Reflections on society, politics and nature – vol. 56

This is one in a series of posts with brief notes on society, politics, and nature. I sometimes include short personal notes as well. Click “read more” to see all the entries.

THE COMPLEXITIES OF THE WORLD

If we put pressure on someone to get a particular result, they will typically push back – either right away or after a while – and we end up with the opposite outcome.

This is something most of us learn early in life, although Putin may not have gotten the memo.

For instance, due to Putin’s invasion, the public support for NATO membership in Sweden and Finland has gone from weak (20% in Finland) to a clear majority. That shift happened in less than a week and it’s not likely to revert any time soon.

A predictable and almost inevitable consequence of Putin’s current aggression towards a neighboring country is that more of Russia’s neighbors will want to join the EU and NATO for their own protection.

Putin has not only created a situation where more countries are far more motivated to join NATO for their own protection. His invasion of Ukraine has also created the perfect window of opportunity for more countries to join. The Russian military is caught up in a bungled invasion and does not have the capacity to invade any other country in the period between they start a membership process and they actually become members. 

This is also why former Soviet republics have joined NATO since the fall of the Soviet Union. They know that Russia has a history of invading and occupying their neighbors and wants to protect themselves. They do the sane thing. (And, yes, I know there are lots of problems with NATO but that’s separate from this and another discussion.)

WORKED UP OVER COMMON KNOWLEDGE

I have noticed a few things about some people into conspiracy theories.

They don’t always know much about history, including the long and inglorious history of conspiracy theories. (For instance, conspiracy theories flourish in times of collective crises like pandemics.)

They don’t seem to know much about media literacy and examining sources. (They are critical to anything mainstream, but not always the ones criticizing the mainstream.)

They don’t always seem to question their own thinking and stories about the world. (Again, they question the mainstream but not always their own views and conclusions.)

They sometimes seem surprised by some aspects of how society works. They seem to have caught glimpses of something that’s been out in the public for decades and centuries, get worked up about it, and reach dramatic conclusions.

For instance, some seem to get worked up about common knowledge about vaccines and the medical industry. Vaccines are not always 100% effective in preventing illness. (Although they are often good at preventing serious illness.) Some bodies react strongly to vaccines and this can lead to serious illness and even death. (These bodies may react in a similar way to the actual virus that the vaccine mimics.)

The medical industry is in it for the money. They are not humanitarians. There is a lot of sordid business and manipulation going on in the medical industry and the way it interfaces with politics and the media. (And that doesn’t mean that some or many of their products aren’t valuable and useful in some cases.)

The pandemic measures put in place were typical for any pandemic. It’s what we know works from history. And they are recommended by epidemiologists who are studying these things.

These measures are temporary. No need to get very worked up about it. Similar measures have been put in place throughout history any time there is a pandemic.

There was a lot of uncertainty at the beginning of the pandemic, and different countries understandably responded to it differently. (This is perfect since it creates an opportunity to study the different approaches in hindsight to see the effects of each.)

I have been aware of these kinds of things since my early teens. None of it is new. It’s all been out there in the public for decades and centuries. And as I see it, none of this is a reason to throw the baby out with the bathwater. It’s better to take a more nuanced and grounded view.

THE USE OF IDEOLOGIES

Getting into ideologies can seem noble, can serve several functions, and it also comes with obvious downsides and pitfalls.

When we get into ideologies, we typically do it to feel safe. (This doesn’t work, but for a while it may seem that it works.)

We may use ideologies as a stepping stone to break free from old patterns in our family and culture.

After we find more familiarity with what the ideology is about, and after we have broken free from the old patterns, we tend to not need the ideologies anymore.

For instance, I don’t need any ideologies to want to care for the land that I am now a steward of. It’s natural for me. It’s my habit. Ideologies are not needed.

I don’t need the support of ideologies to eat low on the food chain, and eat local and with the seasons. That too is natural for me after decades of living that way. (As far as practically possible.)

I don’t need ideologies to be interested in awakening and healing. This too is something I have lived with for decades. It’s the water I swim in.

And yet, sometimes, for a while, ideologies can be useful. They help us break free of old patterns. They give us a container and guideline for our new life. They allows to to explore something more in-depth. And, at some point, we may find they are not needed anymore. The life they point to is familiar to us. It’s our habit. We notice the drawbacks inherent in the ideology and belief. (They are limiting and inherently bothersome to others and ourselves.) We can find more freedom around our thoughts about it.

