It is not surprising that with every day that passes, the Ukrainian crisis and our relationship with Russia are becoming the mirror in which Westerners of different ideological persuasions see their own -often unconscious- convictions reflected. As I remarked in an earlier essay, especially the European right is uncomfortably divided on this issue, between those who regard Russia's preference for realpolitik and its national and cultural assertiveness as an example to be emulated and a healthy antidote to the aggressive idealism of the European Union; and those who, on the contrary, see in Putin's Russia nothing more than a revival of the Soviet Union, a collectivist and anti-Western country aligning itself with anti-Western powers and movements all over the world. Both views have something to recommend them, but at the same time an objective appraisal of the Ukrainian situation is hampered by the ideological misconceptions on which they are both based. A successful solution to the current escalating crisis, as well as a sound principle on which to base Western relations with Russia, can only be found if both groups manage to reconsider their viewpoints and reconcile the useful elements in both.
It is common knowledge --at least for part of the right-- that resentment of Israel is merely an extension of Western self-hatred. We know that Israel is hated by the Arab world and many of the “have nots” of the postmodern age, because the fact that it is the only democracy and successful economy in the Middle East serves as a constant and unwelcome reminder to these countries that their problems cannot simply be blamed on the Western colonial legacy, and that, on the contrary, there is a fundamental flaw in their mentality and culture. For the same reason, the leftist intelligentsia of the West hates Israel: for them, this country is the distillation of their concept of the West to its very essence: the ultimate and eternal oppressor, a fusion of the destructive racism and capitalism that according to them constitute the core of Western culture. And needless to say, the Palestinians and other Arabs personify the eternal proletarian class of the oppressed.
Simple questions might demand difficult answers.
This writer became politically aware when the fifties dawned. Condemned to live in the Hungarian cell of Socialism’s Soviet empire, the “why” was reoccurring in the conversation of the adults. Given the colonial status, the descent into poverty and the lost hopes for a new era after the Axis’ defeat, the phrase is understandable.
There were things that no one could fathom. A bit later, Stalin’s death saved us, at the outset of the greatest of his purges. When we waited with a bag under our pillow for our anticipated transport to liquidation, no one really understood. That “why” came not from wanting to know why those things were done to us. Much rather, no one could understand why “the Americans” would allow the system that marked us for extermination to push them around. Regardless of its brutality toward its subjects, to us the weaknesses of the USSR were obvious.
Nassim Nicholas Taleb is a Greek Orthodox Christian from Lebanon; the Levant. In the course of his book Antifragile, he promotes skepticism, theism, tradition, the writings of the stoics and seeks to restrict the claims of theory and "naïve rationalism."
Elsewhere I have said that often theory seems to make us stupider than we would be without the theory. This is particularly true when theory says something is not possible. A key phrase Taleb appeals to is from Friedrich Nietzsche, hardly a defender of tradition or theism, “Just because something is unintelligible to you does not mean it is unintelligent.” Many traditions, such as those involving fasting may seem unintelligible to many but there can be reasons for thinking that they are intelligent.
One of the things I have found interesting about Taleb is the way he extends what I had in my own thinking thought of as ‘mystery’ to areas of human life I had not previously considered. My list of the ‘mysterious’ had included life: what is it, where did it come from and why; consciousness, morality and free will. Emotion too is mysterious because it is implicated in a proper existential attitude to the world and yet it is not fully intelligible. Emotion complements reason but by definition is not simply reason itself. Thus its workings and logic has to be intuited and felt rather than fully explicated.
This installment of Duly Noted departs from the posting’s usual pattern. A seemingly small event has occurred that sheds light on what might be, a yet partially hidden, long-term trend of fundamental significance.
The venue of the deed is Switzerland. That country might be small but its unique political system –that operates one of the world’s most successful economies without having natural resources- has now produced a result that deserves the title of this writing. Here the reader should know that Switzerland practices direct democracy, which means that the people is called upon several times a year to vote directly over initiatives and to make the decisions of parliament and executive binding. The result is that, matters about which even in advanced democratic countries the political class decides, are subject to the direct judgment of the citizenry.
