The previous 2-3 years have seen an interesting, but largely ignored, trend in the western media’s reporting about Russia. You might have noticed that almost every week, we keep seeing shoddily recycled “news” stories about socio-economic problems in Russia, musings about how Putin’s underlings are unhappy with him or how the Russian military intervention in Syria and Ukraine is “not working”. Such “news” stories are usually followed with jingoistic chest thumping by keyboard jockeys in the comment sections of said articles and wild speculation about how the USA would “win” against Russia.
Meanwhile in the real world- Putin’s popularity and approval rating in Russia remains extraordinarily high. Even more oddly for many in the west, he seems to be able to achieve all his stated objectives – whether it is destabilizing the west-backed leadership in Ukraine or helping the Alawites win the Syrian civil war with impunity. So what is going on? Why is Putin’s popularity so high? Why is his grasp on power so firm? And why is he able to achieve his objectives with far more success than his western counterparts?
Well.. it comes down to a few reasons.
Reason 1: Russians in 2016 have no illusions about life in the west, especially the USA.
In the pre-1991 era, very few Russians (as a percentage of the population) had ever interacted with people in the west (especially the USA) outside of settings that did not somehow involve diplomacy, trade or propaganda. Few in that country had personal experience with or insight into the worldview of people in the west. The repressive political climate, ugly architecture, sclerotic institutions and general lack of consumer culture that characterized day-to-day life in Russia in the 1970s and 1980s made them susceptible to western propaganda that life in the west was intrinsically better than in Russia. While it is certainly true that the mindset of sclerotic leader and institutions in Russia during those two decades made it an unpleasant place to live in, the appearance of general prosperity in the west during that period had more to do with prevailing socio-economic trends than anything fundamentally better about the western way.
Post-1991, many Russians were able to travel and live abroad for extended lengths of time. Consequently they were able to observe, first-hand, how things in the west (especially the USA) really worked. It is no secret that many were less than happy with what they saw and experienced. The mental image of the west as created by the minds of Russians in the pre-1991 era had little or no similarity to what they actually saw and experienced. The actual product was a shadow of what was promised in all those colorful advertisements. Living in the west also allowed them see and experience the less savory, and previously hidden, aspects of capitalist societies- such as poverty, economic insecurity, homelessness, high healthcare costs etc. In other words- the posed, lighted and photo-shopped images of the heavily madeup woman had little resemblance to what she looked like in real life.
Reason 2: Russians finally saw, for themselves, that the USA always wanted to marginalize them.
In the pre-1991 era, many Russians believed the hostility of USA towards them was based in ideology as opposed to a simple desire to marginalize, impoverish and destroy them as a people. However actions by the USA after 1991 such as the first Iraq war, expansion of NATO to include former eastern-bloc countries, support of Islamic terrorism in Russia and economic policies that caused the impoverishment of Russians in the 1990s have made most of them realize that the hostility of USA towards the USSR was based less in ideology that the simple desire to marginalize, impoverish and destroy Russians as a people. It is therefore not surprising that they would stand behind and support leaders who demonstrated their nationalistic credentials. A large part of Putin’s popularity is due to the fact that most Russians in 2016 know something that their counterparts in 1991 did not- namely that the USA will not stop until it has marginalized, impoverished and destroyed them.
Russians have also seen the USA has little or no interest in actually cooperating with Russia on solving any problems that affect both countries. For example- Russia had its own problems with Saudi-financed Islamic terrorism in Russia in the 1990s. After September 2001, many Russians thought that the USA might finally decide to work together with them against a common adversary. Well.. after what appeared to a promising start, the USA went back to its old ways and turned a blind eye to Saudi-funded Islamic terrorism in other countries- while simultaneously pursuing the doomed strategy of regime change and military invasions of countries in the middle-east. Perhaps more importantly, they kept trying to destabilize neighboring east-european countries and install puppet pro-USA regimes in them. In other words, most Russians have now come to the conclusion that the USA will always be a hostile country.
Reason 3: Russians can now see that the USA is not omnipotent or invincible.
