Johnson’s Russia List #6593, 9 December 2002
From an article that appeared in the JRL a few days ago, we learned that according to the survey of 44 countries done by the Pew Global Attitudes Project, “the United States is falling out of favor in 19 of 27 countries where a trend could be identified”. As could be expected, this trend reflects anxiety over a possible war with Iraq and the resulting animosity of the Muslim countries. Yet, while the survey indeed found that the dislike of America was greatest in the Muslim countries (from 59 to 75%), citizens of Canada, France Britain, and Germany were also not all that keen on the US. What could be the reasons for that? Why did 67 percent of Germans and 71 percent of the French say that to spread American ideas and customs would be “bad”?
America has pioneered a new social technology: it increasingly advocates win/win as the best possible mode of human interaction. Other countries are still firmly based on a win/lose or even on a lose/lose. Win/lose is best if you are a winner, because a win is not as sweet if there is no loser. In England and France, where the notion of class is still very strong, the upper classes correctly think that in a win/win society they would find it much harder to maintain control and would lose their privileges. On the other hand, many in England and France proudly identify themselves with lower classes, workers, peasants, or shopkeepers, and keep to their stature in life. By contrast, in America a farmer’s child would think nothing of applying, and being accepted, to Harvard.
Thus, when America proclaims a win/win foreign policy, it is being misunderstood in Europe as Europe is not yet a win/win continent. Europeans try to build a society that is stable and mutually considerate, but not by any means equal. A Norwegian King is known to ride a bus with simple workers, but it does not mean that the King pretends to be a worker, or that the workers are under any illusion that they are equal to the King. On the contrary, the difference in status is so obvious that there is no longer a need for a crown or a gilded carriage, as everyone understands their respective position. Doormen are treated without overt disrespect, but are not invited to the table. Thus, Europeans tend to suspect that America, the world’s only superpower, is indicating, with varying degrees of politeness, to service personnel where their work stations would be, in the America’s palace, using NATO as sort of a trade union of Palace Attendants and Guards. On that score, Europeans are almost certainly mistaken: there indeed is a catch, and a very cruel one, but it lies elsewhere.
Other countries, such as Russia, continue to be based on a lose/lose mode of social interaction. The benefits of lose/lose are even greater than that of win/lose as lose/lose takes away from all the parties to the interaction all responsibility of developing themselves. If there is no way to win, everyone can declare himself a winner. I am a former Soviet citizen, and when my sister was born, my father found (and long did he search!), bought, and boiled a chicken. Now, that was THE meal of my life; and yes, I have since been to Four Seasons. The Pew survey pointedly stated that “when it comes to conditions at home, Uzbeks and the Vietnamese were the happiest of all”, with 69% of respondents pronouncing themselves satisfied. Well, this is so because these particular respondents are alive, and they are well aware that they could have been dead or could still die if their admiration for the regime is not seen as adequate. It is a shame that Iraq was not included in the survey, as 107% of Iraqi citizens will publicly state that everything in their country is magnificent, though some of them would be torn between, “magnificent” and “exceptionally magnificent”.
Since you probably found the previous sentence funny, let me quote you another survey: 80% of Russians approve of Putin and 30% of Russians cannot afford basic food. Do these figures clash? No, they don’t: they point to satisfaction-in-failure that is a major benefit of a lose/lose interaction. When you are out of work you find satisfaction in not having to shave every day. Now we know why Harvard freshmen are no less anxious and depressed than Calcutta beggars.
Win/win does have its benefits, but we must keep in mind that it is a personally taxing form of interaction: you must be ready for the rapid pace of development and growth because if you are not a winner you do not really belong. In an American mall you usually see a lot of prosperous people, but you also see a few people who wear sweat clothes, talk to themselves, and clearly are out of their element. To such people, living in a win/win society turned out to be a curse: in Russia, they would have belonged as here being a dropout is sort of being middle class while not drinking vodka at lunch is seen as an aberration.
The social technology of win/win is vulnerable to being misunderstood and misinterpreted because it is much too sophisticated for most people and because, being a mode of interaction of winners, it creates millions of those who are not invited to interact, millions of hopeless losers who seemingly do not exist and do not seem to matter. America’s version of win/win increasingly divides the world on the manipulators and the manipulated, and the manipulators are few. Michael Jackson sings “I’m Bad” and pretends to be a member of a gang or urban thugs. But he is not “bad”: all that is happening is that his company has just sold you a twenty dollar CD, a lifestyle of hopelessly confused and easily controllable jailhouse material, and made you spend hours shaking to the tune of atrocious “music” that takes away your ability to perceive and contemplate reality, that is, if you had any.
