Opinions

The Reality of the American and Russian Myths in America And the Environment That Sustains Them

The relentless and escalating propaganda war that Washington has been zealously pursuing against Russia has placed increased emphasis on the undeniable and glaring fact that informed knowledge about world events is woefully lacking among the general public in America. This is nothing new of course, but as we move farther into this dangerous scenario the long-term implications are become ever more alarming.

Washington does not want to see and in fact fears a strong and independent Russia, and the regrettable result could very well see Russia as our enemy once again. This is most unfortunate as it benefits no one in the long term, and as an American it is extremely dismaying to see this happen. Indeed, our government has set us on a very dangerous course, and it would be beneficial if more American citizens would recognize and challenge government and mainstream media rhetoric.

The sad fact is that many people either cannot or will not recognize that their opinions and world views have been shaped for them. But how to make people aware and concerned enough to want to mitigate the effects of a lifetime of programmed learning? This is a monumental task to undertake, and one that many would argue is pointless, but nonetheless it must at least be attempted, because to do otherwise would be a failure of social conscience and responsibility.

To get an understanding of the scope of this problem, it is important to recognize the systems and mindsets in place in American society that are obstacles to educated opinions and common sense. The following are my perceptions resulting from a lifetime of observation and experience living in America, and are meant merely to provide an overview.

There exists in American culture a myth which asserts that America is a great shining beacon of freedom, liberty, democracy, happiness and opportunity for all, and that we are truly blessed and exceptional. This is what all Americans have been raised to believe for generations, and many do believe in it whole-heartedly. This myth has been deliberately perpetuated and cultivated, but to blindly buy into this, especially now, is folly. It presents us with a Utopian idealistic society that is not at all supported by the reality of today. To put it another way, the facts no longer support the myth.

Our system is breaking down and our government is wreaking havoc at home and abroad. This cannot go on indefinitely without disastrous consequences, and it is becoming more apparent that Washington is out of line, out of control, and very dangerous. The form this government has taken is no longer recognizable, functional, or safe for anyone anywhere, and for this we are all paying the price. As the corruption, lies and hypocrisy become more blatantly obvious their rhetoric is becoming louder, more irrational, and there is evidence of panic beneath the surface. Slowly, very slowly, some Americans are finally taking notice.

Unfortunately, not only is that not happening fast enough,  many are only concerned with what is happening in America and not in the rest of the world. They fail to grasp and appreciate the negative consequences of American foreign policy, not only for other countries but domestically too. They can’t see or refuse to believe that this government thrives on having enemies, and ultimately it matters not who those enemies are. Yesterday it was the Islamist extremists, today its Russia, and eventually, completing a process that has actually already started, they will turn inward and we will become the terrorists.

Existing alongside this myth there is a Russian myth as well. This alleges that Russia is inherently bad, untrustworthy, aggressive, and is the antitheses of democracy. This mentality is a remnant of the Cold War that Washington is loath to relinquish and in fact encourages every chance they get. Keeping Russia in the role of villain has its uses for them. At home especially, making Russia out to be the aggressor and thereby a real threat, serves to deflect from their own aggressive actions and agenda. To accept the Russian myth as truth is to believe in a reality that has been contrived and nurtured to further the ambitions of a particular section of our society, and it is not done in the best interest of anyone else.

Not everybody believes the negative hype completely of course, but enough do that it is a major cause for concern, and underlines just how little most Americans truly know about Russia. What is really strange is when one takes into account the old saying, know your enemy. How many Americans, especially those who regard Russia as an enemy or even a potential one, know much about her at all? If there are any I’ve yet to run across them.

This demonstrates perfectly how pre-programmed as a society we truly are, but the program logic is faulty. The Soviet Union no longer exists, and the Russia of today has made great strides in the re-building and strengthening of the country. Have they left behind the Soviet Union completely? No, of course not, how can they?  Like it or not, the Soviet Union is a part of their past and always will be, but Russia has a long and storied history which includes much more than their Soviet past. In fact, one aspect of Russian history that Americans tend to scoff at and disbelieve is that there are unimaginable horrors in Russia’s past that Americans simply cannot even begin to comprehend because there is nothing in our history to compare to it. Point this out and see what kind of reaction you get.

Allowing these two myths to continue unchallenged is neither healthy nor advantageous. It is long past time to confront the effects of the propaganda machine which rules over almost every aspect of American society. As an explanation of what is, or what is not, happening in regards to American response to their government’s actions, the opinion has been expressed many times that Americans are just stupid and lazy, but this is too simplistic and lacking in substance.

