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People who want MTV


Part 4 (of 4)

Hakim Bey: I don’t understand, can you explain to me how can people live on 26 dollars a month in Russia? Apparently, there are many people like that. How is it possible? How do they do that? Are there some remnants of Communism?

Sasha Miltsov: Well, it’s not exactly 26 dollars. But if it’s outside Moscow it can very well be 100-150 dollars a month. How do people survive? First of all, most of the people still have their apartments from the Soviet times, when they got them for free or almost for free. And so they don’t pay rent, only the utilities. The other thing that helps is the “dacha”. People are growing their own fruits and vegetables. And of course, relatives are helping each other.

In Moscow and to a certain extend in St-Petersburg it’s different, you have a few thousand of extremely rich people making money on oil, gas, retail, speculations and the overall misery. And then they have a whole community of people serving their needs: lawyers, bankers, managers, journalists, cleaners, guards, and so forth, who are rather well paid. And then you have the lackeys of the lackeys  with an incredible amount of brown-nosing, of course. That’s why there’s so much hatred and envy towards Moscow. It’s utterly disgusting.

But the TV is always there to explain and entertain. People are literary glued to the “blue screens” with the never-ending police soap operas and the latest news from the world of oligarchs or the criminal series that make it look that the good brave police is hunting down the criminals out there distorting the fact that they are in fact protecting the criminals in here – that is the legal criminals who write the laws.

HB: Very much like American television.

SM: Yes, but with a special “Russian flavour”. People are completely mesmerized by TV, like rats by a flute. It could be a guy who’s practically selling his last shirt to feed himself and yet he would not miss “the latest news” murmuring about “stability” and “growth”.

HB: That’s what I was thinking earlier today. The big thing of my lifetime is television, because cars were already there when I was born but I wasn’t born into a house with television. And since then the whole world has been televisualized. There was a time when South Africa was the only country that didn’t have television – for obvious reasons, not the good reasons but the bad reasons. Now everybody has got it and that’s it, that’s the end. This is the end of human society. You can’t have television and human society, as far as I can make out. And a car, of course, completes that by making it possible for human society to physically disperse itself into nothingness. So, first you have a mental dispersion and then a physical dispersion. The car and the television – these are the two 20th century big things and that’s my lifetime. It’s the story of my life. It’s much more significant than all the wars and the killings that occurred in that lovely 20th century. If there are historians 200-300 years from now that’s what they will be talking about: these technological things.

SM: You have to be anti-pessimist enough to believe that it will last that long.

HB: J.G. Ballard wrote a whole series of books about the way the World would end. In each case there was a different ending: flood, drought, strange crystallization effect caused by some scientific mistake… In some of his work he hypothesizes that the End of the world is the eternity of what we’ve got now. He sees the entire Universe becoming a shopping mall. This is the worst apocalypse in a sense. And, like I said in the beginning of our talk, it is possible.

So, maybe there will be historians 300 years from now and they will be talking about cars and television.

SM:  What do you think about the current situation in Russia?

HB: It looks to me that Russia is very much in a loser’s position still reeling from the defeat of 1989 and what’s going to happen is hard to figure out. I’ve never been to Russia myself but from all the literature I’ve read and from all the people I’ve met, and from some travel in Eastern Europe – it doesn’t look good, because Russia will never be invited to join NATO and EU. It’s going to become this strange nowhere place. What do you think?

SM:  Well, it is going to be and, and in fact, it is already a place for extracting recourses for the West. In exchange for “mirrors and necklaces” which are Western brands and images. The primary goal has always been to divide and to exploit.

HB: To make it what used to be called “the Third World”, which is really incorrect, we shouldn’t use those terms anymore; because the Soviet Union was the Second World and it disappeared. Now we only have one world, the goal of globalism, and it looks like a dialectic is emerging, if you pardon the expression: the included zones against the excluded zones. It looks to me that Russia is going to end up in the excluded zone, in the dust heap of history.

