Reflections on society, politics and nature – vol. 58

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.


My wife and I became stewards of some beautiful land in the Andes mountains. It’s been heavily grazed in some areas, so we wish to help the land return to a flourishing and vibrant state. And that includes allowing a natural succession of native plants until – over some decades – the ecosystem reaches more maturity.

We hired some locals to clear paths through the land and gave them very clear instructions of only clear walking paths, wide enough for one person to pass. What they instead did was to clear-cut one large area, leaving only the more mature trees. This is apparently what the locals do, and our instructions probably didn’t make much sense to them.

Although it was a painful lesson, we also learned that we need to be present to oversee these kinds of projects. And we need to find local people to work with who understand what we wish to do with the land. (This happened back in February or March this year.)


Since Putin is in the public eye these days, he is a good mirror for all of us.

Putin seems to identify with two particular archetypes: victim and savior.

He sees himself – and Russia – as a victim of historical events (e.g. the dissolution of the Soviet Union), of the West and NATO, and a possible victim of just about anyone around him.

He also sees himself as a kind of savior, as the new great leader of Russia and a new Russian empire.

Victims can be reactive and violent. And saviors can be ruthless. (Including through invading and occupying neighbors.) In his case, it’s a dangerous combination.

And the question here is: How does this mirror me? If I take my stories about Putin and turn them to myself, what do I find? How am I a victim in how I see him? (I see myself, Ukraine, the people in Russia, and the world as a victim of Putin’s actions.) How am I a savior in how I see him? (I see myself as taking a more sane and sober approach, which is better than his.) How does this play itself out in other situations in my life? It may not look as extreme or obvious as with Putin, but it’s likely here.


In general, we can say that Western countries take a win-win approach to their policies. They wish to cooperate with other countries for their mutual benefit. Cooperation helps us stay more safe and prosperous and tackle international and global issues more effectively.

And some others, like Trump and Putin, seem to operate from a zero-sum orientation. What’s bad for others is good for us. And they project this mindset onto others: “They want what’s bad for us since it’s good for them.”

There are obviously many exceptions to this, but it does seem to reflect a difference in their general orientation.

If Putin had more of a win-win mindset, he would focus far more on international cooperation, creating bonds with other countries, and seeking cooperative solutions to shared and international problems. He would seek to benefit Russia in a way that also benefits others since that – ultimately –is what benefits Russia the most.

Instead, he has chosen a zero-sum mindset. And the problem with zero-sum mindsets is that you may be the one who loses. Eventually, you will be the one who loses.

By adopting it, you have – in a sense – already lost.

MAY 23, 2022


English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary

– James D. Nicoll

I listened to a podcast where they repeated this idea: The English language is especially good at adopting words from other languages.

This has nothing to do with the English language and all to do with history and colonialism.

This has to do with the British Empire and to a lesser extent the US Empire. In the process of colonizing countries around the world, English-speaking people encountered other languages, and people with other languages had to learn English. That’s why English absorbed words from other languages.

It has very little to do with English, and everything to do with a history of colonialism.

A more accurate version of the quote would be:

Some English speaking countries have pursued other countries down metaphorical alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for valuables, and picked up some words from their language in their process

– MoE

When people repeat that “Engish as a language is good at absorbing words from other languages”, it’s a kind of whitewashing of history. They make it sound as if it has to do with something as innocent as language, while it in reality has to do with a history of theft, oppression, and colonialism.


I have been fascinated by astronomy since childhood, especially after watching Cosmos by Carl Sagan which was life-changing for me.

And since I started thinking about things in a more conscious way, sometimes in my early to mid-teens, I have thought that it seems odd to assume that what they call “constants” are constant. Why wouldn’t that too change, like everything else within the universe? Why wouldn’t it change as the universe matures and evolves? Or why wouldn’t at least some of these “constants” change?

What we see today is just a snapshot of a process that unfolds over billions of years. And we are always learning more.

If I remember correctly, from when I used to read books, Rupert Sheldrake talks about it as habits of the universe, and these may well change over time.

MAY 26, 2022


A majority of children who die in the US die from being shot, either self-inflicted or by others.

Why is the US such an outlier when it comes to this?

I don’t have anything original to contribute here.

It’s likely a combination of access and culture.

Easy access to firearms makes it easy for people to use them if they get caught up in intense anger or wish to die. If there is easy access, it’s easier to act on those impulses before they wane.

And several things in the US culture lower the threshold for using firearms: It’s already happening relatively frequently. Weapons are glorified. Violence in US history is often glorified. Some have created an ideology around access to and use of firearms. And the judicial system is too often absurdly lenient when it comes to gun violence.

Note: Several mass shootings have been committed by right-wing and white supremacist folks. If the polarization in the US evolves into a kind of civil war, it may be between this group of people and the police and the military. And if that happens, then these mass shootings may be seen as the early start of the civil war.


At the beginning of Russia’s war against Ukraine, I called it Putin’s war.

And after a while, I was not so sure anymore.

I assume many at the top levels of the government and the military support it and would continue the war even without him.

A majority of people in Russia apparently voted for Putin. (Yes, I know the elections in Russia are likely partially rigged. And Putin has changed over the years.)

These days, a vast majority of Russians say they support Putin and the war. (Yes, I know there is strong media censorship in Russia. And some may be afraid of saying anything else.)

I assume many of the Russian soldiers support the war. (Otherwise, they could just leave since it’s not officially a “war” and the main consequence of leaving is that they’ll get fired from the army.)

Russian history is riddled with invasions of their neighbors and attempts to (re)create a Russian empire. What we are seeing today is part of that pattern.

So is it really just Putin’s war? Yes, in that it may not have happened without him. And no in that many Russians appear to actively support it.

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