Evil Sits Alone and Dies in the Darkness of Delusion

The provenance of wisdom is a gathered life. Yes, education and experience are elements of wisdom, but time must pass for them to be properly gathered in a manner that conveys truth and understanding which manifest power. The poet, David Whyte, reckons that “a summation of previous intuitions” might be the binding agent of wisdom—of a gathered life. Out of these connections between seemingly disconnected experiences and observations come patterns that provide the structure of visions about the world that inevitably rhyme with another time.

One of wisdom’s ironies, of course, is that the more wisdom we have the less we share it. Perhaps because those of us with enough gathered life, which is to say, old, know that youth must, as we certainly did, live their own life that will then be gathered. Perhaps it is also true that the old and wise keep to themselves once they have received the inevitable eye-roll dismissal from those most in need of wisdom. In many cultures, wisdom from gathered lives is highly regarded—even sought with reverence. Unfortunately, ours is not one of those cultures. Also, as we age—as our gathered life comes into fruition—we become less fearful even while we are less strong (at least physically). Something in our past says, “Fear not, we have seen this movie before.”

Putin is not the first, nor will he be the last, agent of evil. Once we have lived long enough, we know, even as we watch evil take the lives of so many innocents today, that it will be overcome by truth, love, and justice. Evil is simply unsustainable. As I watch Putin sit alone at the end of his long hideous table, dispensing his many admonitions and instructions to those he subjugates with fear, I wonder if anyone there yearn for truth that might set them free. Embracing deceit as a modality is uncomfortable for a reason: it is incompatible with inner peace. Truth is the backbone of solace. If you need a more immediate example, look at Trump. His life is so completely denominated in deceit that he has likely never even experienced a sense of inner peace. Rather, he is consumed by inner rage. The only time he smiles are photo-ops when he is liberating a donor of the cash in their pocket.

At his essence, Putin is a very scared little man. It appears that no one can stop him, but my wisdom—my gathered life —knows he will be stopped by the beauty and durability of truth, which will cascade down upon him regardless of where he hides, or what other despot(s) might come forward to support him. It is no coincidence that Hitler, Mussolini, and eventually Stalin, were also very much alone as justice found them. In the name of power, he kills. But, also in the name of power—mitigated by love—he shall face justice. This was the American theologian, Paul Tillich’s, greatest contribution to the contemplation of power: that love is what turns power into justice. We must, therefore, have faith in our own collective moral moorings. In the midst of horror, we must do what we can to accelerate the arrival of justice. And yet, regardless of these efforts, I am quite certain that power, mitigated by love, will be visited upon Mr. Putin in time, manifested as justice. To put it more simply, truth has no expiration date and love for the innocents lost will prevail over the evil of Mr. Putin. It is just a matter of time.

In the meantime, we must recommit ourselves, as Americans, to the prospect of a society built on truth where we can, in spite of the many deceits cast our way, commit to the shared realities that are critical to advance the causes to which we aspire. Putin has provided an abject lesson on why this is so important. Russia is what happens when fear and deceit conspire to form delusions, which are the sustenance of evil. In America, we have been flirting with turning our backs on truth for some time now; it was arguably the foundation of the last administration. W. B. Yeats’ “rough beast” did indeed arrive in Moscow; Washington D.C. let one visit, which must never happen again. Clear eyes and full hearts are required to correct our course. It may be too late for Russia, but it is not for us.

As I wrote in “Of Culture, Civilization, and Chaos” (February 27, 2022), the promise of a peaceful world enabled by global economic interdependencies was a bet that is now “collapsing before our eyes.” We are, once again, where we were thirty years ago, devolving into two worlds on one planet. To cite another David Whyte observation, one world is conversational while the other is not. One world speaks its mind while the other is gagged by coercive fear. The difference this time is that we know how it ends. In my youth, we thought we should win, but weren’t sure until the competing model—the Soviet Union—collapsed. The conversational world, marked by liberal democracies will, no doubt, (as another rhyme from another time) prevail again.

