May 9, 2013… The weather is perfect after a miserable two weeks of cold spring wind and rain here in Altai Krai. It is a balmy 26o C (low 80s F) sun high in the sky, with not a serious gust of wind anywhere to be felt. It is Victory Day across Russia. The successful end to the “Great Patriotic War.” Russia overtook the Nazi offensive, walked into Berlin, and Russian freedom from German tyranny was fetched from the hands of defeat with the signing of the peace accord. Big celebration today. Barnaul is alive with pedestrian traffic, sharing in the merrymaking around the main square at the intersection of Socialisticheskii and Dimitrova streets. Children are thanking old grandfathers for their heroic war-labors as they stroll about town dressed in hard won and stale but cherished medals; remnants of an earlier empire. The declination of imperial design. The leftovers of conquistadorial aspirations. The decadence of civilized greatness and hegemonic ambition. We really are living through The End of History!
The interesting thing about the emergent culture that I see on display here in Russia, and specifically in Siberia, is that it is all about the show, the spectacle! Appearance, affect and effect – these are what matter most. But perhaps it is indicative of the end of history through which we are now living. After all, there is not much sense in doing anything substantive at this juncture anyway; just create the appearance of something being done or having been done.
Certainly, the American Congress understands that concept well. Lots of chest-pounding and the appearance of decisiveness; but really nothing of substance done that means anything… just keep the ship on course until we see the size of the iceberg coming at us. It seems the only thing the American political class is good at doing is head-faking the American people. The honorable Premier Obama continues to payback his creditors and cronies with appointments and political favors – like handing out balloons to toddlers, while he himself still remains deeply indebted (or is that indentured) to the biggest of his backers. Meanwhile, our political-military-security-industrial complex continues to squeeze the public under the guise of providing protection from global bogeymen, just like the Chicago mafia extracting payola for “protecting” the local grocer from their own hired thugs. Call that ‘win-win’!
As Chris Hedges points out this week in his column, it is a similar situation with Julian Assange, Bradley Manning, and Wikileaks generally. They (The Security State) cannot possibly stop their pursuit of these people because their very presence threatens to blow the lid right off the cover stories of all the scams and other bullshit we are being asked to swallow by various officially sanctioned (i.e., paid for) media outlets and wonks. And so a simulacrum of truth does the job, it obviates the public’s need to know; they believe they already have the truth! In fact the search for truth becomes exposed, shown to be precisely what it usually is when dished out by professionals – a scam of the intellectual, expert, and policymaking elite slicing, dicing and selectively manipulating bits of data to create cogent illusions for public consumption. And as the public sits back in their soft armchairs and consumes this tripe, the real stuff is quietly getting cooked behind the scenes, as we continue sleepwalking to the bitter end.
Here in Barnaul things are not much different. People are wandering as if in a fog – the fog of new acquisitiveness, enjoying the myriad spectacles, and playing their bit parts, while ‘the powers that be’ continue casting shadows on the screen, images of a present that make it appear larger than life, and the promise of a future that really can never be. But the pedestrian class (including and especially those who consider themselves the motoring public) goes on spending money it has-not, building-up debt, accumulating the nice new toys of capitalist success. But, no cares, no worries: just buy, buy, buy, and then, show and tell time.
Meanwhile the rock music blares behind me, as the band plays on, the crowds energy and anxiety feverishly growing, anticipating the gargantuan firework display sure to come after dark. But, how can we expect anything less. Indeed, like most of my compatriots either here or across the Atlantic, I too am still entranced at times by the spectacle, by the lure of a flashy new smart-phone or a stylish fur-lined winter coat; engaged by the temptations of consumption, although no longer ‘conspicuously’ so, as it remains for most of those here.
One final, but intriguing note. Oddly enough, you cannot buy any alcohol in Russia today – Victory Day. The biggest day of celebration with the exception of New Year’s eve, and the buying of any mind-numbing spirits is strictly prohibited. It is a holy-day after all, a day evidently dedicated to the sober contemplation of the gifts bestowed upon us by great men of courage and conviction. Courage that is perhaps an automatic response to the convincing psychopathy of everyday life in the civilized regimes and empires we inhabit and helped to build, carried upon our shoulders, one log or one brick at a time.
To quote the folk-masters of old: “When will they learn? When will they ever learn?”