“Great Russia” Meets “Manifest Destiny”

Until now, I’ve avoided the precipitous “rush to judgement” over the Ukraine crisis that is an all-too common tendency of the punditry and commentariat in the mass media, who, in the main, seem to have no sense of historical consciousness nor awareness of the ironies of their own, all-too narrow perspectives and “points of view”.  “Say something, anything” is the predictable formula for what is dismissively (and appropriately) referred to as “churnalism”. There is a product to get out, after all. The always sober-minded Simon Tisdall of The Guardian, in a good article republished on the CNN website (surprisingly!) summed it up: “It’s difficult to say what is more astonishing: the double standards exhibited by the White House, or the apparent total lack of self-awareness of U.S. officials.”

One might add to that, of much of public opinion in the West, too, including the “churnalists”.

Under normal circumstances, I probably wouldn’t even pay much attention to the Ukraine issue except for a couple of reasons, one being that my ex is of Ukrainian descent (on the left side of the spectrum). Still, she has as much connection to contemporary Ukraine or a stake in Ukrainian nationalism or secessionism as I do with Scotland and Scottish secessionism, even though we were both raised to be properly conscious of our respective ancestry and ancestral homelands.  Another reason (should more reasons be required) is that in the province where I reside, people of Ukrainian ancestry form a very large percentage of the population, and so much so that an entire area of Saskatchewan has come to be known as “Red Square” owing to the immigrant population’s historical roots in the socialist and anarchist history of the Ukrainian homeland.

But, as an old student of propaganda and double-think — and of the contemporary meaning of “the new normal” — I have a passing interest in how the issue is being framed by all sides, and of how the matter is reflecting poorly on the credibility of Western politicians and leading opinion in the mass media, especially after the Iraq War.  If anything, the whole thing might be appreciated equally as belonging to a crisis of credibility amongst our leading public “opinionators” and politicians.

The facility that human beings have for pulling the wool over their own eyes and the rug out from under their own feet is truly impressive. That’s another aspect of our “new normal” that seldom gets the attention it should. It is self-destructive. The Ukraine crisis has become an embarrassment for Western politicians and leading opinionators because of how it holds up a mirror to their own pretensions and hypocrisies. And the same can be said for Putin and leading opinionators in Russia, too.

Not that it has gone entirely unnoticed, as Simon Tisdall’s article illustrates or as Sally Kohn also notes in another CNN piece “GOP’s hypocrisy on Ukraine hurts America“. Even the controversial Henry Kissinger — now an example of “Epimethean man” with the leisure of afterthought and retrospection — has waded into the information and disinformation war surrounding Ukraine with a sensible piece in The Washington Post that places the present crisis in historical context (“How the Ukraine crisis ends“).

I have some sympathy, in this regard, for Obama’s position, with liberal and conservative opinion demanding he do something about the Ukraine, as if it was his total responsibility to steer and guide the destinies of the globe and of all peoples. What a presumption! It is precisely this presumption of “manifest destiny” that has gotten the US into trouble.

The old idea of “Great Russia” meets “Manifest Destiny”, and they look remarkably alike in their presumptuousness. Mothra versus Godzilla. A mole hill has been inflated into a mountain — now become a “global crisis” — only because of these underlying presumptions and pretenses. O! what tangled webs we weave. Both Putin and Obama find themselves trapped in the dilemmas of their own history and the expectations of their respective publics. Canada’s dim-witted Minister of Foreign Affairs, John Baird, compares the Russian incursion into the Crimea with the Nazi invasion of the Sudetenland in an excess of hyperbole, conveniently deflecting attention from the real presence of neo-Nazi and neo-fascist factions in the new government in Kyiv. As Sally Kohn notes, however, it probably is more comparable to the Russian intervention in Georgia, which elicited barely a squeal of protest about “global crisis” from Western pundits because it was deemed then that Russia had legitimate and just interests in the Russian speaking part of Georgia in the face of Georgian nationalism.

Putin now claims “humanitarian intervention” on the exact same basis as Western powers have justified for their own violations of international law and norms. The duplicity involved on all sides is rather glaring, but it is nonetheless the “costs and consequences” of what has been promoted as “the new normal” at our “end of history” — the normalisation of a delirium of double-standard, double-talk, and double-think.

You might think that, collectively, we would all have become tired of this game by now, having had sufficient experience with the real “costs and consequences” of “the new normal” and of staring trance-like, disturbed and horrified, at what is our own reflection and mirror image in the reflecting pool of space and time.  But as Tisdall puts it, there seems to be a complete lack of “self-awareness”. And what is that but Lasch’s same “culture of narcissism”?

And so, it seems we, the citizens of Late Modernity, will travel still in all the ways of folly until the bitter end in the cynicism and malaise of total demoralisation, otherwise called “nihilism”.


13 responses to ““Great Russia” Meets “Manifest Destiny””

  1. Dwig says :

    Kissinger’s post is indeed one of the better I’ve seen. There’s another perspective, though, that I’ve only seen in one place:

    This casts a different light on the situation, one that raises doubts about the
    possibility of a “clean” resolution.

    • Scott Preston says :

      Not so sure that this “rational choice theory” approach to interpreting events is applicable. The push for global integration via the market principle has rather showed up its completely irrational “costs and consequences”. Not at all what was expected, in some respects. Again, an example of perverse outcome and unintended consequence. It’s just another shock, after 2008, to neo-liberal assumptions and ideology. It wasn’t supposed to happen. Events aren’t following according to the script. That’s what makes it a “crisis” at all. It contradicts the script just like the market meltdown of 2008 contradicts the script that was neatly encapsulated in the Coke jingle about “I’ld like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony”. In a bizarre twist, “irrational exuberance” has had to be admitted as being part of “rational choice”.

