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.
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.