As I have previously mentioned, many Russians in the pre-1991 era admired and envied the USA. They used to see the USA as a place where even the average person had an existence that was materially comfortable and relatively free from ideological conformity. While that was never more than partially true, the general belief that things in the USA were better created a halo of “competence” around all things from that country- from the military and institutions to its economy. Events in the first few years after 1991 such as the outcome of the first gulf war and rapid development of the internet appeared to support this generally favorable image of the abilities and capabilities of the USA. The inability of Russian leaders in the 1991-1999 era to stand up against economic abuse by the USA also helped prop up the idea that the USA was almost omnipotent and invincible.
Then reality intervened..
Sometime between 2000-2002, it slowly started becoming obvious to people in the rest of the world that the USA was not omnipotent nor invincible. The events of September 2001 and their aftermath- especially the reaction of american government and populace, was the beginning for the exposure of its actual abilities and capabilities. As it turned out- both were substantially inferior to what everyone, including people in the USA, had hitherto believed. The disastrous invasions and subsequent occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan did not make things any better- to put it mildly. By 2005 it became obvious that the USA was incapable of winning against diffuse groups of poorly organised insurgencies in countries they had occupied for a few years- even after it spend trillions of dollars trying to do so. The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina also exposed the inability of USA to competently address large problems in inside its own territory.
The economic crisis which began in 2008-2009 also exposed the complex and hitherto hidden masquerades that had allowed the USA to prop up its economic system. It is possible to make the argument that by 2010 many of the younger educated people in the rest of the world (including Russia) had come to the realization that the primacy of the USA in technology and economics was largely a good smoke-and-mirror show. Developments in the subsequent years have provided even more evidence that a lot of the supposed competencies of the USA- from civic institutions, higher education, scientific research, health care etc are based in complex scams which use proxy markers of function, progress and competence to cover up the appalling reality. Furthermore, almost every product associated with a materially comfortable and modern existence is now manufactured in countries such as Mexico and China.
To make a long story short- Russians now see the USA as a serial scam artist who does not actually posses most of the abilities or capabilities it pretends to possess.
To summarize, the continued high levels of public support for Putin in Russia are the result of a combination of factors including a much wider understanding of the reality of life in the west and the long-term agenda of USA towards Russia in combination with a much more objective assessment of the actual capabilities of that country.
What do you think? Comments?
This post is one of the many I started writing about a year ago, but never managed to finish till today. I also predict that it will get more than a few comments- especially from thin-skinned SJWs. But then again, I am not known for being especially concerned about what others think of my professed beliefs. As many of you have seen or heard- a number of women comedians have suddenly become famous and rich in the last 2-4 years.
Now, this is not exactly a new trend as women comedians have been steadily gaining prominence in popular culture over the last two decades. Just to be clear- I am NOT claiming that women comedians are intrinsically inferior to their male counterparts. Nor am I claiming that any field of human endeavor, including comedy, is a meritocracy. This post is therefore about whether the majority of contemporary famous female comedians in the anglosphere are actually funny- as opposed to whether women can ever be funny. Let me also say that I do not believe that most famous male comedians are actually funny- but that is another entirely different issue.
So, why am I focusing on famous and in my opinion mediocre and hacky female comedians as opposed to their male counterparts? Well.. as you will see, the archetypes of famous female comedians and their material says a lot more about the people who promote them and celebrate them than the comics themselves. Let us now talk about the archetypes or categories of contemporary famous female comedians especially those who have come to prominence within the last five years.
Category 1: The ones that are actually funny.
While I might not agree with the material or views or these female comedians, it hard to deny that some women comedians are talented and actually funny. Curiously, they do not have much in common with each other- stylistically or otherwise. Examples include Aisha Tyler, Maria Bamford, Wanda Sykes, Amy Poehler and Tina Fey. The ones in this category stand apart from the ones in the other groups because their comedy acts and characters have the ability to be somewhat introspective, less than perfect and relatable aka human.
Category 2: The ones whose acts are mostly about hating men, other women and casual racism.
