Don’t Let’s Be Beastly to the Russians

Yeeha

A propos of what I wrote about Wednesday, DR has a piece today going into depth on just how wonderfully the Russian people are being punished.

Here are the services and brands that the Russians now have to do without – and those that still work
Marcel Mirzaei-Fard, DR.dk, Mar 10

Facebook is closed. You can not access Messenger. Your shopping trip will be without H&M and Levi’s. Your Netflix and Spotify subscriptions have expired and you can not sign up for a new one because your Visa card does not work. If you need a new phone, it will not be an iPhone.

It may sound like luxury issues, but taken together the West’s reactions to the invasion of Ukraine create a whole new everyday life for Russians who have become accustomed to the West’s services and brands.

Yeah, well, too bad. No one made them be born in Russia.

So says Katrine Stevnhøj, Ph.D. at the University of Copenhagen and researcher in process and civil society in Russia.

“It’s starting to become purely visually visible. I saw some pictures from a mall in Moscow where the stores are empty. This with Western brands goods has a huge symbolic value,” she says.

It takes a PhD to say something is “visually visible.” In case you think I’m providing an unkind translation, the original Danish was “rent visuelt at være synligt.” Google is even unkinder than I am and translates the phrase as “visually to be visible.” That’s actually a better literal translation.

But we’ve all got Gell-Mann amensia these days, so let’s hear what this educationally educated female woman has to say verbally.

“It’s the symbol of something much larger. Much of what’s happened over the last ten days has been the curtailing of freedoms. It’s natural for one to think how it was in the Soviet Union,” says Katrine Stevnhøj.

The article then declares its purpose, which is to give readers “an overview of the most important western services and brands that are either shut down or put on pause in Russia. The list is not complete as it changes day by day.”

In the interests of simplicity, here’s a list of those wholly or partially suspended services, arranged as they are in the article (see the article for specifics):

Culture

Netflix, Disney, Warner Brothers, Paramount, Spotify. EA Games, Activision Blizzard, Take-Two. UEFA and FIFA. The soccer world championship. Eurovision.

Media

Facebook, Twitter, TikTok. Monetization on YouTube. BBC, Deutche Welle. Most western news media are being blocked by the Kremlin itself.

Tech

Apple. Samsung, Microsoft, AirBNB, Adobe, Dell, Oracle, SAP. Intel, AMD, Nvidia.

Brand Names and Consumer Goods

Visa, Mastercard, American Express. Levi’s, Prada, H&M. Volkswagen, BMW, Honda, Nissan, Mercedes-Benz. Lego. McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Starbucks.

The article wraps up by quoting another quote from the researcher of research:

“What’s dominating things right now for the Russians I know is their future prospects. You can see where it’s headed. It’s the fear of being isolated and cut off,” says Katrine Stevnshøj.

(Wait, she knows Russians? Is that even allowed?)

DR is cheering this all along. Consider this paragraph about Spotify:

However, there is a great opportunity to listen to music on Spotify, the world’s largest music streaming service. Spotify informs DR News that the majority of paying subscribers are unable to pay and have therefore had their accounts suspended. Russians can therefore only use the free version with advertising breaks. Spotify has not responded to numerous inquiries from DR about whether they will continue to monetize advertising in Russia.

They’re not “unable to pay” because they’re suddenly dirt poor, but because Spotify subscriptions require credit card payments and without Visa or Mastercard that’s obviously a challenge. But it’s the last sentence I find intriguing: DR made numerous inquiries into Spotify’s willingness to allow monetized advertising in Russia. There’s more than a whiff of disapproval there.

Consider also this bit about Eurovision:

Neither will Russia be on hand when Eurovision is held in Italy this May. Ukraine’s got a pretty good shot at winning that competition, don’t you think?

That’s an almost audibly hearable wink.

But yes, by all means, let’s rig a song contest to… to… (insert logic here).


Missing from this article are absurdities like the cancellation of Russian artists and art works across the west. I wrote last week about New York’s Metropolitan Opera giving celebrated soprano Anna Netrebko the heave-ho for being insufficiently critical of Vladimir Putin (although she had denounced the invasion itself quite clearly). Russian conductor Valery Gergiev got similar treatment and was dropped by his management for “refusing to condemn the regime of Vladimir Putin.” Russian pianist Alexander Malofeev had three performances canceled by the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal just a week after his cancellation by the Vancouver Recital Society. The Polish National Opera canceled its production of Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov. The Cardiff Philharmonic Orchestra dropped a planned performance of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture because they felt it was “inappropriate at this time,” a decision even the reliably insane Guardian seemed to question. The University of Milano-Bicocca in Italy canceled a course of lectures on Dostoyevsky (but was eventually pressured to allow the course after all).

Another thing you won’t find in this article, or many others like it, is an exploration of what this is all intended to accomplish—or whether it’s having any effect at all.

There were stories a week or two back of American bartenders pouring European vodka down the drain on the mistaken impression that it was Russian. The intended effect is hard to fathom: the vodka wasn’t Russian and was already paid for.

This is our world right now: it’s all stupid and futile gestures being done on behalf of someone.

But unlike the idiotic corporate grandstanding over the American state of Georgia bringing its voting laws in line with those of Maryland, New York, and California, this bullying of the Russian people is likely to have real consequences.

The desired consequence, as I noted yesterday, is presumably the punishment of the Russian people for the behavior of a government over which they have very little control. It isn’t an entirely horrible idea on paper: in a healthy western nation, for example, a people’s misery is quickly directed toward its government, and the expectation is that the government will then react to the pressure brought to bear upon it.

That’s the theory, anyway: Justin Trudeau appears to have found a way around that. But at risk of falling into the “no true Scotsman” fallacy, I’d say that only suggests that Canada is not currently a healthy western nation.

