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“One Fish, Two Fish, Putin, Obama” – A Study in Imposed Dualities

Friends,

Something occurred to me last night as I was getting ready for bed. Let me explain it in a roundabout way, my preferred method of explanation: You see, I have been following the buildup to World War III for about a year now, and before the US was making overtures toward attacking Syria in an attempt to goad Iran into conflict, it was stroking itself to the idea of attacking Iran directly.

iran-wants-war

While that more direct route was being considered, Russia and China had already made statements to the effect of, “We will fight you if you attack Iran,” “You fuck with Iran and you fuck with us.”  These sentiments from the once and current Communist blocs have not really changed too much even though the US is considering a more meandering route to Iran.  Notably, Russian President Vladimir Putin has been very vocal about condemning Obama, and, in light of these criticisms of American war-mongering and his harbouring of Edward Snowden, he has gotten a weird sort of good guy image makeover in the view of the West.

ggp
(To be clear, I made this image to illustrate my point)

This heel/face turn has been helped along by the letter (incorrectly attributed to Putin) “From Russia With Love,” which was written in the Russian President’s voice and has been making the viral rounds.

So yeah, it seems like Vladimir Putin is a pretty cool guy.

But if that’s the case, then why do I not feel right about singing his praises and vaunting him as the last bastion against American imperial expansion?

Well for starters lets rhyme off the superficial reasons for mistrusting Putin:

1) He’s former KGB

Putin_KGB

2) This is the same dude who has taken a heavy hand with feminist activists, Pussy Riot.

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3) This is the same dude who has taken a heavy hand with gay rights activists.

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4) This is the same dude who has taken a heavy hand with Chechens.

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Hmmm, all these factors combined certainly make me reconsider my earlier statement that Putin is a pretty cool guy, but they don’t really account for my incredulity with regard to his good guy image.  I think my mistrust has more to do with IMPOSED DUALITIES.

Imposed Dualities
Do you ever notice that most of the choices you are presented with come down to two main options?  And while often these choices are only distinguished from each other by the most superficial of differences, people will still make great judgments about you and your character based on which of the two you choose.
Let’s review some of these dualities:

Evil vs. Good

Dark vs. Light

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images

2

communism-vs-capitalism-575x250

Presentation1

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It’s no accident that both sides of any of these choices are broadly similar and superficial differences are emphasized to create the illusion of diversity.  A good example would be how many video game retailers will have retailer exclusive DLC for games pre-ordered from them.  In the game Batman: Arkham City for example, you could get various costumes for Batman depending on where you pre-ordered your game. Voila; diversity of choice!

new-batman-arkham-city-bonus-costumes-revealed-earth-one-the-animated-series-batman-beyond-and-more

This is what freedom of choice looks like.

I have a hunch that its also no coincidence that red and blue are used extensively for the purposes of distinguishing broadly similar factions/parties from one another.  I am no colour psychologist though, so I’m not exactly sure what this denotes.

However, I want to draw attention to the last red vs. blue duality I included:

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Most people probably recognized this as denoting the rivalry between the American Republican and Democratic parties, respectively.  These two parties have often been accused of being broadly similar in recent years,

demopublican

yet they manage to keep the veneer of differentiation though head-butting on issues like women’s rights, gay rights, fighting insurgency, etc.  However, since they are both essentially fed by the same hands,

The Most Dangerous Kind of Politician

there are necessarily proverbial  hands that both parties won’t bite.   This is not to say its a grand conspiracy where the wealthy elite control the puppets.

demopub

On the contrary, its a rather common and disingenuous conspiracy where parties and politicians recognize where their self-interest lies and make the appropriate choices to maintain their positions of power vis-a-vis campaign funding, airtime and favourable press.

Furthermore, do you notice how any up-and-coming candidate for the presidency (and by association, senate and congress seats) always pledges to undo the wrongs of his predecessor should he be elected?  This angle resonates with those disaffected most with the existing administration while polarizing the incumbent’s base, a base who, though they might not be 100% satisfied with their candidate’s performance when held up to his campaign promises, still prefers to stay the current course rather than make a departure

So how does this relate to Putin?

Well, someone’s gotta be the bad guy and someone’s gotta be the good.  That is, someone’s gotta be red and someone’s gotta be blue.

