Wednesday, August 08, 2007

There's life in the old horse yet

So might as well keep beating it.

Giustino presents talking points for arguing with Russian nationalists. By coincidence, I have spent all morning reading more LiveJournal stuff on Estonia and Russia, and I have a couple points to make.

1) As pointed out in the comments, your purpose is not to convince your opponents, because they are not rational and will not be swayed by reason or logic. Your target audience instead are the lurkers, the people who have not formed an opinion or are not locked into any side yet.

The upshot of this is that changing the topic does not accomplish your goal. If you show your opponent less knowledgeable than you are, or incapable of arguing his point in a chosen context, that certainly improves your own reputation within the forum, gives you a higher standing (the social dynamic of flame forums is a very exciting topic that I may touch upon later). It does not, however, convince the lurkers. They are there, and lurking, because they don't have sufficient information on the topic; they are more likely to identify with the loud simpletons who bring forth uncomplicated, if subtly false, points.

What you need to do is to debunk the opponents' arguments, specifically the ones they put to you, methodically, consistently and convincingly. Use your knowledge and your sources to make the loud simpleton appear a complete moron who doesn't know what the fuck he is talking about. If you perfect this technique, you will eventually reach a level of discourse skill where you can make your opponent's words to discredit him. The true zen master will not even need to respond for the audience to start seeing the weak and implausible points in the opponent's argument; the very act of attack on the zen master is what defeats the attacker.

(I will not claim to have reached enlightenment, however on at least one prominent political forum - a heavily moderated one, where the discourse does not deteriorate into feces-slinging - I had been used as a measure of convincingness. I.e. "your argument is so stupid, it convinces me to take the opposite stance more than ten Flasher T-s could.")

2) It is not fair to call our opponents nationalists. Whether they are Nashi comissars, or flamers of conviction, nationalists they are not. For the purpose of this argument, Russia is not a nation, it is a state. The Kremlin-jugend we are fighting in cyberspace is not representing the Russian nation, it is representing the Russian state and its government, which are for most intents and purposes a single entity.

Russian nationalists do exist, and they are something else entirely. Ostensibly they are our allies, because they have come out firmly on Estonia's side during the conflict. However, after having the opportunity to observe them more closely, I do wonder if they're the sort of allies we really want. Being juxtaposed to Russian cronies, Russian nationalists are professional rebels, continuing the fine tradition of Soviet dissidents: they will take any position that is against the Kremlin. They will stand for Estonia, or for Georgia, or for Juschenko, or for neonazis, or for gay rights - not necessarily all at once, for they are far from a cohesive organization, but as a group they have enough in common to focus on a single enemy. Their fight is difficult, long, and quite possibly hopeless.

However, their fight is not our fight, and it would be extremely foolish for us to get dragged into it.

The pro-Estonian contingent does have an endgame, a specific goal that it is trying to achieve: getting Russia to lay off. If Putin announced tomorrow that the Bronze Soldier is Estonia's private matter, that Russian-speakers in other countries are welcome in Russia if they choose to leave but otherwise are on their own, that Russian companies are encouraged to do business with Estonia; that Russia couldn't give a flying fuck about Estonia in general - we will be satisfied and grateful. These are the terms of armistice which we will accept. If Putin, or his heirs, then continue to tighten the screws on their own population and fuck with various former Soviet states, sell nuclear fuel to Iran, send submarines to place flags on the ocean floor; then we shall certainly be concerned, but we shall stand on the sidelines and shrug.

The ultimate fate of Russia is not our problem.

Russian nationalists are also not our problem, because in large part they are somewhat unpalatable characters. Concentrating on the Russian nation as juxtaposed to the Russian state has left them very hardcore; their principal objection is the massive number of immigrants, guest workers and traders from the North Caucausus, as well as the corrupt police force and civil service. Their ideology is based on the understanding that the Russian people are fundamentally competent, cultured and Good*. It is simply the foreigners, and the corrupt government, that are keeping great Russia down. The moderate element here might advocate a retreat into traditional Russian territories stretching to the Volga river**, while the more extreme contingent here push for absolute Russian dominance on all territories comprising the multinational Russian Federation; whether or not any of them have a point, this shit is far too heavy for us, as Estonians and Europeans, to get into. And at the end of the day it's none of our business.

Small nations cannot afford ideals.

* Someone asked if presuming that Russians are by default incompetent and incapable of building a democracy is in fact a fascist assumption. It's a very good point, and I'll admit that the presumption itself is Evil, but I just can't escape the thought that if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck...

