Reflections on society, politics and nature – vol. 61

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.

MAKING A HORRIBLE COMPROMISE?

I saw a Western commentator saying that we’ll need to make a “horrible compromise” so Putin won’t escalate the war, and with a horrible compromise, he means giving parts of Ukraine to Putin. I understand the concern about Putin resorting to biological, chemical, or nuclear weapons in desperation. Especially since his army is weak, disorganized, and lacks modern equipment. And I also see it as a somewhat absurd comment for several reasons.

According to most sober military analysts, Ukraine can win if they continue to receive support from the West. And especially if they receive what they ask for. They may well push Russia out of the newly occupied areas, and even Crimea. (For some reason, many seem hesitant to give Ukraine what they need to end the war quickly. They say it is because they don’t want to escalate the war, but that seems short-sighted. It will only drag the war out and give Russia a better chance of eventually winning. It seems far better to give the Ukrainians what they need and ask for.)

It’s up to Ukraine to decide whether or not they want to compromise. (And they clearly don’t.) It’s not up to the commentator or anyone else.

Putin will likely not accept a partial victory. And even if he would agree to a deal where Russia takes parts of Ukraine, there is no guarantee he won’t go for the rest later. He very likely will.

In general, a good guideline is to never give in to bullies. It only encourages them and other bullies and leads to worse things in the future. The West has allowed far too many horrors from Putin already, both internally in Russia (oppression) and externally (invasions).

Yes, war is terrible and awful beyond imagination. But in this case, it’s necessary if Ukraine is to maintain its independence.

And yes, the West often makes buddies with dictatorships, especially when money and oil are in the picture. There is no lack of horrors committed by the US and its allies. And that doesn’t mean we can’t do the right thing now, and that we can’t support and encourage it.

In general, this situation is similar to Europe in the 1930s, before WW2. Great Britain and others wanted to appease Hitler instead of standing up to him, and Hitler started invading and occupying Germany’s neighbors. Hopefully, we have learned something from history.

SEPTEMBER 22, 2022

NOT AT RISK?

I follow a few young Russian YouTubers who are Western-oriented and critical of Putin and his war. This morning, Putin announced a partial mobilization and one of the young male YouTubers said he isn’t concerned since he doesn’t belong to the category Putin said they would mobilize for the war. I am surprised anyone would take Putin at his word, especially Russians.

No relatively fit Russian men seem safe from being sent to the front lines. According to news reports, protesters, students, and random people in the subway are being drafted. Maybe officials need to fill quotas so they randomly draft people? I also assume Putin and some of those who follow him love the idea of punishing critics by sending them to the front lines. They may not be good or motivated soldiers, but it’s an effective way to get rid of them. (And, I would think, a clear security risk and an unwise strategy, but Putin’s Russia seems to specialize in just that.)

If they draft random passers-by, then any male from teens up to retirement age are at risk. And if they forcibly draft protesters as a kind of punishment, it would be a small step to draft semi-public critics of the regime and send them too to the front lines.

Also, with any mobilization, it’s likely that Putin will close the borders for anyone who may get mobilized now or in the future, i.e. any adult male. Why would he allow a good percentage of potential soldiers to leave the country? Even Ukraine, where the population is highly motivated to fight, has done that.

Another side of this is the lack of wisdom in drafting between 300,000 and a million people. The Russian army is already lacking weapons and equipment, so what are these new soldiers going to use? Most if not nearly all of these new soldiers will lack motivation. Some will strongly be against the war. The Russian army has lost a large number of officers in the war so far, so who is going to train and lead these new soldiers? How are they going to be supplied with food and other essentials? Who in their right mind thinks they can be good and effective soldiers with only (I assume) a few months of training? Quantity does not equal quality or effectiveness.

There is yet another predictable absurdity here, and that is that many Russians seemed perfectly OK with the war until this point, and now suddenly are concerned since the mobilization will impact them personally or the ones close to them. In earlier interviews of people on the street about the war, a surprising amount of people seem shockingly blaze or uninvolved about it, as if they have very little empathy or concern for what’s happening outside of their own life, and as if they don’t realize that it does and will impact them and the ones close to them.

PUTIN’S PROJECTIONS

This is almost too obvious, but I’ll mention it anyway.

We all project in different ways. We create an overlay of mental representations of the world to make sense of it, and that’s a projection. (Essential for orienting, navigating, and functioning in the world.) Any any story we have about others or the world can be turned back to ourselves and we can find genuine and specific examples of how it’s true.

We can be aware of our projections, to different extents. And it can be instructive to first see blind projections in others, and then find it in ourselves.

Putin is a good example of apparently blind projections.

He assumes NATO wants to eradicate Russia, which is absurd since NATO consists of democratic and neo-liberal countries that mostly benefit from trade with similar countries. There would be no benefit to NATO in eradicating Russia or wanting a conflict with Russia. The one who has empire ambitions is Putin.

He sees the West as imperialistic, while he invades and occupies sovereign nations and wishes to recreate a Russian empire.

He sees Nazis everywhere in Ukraine, which also is absurd. Ukraine is a democracy and less than 2% of the population vote for far-right parties. The one with more obvious fascist tendencies is Putin.

THE STUPIDITY OF AUTHORITARIAN SYSTEMS

Authoritarian systems are inherently stupid, whether they happen in society or within ourselves.

Why? Mainly because they lack good feedback mechanisms.