If you think about it, in spite of his newfound popularity, Putin is not so different from Obama: He criticizes Obama for his handling of the Snowden affair while openly admitting that he would have prosecuted a similar Russian whistle-blower for treason. You might recognize this position as the broad similarity I mentioned earlier when talking about imposed dualities and intra-national politics.  It seems that broadly similar imposed dualities exist at the international/global level of politics as well.

sdg

“It’s not about the one I like more, its about picking the one I hate least.”  (Paraphrase)
-Cynical Voters

Putin vs. Obama is the latesst permutation of Obama vs. Bush*, and in each case the appeal of the former is a direct function of how dissimilar they appear to be to the latter and how much the latter is hated.

Soooooo, why waste time waving the flag for either?  Good question!

I quoted Miyamoto Musashi in my last post, “When Truisms Lie,” and I will quote him again here:

“If you know the way broadly, you will see it in all things”

I think if we apply this view of imposed dualities at all levels of politics (global, national, provincial, regional, state, municipal, INTERGALACTIC!!!) we will see it represented faithfully, which to me is a testament to its truth.  And it follows that if we should avoid getting fooled by the smoke and mirrors at one level (say, national politics), then we should avoid getting fooled by the smoke & mirrors at all other levels as well.  In all cases we must look past the obvious conflict which is being presented to us and see who is benefiting no matter which side wins. 

CUI BONO?

Best,
-Andre Guantanamo

*I realize Obama never ran against Bush but he was touted as being the remedy to two Bush terms and two un-winnable wars.

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The Bastard Cause

My Friends,
   A few years back I took a political science course which related to how power and influence are wielded and consolidated in Canadian politics.  And though it dealt specifically with Canada, the lessons of the course had universal implications.
   To add a practical aspect to the course, the professor decided he wanted the class to choose a representative (I put up my hand and was picked) who would act as the student voice and help to organize agitation for change we wanted to see in the course.  Basically he gave us carte blanche to organize and demonstrate so we could make changes to the marking scheme of assignments, the weighting of assignments, due dates, etc…  It turned out disastrous; people were not simply apathetic but generally scared to be involved in walkouts or any other disruption which their parents might disapprove of, even though the professor had said that’s what he wanted from us.   I’ll take blame for failing to inspire them where blame is due, but I think their lack of enthusiasm was a product of something more fundamental than a lack of charisma on my part.
   However, the result of this experiment is not what I want to talk about today.  Rather I wish to segue into the matter at hand by recalling an important lesson I learned in my first couple of days as class rep.  Basically, I had worked with the sub-representatives and had gotten a survey of what the class of 150+ students wanted to see regarding change to the curriculum.  I made a list of our modest demands and when I went to ascend the dais to communicate these ideas, the professor refused to let me have the floor.  He explained that I was not the legitimate, duly-elected leader of the class because I had simply put my hand up when no one else had.  For him to recognize us we would have to have a formal election.
   This fuckery put us behind two weeks because I had to go about organizing an election and urging my peers to nominate/self-nominate.  In the end, the consensus was that I should have the job because I was the only one who showed interest.  So there I was, representative-acclaimed, still at square one with 14 days less to work with in the semester.
   This taught me that perceived legitimacy imparts great power to a group.  It may not seem that profound, but keep this in mind next time you read the newspaper.  There are sound-bites and quotations aplenty in any news publication from individuals representing one interest trying to discredit, decry and deligitimize representatives from other interests, or other interests as a whole.
   A recent news item which conceived the kernel which became the idea which became this post is Public Safety Minister, Vic Toews’ condemnation of the hackers from Anonymous making public all of his personal information in response to his proposed internet-privacy infringing legislation, Bill C-130.  Of the hackers from Anonymous, Toews said:
 
   “These are individuals, as far as I can understand it, who can choose to belong to Anonymous whether other members of Anonymous want them to be there or not…So in many respects, these are individuals acting on their own.”  –24H 28 March 2012

Do you see what he did there?  He called into question the membership status of individuals belonging to a group with no membership requirements, save for self-identification as a member.