** My personal opinion is that this might be the solution - Russia giving up territories which are not authentically Russian, territories which the Empire and then the Soviet Union conquered out of greed and were never able to satisfactorily control. A Russia that stretches from Novgorod to the Volga would be far more manageable and could eliminate the irritating factors that bring out the asshole in a Russian; and the worst case scenario then is that the Russians will only be hurting themselves. This leaves out Siberia of course, but the Russian bits of it - the ones that were previously populated by bears - are nationalist in their own way. The people who actually manage the natural resources that make Russia rich have a different attitude from the Moscow beltway wanks, and as they would gladly make Siberia an independent state given the chance, they would probably do well, and even build the model Russian community - sort of the Switzerland to Great Russia's Germany. Then all they have to do is fight off China.

Of course, none of this is actually in any way realistic.


Tiamsuu said...

Sakha libre!

space_maze said...


As opposed to Justin's approach, your approach seems .. more frustrating for the actor, but probably more effective at convincing lurkers. It seems a bit like continuing to bang your head against a wall, but maybe that's the only thing one can do if one wants to make a point for the lurkers.

But I still think it's a good idea to occasionally make them uncover their own ignorance and bigotry. Let's pretend that I didn't know a thing about Russia, and its history of .. being somewhat liberal with the truth. If I saw some Soviet nostalgist (since Russian nationalist really isn't the right term) going on about the zionist world conspiracy or some shit like that .. it would very quickly put anything else he might be saying into the right perspective - insane crap coming from people living in a completely different world.

I do think a Russia that was reduced in size to something like the Ukraine, or Germany, would be a lot easier to deal with, much like present-day Britain is a lot easier to deal with than the Britain a few centuries ago owning half the planet. Alas, without a world war, this isn't going to happen to Russia.

So? said...

I love it! Prometheus lives! BTW, the West is getting the upper hand military. Most of Russia's arsenal can be taken out with conventional cruise missile and stealth aircraft. The hard targets with nukes, but the fallout would be minimal. The missile defense in Poland and Alaska will scrub any leakers. A military solution is indeed possible and almost inevitable, IMO.

antyx said...

It seems a bit like continuing to bang your head against a wall

That's pretty much it, except if you do it long enough, the wall cracks. ;)

antyx said...

A military solution is indeed possible and almost inevitable, IMO.

How American of you. The last bunch to successfully invade Russia were the Mongols. Taking out Russia's nuke stockpile, even presuming you could do it successfully, is a long way from victory.

So? said...

So? When the counter-force strike is successful, you just tell 'em, it'll be value targets in the next round, unless you do such and such. Proof: Yugoslobia in 1999. Now they can't wait to get into NATO and EU, "territorial integrity" (pfft) be damned.

antyx said...

Wow. You really have no idea how Russians and their governments think, do you?

antyx said...

The Russkies are a completely different people with a completely different mentality. The Japanese government, including the Emperor, were always guided by principles of honor, and the mass deaths of people whose lives are entrusted to you is a dishonorable thing. Russian leaders have never had that sort of moral check.

Jens-Olaf said...

China seems to be a new myth. China is changing. It is not Western yet. But Flasher might understand: Everywhere you can read about the horrible traffic in China, all are breaking the rules.
Why? Cause individual driving was forbidden, and the first who tried could do it in the 90ies. That is not long ago. And now they drive as they want. Don't care if the party likes it or not. This is freedom, right? So don't compare Russia with China. In Russia they are driving simply too fast.

Jens-Olaf said...

And an note to the Japanese history. They are in China in the 30ies and not out until 1945. And Japan and Russia had a non agression pact too. Leaving Germany, Russia and Japan in the same league.

So? said...

Khalkhin Gol.

Tiamsuu said...

Implied losses have no effect. Russia never has and never will count bodies. We're talking about a country that won a war, effectively, by zerging.

So? said...

Correct. Russians do not value life. All they've ever done is pile up bodies everywhere. The asiatic trait is unmistakeable. Like I said, total annihilation is possible now. No need to repeat the mistakes of 1950's when the US had absolute nuclear supremacy. The time to strike is now. There may be some fallout in the baltic region, but the world as a whole will be better of. (The Balts owe the West some gratitude. A small rise in cancer rates is not a great price to pay.)

antyx said...

Mait, I think I'm gonna steal that line. ;)

Gareth, I don't know what you're trying to prove here. The question of which side was more immoral in WWII is redundant - they're all assholes. Still, Russia is effectively unconquerable.

So? said...

Who cares about conquest. When the natives are toasted with the light of a 1000 miniture suns, you just drive in and take residence. No-one plans to live in those ghastly mongoloid cities anyway. If there are any survivors, you just stir the rubble periodically.

antyx said...

