Reflections on society, politics and nature – vol. 57

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.

SURVIVOR BIAS 

I listened to an old interview with a Norwegian saboteur from WW2 and his story was of one amazing lucky escape after another. I have heard similar stories from other surviving saboteurs from WW2.

Why this apparently amazing series of lucky turns?

It’s an example of survivor bias. The ones who survived did so because they were lucky in all the situations that mattered, and they told their stories. Those who died were not so lucky when it mattered, and cannot tell their stories.

MAY 9, 2022

DICTATORSHIPS ARE CRAZY

Dictatorships and authoritarian organizations are generally crazy, one way or another, whether we talk about a country, a business, or a family.

The ones in power don’t accept open feedback. People are scared of speaking up. The validity of other views is not acknowledged.

So they, by necessity, are out of touch with reality. And they make bad decisions.

Being out of touch with reality is one definition of craziness, and acting on views or information out of touch with reality will tend to look crazy to others.

These days, we see this with Putin and his war against Ukraine. His decision to invade was out of touch with reality in the first place. The Ukrainians were never going to accept Russian rule. The best he could hope for was an uneasy occupation similar to the Nazi occupation of several countries during WW2. And his arguments for the war seem patently crazy. Ukraine has a Jewish president, and only 2% there – as in most Western countries – vote for right-wing parties. Why would you de-nazify a country without Nazis?

THE UKRAINE WAR AND THE BIGGER PICTURE

I have no great love for NATO for many different reasons. It’s too influenced by the US and US interests. There is no lack of questionable history and operations.

And I also see when it serves a function.

There is a reason why some former Soviet countries have joined NATO. They do it for their own protection. They know that Russia has a centuries-long tradition of invading their neighbors and trying to include them in their empire. If Ukraine was a NATO member, Russia would never have invaded them.

And now is the perfect time for more countries to join NATO for their own protection. Putin has shown that none of Russia’s neighbors are safe against a Russian invasion. He has revealed to the whole world the terrible condition of the Russian military. And they are now busy in Ukraine and don’t have the capacity for any more engagements.

That’s why Finland now wants to join NATO, and Sweden likely will follow. Before the Russian war against Ukraine, a clear majority in both countries was against NATO membership. Now, a clear majority in both countries support membership. Putin gave them the perfect motivation and opportunity to join. (In Finland, 25% supported NATO membership before the invasion, compared with 75% now.)

Another side to this is what will happen with Russia after this war. It’s clear that their military is weak and they are weakened more by the day. The Russian economy will suffer due to the sanctions, although it will take time. And they find themselves more isolated than they have been for a very long time.

And it won’t be like that always. They will wise up about their military and try to change the military culture (getting rid of corruption would be a good start), recruit more soldiers, and improve their material.

If they feel too humiliated by Putin’s failed war, blame the West, continue on their authoritarian path, and improve their military, it can create a very dangerous future situation. (Just look at what happened with Germany after WW1 and how it created the conditions for WW2.)

So what’s the solution?

One answer is to…

Continue supporting Ukraine so they can stand up to Russia and perhaps even get them out of the country.

Stay out of any direct confrontations so we avoid WW3.

Treat Russians with respect and do not give ammunition to the Russian propaganda that the West is trying to eradicate Russia. (The way Russia tries to eradicate Ukraine.) We have to live up to our liberal and democratic values. (These are flawed and we often don’t live up to them, but they are certainly better than the authoritarian and oppressive values of Putin’s Russia.)

And see if there is a solution that will give Putin a way out. One that doesn’t require any concessions on Ukraine’s part while Putin feels he has some dignity left. I don’t know if that’s possible. Putin seems to have painted himself thoroughly into a corner.

SOME DANGERS INHERENT IN THE RUSSIAN INVASION OF UKRAINE

As far as I can tell, as a regular human being, there are a few main dangers in the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Letting Putin and Russia get away with what they are trying to do, which is to invade and annex peaceful democratic neighboring countries and re-create some kind of a Russian empire. Fortunately, it seems that Western countries are not going to allow that to happen.

An accidental direct confrontation between NATO and Russia could lead to WW3. In terms of the conventional military, this is not so much of a problem. It seems that the Russian army isn’t even a match for the Ukrainians. But since Russia has biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons, and its leadership may be willing to use them as a last option, it may be a real danger to Europe and humanity.

A thorough humiliation of Russia, sparking a future military buildup combined with an equally crazy leadership as we see today. Putin And Russia set themselves up for this humiliation, and it’s perhaps inevitable, but it does create a dangerous situation for the next few decades. I am also not sure that whoever replaces Putin will be any better than him. Authoritarian and totalitarian regimes tend to survive through a few different leaders before they eventually fall. (We saw this dynamic in Germany following WW1, and Putin and others in Russia already seem to indulge in inferiority complexes, victimhood, and paranoia and use it as an excuse for internal oppression and external wars.)

And, of course, the very predictable distraction this war provides from the most serious issue of our world: How to create a sustainable civilization. One that consciously works within and with the ecosystems of Earth, where what’s easy and attractive to do is also good for Earth and society and future generations, and where those least fortunate have good safety nets and have the conditions for a dignified and meaningful life. Although this war is not necessary as a distraction. We are very good at collectively distracting ourselves from this anyway. The main question is, will we be shaken out of our complacency in time to prevent some of the most disastrous effects of climate change, unraveling ecosystems, and social disruptions?

MAY 12, 2022

SOME QUESTIONS ABOUT PUTIN’S STRATEGY

Many people have questions about Putin’s strategy.

Why didn’t he choose an approach of friendship and cooperation with other countries? That’s what creates prosperity and what would have secured a good legacy for him.

Why did he invade a sovereign country when he knew that, at best, it would be a quagmire? The Ukrainian people would never accept a Russian occupation.

Why is it so difficult for him to end the war? It’s obviously not going well for him, it’s difficult to see any successful outcome for Russia, and it’s a sign of intelligence and maturity to give up on dead-end projects.

Why did he threaten Finland with nuclear weapons when they announced they wanted to join NATO? That only reinforces why they need to join NATO. They don’t have nuclear weapons, but NATO allies do.

And a question about the Russian soldiers: Why don’t they resign and go home en masse? It’s not a war. Putin has said so himself. This means that leaving the military has no consequences for them, apart from being officially fired. Would they rather make a little money and become likely cannon fodder? Or go home, do something else, and have a future? It seems many choose to become cannon fodder.

And, yes, I know this comes from my own Western liberal values. Putin has a different mindset, as do – apparently – many of his soldiers.

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