Note: What do I mean by ideologies here? It’s not the thoughts themselves because they can still be useful. It’s more holding onto a set of thoughts as a final or full or absolute truth, and using it to feel safe. To tell ourselves we know. We are right. It’s us, the ones who get it, versus them who don’t get it. When we hold the same thoughts more lightly, there is a lot more freedom around them. We may not feel we need to procetylize or defend the thoughts. We recognize some of the limitations of these thoughts, and the downsides of holding them as absolutely true. We are more free to find the genuine validity in the reverse views and a range of other views. We are more open to explore other contexts and ways of looking at it. We are more mentally flexible and tend to relate to it all in a way that’s slightly more kind to ourselves and perhaps others. We may even seem a bit more mature to ourselves and others.

CONSPIRACY THEORIES AND PERSONAL CONNECTIONS

I suspect that many who go into conspiracy theories don’t have many personal connections with the type of people they assume are in on the conspiracies.

For instance, I have asked people who are into conspiracy theories about vaccines if they really think that the medical personnel (doctors, researchers, etc.) that they personally know would be in on the conspiracy. The response is usually absent because they don’t know any.

They are free to assume and project anything horrible onto these people, because they personally don’t know many or any of them. They don’t realize that these people are people too, just like them. And these people have as wildly diverse views as anyone. Often, they are even more critical about the medical industry than most because they know more about what’s actually going on, and their insights are grounded in experience and reality. Their criticism is typically nuanced and they don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, as many conspiracy theorists do.

Some Jungians have an interesting take on this that makes some sense to me. In our more traditional society, children typically knew and understood what their fathers were doing. They were plouging the fields, fishing, doing carpentry, or something similar. And the children often saw their fathers do these things. In our more modern society, fathers were often more absent and their work more mysterious. They worked away from home, and in an office doing difficult-to-understand things. And this created space for the children to imagine all sorts of things. Which then fueled suspicion and conspiracy theories about other authority figures, including the government.

Of course, governments sometimes do shady and even criminal things, so some skepticism is justified. And going overboard with conspiracy theories tends to happen when people are free to imagine anything onto a variety of authority figures because they don’t know them personally. And it may be fueled, to some extent, from growing up not knowing exactly what their parents were doing during the day.

RUSSIA AND DEMOCRACY

This is a very obvious view on Russia and democracy, but there may also be something to it.

When the Soviet Union dissolved, Russia had little to no experience with democracy. They lacked democratic institutions. They lacked familiarity with democracy. They had no tradition for democracy. They lacked the knowledge about how it works that’s gained over time and through experience.

They were not prepared in any way for democracy, so there is no surprise that their democratic project failed and they got Putin instead. They reverted to their tradition of despots and authoritarian rulers. 

That doesn’t mean they can’t or won’t eventually have a well-functioning democracy. But it does mean that any future democratic project has to take all of this into account.

PUTIN’S WAR

Some conspiracy theorists seem to think that Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is staged to distract from what’s actually going on in the world, which I assume are other sinister conspiracies. 

Yes, this war does distract from very serious issues we are all facing and which just about all of us know are happening: Immense inequality in access to resources. Poverty. Hunger. Lack of water. Neo-liberal policies aimed at benefiting large corporations and the already wealthy. The collapse of ecosystems. And more important than just about anything else, an economic system we all live within that doesn’t take ecological realities into account. 

And no, there is no need to assume any sinister conspiracy behind it. Wars happen. They are routine. And when wars happen, the media focuses on it (for good reasons) and people’s attention goes there. None of that is remarkable or unusual. Our human history is riddled with wars. People get distracted by what’s dramatic and urgent and overlook very serious issues because they are familiar and ordinary, or are distant geographically or socially, or have effects still in the future.

As I see it, these conspiracies theories are part of the distraction. They distract us from focusing on the far more serious issues we are all facing, which just about all of us agree and know are happening. 

MAKE RUSSIA GREAT AGAIN?

It seems that Putin’s intention is to make Russia great again.