I don’t know what would counter–balance this, maybe some kind of federation of former USSR republics working towards a more socialist way of being. Some people seem to be talking about this but from what I know it is impossible.

SM: What I see is that in a short time there will be further “balkanization” of Russia. It’s going to be divided into several parts. People will be put against other people on the basis of nationality and religion or by some local differences. Russian liberals or neo-liberals and nationalists are actively working together to make it happen. It is simply easier to control and exploit people and the territory that way.

HB: It’s possible to think that if the American Empire and the Chinese Empire could break up then the situation will be much easier for Russia and the former Soviet entities, because there wouldn’t be these two enormous superpowers – economic powers – in an unfair fight. In other words, if the whole world could break up into small separate countries, it would be a better chance for everybody. Perhaps we could avoid big wars, if only because these entities would be too small to dare that kind of violence. I don’t know. Now I sound like an optimist.

For me Russia is a place where I’ve never been and it’s always been totally fascinating. I know it mostly through literature, because of this unique position between the East and the West, which the Russians themselves are conscious of and comment on over and over again. And it’s true! There they are, between some kind of Asian something and some kind of European or Western something. And that tension produces, in such a short time, so much brilliant art and literature. Say, from Pushkin till now. This seems to me as something unique and fabulous.

I think that if I were Russian, I’d be very worried about the collapse of the dissident art movement after 89. This was a movement based on being against something that disappeared with a big fart and left all that art hanging in the air. It’s like pulling a rug out from underneath everybody’s feet. It was a big psychic deflation. What I would be interested in is to somehow move towards whatever will be next. Forget all that dissident stuff! Stop with the nostalgia for the days of dissidents, because that’s counterproductive. There’s dead art coming from that part. Get over it. Something’s got to be next and let’s figure out what it is. That’s the way I would imagine myself talking if I were Russian.

By the way, are there any interesting Russian writers I might not know? I mean, the contemporary ones.

SM: Sure. Yuri Mamleev is great, especially the short stories from the 70s, I would also mention Masodov, early Sorokin, and also we have many genius poets not translated into English, like Nastya Trubacheva or Vladimir Bogomyakov among others. By the way, Dugin did some beautiful poetry.

HB: Intellectually, it is interesting what he is doing. I didn’t know that he was writing poetry too.

SM: Yes, he is very interesting.

Back to the Net. What do you think about the anti-copyright movement, which is highly active on the Internet?

HB:  In a sense, I call the Internet “the perfect mirror of global capital”. The same kind of breakdown of boundaries that supposedly occurs in globalism or the global economics occurs in terms of information on the Internet. That is, everything is a virus. Capital itself is viral in nature. And the Internet is its perfect manifestation. Even the fact that you can’t make any money on it also ties in with this concept. It is not the same, it’s the mirror image of Capital: everything is different, everything is backwards but it’s still a mirror image. And the result is that no matter how much you think you’re using it as a weapon against capitalism, you’re using that very structure, which is Capital! Pure and simple.

Ultimately, that’s my big problem with the Internet. It’s not even a matter of the stupid content or the other aspects of it, but the fact that, ultimately, it’s just pure Capital.

And because of this strange reversal that occurred — strange anomalies occur such as this copyright problem. Some capitalists make their money off copyrights so they’re upset if someone breaks them. Other capitalists make more money when there’s no copyright, when everything flows freely around. But they have already worked it out because “all the customers have to be satisfied”. They can satisfy themselves on the Internet. Capitalism doesn’t even have to pay for it. They sell machines and then people use them and think that they do something independent or even critical of the capitalist economy. No. It’s just all part of the same thing.

It’s like saying that there’s something liberatory about the telephone. Well, yes, in a way; but in another way not. And the two ways cancel each other out. With telephones the lure is that I can call you in Moscow and we can talk, but that’s also the problem, because you’re in Moscow and I am here. And that’s not society that’s just communication. Communication is not the same as community.