This is a multi-faceted and complex issue and it is necessary to examine the various underlying factors and problems that are in place that allows these two myths to not only survive but to thrive, thereby blinding people to the reality of the world they live in. To get a firm grasp on our very poor understanding and treatment of Russia it would be useful to consider the following. Although listed and briefly described here, these can be found buried within the two myths themselves, if one looks hard enough. Invariably I will not hit them all, so this list will not be all inclusive. Once again, I stress that these are my perceptions. Others may disagree.

Lack of Relevant Education – This is a huge concern that is not only a problem in and of itself, but one that if addressed effectively could do much to fix the others. The public education system in America has become politicized to the point that it is ineffective and redundant. The propaganda indoctrination starts here. Emphasis is placed on rote learning, testing, and unquestioning obedience to the school system. The curriculum is narrowly defined and in general lacks true objective investigative techniques and analysis. Furthermore, there are two vital elements in education that are absolutely necessary for true learning and development to occur. One is the promotion and application of critical thinking and the other is the unrestricted utilization of the question why.  It is important to note that it is not that these have been removed from the educational system, but that their role has been perverted and controlled. The use of these two essential learning blocks is encouraged only in the context of what is deemed permissible and acceptable. Thinking too far outside the defined parameters of the box and too much questioning is discouraged and is viewed in a suspicious manner. The private religious educational system too has its controls. While overall the quality of the education is somewhat better than the public system because it is more in depth and not subject to state standards, efforts are in place to mold the thinking of the young to align with a certain belief system. This also restricts the questioning and thinking process. In addition, subjects such as history and geography are for the most part taught from the American perspective only. Colleges and universities too are not the famed halls of learning they once were as now they have become big business, and are run with the bottom line and socially acceptable appearances in mind.  These approaches to education are counter-productive and lack common sense. We truly live in a global, interactive world today and exposure to other perspectives, cultures, and histories through quality and relevant education is vital in order to not only understand and make sense of this world, but to be able to effectively participate in it, and with it.

A Corrupt Media – This is rather self-explanatory, as it is blatantly obvious that American media has been bought and paid for, effectively abandoning the principles of their profession. Their screaming headlines blaming Putin and Russia for everything is not only one-sided but revolting. An enormous amount of blame can be laid at the media’s feet for the disinformation the general public is receiving. It is ultimately their job to keep the government accountable to the public but this is not happening. The propaganda machine is sustained and maintained here through the endorsement of the government’s stance on all topics, including Russia, so that those who get all their news from these sources are not getting the full story. What they are getting are deliberate lies, half-truths, and misdirection. There are other alternate news sources of course, but not everyone accesses them, or has access to them. Additionally, investigative journalism in America is not the securest of professions anymore, and anyone who is a whistle-blower is not safe. If we completely lose our ability to keep the government accountable then we are all in serious trouble, and we’re not too far from that becoming a reality right now.

The Politically Correct Culture – I tend to equate this with societal suicide. The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines politically correct as “agreeing with the idea that people should be careful to not use language or behave in a way that could offend a particular group of people”. Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? I believe it used to just be called common courtesy or good manners, but this has morphed into something that seems to have taken on a life of its own. We are now a society of victims. Law-abiding citizen or criminal, male or female, black or white, young or old, rich or poor, it doesn’t really matter. We are all victims. Who then, are the offenders? Well, since we are all victims, and we are all standing around looking at each other, then we must all be offenders too. Unfortunately, instead of making people more sensitive to others this culture has had the opposite effect.  In other words, it allows those who are actually being offensive to turn it around, put the blame for their actions and words elsewhere, claim they are the victims, and then continue with their offensive behavior, most of the time with society’s approval.  It has become an integral part of the political machine in society by ultimately discouraging responsibility and accountability while encouraging and advocating questionable, unethical, and sometimes dangerous behavior. This mentality allows those in power to justify their lifestyle. It’s all about appearances and adhering to their definition of what is socially acceptable. This can be seen in action daily in all segments of society as there are all these mini political environments operating within the context of the larger one. Character traits such as honesty, integrity, and dignity are not valued, and in fact anyone who truly possesses them is in the minority. On the bigger stage we are also seeing this negative way of thinking and behaving at play now in Washington’s attitude and responses regarding Ukraine and their attempts to alienate and isolate Russia. By observing and discerning available information it is not hard to figure out what is going on and that Russia is being blamed for our bad behavior.