It is interesting to note that almost every woman comedian in this category is a thin, harsh-faced white woman. Coincidence.. I think not. These women use the fact that they are thin, white and moderately attractive to basically trash men, other women, minorities.. basically everybody other than them. It is often hard to say whether people enjoy their comedy or the controversies surrounding their acts and personalities. Examples include Iliza Shlesinger, Whitney Cummings, Jen Kirkman, Natasha Leggero and Chelsea Handler.
Category 3: The ones whose acts center around their obesity, disability, race or personal tragedy.
A somewhat more diverse category than the previous one, it contains female comedians whose acts are mostly driven by some combination of rage, jealousy, humiliation, casual racism or reaction to racism. The default persona of most performers in this category is a fat loud woman who spends too much time talking their weight or men of other races. Alternatively it is a woman with marginal talent but who has survived some personal tragedy making the audience feel sorry for her. Examples include Margaret Cho, Tig Notaro, Lisa Lampanelli and Melissa McCarthy.
Category 4: The ones whose act is to be the girl next door who talks dirty and insults everybody.
Probably the most recent but prominent category containing some of most overexposed comedians. The default persona of comedians in this category is a reasonably OK looking woman whose claim to fame is based on saying “shocking” things and insulting other people and minorities. They differ from those in category 3 by not being obese or ugly. Examples include Sarah Silverman, Amy Schumer and some from category 2 such as Whitney Cummings and Chelsea Handler. They are similar to those in Category 2- but are far more focused on conventional success and fame.
Category 5: The ones whose acts are essentially exaggerated quirkiness.
This category includes women whose act is almost exclusively centered around their quirky looks and/or voice. In other words, their act would not be funny if it was done by somebody who did not look or sound quirky. This is basically the female counterpart of the retarded clown-type acts among male comedians. Examples include Kristen Schaal, Jenny Slate, Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer.
Category 6: The ones whose looks make up for the quality of their comedy.
Female comedians in this category are largely known for their good looks. While some exhibit flashes of actual talent, their careers are highly dependent on their looks. In other words, most people would not pay money to see their acts if they looked average. Examples include Nikki Glaser, Anjelah Johnson, Kate McKinnon and ex-lookers such as Chelsea Handler (pre-2003) and Natasha Leggero (pre-2008).
Category 7: The ones whose fame is largely due to who they are dating or related to.
Well.. these are the ones who are incredibly bad at their craft but somehow keep on getting TV gigs and specials. One of the best example in this category is Chelsea Peretti- a “comedian” whose inexplicable success becomes more understandable once you realize that her brother is Jonah Peretti (one of the founders of Buzzfeed) and is currently dating Jordan Peele (of Key and Peele fame).
What do you think? Comments?
As part of my decision to write more frequent posts on this blog, I am going to write more shorter (between 400-800 words) posts on contemporary events- as opposed to only writing less frequent and almost always delayed longer posts on more systemic issues. I used to do that a lot until early- 2014, when I tried to focus on longer posts. In retrospective, that was not a good idea as frequent shorter posts are necessary for longer posts and series. It did not help that I had a series of unexpected and unnecessary distractions in my life during the last year or two. Anyway, now that things look good enough I have decided to fix this issue. Also, I am going to be less of a perfectionist and change my style of writing- a bit.
So, let us talk about the Hillary Clinton email controversy. As many (or all) of you know by now- Hillary Clinton exclusively used her family’s private email server, rather than her official government email accounts maintained on government servers for official email communications when she served as United States Secretary of State. While this problem first came to public attention in March 2015, it was known to insiders as early as sometime in 2009. While she has consistently maintained that her choice to use a private email server was driven by a desire for convenience, it is no secret that almost nobody else is buying that explanation. Also, that issue refuses to die out.
Why would Hillary Clinton do something that was so blatantly stupid and which was almost guaranteed to haunt her later- especially if she was going to run for public office down the road?
The conventional popular explanation for her decision is a combination of hubris and a general unfamiliarity with technology. However I think that the real explanation is a bit more complex. To understand her decision, you have to first understand the time-line and circumstances surrounding her decision to use a private email server. Hillary accepted the job for Secretary of State in January 2009 under Obama, just a few months after he had defeated her in the race for the democratic presidential nomination. It was clear Hillary understood that she had no chance to pull of a repeat for 4.. maybe 8 more years. But have you ever wondered why she accepted that job in the first place? Was it for the salary? Was it for the experience and public visibility? Or.. was it something else?
