random musings / rant / russian politics

Intellectually impoverished affairs

At certain venues (and on the internet as well), pro-Russian and centrist-minded Russia watchers often are criticized for holding the beliefs that they do. I’m of course not referring to logical, facts-based criticism which offers a legitimate counter-argument. I’m referring to quick, reflexive responses utilized to smear opponents and stifle debate without expending much effort.

As a Russia-watcher who hasn’t committed herself to either the pro- or anti-Russian side, I often find myself caught in the crossfire. More often than not, it’s a person with anti-Russian views who gets pissed off by my efforts to maintain relative neutrality and/or correct misconceptions about Russia. Rarely I’ll get a pro-Russian person who takes issue with my criticisms of modern Russia (for pro-Russian POVs are rare indeed in the States). I in turn get annoyed when the same old easily-refutable tropes are trotted out again and again. Why people find it advantageous to use these tropes, I may never know. What I do know is that they’re great for use in rhetorical exercises. I’ve collected several of the most frequently encountered attacks along with possible refutations in this post. Most of the examples are ones I have actually encountered at some point during my short Russia-watching “career”.

Love it? Then go there.

ex. “If you like Russia so much, and think it’s so much better, then why don’t you promptly go move there and leave us alone?”

The implication here is that you’re completely wrong in your opinion of Russia – that if you lived there, you’d experience certain disillusionment, which is presumably the way you should feel.

I have several refutations for this, the first being that who I am and where I live has little bearing on the validity of the arguments I make about Russia, provided those arguments are based on facts and logic. I think it’s great if one has traveled to Russia or spoken to real Russians (and I think every serious Russia-watcher should try to visit Russia at least once*), but unfortunately not everyone has the opportunity to do so. That is where hard facts help.

Usually when this argument is pulled out, I haven’t actually been arguing that Russia is better (or worse) than any other country – rather, I’ve been arguing that Russia is not as bad or doomed as often portrayed in the West. Proving Russia is better/worse is actually a pretty hard and trivial task, given that there are numerous cultural factors and circumstances that would influence such a judgment and make it extremely subjective. The “Love it then go there” argument often mistakes a policy of correcting certain blatant misconceptions about Russia with believing it is the #1 best country ever.

There is also a long list of very legitimate reasons a Russia-watcher may not live in Russia, which include:

  • (s)he has no citizenship or residency
  • (s)he hasn’t mastered the Russian language
  • (s)he emigrated from Russia at a young age
  • (s)he might not want to make a cardinal change in life so quickly
  • (s)he doesn’t want to leave behind accumulated social investments in the country (s)he resides (ex. family, friends, job, kids, property, spouse/significant other)
  • (s)he is a full-time student in the current country of residence

The Kremlin Agent/Putin’s Bootlicker

ex. (on the internet) “You’re a KGB/FSB agent, tasked with whitewashing the thugs who rule Russia for a Western audience. Looks like the Kremlin has finally gained control over all the Russian media and is now trying to spread propaganda on the internet. Why should I trust anything you say?”

ex. (In conversation) “Just listen to yourself, J.T.! Your defense of Russia makes little sense. Is someone paying you to lick Putin’s boots like that? You sound like one of the “useful idiots” of yore.”

Accusing me of working for the Kremlin is probably not a wise move. Who I work for is of no essential consequence here, since an appeal to motive is a formal logical fallacy. You can determine how reliable I am by either reading my commentary (on the internet)**, or asking me about my sources (in conversations). I try to source my assertions meticulously when I can.

How dare you defend Putinocracy!!!

ex. “You’re sitting here in the USA, where you’re free to say whatever you want, and you dare defend the Putinocracy that brainwashes its own citizens and kills the brave democratic journalists who dare to speak out against it?”

Refer to the refutations above under “Love it then go there”.

By the way, why do you assume that “Putinocracy” is worse than any realistic alternatives? (Do you know what such alternatives are?) Such an assumption relies on truthiness, which is another logical fallacy.

Potemkin Country

ex. “Why bother supporting a doomed country like Russia? You do realize that as soon as oil prices fall, the plaster will peel away and Russia will collapse…as will your defense of it?”

This argument, like the one before it, suffers from truthiness. And its historical track record has been…well, poor. Few were able to predict the collapse of the Soviet Union in ’91, but The Economist has predicted a miraculous 6 of the Russian Federation’s past 0 collapses.

And my personal favorite: the ad-hominem.

ex. “You’re an amoral Putin lackey”

ex. “your writing is an intellectually impoverished affair” (Someone told this to my face. In real life.)

ex. “Russophile trash”

ex. “CIA operative”

ex. “Breathing the Kremlin glue”

ex. “Why don’t you scuttle back to RT, where your agenda’s actually tolerated”

ex. “You’re obviously trying to undermine US National Security”

ex. “You’re obviously trying to undermine Russian sovereignty”

ex. “just another fool on the Kremlin payroll”

ex. “Not fit to be a blogger”

I know, I’m such a horrible person right? But not a word about my actual arguments – it seems you’re not equipped with the tools to refute them properly.


*For the record, I’ve spoken to quite a few Russians in the real world, including young people, emigres and current Russian citizens. I have yet to actually visit Russia and experience it for myself, which I strongly believe I need to do.