Distraction and Misdirection – These are two very effective tools that are absolutely loaded with possible subject material so I will have to take a broad view. Let’s start with the most obvious and easily recognizable which would be media and advertising. American society has become so flooded with noise, visuals, and choices that it is mind numbing. The more overwhelmed and distracted people are the less they notice what is really happening, and people aren’t going to complain about what they don’t notice, are they? Cell phones, TV’s, games, gadgets, and sports – everything needed to do your thinking for you and occupy your time and attention, and advertising is notorious for planting the idea that by using their products or services you will be happier, feel better, look better, live longer, save money, etc. etc., all the while employing  intrusive and rude methods. Distraction and misdirection are also played out in the social issues within the country, which by their very nature lack permanent solutions. People are never going to completely agree on issues like abortion, gay marriage or gun control, and the dominance of any social issue at a given time varies and comes and goes in cycles. Things will heat up about a particular issue and there will be a lot of attention given to it, and then it will fade until something pushes it to the forefront again. When this happens it is very useful in distracting American attention away from what the government is doing domestically in regards to federal spending, NSA spying, or the erosion of the 4th Amendment, to name but a few, and these flare ups are more than likely intentional for that very reason. Finally, these methods have been instrumental in the international arena in pushing Washington’s agenda in Ukraine, and in their treatment of Russia.

Apathy and Bliss in Ignorance – These problems are prevalent and becoming more pronounced in American society as the standard of living continues to deteriorate. Conditions such as unemployment and low wages along with increases in the cost of living and taxes are proving to be more of a drain on people’s resources as time passes. Living paycheck to paycheck, as many do, and having to make choices between buying food and necessities or paying bills, and tending to their families, is all many can cope with. The reality of such an existence leads to disinterest and indifference in events that do not have an immediate impact on daily life. Then there are those who are happily ignorant. These people simply do not know, do not want to know, do not care that they don’t know, and will readily admit to it because they are wrapped up in their own worlds and that is all that really matters to them. As long as they have what they need and want then they are content. In both of these groups however, you will also find that people will shrug and ask “What can I do?” They express the opinion that they are just one person and there is nothing they can do to change anything. Think how easy it would be for the government if we all had that attitude.

Isolation – With the exceptions of Canada and Mexico, America is physically too far away from all that is occurring in the rest of the world. Granted, we have moved beyond the times when information took weeks or months to be relayed; it is instantaneous now. But the sheer distances involved provides a real disconnect and a false sense of security. Watching an event thousands of miles away unfold on a screen is not the same as having it happen in your own backyard. With many people, unless they can relate to something or feel threatened by it on a personal level, they are unlikely to be overly concerned. Additionally, the geographic isolation experienced by the country as a whole can also be applied to individuals. Obviously this does not include everyone, but there are huge numbers of Americans who have never been outside of their own community let alone outside of the country. This physical isolation serves the propaganda purposes of our government quite well because for the most part we lack experience, understanding and empathy of other cultures and ways of life. This then causes us to project our American values, morals, and expectations on the rest of the world, which is exactly what the government wants. This is a great contributor to the idea of American exceptionalism, and when Americans think of places like Russia it seems so far away and foreign that it may as well be on another planet.

Cold War Mentality – As mentioned previously, Washington has done nothing to move America past this, and in fact is doing all they can to make sure it endures. This is totally unfair to Russia who has attempted to move past it, and they have made great strides in this respect. Washington refuses to acknowledge any of this however, and will jump at any chance they get to point an accusing finger at Russia. It is hard to conceive why they would want to risk another cold war, but their actions give the impression that they want one. There are reasons they may want one, such as hegemony and resources, which have been discussed extensively elsewhere, but I believe there is another underlying reason that, perhaps unconsciously, plays a part. Washington is both fearful and jealous of Putin, which in turn makes them angry and spiteful, and it’s not too much of a stretch to see this. Putin is the strongest leader Russia has had in a very long time and possesses qualities that are lacking in American leaders. Under his leadership Russia is getting stronger, and his foreign policies and skills are very effectual. He has proven that he can handle pressure, and demonstrates professionalism, restraint, and common sense.  He also happens to have a very competent foreign minister in Lavrov. Together they make an effective and successful team which really underscores Washington’s own incompetence, and this infuriates them. They cannot tolerate being bested in any way.

Hopefully this goes a little way in helping to explain from one Americans’ point of view the reality of what is happening in America, and the major obstacles that will need to be overcome to increase awareness in the general public. This can all be broken down and expanded on of course, but that is too much to undertake for the purposes of this article.