It is clear that neither she nor her husband had any immediate need for money as they were already making tens of millions a year from “public speaking engagements” for large corporations. While her decision to work as the Secretary of State did give her more visibility and experience than sitting on the board of directors of multiple NGOs, it is at best part of the story. In my opinion, the main reason behind her decision to work as Secretary of State and host her official server on a private server are inextricably linked. It is also the main reason why she ran, and was elected as senator from New York before that.
It was mostly about repaying all those individuals and corporations who had previously “donated” money to her and her husbands “campaigns” with governmental favors.
While most people in the USA might believe that their country is nowhere as corrupt as those “other” countries where everyone and their dog takes bribes, the reality is rather different. See.. all those countries where everyone takes bribes are just more open about the reality of living in dysfunctional oligarchies. In any case, small-time bribery is about making enough money to live well rather than make tons more money- which brings us to the issue of large-scale governmental corruption. The biggest difference between large-scale corruption and its more ubiquitous small-scale version is the former is universal in its extent. Large-scale corruption occurs at almost identical levels in countries as diverse as Germany, Japan, India, China and the USA. Some of them just “legalize” it to make themselves look more honest (at least to themselves) than others.
In the USA large-scale corruption often involves compensating politicians by channeling money through “legal” schemes such as public speaking fees, consultation fees, campaign donations, positions on corporate boards etc. One consequence of this particular system of bribery is that politicians are required to indirectly repay these donations once they get in office by passing laws and regulations that favor their donors. Consequently, a politician cannot expect to keep on getting corporate money through “legal” schemes unless they are likely to win a future election or else somehow get into the government.
It is no secret that the Clintons made many tens of millions in such “legal” schemes after Bill left office in early-2001. So why would rich individuals and corporations keep on paying the Clintons after that? While it is possible that they may have done so to benefit from Bill’s familiarity with people who were still inside the government and/or Hillary’s position as a national senator from New York- it is far more likely that her donors were banking on Hillary wining the 2008 democratic presidential nomination and general election, which was especially likely after the two disastrous terms of Bush43. But things did not go as planned and Obama won both the nomination and election. At this stage, Hillary had no option but to take the highest governmental position she could get her hands on. Failing to do so would have resulted in a sharp curtailment of future lucrative “corporate speaking engagements” and other legalized bribery schemes which made her somewhat rich. After getting that job Hillary had to keep in touch with her corporate owners and return their favors BUT she also had to do it in a way that left few (if any) definitive records of such exchanges.
And that is why Hillary Clinton decided to use a private email server for handling all official email communications when she served as United States Secretary of State from 2009-2013.
What do you think? Comments?
In a series of previous posts, I had made the claim that human beings are predominantly motivated by a seemingly unquenchable desire to hurt, abuse, enslave or kill others- even if they do not stand to gain from such actions. I also showed how my model of human motivations is a far more rational (if distinctly unpleasant) explanation for supposedly inexplicable human behaviors such as the desire to accumulate extremely large amounts of money, risk your life for fighting wars that enrich a few or exhibit strong belief in any religious ideology. I will now extend that particular line of thinking to show you how public morality is based in the fundamental human desire to harm others. To be clear, I am defining public morality as a set of beliefs or worldview forced by some people on others to achieve some supposedly positive goals, ranging from creating “stable” social systems or “improving” some aspect of the general state of humanity to “saving” the world. The short version of my theory is as follows:
All types and forms of public morality (religious or secular) are grounded in the human desire to hurt, abuse, enslave or kill other people.
Here are two examples of what I am talking about..
Inspite of what of its defenders still say, practice of the caste (jati) in India was and still is the largest and best example of an entire region of the world systemically screwing itself for no rational gain. While we can debate about the role of Muslim and British rule in shaping certain aspects of system, especially as it appears today, it is clear that practice of caste (jati) had severely damaged civil society in India many centuries prior to the rise of non-indigenous rulers. Infact, I would argue that Muslim and British conquest of India was almost entirely possible because the system had inhibited development of functional societies which could support united action against external invaders.
