December 31, 2023

Good v. Evil


Good v. Evil
Rural scene. Kusmina Svetlana

We came across this quote in the New York Times' article on Best Sentences of the Year:

“What Putin is doing in Ukraine is not just reckless, not just a war of choice, not just an invasion in a class of its own for overreach, mendacity, immorality and incompetence, all wrapped in a farrago of lies. What he is doing is evil.”

It is by the journalist Thomas Friedman, and it was in this article on his trip to Ukraine.

There have been few such succinct and true summaries of Russia's War on Ukraine, which has upended, or perhaps stripped naked would be a better way to put it, what all Russophiles previously thought and loved about Russia.

Later in his article, Friedman does a good job of explaining what Russia's War is really about (for Putin):

"[Putin's] war, in my view, has never been primarily about countering NATO expansion. It has always been much more about stopping a Slavic Ukraine from joining the European Union and becoming a successful counter-example to Putin’s Slavic thieving autocracy. NATO expansion is Putin’s friend — it allows him to justify militarizing Russian society and to present himself as the indispensable guardian of Russia’s strength. E.U. expansion to Ukraine is a mortal threat — it exposes Putinism as the source of Russia’s weakness." (emphasis added)

As Russophiles, we must constantly puzzle how it is that this nation (Russia) has had such huge achievements in the arts, literature, music, science, sport, yet has done such a poor job improving its self-government and the thing about putting an end to its imperialistic impulses...

But then again, Russia is hardly alone. Humankind struggles with a similar dichotomy.

On the one hand, we look around us and see amazing advancements in science and technology, in health, energy, travel, etc. It gives hope that humankind can make a real dent in things like poverty and climate change and epidemics – i.e. suffering. But then there is Ukraine and Gaza and Yemen and Ethiopia and, and... and we realize that, despite these advancements, we continue to do a poor job extracting that thing about having a killing and dominating instinct in our simian souls.

We have come so far. Yet, also, we have not.

So where do we point our compass? How do we find hope and promise for the coming year?

Perhaps it is in the courage and plain speaking of those who are on the front lines of the battle against evil. Like Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, whom Friedman quotes in the article above, from a speech he gave in Kiev:

“Human morality must win this war. Everyone in the world who values freedom, who values human life, who believes that people must win. And our success, the specific success of Ukraine, depends not only on us, on Ukrainians, but also on the extent to which the entire vast moral space of the world wants to preserve itself.”

And so, perhaps our best message for 2024 is this: We must keep fighting for and arguing for and writing about what is right. Good can and will defeat evil. Maybe not entirely. But step by step, inch by inch, day by day, with small, meaningful victories here and there. As long as we stay in the fight and support others who do as well.

Happy New Year?

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