“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”.