If by that he means making Russia into an international pariah, making it into a dictatorship with continued erosion of civil liberties and increased repression, and weakening Russia through draining resources on futile military operations, then he is doing a good job.

Of course, from my western European view, it would make more sense to make Russia great through a thriving economy, friendly and cooperative relationships with other countries, and allowing the Russian people and culture to flourish through freedom, greater economic equality, and good social safety nets.

But that’s not how he sees it, and apparently not how many Russians see it.

MARCH 13, 2022

HIGHLY VOLATILE SITUATION

The first or second day of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, I wrote that I have an unusually bad feeling about the situation. Not just because of the devastation of Ukraine and the impact on many Russians, but because it creates a highly volatile and unpredictable situation that may escalate into something that directly impacts a lot more people. 

It’s unlikely that Putin will back down. Most likely, he will continue to destroy Ukrainian cities until they are taken over by the Russians, no matter the cost in terms of lives, suffering, and material damage, and knowing that the Ukrainians will continue fighting even after a Russian takeover. And the longer this goes on, the more likely it is that the situation will escalate so neighboring countries – and possibly even NATO and the EU – gets directly involved in the war. And that that point, all bets are off. 

In terms of conventional weapons and military power, Russia is a dwarf compared to NATO and the EU. Unfortunately, that’s not all is in play here. Putin has demonstrated that he is willing to use chemical and biological weapons, and he also have nuclear weapons. 

It may be that in realizing his huge miscalculation in trying to invade Ukraine, in having no way to back down that’s acceptable to his ego, and in feeling increasingly backed into a corner, he may continue his insanity and use chemical, biological, and even nuclear weapons. And then, there is no limit to how many may be directly impacted in Europe and possibly even the rest of the world. 

THE LOGIC IN INSANITY

There is a logic in insanity. 

To most in the western world, Putin seems insane. 

His arguments for invading Ukraine seems clearly disconnected from reality. (Saying that Ukraine is run by drug-fueled fascists. Casting the western world as a threat to Russia.) And it does seem that his personality changed over the last few years, especially with his increased isolation and paranoia during the pandemic. 

At the same time, from his side, there is a logic to the apparent insanity. He has reasons for doing what he is doing, and these make sense to him. (At least until he examine them more closely and recognize the inconsistencies inherent in them.) 

And that’s how it is for all of us. Any of our hangups, wounds, emotional issues, and traumas are a kind of insanity. When we act on them or react to them, we behave in a somewhat insane manner. There is a kind of logic within the insanity. It operates on stories that, on the surface, may seem to make sense. And when we look a bit closer, we find what’s more true for us – and this can bring healing. 

MARCH 22, 2022

THE PERFECT TIME TO JOIN NATO

It’s now four weeks into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. As I wrote at the beginning of the invasion, if Putin’s intention was to motivate his neighbors to join NATO, he couldn’t have been more successful. 

Russia’s neighbors see that they too are under a very real threat of Russian invasion. The majority of people in Sweden and Finland now support joining NATO (a minority did before the invasion), and I assume this may be the case with other neighbors as well. 

Russia’s limited military resources are now tied up in Ukraine and are shown to not be very effective in general. 

And the “don’t want to provoke Putin” argument was a dubious argument from the beginning. Don’t let a bully dictate your choices. 

HOUSE DESIGN IN WARM CLIMATES

I am currently staying in a beautiful house in the Andes mountains, designed by an architect, using traditional building techniques, and with a modern design.

What I am baffled by is how it’s clearly not designed for the climate. Many of the walls have no shade so they heat up during the day. The owners are often suffering because of the heat. And they are building a new house here where they are making the same obvious mistakes.

The answer is probably that they prioritize look over comfort, which is fair. But if they are suffering from the heat, why not reprioritize?

PUTIN FITS THE MOLD

Some like to (partially) blame NATO and the western world for Putin and his invasion of Ukraine. To me, that seems misguided for several reasons. There is never any excuse for invading another country, especially not a democratic one that posed no threat whatsoever. Also, don’t let a bully dictate your choices.

Mainly, what Putin did is what Russian leaders have done for centuries. They invade their neighbors. Putin perfectly fits the mold of Russian authoritarian rulers with empire-building ambitions. This is not new. This is not something that has been developing over the last few decades. It goes back centuries. 

