6/11/2022 08:30

The Emperor Vladimir

At this moment in time Russia is invading Ukraine. We in "the West" are having trouble envisioning why a big, adult-like country such as Russia would be engaging in an 18th century war of conquest. The way Russia's president has been switching from one explanation to another has not helped our understanding; we in "the West" seem to be insisting on finding a rational explanation and Vladimir Putin seems willing to offer a variety of suggestions. None of them have proven to be rational when examined in the light of actual reality.

Putin recently gave a speech extolling Tsar Peter "the Great". I wonder if this may offer us a way out. Would Putin withdraw from the battlefield if we allow him to declare victory and start to address him as Emperor? We could say "His Imperial Anachronism, the Emperor Vladimir" and we could even mean it. Putin could adopt the white, blue, and red Russian flag (the one with the bloody stripe) as an imperial banner while the rest of his country could switch to the white, blue, and white version (which replaces the blood with peace and light). Step back to the 17th century if you like but stop killing people in the 21st.

Reading these thoughts in the future I trust they will seem dated and a bit silly. Surely in the future Putin will have transitioned peacefully into retirement, Russia will have been welcomed back into the 21st century, and the successor as president will have rebuilt cooperative relations with Russia's nearest neighbors.

Such a change is not impossible; Sweden was the military power of northeastern Europe in the 16th century and has followed a very different path more recently.

I worry those hopes may be a continuation of our insistenace on rationality. Preserving Ukraine's cultural heritage seems rational to me, as does feeding the world and keeping more young men alive into middle age. Using Russian resources to create friends for Russia rather than enemies is appealing on rational grounds. None of these points kept Russia from invading Ukraine or from offering up a series of irrational and unconvincing justifications.

When playing the actual reality game we players can not be certain of the plays of others. I hope peace comes to Ukraine and to Russia; perhaps some of my plays in this game will prove to be supportive of those goals. But the outcome does not depend on me alone, or me and my friends, or me and my country, or even my country and its friends.

In actual reality insisting on rationality may be irrational.