Appreciating The United States in the Context of Russia
by Elliot Benjamin, Ph.D. April, 2022
I cannot believe that I am writing an essay that has a title that begins with the words “Appreciating The United States.” Certainly I have written persistently about my many grievances against the United States, especially during the years of the Trump presidency . But the horrid current state of affairs caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine has had a significant impact upon me. Aside from the gruesome killing of Ukrainian civilians that I believe was perpetrated by Russia  in spite of Russia’s denials , we have witnessed the indisputable withering away of democracy inside of Russia. I am referring to Russia’s arrest of thousands of anti-war demonstrators with the likely consequence of them receiving long prison sentences, and the threat of 15 year prison sentences to journalists who write anything against the Russian government . One particular instance of this withering away of democracy struck me in particular, which involved a Russian 55-year-old English and German language teacher who gave an anti-war speech in her classroom and now may face up to 10 years in prison for “the spread of so-called fake news about the Russian army.” .
As it turned out, the teacher, Irina Gen, did not know that she was being recorded by her 13- and 14-year-old students, who had asked her why Russian athletes were banned from participating in international competitions. Gen described her motivation for giving her anti-war speech as follows:
“I just wanted to broaden my students’ worldview. I hoped to break through the propaganda that is being fed to this country.” Gen also “voiced her disapproval of the way that Russian state media framed the bombing of a maternity hospital in the besieged city of Mariupol as a Ukrainian-style provocation.” Gen described her ideal as “being prosecuted for a viewpoint that isn’t the official one. My family already went once through a denunciation campaign in the Soviet Union” which referred to “Stalin’s great purge in which hundreds of thousands of ordinary citizens denounced their neighbors, friends and relatives as ‘enemies of the state.’” However, Gen did not hold a grudge against her students:
“I don’t blame my students; they just follow what their parents think and tell them to do. . . . It’s also crazy to see how everyone around me, the vast majority of people that I know, people I considered friends, are supporting Russia in this conflict.”
This withering away of democracy in Russia has some obvious similarities to the Stalinist years:
“Moscow early on signaled it would not tolerate dissenting voices in its education sector. . . . As of 1 March, schools introduced new lessons in which teachers were instructed to explain to their students why Russia was forced to start the war against a fascist regime in Ukraine.. . . . Andrei Kolesnikov of the Carnegie Moscow Center said the experience of Gen and other teachers pointed to a worrying ‘Stanliisation’ of Russian society. ‘It feels like we are in a time machine. A climate is created in which denunciations are encouraged by the authorities. We have seen the same processes develop under Stalin, which had devastating consequences.’ Kkolesnikov said he had been approached by ‘many university professors’ who said they were scared to mention the ‘Ukrainian subject.’ ‘They say that students are trying to provoke them into speaking about the conflict just to denounce them.’. . . . A number of reports have recently emerged of random passersby denouncing small business owners who put up anti-war messages in their shop windows. ‘We are seeing creeping signs of an authoritarian regime transforming into a full-on totalitarian one, in which a mobilized society actively tells on each other.’”
Thus I am feeling very personally how the freedom that I have always taken for granted would have been squashed if I were living in Russia. Speaking my mind about the destructiveness of Trump as United States president at a number of psychology conferences, and writing numerous essays to this effect, would have without a doubt landed me in prison, or worse, if this were Russia. But I have been able to do this in the United States, and I have not been put into prison, or damaged in any way. Now I am of course not forgetting all the many adverse attacks on democracy in the United States, a number of which I have previously written about. These attacks on democracy include racial prejudice, hate crimes, police abuse, voting restrictions, censorship, and a host of other egregious actions, aside from the United States’ engagement in various wars all over the world for the purpose of “regime change.” But the fact remains that at least there is a relative degree of freedom of speech in The United States, in comparison with Russia. Everything is relative here, and what I am comparing is a country with a relative democracy to a country with a relative authoritarian regime.
As much as I have detested the Trump presidency and feel a dread of a very possible 2024 Trump or Trumpian presidency , I must begrudgingly admit that I do not expect that a Trump or Trumpian presidency would result in the kind of curtailment of my freedom to write an essay expressing what I think about President Trump or President Trumpian, such as what is currently happening in Russia in regard to Putin and the Russian government and military. This feeling of freedom to write an essay expressing how I feel and what I think runs very deep in me. I have been writing experiential essays for nearly a half century, and when the time comes for me to write an essay, it is “me” being “me.” I can remember how in 1977 I began writing down my thoughts and feelings about Scientology, having just left the “modern religion” and wrestling with my fears of exposing the church’s doctrines and questionable ethical practices. These Scientology writings, buttressed by my inclusion of excerpts of my semi-autobiographical novel in which I referred to Scientology as The Church of Spiritual Mechanics, ended up comprising a good chunk of my book on religious cults . My book on the creative artist includes a number of my early experiential essays on various subjects, that illustrates a part of my philosophy of Natural Dimension, which again is “me” being “me” and represents my expression of who I really am .