Authoritarian leaders typically create an environment that limits the information and views they encounter. People are afraid to speak up and may be hesitant to share views or information that don’t fit the views and plans of the leader. That, in itself, makes for poor decisions.

Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is a good example. To anyone but him, it seemed obvious that Ukraine would fight back, and also that they would receive support from the Western world. After all, there is a big difference between losing one part of your country (Crimea in 2014) and your whole country, along with your democracy, your independence, and your freedom of speech. Especially when you know it will be exchanged for an authoritarian and oppressive rule.

At the very best, even if Russia managed to occupy the whole of Ukraine, it would lead to endless resistance – including assassinations of Russian-friendly leaders and collaborators – until Ukraine was freed again.

Now, Putin is backed up into a corner with very few if any good options. Right now, it seems unlikely that Russia will have any significant military success. A nuclear attack seems suicidal. Admitting defeat doesn’t seem to be within the realm of possibility for Putin. (Because of playing a role as an authoritarian leader.) And it’s very possible he will be disposed of and perhaps replaced with someone even more hawkish. It’s even possible that some republics will take the opportunity of a weakened Russia to gain their independence.

DIFFERENTIATION

Differentiation is important. Healing, awakening, and maturing have a lot to do with differentiation.

So also in politics.

Some dislike a lot of what the US and NATO are doing in the world, as do I.

And that doesn’t mean that when Putin invades the sovereign nation of Ukraine, that’s somehow right or that any excuse would justify it. It also doesn’t mean that the support Western countries give Ukraine to resist the invasion is wrong.

For me, any form of aggressive imperialism is wrong. And I support any sovereign country defending itself from invasion.

Why am I writing this, even if it seems so obvious? Because some – including some liberals and progressives in the West – seem to think that what the US and the West are doing is always wrong and that what Putin is doing these days is right. That’s not at all how I see it.

OCTOBER 7, 2022

OVERLOOKING A MORE LIKELY SCENARIO

Over the last few months, there has occasionally been criticism of the war in Russia in state-run media. Western reporters like to present it as dissent, cracks in the apparently unified support for Putin, and a sign that Putin is losing control.

Maybe all of that is happening, but there is another side to this. And that is that these dissenting voices are intentionally allowed to say what they say, that it’s explicitly allowed and encouraged by Putin, and that it’s part of Putin’s plan to give him an advantage now and room to maneuver in the future. In a country where the state media is so carefully controlled, that’s a far more likely scenario.

For instance, there has been recent criticism of Putin’s chief of defense (Shoigu) by people talking on state-controlled media. To me, it makes sense that this criticism is allowed and perhaps even encouraged by Putin since it creates a scapegoat for their military failures in Ukraine. It sets Shoigu up to take the blame, and at a later point be removed. (Not yet since he is still useful as a scapegoat.)

Again, most reporters in the West present this as a sign that Putin is losing control. Why don’t they include the far more likely scenario that it’s part of Putin’s strategy? Are they naive? Do they prefer the wishful thinking scenario? Don’t they understand the level of control Putin has over the state-run media in Russia? I am not sure.

OCTOBER 11, 2022

PUTIN’S STUPIDITY

Putin is a good example of what happens when we (a) are out of touch with reality and (b) are caught up in ideologies.

Invading Ukraine is an example of both. It was an act that could never go well for Russia. At the very best, the Russians would be caught up in an endless guerilla war until they eventually left Ukraine. And the invasion was fueled by a desire to recreate the Russian empire. If Putin had the best interests of Russia in mind, he would have strengthened ties with his neighbors, allowed for a democratic and diverse Russia, and focused on trade instead of war.

Russia could never “win” an occupation of Ukraine. And as it looks now, and if the international community continues to support Ukraine, it seems that Russia is incapable of winning the war. The sane approach for Putin would be to end it and try to create better ties with the rest of the world. It seems that in his particular form of insanity, ending the war is not a possibility. And creating better ties with the rest of the world won’t be possible as long as he is in power. So what will happen? It’s not easy to tell.

It’s possible he will keep going until Russia’s military resources are sufficiently exhausted so continuing is no longer possible. Or until Ukraine has pushed the Russians out of Ukraine, including Crimea. At that point, Putin’s days as a leader in Russia are over. And, hopefully, someone will take over who has a slightly more sane and wise approach.

It may also be that Putin will keep going to see if the Republicans will win the mid-term election in the US, and if Trump or a Trump-like candidate will become president in two years. At that point, Ukraine will lose vital support and Putin has a chance to at least occupy Ukraine.

PRETENDING TO BE APOLITICAL

Some people like to pretend they are apolitical. And it is a pretense.

Everything is politics. Politics is about what we value. Everything in society reflects our collective values. And everything we individually chose and do reflects what we value.

Everything happening in society impacts us in one way or another.

And when something happens in society that strongly goes against what we value, the pretense of being apolitical falls apart.

We can see this in Russia these days. According to some sources, about a quarter actively support Putin and the war, about a quarter disagree with Putin and the war, and about half are indifferent. As long as it doesn’t impact them, it’s fine.

That’s not how the world works. The war and the other Putin policies will and do impact you. You live in that society. You live in an authoritarian system. You live in a system based partly on corruption. You live in a system where people are not allowed to publicly speak their minds. You live in a system where political opponents to Putin are imprisoned or killed. You live in a society that goes to war against a democratic and sovereign neighbor. You live in a society where people are randomly drafted to be cannon fodder on the front. This impacts you. And it either matches or goes against what you value.

[Made into a regular article]

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