially never seen so many super senstive people until I landed here. Red, blue, or purple. Nobody wants to admit that they are existentially vulnerable!! It’s like the pressure for conquest is so high, and everybody’s ego is bleeding so badly that you can hear the hunger for respect humming in the air and morphing into moral judgement and hashtags of all sorts. Being kind and having a pure heart is very difficult here. It’s like, if you don’t yell and don’t tell others what to do, you probably don’t exist. Heartbreaking.
Also, as a non-sequitur, please show me one drained swamp.
And for the love of everything, please explain to me what you are hoping to accomplish in practical terms by insisting that everybody who doesn’t share your psychological make, adjusts to your opinion, ignores their feelings (right or wrong), and shuts up? Do you think that human emotions work that way? When was the last time somebody told you to stop whining and get over something that rubbed you the wrong way, and you did exactly that?
‘Oh shut up Tessa, I am just right. I am just right, see? What I say makes sense becausue it does and those who don’t get it are fucking morons.’ My fucking point. Bear with me, would you?
You think the pussyhats are ridiculous? You know what, I grew up abroad, and I find the use of symbolism in the American pop culture strikingly child-like comparing to what my senses perceive as ‘adult behavior.’ I also suspect that the desire to use symbolism in this playful, teenage fashion decreases as actual life conditions worsen. However, how hard is it to understand that people with an emotional hunger of a particular kind are designing a ritual for themselves, and it’s their sacred thing? Politics is merely an excuse for bonding! The hunger is not going to go away because you say so, it needs to receive love. It is not your sacred thing, and nobody is making you don a pussyhat and march. Freedom is freedom. You think that somebody is making you do it because, sensitive. Personally, I find the pussyhats endearingly American (at least, American to the nose of my foreigner generation). You can’t do anything without making it into a cause, remember? And yes, the commercial agenda gets immediately involved. Because, you can’t do anything without making it into a cause
in which the leaders gain money or power, and the followers gain a desperately missing sense of identity. Besides, how are the pusshats fundamentally different from a metalhead outfit? It’s a commercially flavored expression of a psychological type. Normal teen behavior.
We are in this country together. We are all stuck with each other. There are lots of things that irritate the fuck out of me in other people but does it authorize me to tell ’em to be just a little bit more like me? No. I wish. Damn.
[You know what I miss from my Soviet childhood? Knowledge for the sake of knowledge. I don’t know where to find it in America, everything has to be monetized. People don’t know what they are missing out on.]
Or the Silicon Valley ethos. I have so much contempt for their phony philosophy, their transhumanist crusade on culture and humanity at large, and their ‘disruption’ of the music industry. However, as much as I despise their entire thing, I also realize that they inherited their ways from both the Christian missionaries and from Ford / Taylor. What they are doing is very destructive and insulting to the free human spirit, but it is not new. How can you accept one and not the other? Creating dramatic culture shifts for personal profit (or out of megalomania) is what it is. Accepting or rejecting the method should not depend on the flavor of the day, it’s the method that is against freedom.
Two examples: Digging a pipeline through the Native sacred land where they have their ancestors buried—and installing sensors everywhere to monitor every aspect of human activity as well as the environment. The former is a fossil industry-inspired crime against the spirit, against bodily integrity, and culture. The latter is the Big Tech version of “green.” Both are driven by the blind desire of material profit and control, devoid of honor or spirituality. Both use “good” branding but are rooted in blatant disrespect for anything except money. One has a ‘conservative’ ring to it, and the other one is branded as ‘liberal’. But is there a difference? If you spend a year away from the linguistic noises of the Western civilization, you’ll see that greed is greed is greed.