The goal here is twofold. One is to encourage people to investigate everything, question everything, and realize just how much their thinking is influenced by others who have no one’s best interest at heart except their own. I don’t know about anyone else, but as much as possible I do not want my opinions to be dictated to me. I want to own them through my own efforts. The other is to encourage people to research and learn about Russian culture, history, and current events in order to increase understanding, empathy, and cooperation.

Russia is not some terrible country full of terrible people, but a country with its own strengths and weaknesses and with a valid right to exist and prosper. They are definitely not deserving of the treatment they are currently receiving, and the gulf between Russia and America must be bridged for there to be any real and lasting progress and peace between us.

Opinions

Confronting Human Nature

There comes a point in the process of any endeavor when it’s time to pause and take stock of what’s come before, what lies ahead, and what needs attention. The path my writing has taken has left an open issue that I think needs to be addressed before continuing on.

It is usually considered preferable, when pointing out problems, to offer up some kind of solution as well. Yet I haven’t really done that and it’s time to explain why. I am not a philosopher, but I write from a philosophical perspective and look beneath problems and situations for the underlying motivations and factors present in human nature which are at the core of all problems.

When it comes to human nature there really are no answers, solutions or quick fixes, yet it’s essential to recognize and understand that they are always in play. The role of human nature in our affairs is hugely important and consequential and cannot be understated. This nature is a condition in our existence that should not be ignored or discounted because it’s considered unsolvable or inevitable. To put it bluntly, I have offered up observations with no solutions because I simply don’t have any.

It’s also the reason why it’s not really addressed by all the talking heads debating and discussing the world’s problems. They don’t have any answers either and when solutions to problems are suggested or pursued they tend to amount to little more than Band-Aids and aspirin. The bleeding may slow and the symptoms may subside, but the problem is still there and will eventually flare up again, either in the same place or somewhere different. It’s like treating the symptoms for a disease that is incurable.

Yet it must be acknowledged that it’s hard, if not impossible, to get a handle on human nature to control or shape it in such a way as to minimize negative intentions and consequences. Humans are aggressive, ambitious, and self-absorbed, and have always been so. But how do we master these tendencies? I wish I had the magic answer that could bring about the solution to the dilemmas our nature has brought to this world. But I don’t, nor does anyone else.

This cannot be solved through religion, which itself has been a huge offender, nor through the social sciences. There is little that is tangible in what they do, as there are simply too many variables in play for any one size fits all solution. Although we know certain things about our own nature it simply cannot be pinned down. We are unable to re-wire our hardware and this causes problems that multiply and worsen.

These traits in our nature are glaringly evident yet the civilized modernity of our busy world fools many. The business suits, polished language, and technological advancements have given a cover of acceptability and even value to harmful and counterproductive practices and mindsets. Deceit cloaked with cunning appearances trumps real time effects and results, and this makes that nature more dangerous than ever. We need to open our eyes – not to how things look, but to how they actually are.

I don’t believe that the negative aspects to our nature can ever be conquered, but a collective awareness of their existence and role behind the scenes could help to rein them in. This is why I write about these things. It’s time to pull the pretty cover off and face the ugliness below. Human nature has its positive side and we have come far in some respects, but those who are dominated by the negative are in many positions of power and influence and we are seeing devastating results of this everywhere.

To turn things around is going to require a huge displacement of the negative with the positive. If we are even capable of doing this remains to be seen, but our future may very well depend on it. This is what I see when looking at the state of our world today, and I’m sure many others see it too. It’s not pretty yet I make no apologies for it. I’m not sure how my writing will progress in future, but for now anyway this is the premise that defines it.

Opinions

A Seat at the Table

Everyone old enough to think for themselves has formed opinions. This is a normal part of our intellectual nature. In the online world opinions can be found in everything from Social Media and blogs, to op-ed articles and comment sections. It seems everyone has an opinion and the venues for stating them are there, but it’s not an equal opportunity playing field. Only within certain groups are opinions given any meaningful acknowledgment. For the rest of us it can be a real struggle to assert ourselves and our right to expression and participation.

Opinion writing for citizens is a form of passive resistance, and one of the few means available to state our concerns and frustrations in a controlled way. Unfortunately, legitimacy and recognition of an opinion is given only when an opinion comes from someone of professional or public standing. For those of us who do not meet that criteria, our opinions are readily dismissed regardless of quality, relevance, or intent. Citizen opinions are thought to be formed out of ignorance and stupidity and therefore lacking merit, but this too is nothing more than an opinion. Everyone forms opinions according to available information, and there is often much that is withheld, distorted, or misrepresented according to whims of the powers that be.