So that’s my problem with the current Internet situation and it’s not just theory, because what I see here in America is that ALL the activity on what we call “the Left” is ALL virtual! All of it, except for a few communes here and there, a few bomb-throwers, people who destroy genetic crops. I have a lot of respect for these people even though I think that their tactics are stupid but I still respect them, because at least they’re doing something.

Everybody else is just “on-line” all the time. It’s maddening! It’s maddening! Especially, since I don’t participate in it. If I participated in it, I would soon sink into the hypnotic state that goes with it.

SM: It is the illusion that something actually happens: You’re producing some thought and people react to it.

HB: That’s right. Back in the 70s, there was a book called “Four arguments for the elimination of television” by Jerry Mander. One of his points was very subtle. The other points were quite clear but one was rather difficult to understand. And still many people don’t understand it. He said, for example, let’s imagine that you watch an hour special on PBS about some fucking Indian tribe that’s disappearing. And you go “Oh, that’s terrible!” And you feel your heart bursting out with sorrow. And then it switches to some game show. And, basically, what’s going on here is that the television is giving you the illusion of doing something, because you wasted an hour, you spent an hour watching this rather bad television show, when you could have been watching the latest horror movie or something much more entertaining.

So you’ve done something! You’ve sacrificed an hour of your life. And now you know things. You can go to work the next day and say “Do you know about the Indians and bla-bla-bla”, and everybody goes “Oh, the poor Indians!” And that’s it! That’s the end of it.

And television actually makes sure that they will never go further than this.

SM: Yes, and if it has already been on television, then why study it more? After all, the journalists have done research and got some money from the TV company. So, it’s there. And then people also need to talk about something, so let’s talk about Indians today.

HB: And this completely replaces human relations. There are people, who think that they have friends, but it turns out that they are the people at work with whom they talk about television.

This woman told me that she had quarreled with her mother years ago and that they have finally reconciled. She had traveled to visit her mother many thousands of miles. And as soon as she came into the house, the mother said, “Oh, there’s this special television show that I have to watch now”. And she said, “Mom, I thought we were reconciling after 7 or 10 years and you are going to go and watch a television show?” The mother said, “you don’t understand. I work for a living and my only friends are the people I work with and this show is the show that we discuss on Tuesdays and I have to watch this show, or I’ll have nothing to talk with my friends about. So, you will just have to wait”.

Well, you can sort of sympathize with the mother. That’s all that’s left of the social for her.

SM: What’s your opinion about the “orange revolution” in Ukraine? And about all these incredibly popular movements that bring ultra free-market freaks to power these days.

HB: Anything that the American government is in favor of – of course, I am very-very suspicious. The same thing in the Middle East: the so-called “forces of democracy” are largely pro-American, pro-capitalist people who want MTV. That is, basically, what is going on. So, it’s hard for me to take sides.

I don’t like old communists and I don’t like Islamic clergy either but the opposition is often disgusting.

When I was in Estonia, I was speaking to this nice young Estonian lady; it was around year 2000. I asked her “Who are all these guys with the cell-phones” – you could see them walking up and down the streets. She said “Oh, I know exactly who they are – I went to high-school with them. When we were in high-school, we used to sing songs about Reagan and Thatcher to make teachers angry, and these are the guys who took it seriously”.

I said “How about you? What’s your feeling?” She said, “ I thought it was great. But one day, a few years ago, I thought that it would be nice to hear some classical music, so I looked in the newspaper to see where I could go to a classical music concert. There wasn’t any! And I suddenly realized that it was Communism that paid for all that classical music and now we don’t have it anymore. That was sad!”

So a lot of this so-called “opposition” is simply pro-Americanism or a kind of weird pro-American commodities and anti-American politics, which is strange.  Look, even all these Islamic fundamentalists, they LOVE Capitalism.

SM: Oh, they love money!

HB: Phewwww. They love money! They love technology!

SM: Ideologically speaking, they are nothings.

HB: They are absolutely Zero!

SM: I mean, they would reproduce the same kind of system we have right now.


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