Before I begin, I would like to take a moment to pray for peace in Ukraine, and for an end to the hostilities that have brought great suffering onto the Ukrainian people. Furthermore, I want to stress that the actions of Putin and his loyal sycophants are not necessarily reflective of the Russian people. My experience in traveling is that people generally just want to live their lives. It is the people who bear the consequences of the actions of their insulated, sheltered rulers. We should not stretch our condemnation of Putin and his regime to a general condemnation of a diverse, storied people who largely do not seem to support this war against their brothers and sisters at all. So, let us take a moment and pray for an end to bloodshed and a restoration of peace across the European continent.
It has been a stressful two weeks for many. I would like to apologize for not being active on here. I have family connections to both Ukraine and Russia and the past two weeks have been difficult.
As with every momentous event in the era of social media, one can expect people from all across the political spectrum and world to ceaselessly produce a veritable dumpster fire of posts.
What is perhaps most repulsive is the glorification of war by people who have had no greater battle in their life than a schoolyard confrontation. The celebration of the brutal and merciless process that turns men into bodies and bodies into corpses can only come from people so alienated from the realities of the world that they can barely be considered sane. Apart from rare moments of honor and bravery, war can only be described as a demonic force that strips the very souls from men and makes them less than human. Brothers and sisters become "casualties." Children become "collateral damage." There is nothing honorable about this process. The only ones who believe so are the ones who have never faced its horrors.
In my earlier criticisms of bugmen, I've mentioned that the average technocrat theorist understands the world through aggregates and spreadsheets. They have no direct communion with nature, no connection with their fellow man, no respect for history. Everything they "connect" with is mediated through layers of simulation. It is in this simulation that their delusions are born.
I fear that this mindset is simply the inevitable result of a Digital world. The same kind of alienation seems to sit just below the surface of various strains of "Dissident" thought. The world is seen as a kind of game. Ukraine and Russia as competing powers on a Risk board or a Hearts of Iron IV playthrough. Something to be manipulated, but nothing to ever be connected to. The Digital allows for (encourages? empowers?) a kind of detachment that leads to delusions of what I can only call "godhood". The delusion that "nothing ever happens/changes," ironic detachnment, etc., all of these are manifestations of the same kind of "godhood" delusions. Of living in a way somehow "above" or "beyond" the concerns of the World. The Map cannot hurt you, but the Territory very well might.
Which leads us to a serious problem: the rulers of our societies appear to be entirely trapped in this mindset. People and carrier battle groups just pieces on a massive chessboard to be moved around, perhaps sacrificed when necessary "for the greater good." There is no recognition of one's own neighbors as People, let alone any recognition of the Other as a real person at all. As I've said before, this is the process of painful subtraction:
In my piece, Recovering Empathy, I discussed the concept of "painful subtraction" that Elaine Scarry came up with:
Elaine Scarry wrote an essay titled "The Difficulty of Imagining Other Persons," and while I disagree with parts of the essay and much of Scarry's Liberal principles, much of the essay remains fascinating. The central topic is the problem of the Other: How does one relate to this Other?
Scarry sees this problem as so important because it sits at the core of the injustices of our society:
The difficulty of imagining others is both the cause of, and the problem displayed by, the action of injuring.
She illustrates this through reference to the work of British novelist Thomas Hardy:
He places before our eyes the dense interior of a man or woman. He then juxtaposes this ontological robustness with the inevitable subtractions, the flattenings, the emptyings out that occur in other people's vision of the person.
Hardy maximizes the imaginary density of a person, then lets us watch the painful subtraction each undergoes as she or he comes to be perceived by others.
It is this painful subtraction that characterizes our engagement with the world around us. In other words, we cannot escape the fact that society only ever sees a miniscule set of facets of our being (if society is even perceiving those facets correctly in the first place). Those close to us engage in what one might call a restorative addition over time as they "come to know us" more fully.
When the painful subtraction we each go through, and commit upon others, runs amok, when we forget that others have dense interiors we are not perceiving, when we see them as truly nothing more than a set of surface-level properties, we have reduced others (or been reduced ourselves) to nothing more than a "shadow." A mere caricature of a human being. They are no longer individuals, but something entirely less. Perhaps "dehumanization" is not the correct term for this, but this painful subtraction seems eerily similar to it.
The most alarming delusion of all: that other people don’t matter
This is the delusion of the narcissist. Who believes that they alone are real. Their feelings are the only feelings that matter, because other people are just shadows. And shadows don’t feel, because they’re not real.
We are a society devoid of empathy, driven towards a north star that promises us empowerment and provides us emptiness.
The only way to silence this, to move beyond it, is to demand we reconnect with others in a more unmediated fashion. To leave the Digital world and explore the Physical one. So, in the context of war, I have a suggestion...
The Alexander the Great Act
Simply: Any politician that votes for war must lead the troops from the front lines and be the first one into battle.
I consider this a strong instantiation of what I'll call "Skin in the Game or Shut the F*ck Up". If you are not going to be risking your life in combat, you certainly should not be calling for combat or deciding to send people to die in it. If a war is truly just, a good man will fight for it even if his life is at risk.
Honor is a long-forgotten concept to many it seems, most of all for the elites. At some point, rulers stopped sending themselves into exile for failing to rule the people justly. Society has suffered the consequences ever since.