It’s Aries season and I’m feeling angry. And nothing fuels my writing quite like anger…
In the past week two of my acquaintances – both liberal/left-leaning straight white men of a certain age, if that makes any difference* – have shared a meme about Putin: he ended the Rothschild’s control over Russia by nationalising the central bank; he banned GMOs; he created a currency to rival the dollar – so why is he suddenly an enemy?
Now I’m the kind of fool who will happily rush in to answer a rhetorical question. And I’m going to take this one point at a time.
Ending the Rothschild’s control over Russia: I am sad (but not entirely surprised) to say I couldn’t find any sources to substantiate the claim that the Rothschilds had control over Russia, besides the usual tinfoil-hat-wearing conspiracy-site suspects. This claim is the worst of rightwing politics meeting the worst of leftwing politics on the common ground of dogwhistle antisemitism. Anyone with genuine concern about the undue influence that banks can have on national policy needs to widen their analysis beyond one prominent Jewish family.
Banning GMOs: the entire EU has adopted the precautionary principle with regard to GMO (something the Green Party is advocating as national policy in the UK). So if this is an issue you agree with, you can probably find an example of a national leader who has banned GMOs without also presiding over human rights abuses on quite the same scale.
Creating a currency to compete against the dollar: if international money markets are an important indicator of success for you, consider that the value of the ruble is increasing partly due to expectations that the current US President will drop sanctions against Russia for the annexation of Crimea and the support of Assad. I should probably declare an interest here: my partner has friends who live in Crimea and friends who have been tortured by the Assad regime, so I’m inclined to see the human cost of these policy decisions as more significant than their effect on the markets.
Why is he suddenly an enemy? He isn’t – not suddenly. I am wary of calling anyone an “enemy” but a leader who presides over a state where people are routinely rounded up and tortured on suspicion of homosexuality is not a friend. And none of this has happened “suddenly”; this has all been happening for a good long while. The Human Rights Watch report on Russia is a good source of further information. He may not be doing it himself, but he is not doing anything to stop it. And that, at the very least, is worth our condemnation. That is my line in the sand.
When I put these points to my acquaintances online, they responded that “Western governments” are not concerned with human rights abuses; that Putin has been declared an enemy because his success threatens the status quo. That may be so. Maybe. But threatening the status quo, upsetting “Western governments” – however much they need upsetting – is nowhere near enough to justify turning a blind eye to the atrocities happening on his watch.
I understand the knee-jerk reaction against being told what to believe (did I mention that it’s Aries season?) but responding by choosing to believe the opposite, regardless of the evidence, is no more empowered or empowering than following the government line. It’s still buying into a false opposition.
There is something more going on here. And I’m finding it hard to put my finger on exactly what it is. But a lot of people who grew up with (mostly) good-natured cynicism towards a one-size-fits-all model of mass media with limited scope now seem to find themselves without the skills to navigate the mass of information presented by the internet – particularly when it filters through from the morass of social media. My acquaintances are not particularly gullible or prejudiced. It’s hard for any of us to resist an algorithmic drip-feed of messages confirming our suspicions. It’s even harder to see how these messages create the illusion of conflicts and choices which only exist if we believe in them.
It’s possible to agree that we should work to end the political dominance of multinational banking corporations while also disagreeing with the use of torture, the persecution of LGBT folk, and the stifling of dissent that takes place in Putin’s Russia. It’s more than possible – it’s necessary. We don’t have to choose from a set menu of shitty choices, weighing each choice for its relative shittiness: the menu itself is an illusion. It’s up to us to imagine better, to demand better.
*of course it makes a difference: they would probably be safe from persecution under Putin. And that is never a good enough reason to turn a blind eye.