America’s lifestyle is fine, provided you have a profession and do not get hooked on drugs, soap operas, food, or the New York Times. If you can earn an honest living AND avoid becoming addicted to many disguised versions of McDonald’s that seek to shape you into a controllable and predictable vegetable, America is indeed the best place on earth. For a few million people living there, America has worked very well, indeed, but those are very strong and very purposeful people, probably educated more by their grandmothers than by American TV.
Since America is run by winners, while millions of America’s losers are nothing but stupefied cartoon characters just waiting for their favorite TV show to start, American elite appears to have made a fateful mistake of assuming that win/win could be a lifestyle of choice for every country. This mistake was made easier by America’s genuinely welcoming attitude towards winners and manipulators from other nations. If an Afghan Foreign Minister tells Americans that he will be able to build a genuine democracy in Afghanistan (for a few billions of dollars, that is), Americans are all too happy to believe him and fail to notice that the Minister speaks fluent English, which is a rarity among the Afghan herdsmen.
Democracy is not “bad” in any way, but it does require maturity and skill. Cars are not “bad” either, but maturity of an adult and a skill of a license holder are required to drive one. In America, we do not sell beer to anyone younger than 21, but we expect Afghanistan to instantaneously build a democratic state. Americans may well be naive enough to believe that this is possible, but the world is not so naive. Ordinary Afghans know that even though a kitchen is warmer and brighter than a chicken coop, a chicken appears in the kitchen only as an ingredient for a soup.
America is seen as championing the following horrifying notion: “Every person must appear (appear - note that well - as it is not necessary to actually be, and this is how the Manipulators rule the world), to be trustworthy, honest, successful, politically correct, presentable, democratically-minded, and naturally pro-American. Now, whom to appoint as honest is for Dan Rather’s handlers to decide. Bin Laden also once was an Unsung Hero of Afghan Resistance.
America aggressively demands that people who could only be killers and thieves simply because they happen to occupy a particular seat of power in their, not a win/win oriented, country, appear if not honest and respectable, then at least “nice enough” for a TV picture. Average citizens of the countries in question correctly perceive this demand as disregarding their current situation, tradition, and history and see America’s posture as disingenuous and threatening.
Take the raging “Who is Chubais?” debate. First, it is being said, in all seriousness, that Chubais actually may have been a crook. But who did you want him to be, considering the position he was occupying, in a country he was occupying it in? Why does a quest for a beautiful dreamy virgin with whom to hold hands while reciting romantic poetry guide so many men as they visit a bordello? And then it works the other way around: OK, here is a beautiful romantic virgin who has been working in this whorehouse for the last five years, but why would she want to hold hands with you, you stinking ugly goat? And indeed, when Russia was paying 150% per month on its GKOs, Chubais was a hero, but when it all came tumbling down we discovered that Chubais failed to tell the world’s leading economists that this orgy was unsustainable. They did not know, you see, being so naive and trusting. Those who claim that Chubais was “bad” must make sure that their work is not being used to claim that the Harvard Institute for International Development was not all that bad, just a bit too nice and hopeful to subject things to doubt. I repeat, people feel that this is disingenuous and think that America has grown much too slick for so powerful a country.
Regardless of the conclusions of the UN inspectors, America will soon declare war on Iraq. American government is virtual, powerful, fast, and absolutely uncontrolled. This government will be through vaporizing a few hundred thousand shish kebob sellers and olive growers by the time the citizens that are supposed to be controlling it reach the third track of their Britney Spears record. Thousands of Iraqi peasants will be no more while Juicy Fruit chewing gum is still sweet in American mouth. What for?
President Bush’s stated (I insist on this important word) objective of removing Saddam and his henchmen is an honorable one. I agree that tortures and killings of innocent people are an intolerable affront to the entire human race. Moreover, I think that it is a great advance, a revolution, to insist that all people have a right to live free from horrors of a dictatorship. This stance shows that the concept of non-interference into internal affairs of other states, whatever they may be, is outdated and is a product of a win/lose mentality that assumes that a state would only interfere to subjugate and plunder.
If America champions justice and good government, and not just because gory murders happened to clash with a plastic, Barbie Doll notion of “nice”, it is all to the better. But Desert Storm stopped short of removing Saddam from power, and I felt horribly betrayed. I felt that Americans killed thousands of Iraqis for a reason that was not good enough; quite possibly, killed more Iraqis than were ever killed by Saddam. I noted that President Bush did not apologize for ten additional years of Saddam that his father could and should have saved Iraqis from. Bush said that America is a friend of Iraqi people, but the leaflets we drop on Iraqi frontline troops, i.e. on people who are not good enough to be protected by Saddam, are threatening and insulting. Ordinary Iraqis now have reasons to suspect that America’s declared friendship is not genuine, and that they may yet again be caught in the middle.
