a few thoughts on Ukraine
or, don't listen to me for I am an idiot on the internet
There’s both nothing surprising or interesting about this take.
Anyone who’s even visited Europe—even we white people—shouldn’t be surprised that the continent that spread genocide and racial subjugation across the globe for five centuries may have some less than pleasant attitudes towards non-Europeans. I mean, there’s even a fairly large distrust in Western Europe of Eastern Europeans. I can’t tell you how many times I got to hear how unpleasant and uncivilized Polish or Romanian migrant workers were.
And so if the take here is just: SURPRISE! Europeans have racists attitudes. I don’t know how to meet this with anything but a shrug.
From my experience living on a few different continents, people everywhere have fairly unpleasant views towards those who are ethnically or culturally dissimilar to them, and often even antagonistic views towards those who have similar yet still different cultures than them.
This kind of thing may surprise you unless you’ve ever even once in your life been in a room where you were the only person with your ethnic or cultural background.
But there’s another part of this that I find peculiar. I mean, this tweet is meant to signal something important. The mass amounts of retweets and likes demonstrate, to a certain type of person who spends a lot of time on a certain website, that this is an important thought.
It points at a disgraceful moment in recent history and then labels it accurately. But, uh, is that it? Like, is this part of a political project? Is there a call to action here?
And, yes, I’m being a bit unfair here. I don’t know Dr Sogunro. Didn’t even bother to click through to his profile. Maybe he’s an activist working tirelessly towards the goal of racial equity.
Let’s even assume he is.
If we take this tweet on its own, I find it kind of weirdly unpleasant.
What was done to Syrians in 2015 (which is the result of a whole lot of atrocious actions and policies by Western countries going back to, like, 2009 or there abouts, and the shame of it continues daily still) was disgraceful. To turn away refugees is about the shittiest thing that can be done.
What makes it even worse is that those Syrians would likely not have been made refugees had the US and other Western nations made different choices in the years preceding this international travesty. And so the countries that made them refugees sort of washed their hands clean and said, Good luck.
I mean, the depths of heartless depravity here is bottomless.
But…should we do that again because it would be fairer to Syrians?
Dr Sogunro isn’t saying that (maybe he is, but I think that’s perhaps the most ungenerous view to take here without actually digging at least into his online presence), but then what is his point here?
We can’t go back and rectify all the human suffering caused by Western policies over the last decade with regard to Syrians. We can definitely do better going forward and obviously one would hope that we do that.
But is Dr Sugunro suggesting even that here? Is this a call to support all the displaced people of the Middle East? Is this a call to help Palestinians and hold Israel accountable? Or is this really just saying, European countries have racist policies?
I don’t know. Probably something like this shouldn’t even bother me, and this really isn’t about Dr Sugunro, even though his tweet is prominently up above.
Any human deserves dignity. I’d hope any human you encounter who needs help is someone you at least consider helping.
I think it’s safe to say this:
Syrian refugees in 2015 didn’t care that the policy was racist. They cared that their country had been torn apart by war and no one opened their doors to them.
Ukrainian refugees in 2022 don’t care that White Privilege is the reason they do have homes now. Probably the last thing they’re feeling right now is privilege. Probably the furthest thing from their minds is whether or not the people giving them homes are the same people who rejected Syrian refugees based on their skin color and culture and religion.
What I mean to say is that this just isn’t a very useful way to make sense of the world. Is it racist to say that Syrians aren’t welcome here but Ukrainians are?
Uh, yeah. Or at least probably. I don’t know what’s in your dumb heart, man.
But I think we should all be able to agree that anyone who has been made homeless by war should be assisted. If you find qualifications for this sentiment…uh, maybe talk to a therapist or something.
More broadly, what are my thoughts on Ukraine?
Uh, it’s bad, man. I don’t know what to tell you. If you think this is good for some reason…probably you need a therapist. Or new friends.
As always, the internet is the worst place to look for what humans think, since everything immediately becomes part of the Culture War. So two sides have been staked out: those who think the US should send troops and bombs over and those who equivocate over Putin’s actions.
And, by the way, the way people have fetishized President Zelenskyy is kind of gross. And awkward as hell. Turning him into a celebrity or imagining him as, like, Tony Stark or whatever the fuck is extremely weird. Thinking he’s awesome for picking up a gun to kill Russians is…well, it’s something1.
I find this astoundingly bleak.
Even bleaker is the way this war has become an engine of meme production. This is something really just unaccountable. We’re now in the phase of late-stage capitalism where wars go viral.
It makes me want to kill myself.
Of course, no one is talking about any of the many other options. Like, I don’t know, maybe the US should…do nothing. Help the refugees from Ukraine and Russia but avoid any military action. Escalating this conflict will only increase the human suffering. Maybe try some diplomacy, you know?
The US has entered into a lot of military conflicts during my lifetime. I think the US has been more or less at war since before I was born, and I think it’s well understood that this has helped almost no one and has increased human suffering dramatically across the globe.
Award winning science fiction writers and technologist Ramez Naam sure wouldn’t mind if the US entered into a massive war with Russia on Ukrainian soil. This is just so insane. And I wish this were something almost no one was saying or that no one was taking seriously, and yet!
What I find most astounding is that he wishes we started this war eight years ago.
War sure is a good idea when it happens thousands of miles from where you and your loved ones live!
Is Putin a bad actor here?
Will going to war with Putin end his reign?
Maybe? Probably not, but maybe. And even if it did end the Putin Regime in Russia, would that be the best outcome for Russians?
I don’t know. Anyone who’s read Masha Gessen’s excellent books about Putin, Pussy Riot, and the Dzhokhar brothers should be well aware that Putin has not been great for Russia or Russians more broadly. Anyone who’s read her book about Totalitarianism in Putin’s Russia or Svetlana Alexievich’s book about the last of the Soviets should know that Russia is a lot more complicated than just Putin being a bad dude. I don’t know if Putin’s Russia dies or ends with him, but I think it’s just as likely that another strong man takes power (likely someone within Putin’s sphere of influence) as it is that Russia becomes a functioning democracy.
And what about Ukraine?
Things don’t look great. But I also don’t think the US is going to help here in a way that won’t dramatically increase death and devastation.
That doesn’t mean no one should do anything. I just don’t trust my own country. I don’t especially trust Germany either.
One thing that seems obvious is that if Europe or the US are serious about limiting Russia’s global influence, they need to transition from fossil fuel immediately, among other things. And while accepting Ukrainian refugees may be a sign of hypocritical racism right now, it’s also the only humane option.
But I am just an idiot on the internet. Probably you shouldn’t listen to me. But probably you also shouldn’t listen to anyone on twitter or facebook. Definitely don’t listen to anyone turning this tragedy into memes.
Whatever you do, the only question you should probably ask yourself is, Who does this help?
If the answer isn’t Ukrainian refugees or Russian dissidents…maybe give it a bit more thought, yeah?
I find it admirable. I do. I think his willingness to put his body on the line to fight for his country takes tremendous courage. But comparing him to Donald Trump’s draft dodging is especially weird, because, um, draft dodging is exceptionally cool, actually. It might be the only cool thing Donald Trump did.