What should be done? / What should I do?



Should we / I call for an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine?

Roger Waters, of Pink Floyd, called today for a immediate ceasefire in the war now going on mostly in the east of Ukraine, in the name of the billions having no shoes or shoes worse than the members of the UN security council. This was certainly a brave thing for him to do, as his speech instantly and quite predictably produced a massive shit storm. Also,  he was certainly right to do this: not just to voice his opinion, to make himself the mouthpiece of many, but also in his general point. This does not mean, however, that I advocate a ceasefire in the war. Let me explain. 

In wars, as with disasters, poverty, crime and other forms of discrimination, lives are lost that could be saved. Every single of one of such deaths is an immeasurable tragedy that we as humanity have an obligation to avoid. When we fail to do so, we are only rarely and under very strict conditions excusable, and even then most of us often only partly so. That we are guilty for what happens to our kin (and for many other things to) is a general, though uncomfortable truth. Its particularly acute, pressing and incomfortable in the case of humanity-made disasters, such as war and climate change. In these cases at least, the burden of proof is certainly and unquestionably on the side of those who think that people should die, not on the side of those, like Roger Waters, who think that people should live. I take this to be an obvious truth: no one who is not a monster will deny it. 

It follows that everyone who advocates war or the freedom to emit has to give good - valid and sound - arguments why some greater good justifies the loss of lives. This is something every sensible and rational person should be able to agree to - and Waters is right to point out the obvious.

Difficulties start when people start to draw presumed consequences of this simple fact. An important, and very deplorable confusion (on both sides of the discussion) has to be cleared up right away: never confuse strategy with tactics.

How Putin, the known crazy man in charge in Russia, will react to this or that action of the Ukrainian, German or US government, no one knows (if he really is crazy, not even he does). The same, obviously, may be true of many other influential people in this war. 

As "normal" people, without inside information and no personal connections, our primary duty is not to fathom the probable course of international politics if this or that decision would be taken by people who we cannot influence. This is not predicting a football match. Our primary, and pressing, duty is to figure out what we should do, and determine what is right and its probable circumstances on this basis,

This does not mean that we are not allowed to think about what we would do if we were Macron, or Biden, or Selensky or any of these guys. It just means that we should remember that we are not them, and that many other people, some directly affected (for example killed) by their decisions, are also not them. Their voices count: for those who will die in Ukraine tomorrow, it would have been good if Waters' call for an immediate ceasefire would have been heard (which, of course, it wasn't).

At the time of writing, I do not even know whether it was or was not. It is just obvious that it won't be. This is a good reason to suppose that other interests are in play. And there are: there are obvious (and also not so obvious) economic interests in play. And if there is one thing we should have learned from communist theoretising, it's this: always follow the money. When analysing any given choice situation, any dilemma or any presumed "decision point" in politics, ask who stands to gain what (in money, first and foremost) from what eventuality. It is beyond doubt that the war in Ukraine so far has been profitable, e.g. to the US arms industry (among possibly others). If they had any politicans on their payroll (I am not saying they have), it's reasonable to assume that these would advocate further arms' deliveries. 

Again, I think so much is obvious, What is controversial, and a matter of legitimate dispute, is what this entails, and here opinions may legitimately differ. 


We're not them / they are not us

The general point is: just because I belong to the liberal western Elite from which the rulers of the world have traditionally been recruted, I do not have to and indeed should not use my (anyway limited) powers of empathy to imagine what I do or say if I were in their shoes. Because I am not, and I won't, and pretending or imagining I am falsifies, distorts, even perverts my judgment. 

My immediate judgement, whenever I dare to just be myself and do not take up some (quite illusionary, and anyway only imagined) viewpoint of world politics, is quite simply that any death is a death too much. Whenever I stray from this, start thinking that perhaps some killings may serve a bigger purpose, be justified in a more general, more adequate, more "realistic" view on things, I am not just taking a big epistemic risk - I am myself becoming a monster. This is Waters' point, and it is a good one. It may still be true that becoming a monster is (perhaps: for some people) unavoidable, excusable, perhaps even a brave and necessary thing to do. 

Doing it unprovoked, unthinkingly and without any justification, however, is wrong, and also immoral. As I tell my (pre-teen) daughters, we have no need and there is no objective justification for civilians to pretend to be part-time police: we (in Switzerland, this may not apply to other places on earth) have more than enough police already. And we can get by just fine without the grandstanding of voluntary sheriffs. What applies to sheriffs, applies to part-time generals: we do not need to know the details of Javalins and Himars to know that they are made for and do killing people.