I am reading an interesting book called “Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: a Memoir of Food and Longing”. It isn’t really a cookbook, it is more of a history book. I’m at the part where it talks about Stalin, and what a COMPLETE JACKHOLE he was. Man, more people died horribly because of his military fuckups/paranoid political purges/self-caused starvation epidemics in the mother country of Old Russia than I can count on the fingers of many thousands of hands.
I know some Russians, because quite a lot of them have emigrated to my area under the auspices of Christianity. It may not be PC to say so, but in my limited experience, most Russian girls are lovely, hardworking, and serious. Many boys are arrogant, reckless, and suffer from a pretty intense Primo complex, meaning their mommies and daddies have imprinted them with their extraordinary specialness and wonderfulness since their earliest days in the crib. Like, get a load of the Tsarnaev brothers, the Boston Marathon bombers. The description of the big brother Tamerlan kind of fits that ego profile, don’t you think? First of all, he thought he was going to get away with the crime, and second of all, he so convinced himself he WAS going to get away with the crime, he dragged along his little brother. I imagine he was genuinely surprised when he was gunned down by law enforcement and then run over by his brother’s car. And yes, I DO know that those guys weren’t specifically ethnic Russians, but you know what? The land has a way of making its mark.
Anyway, I meet some really pushy Russians. Like the middle-aged woman at the doctor’s office who took up THREE chairs in the crowded waiting room for her personal comfort, thus condemning several elderly patients to stand up the whole time. I have been shoved around while shopping pretty strongly by Russian people, especially when they want to get at the thing I happen to be standing in front of. Some (the boys) drive like maniacs, cause wrecks, and run away from the scenes of accidents. Even my most intimate Russian friend happens to have a little heroine problem. He calls it “the girl I am in love with, but really want to dump.”
I also meet many perfectly ordinary Russians, who really are no different than anyone else who happens to frequent my workplace. But each time I meet a Russian person, I think to myself, “Here is someone whose family has suffered, and perhaps him or herself has suffered, more greatly than I can imagine.” It is easier to excuse even egregiously unsociable behavior when you think that these people probably had to develop a whole suite of aggressive, forceful, impolite behaviors, just to survive in a politically inhospitable country. If you are Russian, it is a given that your family has suffered, and quite probably, you have too. It’s a lot easier to be nice when you have all the potato chips you can eat and a nice warm house, and have had them from time immemorial. These Americanized Russians strike me as smart survivors, and they are not shy about putting their hard-won survival skills to work.
But I digress. A substantial section of “Soviet Cooking” is dedicated to Stalin and his horrific iron fist, disappearing people every day, executing people for the most trifling reasons, and being generally despotic and monstrous. He was out-of-touch on a lot of topics, because his staff was too terrified to tell him anything. And yet, all over Russia, there were billboards and radio shows and newspaper pictures calling him “The Mountain Eagle – Transformer of Nature – Genius of Humanity – Chorale Conductor of Science – Great Strategist of the Revolution.” And also, in case anybody missed the point, “The Best Friend of All Children, Pensioners, Nursing Mothers, Kolkhoz Workers, Hunters, Chess Players, Milkmaids, Long-Distance Runners” and so on.
I have noted nothing about either the Russian temperament or the Russian intelligence quotient that would prevent them from seeing right through this blatant lot of propaganda. But there’s that thing called the “Totalitarian Cult of Personality”. It seems to be a combination of genuine wishful thinking and complete, prostrate fear and terror. People wound up loving Stalin like a father, because one could overlook kidnapping and torturing if it didn’t happen to them personally, despite the fact they had done absolutely nothing to deserve it anyway. Furthermore, maybe sincerely loving the guy like a dad would magically forestall the likelihood of YOU being selected for some kind of awful consequence for happening to be in Russia. People were being picked up and shot or sent to Arctic prison camps all the the time! Even patriots! Generals! Selfless informers who scurried across the western frontier just to tell the Soviet military that the Germans were coming! So if you, a person who failed to mention the 1/2 ounce of extra breadcrumbs you found on the floor of the ration-card exchange and took home to your starving children … well, thanks Daddy Stalin! You didn’t kill me for it (yet)!