And that’s exactly why Russia’s neighbors want to join NATO. They want to protect themselves from a predictable future invasion if they stand on their own. If Putin worked as a recruiting agent for NATO, he couldn’t have done a better job than invading Ukraine. His actions demonstrate perfectly why Russia’s neighbors want to protect themselves by joining a larger alliance.

If you have a bully in your neighborhood, you organize against him. And if someone wants to join for their own protection, why not let them? Anything else would be not only misguided but cruel.

NATO is not responsible for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Russia’s habitual invasion of its neighbors is responsible for NATO’s expansion.

Note: I am not a lover of NATO or the military industry by any measure. Starting in my teens, I have read a lot of articles and books very critical of NATO and much of what they are doing. And yet, in a crisis – and with a neighbor like Putin and Russia – it’s what makes the most sense. Even if NATO is very flawed.

“APOLITICAL” PEOPLE ENABLE HORRORS

My response to a Russian who says she is “apolitical”:

“You say you are ‘apolitical’ but everything is politics. The inaction of you and other apolitical people is what allows wars to happen. The Russian people allowed Putin to stay in power for far too long and gradually become more and more of a typical paranoid and authoritarian dictator, eventually starting this senseless war with Ukraine.”

Of course, this is not the whole picture. But it’s definitely an important side to it.

QUESTIONS

I am obviously not an expert, but when it comes to how NATO and the western countries have responded to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, I am puzzled by a few things I haven’t seen mentioned much in the media.

(a) Why are they so clear that they won’t intervene within the borders of Ukraine? Why are they giving up this opportunity to create uncertainty for Putin? Why are they showing their cards on this topic? It seems it only gives Putin more peace of mind when it comes to invading Ukraine. (Of course, I know one answer: It is aimed at calming the public in the Western world.)

(b) When Ukraine asks for a NATO-enforced “no-fly” zone, it’s obviously out of desperation since it would almost certainly start WW3. A smart explicit response from NATO and Western countries would be to give Ukraine every means possible to establish its own informal “no-fly zone”. (They are, of course, doing this to some extent. But they could make it more explicit and put more resources into it.) 

(c) Blocking Western credit cards in Russia makes it more difficult for many from escaping from Russia. Why is this not more of a debate? 

(d) Many are saying that Putin was misinformed by his advisors. To me, that seems a dangerous assumption. Seen from the outside, it seems equally or more likely that he had all the information he needed, still trusted himself and his own worldview more, and that he assumed that powering through – and throwing more resources and human lives into the effort – would give him what he wanted. If that’s true, it seems misguided and dangerous to assume he is mostly rational and did what he did mainly based on bad information. It seems dangerously naive.

(e) I keep seeing wishful thinking from many when it comes to how the war is going, where Putin will stop, and that he will somehow be removed from power. Wishful thinking is dangerous in this type of situation. I understand it can make some people feel better in the short run, but it can lead to poor decision-making and is misguided in such a critical situation.

Putin is a bully, and giving in to a bully is never smart. In his mind, it’s permission for him to continue to do whatever he wants. He seems to only understand a strong response. Fortunately, that’s what he is largely getting, although it may not be enough to stop him. 

MARCH 29, 2022

THE WOBBLY SELF-IMAGE OF PUTIN AND RUSSIA

From Putin’s words and actions, he seems a deeply insecure man caught up in victim issues. Only someone with deep issues, and who is actively reacting to these issues, would speak and act as he does.

It’s ironic that by trying to appear strong and powerful, and by trying a bit too much, we reveal what’s behind it.

These issues also seem to run through Russian history. They seem to have a wobbly self-image and respond to it by trying to invade and occupy their neighbors. And they often justify it in a way only those who see themselves as victims justify their words and actions. (Of course, not even close to all Russians are like that. But it does seem to be a thread through much of Russian history.) 

WHY ARE NO WOMEN IN THE NEGOTIATIONS?

The negotiations between Ukraine and Russia are mostly a sham. Russia likely has no desire to negotiate anything. They only want to give the appearance of being reasonable, and they wish to muddle the water to confuse their opponent.

That said, I am surprised to see the apparently total male dominance among the negotiators. Why not include women? It would certainly give the negotiations a different flavor. And if they really were serious about the negotiations, both parties would likely have at least fifty percent women. 

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