**But I don’t do analysis on this blog, so I guess that’s not much of an issue.

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2 thoughts on “Intellectually impoverished affairs

  1. I was referred as “the sovok freak” by ANAtoLiy Karlin himself. Made me proud of myself.

    I’ve been called “Ivan”, “Kremlin Stooge”, “Russophile”, “Occidentophobe”, “Rabid Russian Nationalist”, “Stalin Apologist”, “Putin’s Troll” and many, many amazing (and hardly translatable) terms by EuroUkrs. Still don’t regret that. But the fact that I “broke” Tolik Karlin – oh, this memory I will always cherish.

    He can provide a good analysis when he wants. But he is a typical Russian émigré in all other respects. And long life in the US certainly rubbed a wrong way into him. Previously, I thought “Well, at least we Russians don’t have an analog of something like Ukrainian Ontario’s Diaspora telling their fellow countrymen how to praise Bandera and Shukhevitch and how to hate the USSR, Moskals and Juden-Bolsheviks”. But then I familiarized (after a time-skip from 2011 to 2016) myself with Karlin’s blog on UNZ and the general crowd of his commencers.

    Well, now I know that there is, apparently, a certain part of “Russian” emigrants in America who are neither Jewish or Liberal (or both), and who fiery, passionately HATE everything related to Russian history from 1917 till 1991 (and beyond…) and who seem to be hell-bent on imparting their “wisdom” on their unfortunate cousins in the Old Country. How such pseudo-patriots can become the most rabid Russophobes working actively to undermine the land of their ancestors in alliance with the very forces they claim to despise so much I’ve already explain on the example of Boris Jordan.

    I mean – getting dissed by a bunch of liberasts, EuroUkrs + their Diaspora, Western Russophobes from either gung-ho interventionist right-wing camp and lily-livered “libruls” is one thing. Getting dissed by an émigré who claims to represent Russia more than me, a person born, raised and still residing here – well, this is a new level!

    I don’t have any good “100% sure to work” advice here, J.T. We are in different situations. We are different persons, with different experience and different view on what is acceptable and what is not. My response to such form of “cyber-bullying” (because, seriously, why apply this term only on handshakable targets?) is to up the ante, bully in turn while sticking to the fact and not – entirely – employ ad hominems as much as your opponent. I sincerely hope that announced by A. Karlin review of his moderation policy on comments has something to do with me and what I wrote there. But, hey – that’s me! Being banned in lots of places for me is a badge of honor! Should I get a tattoo for every ban, warning or deat of my accounts at places where I dared to voice a different point of view (especially in the heady days of 2014-15), well, I’d look like this:

    Such comments has nothing to do with objectivity. There is propaganda war waged right now. It always gets toxic and it always supports itself on people’s ignorance. People are assholes and given an opportunity will always insult their fellow human being. That’s not breaking news. That’s the reality we live in.

    Funny thing though – Western propaganda machine is incredibly shameless. In 1941-45 it produced a massive wave of stuff to prove to their own people that the Soviet Russia is their friend, totally ignoring all what was said before the War. Naturally, after the fall of Berlin this wave also became totally forgotten replaced by a hysterical anti-communist wave. And supposedly culturally superior Westerners ate that. “We were always at war with East-Asia” (c) was written not about the USSR, but about the West and this still rings true.

    Who in the West among the “Enlightened Public” really cared about the Ukraine or could even find a Crimea on the map before 2014? In 2013 they became suddenly concerned about the gay rights in Russia, as if in the glorious 90s we had a triumph of Tolerism and pride parades every second week. And why should they? It’s really oh-so-convenient to blame Putin on zombifying his population with the use of the “state-controlled media”. How are you, ordinary Westerners, different? You form your outlook based on the Media you consume. And there is no such thing as truly Free, Independent and Objective Media.

    Or are you surprised that the people of your circle, like Uni students-teachers, people supposedly receiving superior education, can blurt such thing to you in real life? Well, you shouldn’t. Possession of the information (“knowledge”) doesn’t necessary translate into ability to process it (“intellect”) and then make correct decisions based on that (“wisdom”).

    P.S.
    The one who said “an intellectually impoverished affair” thing might be an aspiring Shakespearian, hoping that his quips will become as immortal as the “chink in the armour” or “hoist by one’s own petard”. Let said individual hope!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. LOL! I’ve been accused of every single one of these things. And I always try to be calm, civil and polite in my exchanges – simply trying to use facts, logic and my experience traveling to Russia to correct misconceptions, not stating that Russia is the greatest thing since sliced bread even – and I’ve still gotten them.

    In my experience, our corporate (and even some of our alternative) media have done a fine job inculcating a visceral hatred and sense of superiority against Russia among liberals even more than conservatives and moderates. They have such an emotional investment in believing that Russia is the dark and inferior, unenlightened twin that they are compelled to resort to just about anything to stop the cognitive dissonance when presented with evidence that what they’ve been taught isn’t so simple or accurate.

    I really think that we need more cultural and educational exchanges between the two countries to start to cut through some of this garbage. Only a small percentage of Americans travel outside the US and of those, most don’t visit Russia, which makes it easier for these dangerously inaccurate tropes to get a foothold.

    I can’t count how many people I’ve shown my Russia photos to and had responses like “Gee, I didn’t know there were such beautiful places in Russia.” Like they really believed that the country resembled the set of The Swamp Thing. Even little things like that can plant a seed.

    Speaking of beauty, here is a 22 minute video of the Scarlet Sails event in St. Petersburg – the city lit up at night along with the sounds of talented musicians. Unlike me, you’ll be able to understand some of the Russian narration as well.

    Liked by 1 person

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