I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought,
but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.
You just knew we were going to talk about my paternal family’s homeland this week, right?
So… have you ever read Steven Pinker’s 2011 tragicomedy, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined? Let me spare you the numbskullery and just quote a couple small, but telling, parts:
The social norms established by states have gradually changed human psychology in such a way that people take the interests and needs of other people into consideration. […] Violence has been in decline for long stretches of time. We’re actually in a period referred to by scholars as “The Long Peace,” which began at the end of World War II, and which is marked by the absence of war among the world’s great powers.
Not one to let a few inconvenient facts get in the way of a good story, Pinker continued for years in the face of resistance, essentially pissing straight into the wind:
At the time of this writing (early March 2014) international tensions are running high over competing US, European, and Russian interests in a chaotic Ukraine, which has been riven by a coup, ethnic conflict, a Russian military incursion, and possible secessions by Crimea and eastern regions. These are just the kinds of tensions that in the past led to great-power wars with millions of deaths. I predict that because of the changes documented in Better Angels, such a war will not take place.
All of which basically cherry-picked data from a very narrow geographyi to create scarcely believable charts like this:
And if you’ve spent any time trading anything, whether orange juice futures or NFTs, you’ll recognize all the hallmarks of a vol(atility) squeeze, which is really to say that:
While this historical moment might feel “like a wake-up call” for us in the West, turning everyone who once met a Ukrainian or Russian person into an overnight military tacticians and geopolitical strategists, where only yesterday we were entirely content to debate the merits of Ye cancelling Sketev or the slightly disappointing final episode of Game of Thrones,vi it should now be abundantly clear just how little intellectual and institutional capacity – much less moral foundation – we have left with which to police ourselves or the world, helpless as we are to watch as Europe’s most experienced, organised, and determined military marches westwardvii with only a few brave and courageousviii peasants standing in their way. And yet barely a week ago, basically no one in my humble social circle seemed capable of conceiving an outright attack by Putin, even though I couldn’t see any way around it. With the West recently crippled by COVID and long since distracted by internal polarization and navel-gazing, and with Russia still unsatisfied with its diminished borders after the fall of the Soviet Union,ix how could the Re-Reds pass up this golden opportunity?
In retrospect, NATO can clearly be seen to have cornered a dangerous adversary, underestimating Putin’s resolve, skill, and ambition for decades, so why shouldn’t he make the corpulent capitalists pay for their disrespect? How else are we in the West supposed to learn the lessons of history without living them? Books by old white men are bad and evil donchaknow?!?!!! So it’s back to the classroom for all of us. Time to brush up on our European history, its ever-changing geography, and the long centuries of the world before the liberal democratic blanket of eternal comfort cozied us all so completely into such a weed-induced, porn-addled, XBOX-mediated numbness. Indeed, the trite Pinkerian notion that “we’re just a more peaceful species now” is getting disabused faster than you can say мы сдаваться (we surrender).
From here, it’s possible that the West’s unbridled Big Tech vigilantes take it upon themselves to trigger WW3 by engaging in broad-scale cyberwar against Russian civilian and military targets, or but it’s far more likely that we all just sit on our hands while our governments throw money and “sanctions”x at the problem to assuage our patent guilt. But will that be enough to stop Russia from conquering Ukraine in the next few weeks or months? Given how decrepit and mismatched NATO almost certainly is against the increasingly battle-hardenedxi Russian military, it’s likely only a matter of time before Putin bumps up right up against NATO, taking a crack at Poland, Hungary, Moldova, or the Baltics in the coming months or years, once even more institutional and technological rot have set into the West’s defenses. All of which will put to the test not only the political appetite but the functional ability of North American militaries to defend their European client states in their time of need. In such a combat scenario, it’s not even inconceivable that the US will dismantle or walk away from NATO rather than get dragged into yet another European conflict kicking and screaming. Maybe Uncle Sam will just cloister himself off like Xi and the mechanical dragon are doing already, watching with detached horror (and self-important bemusement) as Europe devolves into the kinds of conflicts that humanity seems incapable of avoiding for much more than a century at a stretch. Fourth turnings are funny like that. People are scary like that.
Слава Украине (Glory to Ukraine).
___ ___ ___
- ie. Europe, thus ignoring Mao’s Great Leap Forward and Pol Pot’s even darker atrocities in the 20th century. ↩
- PEACEKEEPING!!! Omg talk about a masterful troll. I certainly have no particular love lost for Putin but ya gotta give credit where credit is due. Respect for our opponents is allowed. Hell it should probably be encouraged! I mean, it’s not like we’re in the German Navy. ↩
- Which is really another way of formulating Samo Burja’s thesis that live players shape the world by going “off-script,” which is really just another way of saying that self-sovereignty is defined by its unpredictability. So yea, tomayto tomahto. ↩
- Lest you think that “we’re not declining in the West, we’re just comfy and stable!! The French language hides some clues to contest this assertion. What do they call a “still life” artwork? Nature morte, literally dead nature. If you’re not growing, you’re dying. That’s it. That’s all. There’s no freeze-frame “sustainability” to be had on this planet, no matter how many peer-reviewed journal articles are published. ↩
- Never forget, right?
- Or whatever the latest pop culture show reference that “everybody” watches. I’m not a Netflix/Crave/HBO/etc. guy. Sue me. ↩
- Oh you think Putin’s army isn’t marching fast enough and conquering hard enough? You think T-14 tanks should drive at 80 kph straight to Kyiv and just snatch the keys out of Zelenskyy’s hands? You also think that the Tsar is getting “discouraged” and “frustrated” because he’s “reportedly” lost a couple thousand soldiers in the first few days and hasn’t completely taken over the Ukraine within 48 hours? Puuhhhlease. The Russians lost TWENTY MILLION SOULS in WW2 over the course six years, which is like 10x the daily rate of this little skirmish and they would’ve kept bleeding if they had to, just as they’ll keep bleeding now. Underestimate the capacity of Slavic blood to endure pain and suffering at your peril.
Unless… unless… you hit ’em in the wallet hard enough? This might be a long shot but appears to be NATO’s current “virtual nuclear strike” attempt with its latest SWIFT disconnection and international reserve confiscation. It might even work? For now? If it does, it pushes Russia closer towards China, or possibly even crypto(!), but it’s hard to imagine that Putin just takes a sucker punch like that on the chin and scampers off quietly into the shadows, never to be seen or heard from again. He has way to much pride and way too much at stake, don’t you think? ↩
- What is courage indeed but the men and women of Ukraine right now, fighting for their lives and their freedom against a vicious army that would deprive them everything for the sake of one man’s megalomania. Courage is too seen in Ukraine’s neighbours from Romania, Poland, and Moldova who are lending a hand to the countless refugees in this time of need. ↩
- Just wait to see how quickly the West’s media script shifts from “Putin is frustrated” and “Ukrainians are heroes” to “it was basically Russia’s land all along if you really look at the history.” Memory-hole incoming!! ↩
- Our virtual authoritarianism seemingly knows no bounds. How soft and decadent are we in the West? Well, a recent non-violent but perhaps slightly annoying protest begat a non-violent but perhaps slightly annoying “emergency war measures act,” both of which were exceedingly polite. Did thousands die within days? No, but we DID send thousands of mean tweets to each other. Hurr. ↩
- We probably broadly underestimate the importance of Russia’s military campaigns in Syria (unless you also read the latest Samo Burja’s Bismarck Brief, that is). The Ruskies brushed off a lot of rust there and are now seemingly at the top of their game, certainly compared to the weak, confused, and overpriced Western military forces, particularly those of the US. ↩