But why would Canadians, of all people, be suspect of America’s motives and why did wealthy, English-speaking Saudis play such a prominent role in the September 11 terrorist attack? Win/win is the way, but America’s prevailing version of it is not. The world wisely does not accept the American definition of “winning”: it does not want to see Rocky-76 or attend the “One trillion Big Macs sold” celebration.
American artists are increasingly unwilling to open their hearts to the world: there is no Mona Lisa smile in a Jackson Pollock painting and a blood-soaked heart that beats in Rocky5 is violent and kitschy. Hollywood is not making Tarkovsky or Ryazanov movies, and when America does make a film about real people, such as American Beauty, it usually shows America as phony and threatening, a place where real people can’t live. Just compare the Russian and the American version of Winnie the Pooh: Russian Winnie is kind and wise, while the American one is a crook dead set on getting the honey. Why is it that real America is so much kinder and wiser than the pop culture that it tries to impose on the world?
America may be fine as long as it gets to handpick its enemies and as long as it picks someone as vile as Saddam. But the real enemy of America is not Saddam: it is the world that is alarmed that America may use force to impose the fake and violent vision of human existence, the vision that hides and misrepresents the true face of America.
Let us define aggression as deliberate policy that causes grave damage to another country. The case has been made that environmental policy of certain countries, including America, amounts to aggression. And how would we define an imposition on another country of a political system that causes grave damage to it? Certainly, that would be an aggression. Unfortunately, imposition of democracy on an authoritarian and/or underdeveloped country may well qualify as aggression. Russian experience since 1991 can only be described as a catastrophe, and playing “democracy” with gullible and confused population had much to do with it.
Another type of aggression is exemplified by the worldwide expansion of MTV. America is sophisticated enough, rich enough, or absent-minded enough to accept MTV as part of its culture and disregard the losses that are caused by it. But please allow other countries to be of the opinion that fourteen year olds were not born to shake and should not be imitating the cultural depth and the irreverence of the ghetto culture. I mean it, motherfucka!
The more sophisticated America becomes in its presentation the emptier it appears, and this is horrifying. Seen from the inside, America is fundamentally healthy and fair, and its tremendous creative potential is a proof of that. Thanks to the people whose creative energies America did everything to liberate and protect, America is very strong militarily and economically, but since the outside world sees America as frightfully empty, this strength comes off as very threatening. People of the world are thinking that America tries to force them to listen exclusively to Britney Spears, to take their language and thinking away, and, boy, this is, like, sick or something.
Now the source of the world’s distrust of America becomes clear: there are two wars going on simultaneously, with one war disguising and masking the other. One is the war of lose/lose with win/win, the so-called war on terrorism, or the coming attempt to remove Saddam from power. The other war is America being seen as imposing its plastic version of win/win on the world that, even though it may not be ready for the genuine win/win, senses that the American version of win/win would mean the end of human civilization. America should not be seen as fighting the world’s culture, traditions, and the objective realities that exist in various human societies. America must present to the world a considerably more genuine and realistic version of win/win, lest it be seen as worshipping a wrong Madonna and fighting on her side against the world.
Like no other country, America for most of its history has tried to have Truth and Justice on its side, not just strength. Why is it that in a recent Russian movie Brat-2 a Russian says to American, “Ne v sile bog, a v pravde” (God is in Truth not in Violence)? Why is America now seen as imposing on the world artificial emotions, retouched images, and engineered sounds?
National Security Advisor Rice has stated that America is a “special country”, and she is absolutely right. America gives opportunities to all and effectively defends the rights of its citizens; in a final analysis, it is the citizens’ fault that so many of them self-destruct and submit to brainwashing. Americans can be as successful, as secure, as honest, as caring, as magnanimous as they wish - there is no impediment and no fear, no coercion or shame. And that makes America special. America stands for win/win, and that is why America is an object of hatred of the lose/lose crowd.
But being a citizen of a special country can mean only one thing: all of us must now be as good as we can be because we have already been credited as being “special”. Ms. Rice should have known that in the 20th century several countries declared themselves as “special”: Communist Russia, Nazi Germany, and Imperial Japan. If being a citizen of a “special country” means that individually Americans no longer need to be moral, that they can trample other countries underfoot and wreck havoc, if we can now line our own pockets while ostensibly being on a mission of assistance - then I would term Ms. Rice’s assertion as extremely dangerous. It is too convenient to assume that an Arabic-speaking bearded guy in a turban is THE enemy. For Americans, it is sometimes better to remember the expression, “We have met the enemy, and it is us.”