Or political correctness. I believe that political correctness (a distinctly American phenomenon, by the way) cannot possibly work to fix ignorance or bigotry, and that adults should be sophisticated enough to understand the context and to distinguish between genuine disrespect and humor, or a sensory level, without algorithmic formulas, on a case by case basis (or else we are a mess). However, if you are an adult like you say you are, and they are the children, then why don’t you treat the children like a strong adult would, with kindness and wisdom? (Left-leaning friends who think that the other side is all children, that logic applies to you, too. And yes, to me as well. I am trying to see that inner child in everybody, dammit!) Give them love, give them personal space to grow, be patient, carry the burden, that’s what adults do! However, if you, too, are a child in need of a victory, and I am the only adult in the room, then shut up, get over it, and keep reading [sarcasm alert, in case anybody was triggered.]
I will never believe that anybody feels great when having to apologize for acting natural or when playing by the rules written from the standpoint of a different psychological type. Congratulations, you, I, and the proverbial bright-eyed scholar of intersectionality are all human. We can pretend there is a huge difference between us all, but it’s bullshit. We show up, we try to be happy, we have feelings, and then we die. Very similar.
However, to my Russian standards, both blue and red Americans are far more sensitive than what I am used to, and the ‘sensitivity’ argument is really about power and psychological dominance.
I, on the other hand, am perfect.
(I built this entire giant sequence just to be able to say that magical phrase.)
I could end there, the main point is made. But wait, I have more unsolicited advice to give!
Actually, I realize that it is always much easier to pontificate about things that don’t hit you directly. Everybody is an insightful genius when commenting on a situation that does not evoke strong emotions, and a sensitive self-righteous heart when it’s close to home. I joke around many topics—but at the same time, it is much harder for me to practice perfect impartiality if there is an insult in the direction of my ethnicity or my values. I have trained myself to keep a cool head about it and look for solutions when I can—but it’s an effort. Always an effort.
See, I actually work very hard on paying as little attention as possible to the sensationalist stupidity that I know I cannot fix. I have even developed a wonderful immunity to Russia-bashing (a pain in my Russian arse). For example, when the other day the U.S. State Department issued Russia Travel Advisory, all I did in response was reminisce about my most recent visit to Moscow. The streets were clean, the cab drivers were friendly, the government officials were polite and helpful, can you believe that? But what really amazed me was going to a normal, non-fancy restaurant, sticking around until maybe 2 a.m. without being bothered or pressured to leave, and having a BUTTON on the table to call the waiters when I needed them. That button made me reevaluate everything I had known about life. A button to call the waiter. In Russia.
Ten or thirty years from now, the kids of today’s passionate Russia-bashers will ask their parents embarrassing questions, and that’s enough satisfaction for me. I will have my last word then! It is even possible, although not guaranteed, that by then, my home country will have a different president. Although with him and Keith Richards, you never know…
The solemn part where I get to climb on the chair, like the baby from the intro, and pontificate to my heart’s satisfaction while puffing my cheeks that don’t really need any additional puffing.
I think that one of the most important things that each of us can do, humility willing, is to agree that actions speak louder than words, and that the difference between a missionary for a ‘right’ cause and a missionary for a ‘wrong’ cause is far less significant that the difference between a missionary and a non-missionary.
It seems like everything in our culture conditions us to believe that being a missionary is prestigious, and to beat our proverbial chest to gain respect. In my personal experience, however, I have never met a fully happy, grounded person who doesn’t cringe at the prospect of being a missionary. It’s not fun!!!
The art of allowing others to have their own psychological make and their own opinion seems to be lost, and our fast-typing fingers are paying for it.
Everybody likes to be in charge of the machine, and nobody likes to be used as fuel. When we fight about values, we fight for who gets to be in the cushiony seat of the machine operator and who gets to be the faceless wheels. When it comes to writing functional and honorable rules for others, it takes great wisdom, the kind of wisdom that in our society doesn’t get anybody any glory. Being a good leader is barely as attractive as being a slave owner. It’s a lot of work, it’s frustrating, and almost nobody, or maybe nobody at all, has the patience for it.
In the end though, I am afraid that wisdom, curiosity, and relaxed humility—the kinds that come from depth and not from listening to keynote speeches—might be our only ways to happiness, and maybe even survival. The crazy ones are building spaceships, remember?