However, awareness of what is happening in the world has been heightened and we can now observe for ourselves more fully, in a way previously unknown, the real depth of the propaganda – those biases, personal interests, and agendas that exist and that we are continually exposed to. We now have access to more diverse news sources than ever before and no longer have to be confined to a narrow pre-determined and controlled selection. This has become a thorn in the side for those who have positions of power, authority, and the ear of the public as it has become harder for them to further their own agendas with impunity.

Governments and Politicians – They have been busy engaging in selling arms, destabilizing regions, and creating enemies. This has been one of their principle activities for decades but now, thanks to the internet, this activity has become common knowledge among the many rather than the few. Tight controls of story lines with little questioning is no longer such an easy feat and they struggle to retain this control daily. Incidents involving increased rhetoric and questionable actions with possible negative consequences have continued to rise and people are upset, disillusioned, and concerned – as they should be. I believe this to be a huge factor in the increasing surveillance that we are subject to whether they admit to it or not. They fear eventual fallout of their actions – as they should.

Journalism – There are many excellent journalists who take seriously their vocation and produce first-rate work – sometimes at the risk of their personal safety – but the integrity of the field as a whole has declined. Too many have become the mouth pieces of those in power and spew out the propaganda as instructed. They know which side their bread is buttered on and make no apologies for it. It shows in the mediocre quality of the work they produce and the lack of ethics they exhibit. Many in the journalism field complain that citizen journalists- which include opinion writers- do not have the education and training to perform the job properly, let alone come to any informed opinions. Yet many journalists don’t perform the job properly either, and the opinions they write are not always any better formulated than if it had been written by an average citizen. Education and training alone guarantees nothing.

Intellectuals and Business People – They too suffer from bias and are influenced by politics. It has been my experience that if you want to study an historical event or person you must read multiple sources if you want a broad perspective. Otherwise in many cases you will come away from it with the scholars’ own – another form of propaganda. They are too occupied with political correctness and cultivating their own social place and advancement. People in business (public and private) are focused on outward appearances as well as increasing their net worth. It is not advantageous for them to consider much else. These two groups in particular rely on specific, and often ambiguous, language and rituals which makes it difficult for them to be understood and challenged – yet it is important that they are.

Those mentioned above, with few exceptions, base their thoughts and actions within very narrowly defined parameters. They are willing participants within the system they exist in and benefit from, but repeatedly the system is being exposed as the dysfunctional and shortsighted mess that it is. The very fact we are all affected gives us the right, and some may say the duty, to not only have opinions but to voice them as well.

Common sense is often lacking (we see this in practice repeatedly) yet citizen opinions tend to be disregarded even though we are in a position to see and experience the effects of policies in real time. Personal and life experiences are invaluable tools that are as important as formal education and should be utilized. Each has their place and worth and to value one while discounting the other is detrimental in the long run.

I certainly object to the view that the opinions of citizen journalists are irrelevant. By speaking out we are throwing doubt on their positions and calling into question the right by the minority to dominate and mold the opinions and lives of the majority. It is my belief that through their own ill-advised actions and words they have forfeited the right to complain about mine. The right to think, form opinions, and express them should belong to all.

Not all opinions are going to be informed or intelligent, but this is true on both sides of the divide. Just because someone is in a position of power or influence doesn’t mean their opinions are automatically intelligent and worthy of attention. Just as it doesn’t mean that citizen opinions aren’t. That is a ridiculous assumption to make. Our perspective is often different – our views may come from a different place – but that doesn’t mean our concerns are not valid or without merit.

There is much talk today about the ever increasing divide between the rich and the poor. This is much more than mere talk as the realities of it are borne out every day throughout the world. But this divide encompasses more than just economics. It affects every aspect of our lives and has consequences not only for individuals but also increasingly for whole communities also. We are losing much. For those of us who have freedom of expression to any degree, it is important that we not lose our voices as well. Expressing opinions is one of the few ways available for citizens to assert views, concerns, and ideas – for now that is. We must make the most of it.

Many of the problems faced by the world today are the result of failed and agenda driven policies by various so-called experts. Since the rest of us are forced to live with the consequences we have more than earned, and should demand, our own seat at the table.

“Citizenship is a tough occupation which obliges the citizen to make his own informed opinion and stand by it.”     ~Martha Gellhorn