So being able to write what I think and feel is very precious to me, as evidenced by all my experiential essays on Integral World, and in various other venues. The past few years I have been obsessed with writing about Trump, and Integral World has witnessed many of my essays about this controversial subject . I had actually forgotten that there could be any danger criticizing the President of the United States, as so many people were doing it and there was so much to criticize. But now seeing what is happening in Russia to people who write articles or make statements criticizing Putin is a wake-up call for me. For spilling my guts and being critical of Putin in an experiential essay in current Russia would have been the end of “me” being “me.” And it is in this context that I must begrudgingly concede that in spite of the many and enormous destructive aspects of the United States, I very much appreciate the freedom that I have had for nearly half a century to write an experiential essay without being sent to prison, or worse.
Notes and References
1) See in particular my essays on Trump on the Integral World website at www.integralworld.net
2) In support of Russia being the perpetrator of war crimes against Ukraine, see the following articles: Melanie Amann, Matthias Gebauer, & Fidelius Schmid (2022), German Intelligence Intercepts Radio Traffic Discussing the Murder of Civilians. https://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/possible-evidence-of-russian-atrocities-german-intelligence-intercepts-radio-traffic-discussing-the-murder-of-civilians-in-bucha-a-0a191c96-634f-4d07-8c5c-c4a772315b0d; Max Bearak & Louisa Loveluck (2022), In Bucha, the Scope of Russian Barbarity Is Coming Into Focus. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/04/06/bucha-barbarism-atrocities-russian-soldiers/; Christian Esch & Thore Schroder (2022), The Horrors of Bucha: At the Scene of the War Crimes. https://www.spiegel.de/international/world/the-horrors-of-bucha-at-the-scene-of-the-war-crimes-a-b1b95592-5518-45ae-8010-2fd060c3dcd9; and Timothy Snyder (2022), Russia’s Genocide Handbook. https://snyder.substack.com/p/russias-genocide-handbook?s=r
3) For a description of Russia’s denial that it purposefully killed Ukrainian citizens, see Andrew Roth (2022), Kremlin Reverts to Type in Denial of Alleged War Crimes in Ukraine’s Bucha. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/apr/04/kremlin-reverts-to-type-in-response-to-alleged-war-crimes-in-ukraine; for a description of the accusation that Ukraine used its citizens as human shields against Russian bombardments, from a source other than Russia directly, see Donbass Insider (2022), Ukrainian Army Uses Civilians as Human Shields to Protect Itself from the Russian Army. https://www.donbass-insider.com/2022/03/08/ukrainian-army-uses-civilians-as-human-shields-to-protect-itself-from-the-russian-army/
4) See Sam Jones (2022), More than 4,300 people arrested at anti-war protests across Russia. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/mar/06/4300-people-arrested-anti-war-protests-across-russia-decounce-vladimir-putin-war-ukraine; and Anne M. Simmons & Alexandra Bruell (2022), Russia targets media outlets with “Fake News” law, blocks Facebook. https://www.wsj.com/articles/russia-targets-media-outlets-with-fake-news-law-blocks-facebook-11646442530
5) See Pjotr Sauer (2022), Russian Teacher “Shocked” As She Faces Jail Over Anti-war Speech Pupils Taped. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/apr/06/russian-teacher-shocked-as-she-faces-jail-over-anti-war-speech-pupils-taped; all quotes in this essay have been taken from this article; for a related incident see Kelsey Vlamis (2022), A Teacher in Russia Was Fired and Fined After Her Eight-Grade Student Recorded Her and Turned Her In For Saying “Ukraine Is a Separate Country.” https://news.yahoo.com/teacher-russia-fired-fined-her-034751950.html
6) See Elliot Benjamin (2022), Is the United States Currently Living in a Pre-Trump or Pre-Trumpian Time Period? An Extended and Updated Report; March, 2022.
7) See Elliot Benjamin (2020), Modern Religions: An Experiential Analysis and Exposé. Natural Dimension Publications.
8) See Elliot Benjamin (2021), The Creative Artist, Mental Health, and Mental Disturbance. Natural Dimension Publications; for a succinct description of part of my philosophy of Natural Dimension, inclusive of some excerpts from my Natural Dimension creative artist activities from my Creative Artist book, see Elliot Benjamin (2007), My Conception of Integral.