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#68: Putin Wants to Censor Me

#68: Putin Wants to Censor Me

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Welcome to another Mindf*ck Monday, the only weekly newsletter that insults dictators and is sexually aroused by Tolstoy novels. Each week, I send you three potentially life-changing ideas to help you become a slightly less awful human being. 

1. Putin Wants to Censor Me – Tuesday morning I woke up to a number of messages from readers with news from Russia: Putin wants to pass a new censorship law in Russia and he’s using my books as a justification to do so.   
Well, uh, add that to the trophy case…

So, what did it? The profanity? No. My Russian publisher chose to leave the F-word out of both translated titles. Maybe the lewd humor? Maybe calling my readers “fuckface” and comparing them to a dog shitting on the carpet doesn’t go over well out east? Nope. Not that, either.

The censorship law was proposed because I dared to write frankly about the Soviet atrocities committed during and after World War II.  

From a BBC correspondent in Moscow:

Putin’s plan to ban “conflating the Soviet and Nazi roles in WW2” was apparently prompted by The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck and its sequel. Mark Manson wrote in his book that Poles saw the “rape and/or murder of family members, if not by the Nazis, then a few years later by the Soviets,”You can read the full article here (it’s in Russian, but Google can translate it for you).

This is pretty crazy. But what’s even crazier is that Garry Kasparov, the world chess champion that I wrote about at the end of Everything is F*cked: A Book About Hope, contacted me out of the blue roughly a year ago. He said he had read the book, said some nice things, and then abruptly told me, “unfortunately, you’re probably going to lose your Russian edition.”

Kind of confused—and let’s be honest, totally fanboying—I asked him what he meant. He said:
“Putin has been aggressively rehabilitating Stalin’s reputation and attempting to rewrite the Soviet atrocities. If a Russian publisher printed this book in Russian, I would be amazed if it doesn’t get censored or banned at some point!”
At the time, I thought this was perhaps an overreaction. My books have had sections censored in China and Vietnam, yet I had never heard anything of concern from my Russian publisher. The books were also hugely popular in Russia.

Meanwhile, Kasparov has dedicated his entire post-chess life to opposing Putin. He ran against him in Russia’s 2007 presidential election before being illegally barred from the election. Kasparov’s obsession has been sounding the alarm on what an evil scumfuck Putin is. Therefore, I figured that he projected that obsession onto my book.

Well, I should have known better. The dude doesn’t just see ten moves ahead on a chess board, he can see ten moves ahead in the real world, too. The popularity of the books with young Russians and Putin’s desire to revise history would eventually collide and it appears that the books will soon pay the price.

2. History Is Part-Argument – In War and Peace, Tolstoy wrote that, “the subject of history is the life of peoples and of humanity. To catch and pin down in words—that is, to describe directly the life, not only of humanity, but even of a single people, appears to be impossible.”

Tolstoy was so much more than a novelist, and War and Peace is so much more than a novel. Aside from intimidating millions of college students with its girth and acting as an excellent door-stop, War and Peace is a philosophical argument about people and history and why events happen.

For most of, err, history, people believed that history was merely chronicling the sequence of facts as they happened. Joe conquered the Schmoe people, King Bilbo was overthrown by King Dildo, and time marched on.

Tolstoy believed this was an overly-simplistic view of history. He argued that the interactions between so many people, so many ideas, and so many variables are so complex that we can never truly know why major events happen. Instead, we condense our limited understanding into simplified narratives, usually revolving around prominent individuals, and this is what becomes understood as “history.”

But instead of boring us all to tears with philosophical essays about this, Tolstoy wrote a 1,200-page masterpiece about the Napoleonic wars that actively demonstrated it.

Tolstoy understood that history has as much to do with the present as it does the past. The narratives we generate from past events are often politically motivated.

As such, history can be a political battleground of the present. What is omitted or accentuated has real-world implications. Putin’s desire to paper over Stalin’s atrocities frames the present-day debate in his favor. It says, “Don’t worry, guys; this totalitarian thing really ain’t so bad… promise.”

3. The Courage to Face the Worst in Yourself What’s ironic about this whole mess is that my books explicitly warn of the dangers of such censorship. In The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, I write that it’s only in the willingness to acknowledge our past failures that we are able to prevent them from ever happening again. In Everything is F*cked, I go further and argue that people are not free when they are given information that makes them feel good—true freedom requires the ability to confront information (and history) that feels bad.

Admitting your country’s or culture’s failures is hard. None of us like to do it. We often fail to do it here in the US, as well. But at least here, we’re afforded the opportunity in the first place.

Putin’s need to censor anything that might make his supporters uncomfortable or unhappy with Russia (or him) is not only weak, it’s cowardly. It’s proof of the failure of his leadership. Imagine having a boss at work who feels he has to hide the company’s poor results from his staff so that they keep working for him. That’s the living definition of a fucking horrible boss.  

Nietzsche once said, “I measure the strength of a spirit by how much truth it can take.” While Putin may be a genius at the accumulation of power, his inability to work within the confines of truth makes his spirit weak. Therefore, his legacy is empty. After his death, he will be largely overlooked or forgotten, tossed onto the large shit-heap of dictators and self-serving rulers throughout history.

By the way, if I turn up in a Berlin hospital dying from an obscure chemical, you all know what happened.

Until next week,