It’s not absurd when you live it

I just mentioned Living With Caucasians in the post on Adjara in the sidebar, but I thought this quote was of wider relevance and worth quoting in full here:

Here?s the thing: this country is small. Tiny, even. Russia?s military involvement in Adjara is no joke, and the money that comes through the Adjaran port and the border with Turkey isn?t either. When the bridges get blown up, they?re blown up a few hours? drive away, and the economy of all of Georgia is affected, as are your tax dollars, particularly if you?re American, as are your gas and oil supply, as are the people I hang out with every day. These are real people, and a lot of them are better read than you. Nobody here needs a teacher to tell them how to write, read, do journalism, paint, run a revolution. They need an open interchange of dialogue about all of those issues, but not a deus ex machina.

This is why I think deriding everything that goes on in post-Soviet space as “absurd” ? including the whole cult of thinking the Turkmenbashi is funny, so don?t even go there ? is a colossal mistake. Those are real refugees starting to come over the border from your banal “tinpot dictator” joke. This coldness and ability to distance from what?s going on is one of the reasons US visitors quickly lose sympathy and friendship here, and I?d bet a lot of other places as well, and it’s one of the things in my own relationships here that I people anticipate from me as a westerner, and which I constantly struggle to counteract. It?s not really all that funny; it?s a goddamn dictatorship, under which people struggle pretty damn hard to do whatever they can – even if, yes, it means that it’s ten lari to cross a river on a pony.

And another thing: history shows that people sometimes choose dictators because dictators work in concrete, viable, short-term goals: win the war, get the gas on, let us live our lives and hold our heads up. I think our responsibility is to make democracy a viable, justifiable, immediate alternative that fulfils or at least explains all those things, something I don?t see happening with any sort of clarity in places emerging into contact with the United States. Irony is not a useful weapon of international change.

5 thoughts on “It’s not absurd when you live it

  1. Great piece, thank you for posting it. Cannot add much to it, but “this coldness and ability to distance from what?s going on” is one of the things that struck me most. Information, especially on the net, is in a way very abstract. It is like you are ‘reading’ a movie with fictional characters and settings.

    As an aside, it is good that we now have the opportunity, through blogs, to read real stories from real people on the spot, often with photos. I like ‘amateur’ blogs and photos in particular, their relative ‘roughness’ makes things more tangible and is a good counterbalance to slick, predigested media.

  2. I came to the conclusion long ago that american irony is caused by believing in the things one says, but also worrying that such belief is for suckers, therefore everything must be said ironically.

    most other ironical forms are, i should hope, not so hopelessly decadent.

  3. Why bring the US into this?

    Why does everyone believe that if something goes wrong, it must be the americans fault?

    And why, with Europe so close, does not the EU do something, and a bunch of people expect the Americans to “fix” this problem.

    America does what it can where it can, and if it can’t, then it doesn’t.

    If you understand that statement, then you understand American foreign policy.

  4. I think the reason America was mentioned was because the writer’s an American living in Georgia (the former Soviet republic, not the US state). I thought the point was pretty universal and not limited solely to America.

  5. ‘Why does everyone believe that if something goes wrong, it must be the americans fault?’

    why do you interpret anecdotes of americans finding suffering under dictatorships picturesque or amusing as indicating blame for those dictatorships?

    Or are you saying that if an American finds some local bit of color amusing, say that it costs ten lari to cross a river on a pony, it’s the fault of the pony, the river, or the dictator that the american just can’t help laughing? Gosh, why do those foreigners have to be so darned amusing?

Comments are closed.