Putin’s wager is to bend the reality of history to his grand delusion of a new Russian empire. The problem for him, as it is for any fascist who is intoxicated by the idea of a retrotopia, like “Make America Great Again,” is that it is impossible to reverse the rotation of the earth, let alone turn back the hands of time. Progress marches forward in fits and starts—two steps forward and one back—but forward always wins. George Kennan’s strategy of containment that was used to isolate the ambitions of the Soviets after World War II is, once again, being deployed by the West. The difference this time is that Russians have tasted (however diluted) open markets and free speech. Educated Russians of means are fleeing to join the West as Putin’s bombs crush hospitals in Ukraine. Russia’s brain-drain is underway. The other substantial difference is that the Russian economy, unlike the late 1940s, is completely entangled with the West. Today, they do not have the means to run an isolated economy, and their only hope—China—will exploit that reality at every ask Putin sends Xi’s way. Putin’s weapons—conventional, cyber, chemical, and nuclear—will become the bars of his imprisonment and, eventually, assure his dark lonely death.

The iron curtain will rise again and will probably include portions of today’s Ukraine. But walls do not foster innovation or progress; they strangle those on the wrong side of history. It is people, not walls, that matter. (America, take note.) And, walls will be scaled by those with the will to find their way out, and eventually fall by the invisible but all-powerful hand of truth.

America’s wake-up call resides in the stone-eyed face of Putin’s glare. Let’s not ignore the wisdom in that.

By |2022-03-29T16:04:50+00:00March 21st, 2022|General|0 Comments

America’s Golden Opportunity

With barely more than one-fifth of the 21st century gone, we Americans have endured four crises—three of our own and one global—each of which have changed the course of history. 9/11, the Great Recession, the Trump presidency, and the Covid-19 pandemic were highly damaging events after years of relative calm. Now, we face a fifth crisis—Putin’s invasion of Ukraine—which could tip from regional conflict to world war.

Interesting—way too interesting—times.

Crises, however, present opportunities to change our ways, much more than periods of stability. Periods of stability naturally tend to protect and preserve the status quo. However, positive change depends upon how we respond to each crisis. As the Stoics remind us: it’s not what happens to you that is important, it is how you respond to it.

After 9/11, we responded in a manner that cost us trillions of dollars, thousands of lives, and much of our credibility as the steward of pax Americana around the world. We did somewhat better in addressing the Great Recession, but still made plenty of mistakes (although some of those lessons were applied during the pandemic). The Trump presidency was little more than a self-inflicted wound. The fourth crisis—the pandemic—was an outlier crisis inasmuch as it offered little opportunity for positive change as we were, in effect, frozen in place like a doe in the headlights. Lockdowns and isolation are simply not conducive to positive change. Alas, today’s crisis—Putin’s War—offers an array of opportunities for America.

My sense of Putin’s War is that both he and his Russia will be the biggest losers after Ukraine. It will be a long painful slog for all. The only question is how much more damage will be done to Ukraine before Putin and Russia implode. There remains an extraordinarily high risk of nuclear confrontation and an expanding war including other areas in Eastern Europe, but I do not think Putin will receive meaningful support from other nations, most especially China. Yes, Xi will buy Russian oil and alleviate some of the effects of sanctions, but I expect he sees this as an opportunity to subsume Russia as a quasi-client state rather than elevate Putin and enable him to succeed in his empire fantasies. And, Xi needs his military to enforce the edicts of his regime in-country and to pursue his own ambitions in Asia. His preference will be to have Putin under his thumb much in the same manner as is North Korea’s Kim.

Meanwhile, President Biden is doing a masterful job of threading a very difficult needle of containing Putin and preventing that war from becoming a world war. All presidents prefer foreign policy to domestic as it is where their greatest power lies. Few presidents, however, come into office with foreign policy experience. Biden is a fortunate (for us) exception. The escalation maps (a tool used by national security analysts to model multiple-round effects of military actions) all point to an expanded conflict if his efforts and those of European allies fail, or if Putin decides to unilaterally launch a nuclear weapon. To me, the most remarkable thing has been to watch the sanctions gain immediate support across the free world and for self-sanctioning by the private sector to take off like Omicron in a crowded bar. Apparently, there are severe consequences when you kill innocent women and children in broad daylight. So, besides the opportunity to rescue the Biden presidency from rather awful poll numbers, what are the opportunities for the rest of us, and what should we do to bring them to fruition?