      No one stops to ponder whether the “invisible hand” is actually all that rational after all, in terms of distributing “rewards and punishments” in due proportion. There’s a high degree of irony in all that.

  2. LittleBigMan says :

    I’m convinced more and more each day that the main staples of this deficient mode of the mental rational structure of consciousness are recycling of the elite at the top and accumulation of resentment and ressentiment at the bottom. Access to resources and a “say” in the decision making process are increasingly being monopolized by the elite, and this has led to growing levels of resentment and ressentiment among the masses worldwide.

    In the animal kingdom, if you reduce or constrict access to resources and limit the way species make decisions based on instinct, you can expect to bring the effected species to extinction. But among the human species, these same factors lead to “ill-will” and “delusion.”

    I’m not sure, but I don’t think Mahatma Gandhi wanted to prosecute, jail, and maybe kill very many of his opponents. Any movement or leadership that harbors ill-will toward other groups in the society will not bring relief to the masses. The new or aspiring elite use ill-will to fuel the masses into the action of confronting and maybe overthrowing the old elite. And again it’s with using this ill-will that the elite also manage to delude the masses into thinking that the overthrow of the old elite is tantamount to better living conditions for them. Not so.

    Genuine unity among people can avert ill-will and delusion. But to be united, reason and good sense must first overcome greed.

    P.S. I’m in favor of independence for Scotland. My interactions with individuals of Scottish ancestry in America has given me the impression that Scotts (warm+intellectual+well intentioned) will maintain a peaceful and lovely country.

    • Scott Preston says :

      They say that “there’s none more Scots than the Scots abroad”, but (to employ another adage) I don’t have a dog in that race. I don’t pine for the lochs and the highlands, nor for kilts and bagpipes, which I was compelled to wear and to play when I was a youth. It was a ridiculous affectation of my parents. My grandparents and great uncles were Highlanders.

      Pining for the firths (that’s Scots for “fjords”) isn’t in my blood. When I studied and traveled in Europe, it didn’t even occur to me once to visit the ancestral homeland. Maybe that was my revulsion at the absurd nostalgia for, and overly romanticised idea of Scotland my parents nurtured.

      Still, I was a good bagpiper which brought me a modest degree of fame and fortune in my youth. I think what ultimately turned me off the whole schmear was watching old WWI flicks of Scots pipers climbing out of the trenches with their war pipes to boldly summon the troops over the top, only to have their heads blown off for their trouble. Ridiculous romanticism of Empire.

      I like the German word for bagpipes — Dudelsack. Doodling is an appropriate name for the thing you do with bagpipes.

      • Scott Preston says :

        Might add that reputedly the German soldiers were horrified by the sound of the bagpipes, which is why they may have taken especial delight in popping the piper. And (truth be told) I came to have some degree of sympathy for the German soldier’s horror of the pipes. The effect on the ears is akin to the effect on the eyes that comes from slicing a raw onion.

        • LittleBigMan says :

          Knowing how to play the bagpipe is awesome. I wish I knew how to play at least one instrument. Alas, back in the elementary school, my music class was inexplicably canceled; ironically, it was the only class where my attention was glued to the teacher and her instructions. The other classes were an ordeal I never got used to until I graduated in 12th grade.

          I love the sound the bagpipes make, and I love the originality of the instrument’s design, too. It’s really wonderful that your parents encouraged you to learn playing the instrument.

          I read somewhere that Highlanders had their own shamans who practiced magic. The Scottish landscape and countryside looks quite magical and mysterious. Although, I don’t think I could last very long living in a place like that, considering the cold and rainy weather there:


          • Scott Preston says :

            Knowing how to play the bagpipe is awesome.

            You just have to develop the ability to suck and blow at the same time. It’s actually possible, despite the saying that suggests it can’t be done.

            I love the sound the bagpipes make, and I love the originality of the instrument’s design, too. It’s really wonderful that your parents encouraged you to learn playing the instrument.

            It is said that it’s actually Chinese in origin. (Shhh).

            The three witches in Shakespeare’s Macbeth are Scots. Unless, of course, they were Irish immigrants.

            Scottish culture — bagpipes, kilts, haggis, whiskey and Mel Gibson pretending to be Scottish always spring to mind first, not shamans and magic.

            • LittleBigMan says :

              LOL……I stand corrected. Regardless of the origin, I’m happy that the Scotts had the taste and the foresight to keep the instrument in vogue.

              And yes, Braveheart is one of my favorite movies. Mel Gibson did a good job in that one.

      • InfiniteWarrior says :

        [quote]Doodling is an appropriate name for the thing you do with bagpipes.[/quote]
        Like any musical instrument, it depends how they’re played. Some make them sing; others make them spew horrific noise. Which has their hearts in it?

        • Scott Preston says :

          Well, by Gum and by Godfrey, look what the tide washed up! You were recently the topic of speculative musing.

          Still, Doodling is the most appropriate term for what you do with a Doodlesack.

          • InfiniteWarrior says :

            Gum and Godfrey? We go way back. Not as far as Gilbert and Sullivan, but there we are.

            I’ll take that as a compliment….

            • Scott Preston says :

              As was intended. (Although, indeed, the tide may wash up the carcass of some mysterious sea creature as much as it may wash up a buried treasure).

  3. abdulmonem says :

    I have always appreciated the universal disposition of Scott, sometime i even blame him when i see him fall in the Christian confinement, then i reconsider my blame, when i see him mitigate that through his openness to others traditions and cultures and that is why I like to participate in his post. I am not against the idea of the clan, because we all born in such set up, but I am against of being besieged by it, and this the dilemma of Ukraine and the the middle east, where the Jews refuse to co-exist with the Arabs. When are we gong to learn to pipe in all bags?

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