Why? What is your purpose? To gain control of the natural resource? It's cheaper to buy it from the Russians than to spend the money nuking the place.

So? said...

We may never get another chance. Already pissed away a great chance post-WW2. Freaking 15 years of absolute nuclear supremacy for nothing! In They are poor stewards of OUR natural resources, since the planet belongs to all of us. We can take much better care of their real estate. Besides due to global warming, much of what is currently wasteland there will become quite comfortable. Europe and may become either too hot and arid or freeze altogether if the Gulf Stream stops. We have to get that living space now, before the Chinese do.

So? said...

PS. Nuking is cheaper. The nukes are already paid for. They are just sitting there doing absolutely nothing.

So? said...

What, you like russkies or something?

Jens-Olaf said...

Damn, I wrote Russia where I should have written Sovietunion.
Nuking Russia? Ahem. Seriously I do not know enough about the democratical potential Russia owns. It has, I hope. For example the two Russians from Moskva visiting Tartu in 1992 who presented me the book: 'The crunch is now' It was about the Perestroika and the end of the Sovietunion. Or Pristavkin who was in the commission to turn death penalties into other sententeces under Yeltsin presidency, once I've attended one lecture ohf him in Germany.
Or let's take Korea,seen almoust as not ready for democracy. Cause of 500 years under strict confucianism rule, Japanese occupation, stalinistic rule in the North and military governments in the South. As more I learn about the movements for democracy I rather distrust the news we have gooten through the old (western)news channels during the 50ies, 60ies, 70ies, and 80ies.

antyx said...

Undoubtedly there is a significant contingent in Russia that does firmly believe in the democratic ideal, and is prepared to fight for it. Unfortunately, "nobody can be told what the Matrix is" - you can't force democracy on a population not ready for it, you just get Iraq. The majority of the population of Russia does not have the sense of Public Good that is necessary to build a free, democratic state; the understanding that a sacrifice of momentary interest is effectively an investment in future gain.

Plus there's the issue of Moscow controlling an unimaginably vast territory with a very diverse population. That's difficult to do without resorting to autocracy.

So? said...

Russkies are genetically incapable of democracy. End of conversation.

Jens-Olaf said...

No (Estonian connotation), let's get back to what Giustino tries, about WWII and all the conclusions and discussions. I just added this comment to Luca's post cause I am growing angry about the lack of German voices. They are absent. And there are too many Germans from the 40s who could hide their records about what they have done in the Baltics. Instead. Too many Germans are agreeing with Russian media news on Estonia. This is what I have posted, the Germans:

This discussion is almoust without any German opinion. So no opinion but a quote from a survey about the German occupation in Latvia. Uldis Neiburgs has the source in "Western Allies in Latvian Public Opinion and Nazi Propaganda":
'German security institutions surmised the pro-Western orientation of Kurelian officers. After the liquidation of the Kurelis detachment on the orders of the Supreme Commander of SS and Police in Ostland, SS Obergruppenf├╝hrer Fridrich Jeckeln, a court martial trial was held in Liepaja prison on 19 November 1944, and eight staff officers were executed in the coastal dunes near Liepaja, while three accused received reduced sentences. The court verdict stated: " You maintained contacts with Anglo-Saxons and secretly prepared a revolt in order to bring back the year of 1919. On behalf of F├╝hrer Adolf Hitler we can assure you: it will never repeat. We shall exterminate you and your nation to the last man."

So? said...

Only the russkis must feel shame about ww2.

Ray D. Noper said...

I have to say, I'm more on your side than Giustino's... I am not saying these sides are against each other, but rather against common enemy. Making those trolls look ignorant is usually better way...

I especially like to point out Nazi-Soviet pact and (to irritate SU-fanciers) to apologize for not supporting White Guard (Russian nationalists?)...

Giustino said...

The question is who controls the argument, Flasher.

I used the term 'Russian nationalist' -- it's not a good one. I am referring to the fellows who -- once pushed -- will eventually tell you that Estonians are a sub-human class of former German serfs (as Rusak did on the Lucas blog) or that their language will die and they will be assimilated. These people seem like Russian nazis to me.

But back to the point -- they want so badly to talk about World War II. They want so badly to force you into a position where you have to defend the Estonian SS. Why? Because that's an argument they can win in front of the lurkers. I mean who wants to defend guys who ostensibly fought for Hitler? Even the word "wehrmacht" still spooks me.

If you take control of the debate and change the subject matter to talking about 1918 (and legal continuity) or nordic solidarity (and Estonia's hi-tech economy),a you can change the debate and edge out the aforementioned Russian nazis because, like I said, they just want to talk about WWII.

