Appeal to reason

Appeal to reason

Faiz Hussain

Appeal to Reason

Thinking about thinking #4 28th February 2022

⚠️ Trigger Warning

I didn’t expect to play a political overture this early in the season. This one will touch on war, corruption, coercion, manipulation and clientelism. Nothing graphic. It’s totally okay if this is not your vibe.

Flashing bar. On my screen it’s a pale blue on a not-quite-black background with a faux-typewriter output. That’s how my mind has felt this week. An expectant open jaw to things I shouldn’t be so surprised about. Russia’s full scale invasion of Ukraine and the reaction from states west of the Dniester to employ sanctions to shape the situation to something more palatable or render them invisible to profit and loss statements.

It didn’t feel right to put out an email without talking about this. Here are my stray thoughts:

  • Ukraine is ‘breadbasket’ to populations in all directions, we will all get swept up in this step-by-step.
  • Attempts to shape Russia through liberalisation (1990s), representative democracy (2000s) and economic sanctions (2010s) have failed to materialise an effective successor state to the Soviet Union that can leave its neighbors alone and provide positive outcomes for its citizenry. Trust in institutions (process) is a prerequisite for people to believe in representation (leadership) that serves them, failing that is an assault on the senses.
  • The narrative of globalization is getting tested again and this is what happens when a country doesn’t believe in the same things. Stories are more powerful than Money in both directions: the Ukrainians defending themselves and the Russians entitling themselves. This cuts in all directions, in which lives get to be saved, when Black and Brown people aren't afforded the same access to escape.
  • Taking over traditional media and government used to be the sure fire way of taking over a country. But what happens when social media is more dominant than the sanitised news and people within Ukraine are mobilised to control the shape of the discourse? A war that can't be won through gunfire.
  • Russia hasn’t solved its 20th Century supply line problem (against Japan, Afghanistan etc.), which means that it will be hard for them to hold onto and expand territory. Throwing a large number of people into conflict without those fundamentals seems like the largest miscalculation. Why now? Why is attrition the strategy?
  • European dependence on Methane funds the war, undermines any lip service and slows our efforts to decarbonise or pursue degrowth because of how it’s positioned as 'natural' and 'greener'. It's the one card Russia can play to harm the Europe tomorrow.
  • Pay to play means that capital flight from Russia has had a welcome home in gold plated visas and black card bank accounts. Financial sanctions are a bit of a slap on the wrist as destabilizing the currency won't necessarily produce the conditions for regime change (see Syria, Iran, Venezuela, etc.). You can’t use coercion/force to get people to want what you want.
  • I think about the liberal approach to criminality as 'offsets' — the idea is if we install lot of negative consequences and expenses we’ll be able to nudge ‘rational actors’ to the behaviours we think are best (see Broken Window Policing). This is the Homo Economicus argument: people make decisions based on individual cost-benefit. It's extremely flat and flawed as a model for behaviour, but the basis for a lot of design decisions. What about criminality and warmongers? People don't let go of the thing they want because the economic cost is too high. Abstraction, bias, context, decision debt. . . there is an A–Z list that scarcely maps human potential. What’s happening isn’t rational and being rational is a 'preferred' ideological state where we're making decisions based on a consensus of the same ideas. Negative incentives don't work when we're not playing the same game.

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