We have had a present-day parallel for Stalin, and his name was Kim Jong-Il. Same kind of guy. Executed people left and right. Stood like a god among the North Korean people, despite being a midget with a squeaky voice and a weakness for decadent Western bad habits. He starved lots of people to death too, not to mention had thousands of citizens stashed in horrific prison camps. Yet he was revered as a parent, which is no small props in an Asian culture. (If you want an extraordinary look into this particular period of North Korean history, you can read “Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea” by Barbara Demick.) Now we have his spawn, the baby-faced 30-year old Kim Jong-Un. Time will tell if he is the same species of monster as Stalin and his dad, but he’s got a good start on it despite his tender years, since he just had his uncle executed, has continued Dad’s contributions to prison camps and firing squads, and presided over a 2013 famine that killed 10,000 people.
So the question is – if these people are horrific human monsters, why does the populace adore them so? Well, for one thing, you’d BETTER adore the monster or at least put on a good act, or you will probably wind up dead. There’s something funny about acting, though. When the body goes through certain motions, the mind is affected. People tend to think it is their conscious brain doing the thinking for them, but not really – research demonstrates that the greater part of one’s actions are dictated by the subconscious. So – as gang members, karate black belts, and women walking alone in iffy neighborhoods know – when you present your self physically as strong and in control, your mind follows. The physical presentation becomes the reality, and you FEEL tougher, more capable. People looking AT you feel it too, and are less likely to mess with you because of it. So if you were a Stalin-purge-era Russian, or for that matter, a present-day North Korean, you were/are FORCED to play the part of subservient worship, or you’re dead, dead, dead. And ironically, pretty soon it isn’t an act any more. You actually believe it, contrary to the reality. And you’d BETTER believe it, because it really cuts down the risk of accidentally slipping something that would have been MUCH better left unstated.
So, what does all this have to do with anything?
Let me begin by saying Obama is not the president I wanted. I wanted a strong progressive who went for single-payer health care, got out of Iraq and Afghanistan like he said he was going to, closed Gitmo, cut the military budget to levels that were at least supportable, if not reasonable, came out strong against torture (doesn’t work, you know), and wasn’t waging war on wedding parties via drone strikes.
What did I get? Kind of a low-key guy who not only didn’t do any of the above, but turned out to be more conservative than Richard Nixon.
Yet, when you bother to read the comment sections of major news sites, peruse the programming of Fox Fake News, have to resort to “the nuclear option” in Congress just to get past a solid blockade of Republican rednecks, you get the feeling that maybe there is a perceptual problem here. How many times have I read on the Net about how Obama is orchestrating a “cult of personality?” How evil and totalitarian he is? Certain citizens of the loyal opposition jump on the Google machine and yelp to the highlands the most racist, horrible, violent, insulting, demeaning, threatening bullshit imaginable, and create whole websites devoted to the very same. Ironically, if there WERE a totalitarian cult of personality like Stalin or Kim Jong-Il, these people would vanish like dandelion puffs in a cataract. Gone, never to be heard from again.
Sorry guys, there isn’t a cult of personality around Obama, much less a totalitarian one. To say there is one – well, as noted previously, if you act like an asshole for long enough, you become one. Lots of times, your subconscious mind already made the decision that you were gonna be an asshole, so when you follow through and act like one, well, not much occurs in the way of cognitive dissonance. But if you do happen to be a racist troll asshole, and try to actually think about Obama as a black person in America, and what kind of experiences would have shaped his perceptions – uh-oh. You get a real bad headache, don’t you.
Furthermore, being an American means that though you may have suffered in one way or another, you weren’t starved, beaten, rolled over, subjected to disappearing, used, made strategically expendable in ground zero warfare, thrown into an Arctic prison camp to dig rocks with your bare hands, or had your son’s wedding blown up by a drone. So stop bitching about it as though it is YOU suffering, because it ISN’T.
I rest my case.