the assumption of responsibility for the welfare of the world











2004 December 18


The colors are nearly opposite ― orange for the liberal opposition, blue for the conservative government. The map is much neater ― a clean split between the opposition vote in the west and north, and the government vote in the east and south. But the comparisons between the Ukrainian presidential election and the US presidential election were inevitable, and accordingly, they have come. In each case, the exit polls indicated a win for the challenger, and in each case the official results went to the incumbent instead. In each case, the outcome was viewed with the utmost gravity by both the partisans of progressive rationalism and by the partisans of traditionalist faith. In each case, they were right. Ukrainians and Yankees are not fundamentally different sorts of people. But Ukrainians of the opposition have spent weeks in the freezing cold demanding a new election, because the previous election was blatantly undemocratic and most knew that, whereas Yankees of the opposition have largely accepted their election, because it was basically democratic and most knew that. Two polarized societies, one ready to move forward and one not, both exhibiting the same mix of traits common to all of humanity. What gives?

Humans are basically conservative, and want familiarity in their lives, comfort, ease, a lack of challenge. This comes of being animals. It is easier to know what to expect, comforting to have routines, difficult and disconcerting to be faced with the new and the foreign. The new and the foreign are frightening; they are to be shunned.

But humans (at least humans, and possibly other animals) have individual minds capable of thought. They have the capacity to understand, and they have the desire as well. That which does not make sense will get their attention, and they will make efforts to change it. They will study the problem and attempt to understand it, and if the situation still does not make sense they will try to change the situation itself.

The instinctive fear of the unknown versus the cognitive dissonance of the illogical. The emotional peace of familiarity versus the emotional peace of sensibility. Humanity is being pulled in two directions, backwards and forwards, down and up. It is my personal conviction that humans are slowly becoming something better, that the rational pursuit of truth and understanding is a natural function of the mind, and the mind will eventually demand the freedom to pursue it. More importantly, the mind will eventually sacrifice comfort and familiarity, and risk social isolation and retribution, to pursue truth and understanding.

So the historical trend of liberalism is not just the quest for a better life. It is the movement towards an intellectual destiny. The practice of dominion in its many forms is the counterforce, the enemy, of liberalism and rationalism. It may be that some practitioners of dominion are themselves afraid of the unfamiliar, and oppose change because they are feeble-minded. But some are clearly just self-interested liars who will say or do anything to get their way. For them, the fear of the unfamiliar is a powerful ally in their efforts to control the world. They need only convince people to listen to their own fear, hype up the threat that change poses, and they have a ready army of uncritical supporters who will fight the battles that the dons cannot win on their own.

The true adherents of liberalism and rationalism are a small minority. On those terms they will never, or at least never in our lifetimes, have the popular support to change the world. They depend on support from those who have been disenfranchised by the status quo ― by the dominion ― and have finally been brought to recognize the fact. Of course, we have all been disenfranchised by the dominion, and if we were not so commonly afraid of change, the dominion would have no power over us.

In the United States, the election, based on exit polls, was taken to have turned on cultural issues ― religion versus secularism, traditional marriage versus gay marriage, opposition to abortion versus abortion on demand. I have been convinced by those who have debunked the exit polls, pointing to flawed questions (and besides, the exit polls failed to predict the result, so they can hardly be expected to explain the result). But if the election had been between religion and secularism, traditional marriage and gay marriage, opposition to abortion and abortion on demand, John Kerry would have been clobbered. He’d have been annihilated. As it was, he lost clearly, but the pre-election perception that the country is divided remains valid. It is merely that the divide is much closer to traditionalism.

The Ukraine is a country of two distinct cultures to begin with. In the west, they speak Ukrainian, are more likely Catholic, and look to Europe. In the east, they speak Russian, are more likely Orthodox, and look to Russia. There are strong reasons to divide it even before politics is taken into account. The orientation of each half to its pole has a serious impact on politics, though, since the political situations are so different in Europe and Russia. Europe is the home of liberal democracy and moderate socialism, and imperialist tendencies that are receding (though not fast enough for me). Russia is the home of authoritarian pseudodemocracy and oligarchic capitalism, and imperialist tendencies that are waxing and flourishing; it is the home, in other words, of Vladimir Putin.

Putin’s actions in Russia ― media control, persecution of opposition supporters, concentration of power, and the blistering war in Chechnya ― long ago revealed him as a menace. It is no surprise that he has turned up on the menacing side in Ukrainian politics. He openly campaigned for the pro-Moscow government candidate, Viktor Yanukovich, lent advisors and donated possibly hundreds of millions of dollars, and leapt to recognize him as the winner (while at the same time harping on Western meddling). The Putinists in Kiev, outgoing president Leonid Kuchma and current prime minister Yanukovich, rigged the poll so obviously that even journalists are stating it as indisputable fact. Before the actual election (the first round of which was also fixed), the government monopolized news coverage. Someone poisoned opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko. Kuchma is already implicated in the murder of opposition journalist Georgy Gongadze; among other things, he is desperate for Yanukovich to win so that he can avoid prosecution, for at least one murder and years of corruption.

Kuchma is one reason that so many ordinary persons in Ukraine are ready for serious change. Putin is another. Russia’s designs on Ukraine have never been so obvious in the post-Bolshevik period; and ending up back in the Russian empire has never been less appealing. So hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians, and not just western Ukrainians, have protested peacefully to overturn the fraud. Russia’s naked interest could only remind them of the invasion of Hungary in 1956, the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, the invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, and Putin’s own invasion of Chechnya in 1994. They were risking Russian tanks as well as Ukrainian interior troops. But they were not to be bullied.

Relatively speaking, the people of the United States have it easy, and those of Ukraine have it quite rough. Certainly the latter are much better acquainted with the potential for government malfeasance and negligence. They have more cause to be fed up, and they have shown it. By outward appearance, Ukrainians are charging boldly forward while Yankees are retreating to the safety of the past. But Ukrainian society has further to go; the society and especially the government are more an affront to the nascent mind coming into awareness.

Awareness, understanding, enlightenment ― in any case, something positive and good, and a desire in all of us that is, for most, horribly repressed. The repression is external and internal; the person who lives free in its own mind can never be fully controlled by others. That is the hope of humanity: individual persons one by one seizing their destinies. Were I in Ukraine, I would head down to the presidential building and throw on an orange scarf (you heard me: orange). I would want to be a part of something that is bringing so much positive change to so many. Let us hope that these protests are successful in restoring democracy. If they are, though, things will be much more difficult. Liberalism and rationalism do not usually lead to mass protests against individual villains like Putin and Kuchma. They lead to individual protests against generalized villains like tradition and faith ― like dominion. Tradition, faith, and especially dominion do not want us to think for ourselves. When we think and act critically, we have defied them completely. But it takes a good deal more than voting for John Kerry or even Viktor Yushchenko. That is too easy; it hardly counts at all.


Original version


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