But in the bullshit department … a businessman can’t hold a candle to VIC TOEWS.  Cause I gotta tell ya the truth folks … when it comes to bullshit, big-time, major-league bullshit, you have to stand in awe … in awe … of the all-time champion of false promises and exaggerated claims, VIC TOEWS”

   Ironically, he gives an amorphous and loosely-associated group like Anonymous a certain credibility by virtue of tangibility: By recognizing that there might be some kind of membership process by which the hackers interfering with his privacy have not yet gone through, he is imparting recognition to the group.  Still, this inadvertent nod to the group should not detract from his aim, which was to attack the credibility of the group’s individual members.
   Another example of this kind of marginalization would be when the British government withdrew Special Category Status from IRA prisoners in the 1970s and mandated that they would have to wear normal prison uniforms instead of their IRA uniforms.  The Brits were looking to take them down a peg from “political prisoner” to “ordinary criminal,” which is basically like spitting on them and their cause.  Obviously, the IRA prisoners didn’t stand for it, but that’s a different story.
   While this calling into question of membership status and group structure is an effective means of delegitimizing an opponent, I feel the most oft-used (and often readily believed) method is to remove a group’s ownership of a cause, or simply to blame foreign interlopers.  Let’s go back to the early 1960s when the Portuguese were fighting to maintain control of their African colonies, primarily Angola.  The Salazar government maintained throughout the conflict that the Angolans were happy as Portuguese subjects and that the war was being waged by Soviet proxies trying to destabilize the balance of power in Africa.  I have a great-uncle who was on the Portuguese side in that war and when we have talked about it, he still insists that the Angolans loved the Portuguese presence and that the enemies they were fighting came from abroad.  If that was actually so, then whence cometh war?
   Even a superpower like the USSR would have had marked difficulties discreetly waging a proxy war against the Portuguese in Angola if both the Portuguese colonists AND the Angolan natives didn’t want them there.  If the Angolans were really on the same side as the Portuguese then they would have done a better job of reporting these interlopers who would materialize in and out of the civilian population much like the Taliban materializes in and out of groups of our Afghan “friends” today.
   However, saying that the war/cause is being waged by foreign belligerents is an expedient way to cast doubt on just how disaffected one’s own people are.
   Which brings me to the G20 conference in Toronto during June 2010.  I have had conversations with cop friends of mine who were doing security at the summit about the morality of preventing Canadian citizens from  marching into the streets.  One of the worst justifications I have heard for violent suppression of these protests is that the so-called “Black Bloc” were all foreigners and professional agitators who riot for pay.
   There is so much I take issue with in this defence, so let’s just break it down into three main questions:

1) Whether Canadian or foreign, if they are rioting for pay, who is paying them?  No one seems to ask this question although the trope of the “agitator-for-hire” is one I have heard from different police officers.  It seems to me that someone would only pay these people to violently demonstrate if they had something to gain from it.  So what is there to be gained from violence in the streets?  Justification for over-reaching legislation?  Larger budgets and greater powers for police forces?  Who might profit from these things?

“You follow drugs, you get drug addicts and drug dealers.  But you start to follow the money and you dont know where the fuck it’s gonna take you.”

2) Even if they are foreigners, it IS a multi-national summit.  Its seems a bit presumptuous to invite the leaders of the nations over and then get mad when their constituents follow as well.  Multi-national protestors at multi-national summits are as natural as multi-national spectators at the Olympics.
3) Do we really think that all of the discontent that was expressed was the work of these agitators?  Is there actually no angry Canadians who wanted to be heard throughout these protests?
   Obviously this last question is the most pertinent to the discussion at hand.  Its as if the mention of foreigners should convince the masses watching at home that all Canadians are happy with the way things are and that they should be too.  
   But to illustrate how preposterous this assurance is, let’s look at a current example: Bashar al-Assad is claiming that his people, who have been revolting for a year now, are not the problem.  instead it is again foreign interlopers trying to destabilize his government.  If we find his claims about Syrian contentment so ridiculous, why should any other government’s claims about its idyllic domestic situation be deemed any less so?
   I apologize if I seem a bit disjointed, and in the case of the G20 stuff, a bit tangential.  Overall, what you should take away from this wall of text is that whether its a grassroots movement or an elected leader, an opponent will always try to chip away at their legitimacy.  If you can delegitimize an opponent you take away their ability to play ball on your court, so of course you’re gonna win.  
Stay Thirsty,
-Andre Guantanamo


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