Inventive labels do not heal what they cover up.
Labels can change an object’s perceived meaning while the traits of the verbally recycled item remain unchanged. Through this process, the good is redone as bad, black may mute into white, and negatives are transformed into positives.
A classic case of overwriting reality is the terms “Fascism” and “National Socialism”. With the rise of the Nazis, their name that fused two deviations grew into a threat to the “International Socialists”. Outside of Russia, the “national’s” credentials were better than the “international” appendix of Socialism. It was the Comintern’s Dimitroff, which rescued the cause by using “Fascism” for the Kremlin’s competitors. Although the difference between National Socialism and Fascism is considerable, the Left’s fifth column made the term stick. With that, everything to the right of Stalin, is “Fascist” –especially the National Socialists. Even Tito, a Yugoslav Communist that sinned by resisting Moscow, became a “Fascist” –and a “Wall Street Hireling”.
Some dissonance to embellish an otherwise undisturbed self-anointment.
Inexorably, the intensively self-admired ‘68ers are aging. The passing of time does not keep the eternally youthful from continuing in their bad old childish habits. Therefore, the gorilla-style breast beating continues. It is followed by preaching about how we should behave and why their shining example is to be replicated.
Some aspects of this self-celebration are remarkable. However, the exercise unmasks the self-adored as being by now to be twice the age of thirty. Thirty is a magic number taken from the haunting past’s self-advertisement. Just in case, you forgot: The then and now infallible youths –excused for misbehavior because “kids do strange things- used to trumpet that, above thirty, no one is to be trusted.
This, in itself, reveals much about the skewed perspective that handicaps the source of the acclaim. Remember, it was not the malicious writer that pretended, earlier or now, that by reaching the age of thirty the culprit becomes a reactionary leper. The ‘68ers themselves had announced this with incessant emphasis because it constituted one of their dogmas. In time, that tenet aged as does wine in an open glass; it is known to turn into vinegar.
The story of a derailment.
Let this begin with a superfluous defense against the inevitable PC-fed charge of small-minded prejudice. Your writer is a habitual migrant. Having left, entered, moved from, and then reentered several countries is part of the blame that validates the claim. Add that, the family language has been shifted in a contrarian way. By design not being the same as that of the natives, the effort was to further the careers of the children. The result is that one feels, even at home, a bit like an incurable migrant. A minor disadvantage of this practice is that your correspondent does not have insider communications with his newest, Alemanic-speaking grandchildren
A contemporary tale told in the past tense.
In 2014, the world recalls the “Great War” of 1914. Already the gap between the terminology used then, and the rating applied now, are thought provoking. The Great War held its title for twenty years. Then, the faults of the treaty that ended the conflict ripened. Clemenceau – France’s Premier drunk by grandeur - estimated that the dictated agreement was not a peace but an armistice for twenty years. The mistakes of a country that did not seek peace and reconciliation but a system to assure its continental dominance, converted the forecast into a fact.
Like all geopolitical issues, the recent events in the Ukraine were not specifically important in themselves, but revealed a lot about the attitudes of different shades of opinion in the West, and about the nature of Western society in contrast to Russia.
On the one hand, American conservatives and neoconservatives, and European liberals, saw in the protest movement the embodiment of a universal struggle for freedom and Western values. Indeed, for these currents of opinion, this was the only meaning of the events of the past weeks. Since the Ukrainian people is fighting for these values which we all hold so dear, we should assist it with all means at our disposal to throw of the yoke of Russian autocracy and its local stooges like president Yanukovich. On the other hand, traditionalist (especially European) conservatives were, as always, eager to point out the expansionist agenda of the United States and NATO: after all, the current government of the Ukraine has been democratically elected, it is a sovereign country, and if it chooses to deal with its Russian neighbor rather than with the excessively liberal European Union, we should respect that choice. Open support for the opposition from Western governments would amount to an attempt at neocolonial domination of the Ukraine.