Saturday, February 23, 2013

How The US Used Pussy Riot And You Liked It

Why were you outraged over Russia locking up Pussy Riot but ambivalent over America bringing its full weight down on open access activist Aaron Swartz? Simple, because hating a Russian government is easier than improving your own.

When Russian punk band Pussy Riot received 2 years for "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred" there were weeks of press coverage, mass protests, world outrage, and calls, most notably by US President Barack Obama, denouncing Russia's actions as "disproportionate".

Yet when Reddit co-creator Aaron Swartz was facing 35 years in an American prison for merely making publicly-funded research public, there were few news stories, little protest, no world outcry, and the American government, and every other western one, was silent.

The charges against Aaron Swartz were far more disproportionate than those brought against Pussy Riot, but most people didn't care. After all the lockup of Pussy Riot was really a win-win; Americans got to cathartically stand up against a repressive Russian regime and the American government got to internationally isolate a cold war foe.

On the otherhand Aaron Swartz was just lose-lose. The American government looked bad and its citizens didn't want to expend the effort or enthusiasm by wading in the minutiae of copyright law, trying to galvanize support around a less than sexy issue, and attempting to influence bureaucratic political intervention.

In the end the American government used Pussy Riot as a lever against Russia, and the people liked it because it was an easy issue to get behind.

This strategy will more than likely be used again in the future because, in the world of foreign affairs, it's so much easier to despise or protest a foreign government's abuses than do something about your own.

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