There is a lot of historical evidence which suggests that Indians tried hard not to learn from either their military success or setbacks, let alone history. Nor did they want to be involved in doing anything that was considered “foreign”- and that included making quality guns, wearing tailored clothes, building better ships or using the printing press. It is no secret the considerations of caste (jati) and “ritual purity” were largely behind these and many other disastrous decisions made by the overwhelming majority of indians for many centuries. So, how do you rationally explain the enthusiastic willingness of hundreds of millions over a period of more than a thousand years to deliberately ignore the proverbial writing on the wall? Also, why would any non-retarded person buy into and enthusiastically defend a mindset and worldview that was plainly inadequate?
While traditionalist types have long argued that the caste system provided public morality goods such as “stability” and “order”, there is a lot of evidence which shows that system was almost never able to provide either as illustrated by the innumerable accounts of wanton murder and plunder by muslim and british rulers. So what did it really provide to its ardent believers and supporters? Well.. based on it worked in real life, it is clear that the system was consistently able to consistently provide just one product to its believers, namely a pre-made worldview which allowed them to justify horrendous levels of neglect, abuse and mistreatment of other people. Moreover, unlike classical racism (which makes it kinda hard to blatantly fuck over against someone in your own large group) the presence of a large number of castes, sub-castes and jatis make it possible for almost everyone to participate in the game of fucking over somebody else.
In other words, the caste (jati) system was incapable of providing its believers anything beyond a justification for the neglect, abuse and mistreatment of other people. We therefore have to seriously consider the possibility that extensive and long-lived social systems which impose significant negative costs on its believers can be kept alive and fueled almost entirely by the apparently widespread (but hidden) human desire to hurt, abuse, enslave and kill other people. As you will see, this phenomena is hardly restricted to one particular traditional belief system or region of the world.
Example 2 : Monotheism, especially its Judeo-Christian-Islamic version
As I previously mentioned- the human desire to hurt, abuse, enslave or kill others is hardly restricted to those who claim to believe in multiple “gods”. Infact, the history of monotheistic faiths provides some of the most compelling examples of religion being a force for evil. Just think of all the innumerable acts of personal violence, wars and genocides performed under the guise of supporting the “one true faith” and “one true god” who just so happens to be one the perpetrators of the said actions worship. But all this talk about the history of religion-inspired violence raises an important, but often ignored, class of questions.
Why did so many people who had no real hope of material gain from participating in such acts nevertheless enthusiastically participate in them? Why were so many desperately poor and deprived people so willing to fight against people they barely knew? Why were so many people willing to suffer serious injury or death for highly dubious causes? What did so many gain from participating as the enthusiastic cannon fodder?
The conventional explanation for the willing and enthusiastic participation of most people in such acts is that they were gullible idiots who were brainwashed by the “high IQ” elites into doing all those things. But was that ever the case? Were most people stupid enough to believe that a god unable to help them feed their chronically ill and hungry children was real? Were they stupid enough to believe that those who ruled them were actually good human beings? Were they incapable of observing that conflicts and wars always hurt people like them far more than the few who profited from them? I mean.. what did they really gain from all this bullshit?
My alternative explanation is that religion simply provided a cover for all those people to indulge their appetite for hurting, abusing, enslaving and killing other people. They kept on participating in such behavior and actions even when it caused them considerable personal losses. In other words, even a significant risk of personal hardship, losses or even death (in addition to the lack of personal material gain) is not enough to stop most people from indulging their appetite of hurting and killing other people.
Upcoming posts in this series will look at a number of everyday and supposedly “normal” examples of public morality- from why certain things are NSFW, what actually is behind the public support for the USA-led war on Drugs, why religious conservatives oppose abortion, why many men oppose prostitution to why those most negatively affected by capitalism and the nation-state are often their most enthusiastic supporters. I will also talk about how supposedly do-gooder movements such MADD, PETA etc and the whole panoply of movements to “stop” global climate change are actually driven by the need to screw over other people rather than help them.
What do you think? Comments?