And Estonia is defined in terms of 1918. Most of today's Europe is defined that way. The ability of Montenegro to become a state is traced back to the ideal of national self determination from Wilson's 14 points.

1945 was an attempt to roll back 1918 that failed in 1989. What I am getting at is that if you put the argument in terms of the foundation of Estonian statehood, you win. Because to question that is to question modern European values. You question the sovereignty of Ireland, Iceland, and Finland.

antyx said...

What I am getting at is that if you put the argument in terms of the foundation of Estonian statehood, you win. Because to question that is to question modern European values.

Heh. So you haven't met the type that says Russians gave Estonia its freedom in 1918 and Russians have every right to take it back again? Trust me, they're out there.

Why? Because that's an argument they can win in front of the lurkers. I mean who wants to defend guys who ostensibly fought for Hitler?

I do. Not because I have any sympathy for Hitler - obviously not, I'm Jewish enough to have been sent to the gas chamber - but because if I can win this fight, then I undermine their credibility utterly. If I am targeting the lurkers, and I can show them documents by the UN High Commissioner for Germany saying plaintext that the 20th Division was not fighting for Hitler and is not responsible for any crimes against humanity; and if I can show them a 1942 report by an SD commander in Estonia, saying that Estonians actually think the Germans are morons with big guns who deserve no respect whatsoever, then I will completely destroy the basis of the opponent's argument, the founding precept which he considers safe ground. Once I debunk this, the opponent is rendered completely unconvincing.

Changing the topic implicitly accepts fault; you are asking the audience to judge Estonia positively on balance, and this is doomed to fail because both the opponent and the lurker have been taught by Soviet ideology (including current Putin ideology) that Nazi Germany is a transcendent evil that outweighs anything. The only way to get the audience on your side is to prove, beyond doubt and challenge, that Estonians had nothing to do with the evil in question.

Yes, you'd be wading in a big pool of shit, but sometimes you just have to do that in order to find the plug and let the shit drain away.

And at the end of the day, there is a sense of intellectual achievement to be had from destroying an opponent who thought his position unassailable. ;)

Giustino said...

As a sidenote, I thought you would find amusing my thoughts on Russia, because I don't speak Russian and have never been there.

From these debates though I can tell that Russians:

1) Are disturbingly concerned with status. Yeah, we are all concerned with staus, I know -- but they seem to thirst after it.

Like in the Estonian language law debate, it's about the 'status' of speakers. Their conditions might not change if you changed the laws, but it's the status issue that is more important.

Ditto for the NATO debate. Is it really about security, or about status? They are so humiliated by being thought of as a 'junior partner', but in reality, they are a junior partner. The US has twice as many people, but they are still trying to create some 'Russian' version of global empire.

2) This ties into their thirst for 'being great'. Have you heard that Colleen Winthrop poster at the Lucas' blog. She's drunk on the stuff. She's going off on tangents about ballets and space exploration. I know she's not Russian, but she's probably picking up on those ideas. I have a friend who lives in St. Petersburg. Since he moved there he has been spouting similar stuff.

They also think that they are 'civilized' in a quaint, 1890s kind of way (see comments about ballets, long-winded novels).

3) A constant appeal to emotion. Putin bows down and kisses random boys belly. The Western world (including Estonia) goes "eww". Some Russian somewhere wipes a tear from their eye over this beautiful image. The debates tend to veer into emotionally charged territory that will combine any historical interpretation with religious figures like 'the devil'.

Jens-Olaf said...

Looking back on WWII there are documents about the hopes of the Baltics that the Ango-American forces will have enough power to reach the their countries instead of the Soviet Army. In 1942/1943 already. Diplomatic notes were exchanged underlining the opposition to Nazi Germany. Why are these notes and papers not available on the net? Only in printed books that are contributed in the Baltics.

stockholm slender said...

Strange thing this state vs nation theme in Russian history. Starting from the Romanovs the rulers have quite invariably been working against the interests of the nation. Along with this no proper civil society has ever developed with all the nasty concequences we now have with a nasty administration in power. The Kremlin actually could change tact overnight if its cynical self-interest would so dictate and declare Estonia to be the greatest friend of Russia. Any opposition to this would be easily marginalized. It is a sad and frustrating spectacle - one wonders when will this circle of systematic abuse of state power be broken in Russia?

antyx said...

It won't be. It's not unnatural. If it was purely socially mandated, then the ultimate new beginning of communism would've either yielded a superior society, or crumbled within a decade.

It simply works that way over there.

stockholm slender said...

Well, never say never. I believe we all used to farm turnips for living in order to support a parasitical nobility - things change, progress can happen.


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