Grassroots pressure isn’t a very effective tool in a dictatorship, and it’s hardly stretching things too far to call Vladimir Putin’s grip on Russia dictatorial. To the extent we’re pressuring Russians to act up against Putin, we’re pressuring them to push hard at something that can be counted on to push back—ruthlessly.

Anyone expecting Putin to respond to widespread protests by changing course is a fool.

Anyone expecting the Russian people to rise up and overthrow him completely is first of all a fool, but also criminally reckless and irresponsible (which I also covered Wednesday). “Success” would in that case mean a power struggle in a nuclear-armed state whose previous power struggles have produced death and destruction on a scale that makes the invasion of Ukraine look like a mere tiff.

On top of all that, these measures aimed at the Russian people actually help Putin make the case that the west is their enemy. It lets him pose as the protector of the Russian people.

There is support for Putin among the Russian population. God knows how much, since the phrase “according to Russian polls” inspires about as much confidence as “according to CNN,” but it’s there. How exactly is a lack of Big Macs, iPhones, overpriced coffee, and affordable casual wear going to turn Putin’s supporters against him? How do we win them over to the west by shutting down their credit cards?

Are we thinking these things through?

What we have here is a case of mass hysteria. That’s all it is. People, corporations, and institutions are rightly horrified by Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and feel a not unworthy desire to do something about it.

But there’s not much we can actually do about it. We can arm and assist the Ukrainians defending their country: we can and should do everything in our power to punish Putin and his cronies economically. Our governments are already doing those things. (And hopefully others, quietly and without fanfare.)

But civilizationally we’ve reached a point where everyone has to light their hair own damn on fire over everything, for fear of committing the cardinal sin of not caring enough. Of not appearing to care enough.

The citizens of the west have been invited to arm themselves and join the struggle in Ukraine. Anyone can do it. I could, you could. The Danish government actually went ahead in the early days of this thing and publicly announced that Danes would be allowed to do so. I could pack my guns and ammo into my car and be in Lviv tomorrow afternoon—at the invitation of the president of Ukraine and with the blessings of my own Danish government.

Not gonna do it.

Are all these people applauding the corporate warfare being waged against the Russian people going to?

Or are they just going to cheer from the bleachers while the corporations do their dirty work?

And what are the implications for all of us going forward?

I like my brand name products and services the way I like my coffee: impersonal and disinterested but there when I want them. What message is our mindless support for all this economic warfare on a civilian population putting into the dainty little heads of our corporate titans? Activist corporations are bad enough: do we really want activist and militant corporations? Are you ready for terms of service with moral and political requirements?

We also need to remember the Boomerang Principle. In deploying this weapon against Russians, we’re legitimizing its use. We had therefore best be prepared to have it used against us. About a third of all medicine is manufactured in China today: give a moment’s thought to what it would mean if they threatened to cut off our supply—as they almost certainly would threaten to do if we interfered with their takeover of Taiwan.

(Taiwan, by the way, is responsible for more than 90% of the world’s computer chip supply.)

War is being waged. Our experiment in fighting a war without actually engaging in it is a novel approach, and one that I sincerely hope—and just as sincerely doubt—will succeed.

We’re in the middle of a Kobayashi Maru scenario: heads we lose, tails we lose, and there’s no way to reprogram the simulation.

That’s where I believe all this is hysteria is coming from—sheer helplessness. And we feel it acutely because we just went through two years of helplessness and hysteria thanks to a virus from China, and our friends on the left spent the three or four years before that in raging hysteria over the Dread Tyrant Trump. Nerves are frayed. Patience is gone. People are tired of sitting idly by while shit happens. They want to do something—or at least they want something done.

Not something violent! Not something that might expose us to violence, anyway. But something. Something that lets them go to bed at night thinking justice is somehow being served. Something that allows us to believe we’re helping our Ukrainian Hobbits defeat the forces of Mordor and bring peace to the Shire without getting our hands dirty—or bloody.

But justice isn’t being served.

We lost this thing the minute we let it be known—the minute we announced—that the US and NATO weren’t going to involve themselves militarily under any circumstances. All we’re doing now is trying to make the best of the horrible situation we put ourselves—but mostly Ukraine—into.

I don’t have a solution. No one does. It’s insoluble. And that’s wretched.

But at the very least we ought to be trying to do the least possible damage.

“First, do no harm,” as the Hippocratic Oath has it.

It’s hard to see how waging economic warfare against a civilian population fits into that.

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Soren Rasmussen
Soren Rasmussen
6 months ago

The frustration and helplessness that is fueling the current moment’s imperative to DO SOMETHING, no matter how pointless, is surely also greatly abetted by the fascinating psychological mindset that is perhaps best illustrated by the number of people who are announcing their outrage with some variation of the phrase “But this is the 21st Century!” or “This is 2022, people!”

We seem to have a large percentage of people who have thoroughly internalized the old left wing saw about The Tide of History, or the inexorable progress of civilization.

Obama famously epitomized this line of thinking when using frequent variations of the phrase “the arc of history bends towards justice” (which I believe originally came from a sermon of Martin Luther King talking about the “arc of a moral universe”, which is not the same). The Obama reduction leaves us with a profoundly stupid and dangerous statement. But one which many people gladly internalized and carried with them ahead towards the inevitable glorious future utopia.

And so the Putin’s old fashioned aggression aimed at recreating the glory of imperial Russia was met in the West with an outrage fueled in no little part by astonishment, disbelief and a sense of a world image shattering into tiny pieces.

But Man has not changed. History is not over. Si vis pace, para bellum.

Kipling knew. The Gods of the Copybook Headings will always return.