The first opportunity comes in the form of a wake-up call to reinvigorating the values that made America great. If I were king, I would have one more inoculation waiting for the arm of every American: inject each of us with the spirit of responsibility and patriotism shown by the Ukrainian people. But here is the uncomfortable truth: the Ukrainians are just behaving the way we used to behave when we upheld the value of responsible individualism. Hopefully, the images of Ukrainians protecting their homeland can be a model for all Americans.

Second, let’s take a lesson from the Poles on how to treat refugees and immigrants. For some reason, we lost our value of being a beacon of hope for the rest of the world; of being an exemplar as a caretaker of human dignity. Our disdain for refugees and immigrants, while most pronounced during the Trump presidency, actually began many years before in the now very blue state of California—aimed at Mexican immigrants. It then became a lever of political attraction across the south—spreading west to east—until we looked like a nation of fearful cruel zealots. The most powerful nation in the world should never behave like a scared bully.

Next, the world, but especially Americans, need to realize that unity and democracies matter. America may, once again, be the world’s “last best hope for earth.” As Americans, our immediate obligation is to drop the petty grievances that have animated our domestic political lives since the inauguration of Trump and realize that we are all on a more important team than mask lovers or mask haters. We must realize that our unity is essential to protecting the world from disaster. Quit shaking fists and start shaking hands. Our enemies are not our neighbors—regardless of political party. They are people like Putin and Xi and Kim and Khamenei. Got it?

To punctuate the value of unity further, we must also actively put down those politicians intent on stoking division within our country. Trump and his clown-like jesters including Matt Gaetz, Marjorie Taylor Green, Lauren Boebert, Paul Gosar, Jim Jordan, et al, have had their day, but that day must end. As for Trump, who has been and continues to be Putin’s apologist and cheerleader, and who advocates defunding NATO, he must never see the inside of the Oval Office again. Since his campaign in 2015-16, I have called him a wannabe fascist. Let’s make sure his status remains: wannabe.

In addition, so-called news networks like FOX and MSNBC who prefer animus-driven ratings to unity (or journalistic integrity), must be confronted for their contributions to misinformation and malice toward their obligation to serve the public interest—an historical obligation of every broadcast journalist in America. What can you do? Tune them out. Your attention is their life-blood. Starve them into compliance with their obligations to our country. Their First Amendment rights do not extend to the destruction of our unity—of our democracy. It is time they stopped yelling “Fire!” in the proverbial crowded movie theatre.

Finally, if we were unconvinced prior to the Putin War crisis, perhaps $6, or $8, or $10 per gallon gas will convince us that fossil fuels are dangerous beyond their impact on climate change; they are now the currency of war. For all the right reasons, it is time to reduce, then eliminate, our use of fossil fuels.  This realization—this silver lining—may be just what we need to unify and accelerate our efforts toward a clean-green existence. If high-dollar gas will get Bubba to move to the Ford F-150 Lightning EV, maybe we can also get Patty Prius drivers to drop their intransigent orthodoxy of “nature is good and man is bad” and form a peaceful coexistence between the two that supports clean energy, commerce, and independence from absolutist dictums that have proven completely ineffective in addressing the issue of climate change. The only way we solve this and our many other challenges is together.

Putin’s War, our fifth crisis this century, is a golden opportunity for Americans to be Americans again. To set an example that the free world wants to follow. To make the Statue of Liberty mean something again. To assure every fascist and wannabe fascist that they, too, will receive the Putin punishment.

Let’s not mess this crisis up.

By |2022-03-21T22:57:04+00:00March 10th, 2022|General|0 Comments
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