I don’t mean how the war is progressing, I mean the progress we can make while contemplating wars. Some devotees can also make enormous progress during the war itself, as letters from places like Mariupol shows. Some devotees can also become overwhelmed by circumstances and descend into bodily consciousness. In this sense wars are like diseases, vyadhi – we can talk about symptoms, causes, and cures, but the bottom line is that one’s consciousness becomes degraded and one cannot worship the Lord normally anymore. King Kulashekhara’s prayer comes to mind here – at the time of death chanting will be impossible, and this can be extended to the time of war, too. I don’t want to discuss experiences of devotees in Ukraine – what do I know about that? I’d rather talk what use can arm chair generals like myself extract from contemplating wars.
First thing – wars prove that the world isn’t flat. Suddenly we see that some moral values matter more than the others and there is no equality between them, no flatness. When discussing wars people usually mention politics or economics, maybe history, but not morals. Morals are treated as one undifferentiated blob and at best one thing is taken out of it as a moral justification, something like “historical injustice”, but this doesn’t do actual justice to the place morals play in wars.
Modern wars have become somewhat sanitized – waged by governments which hire soldiers to fly to some distant places and all we get is pictures and videos in the media. The media can create an environment where public feels that their government decisions are justified and that the opposing side are definitely bad guys, but designating someone as a bad guy and celebrating victories shown on TV is not the same as going to war. Morals do not actually get involved here, it’s only a lot of huffing and puffing about nothing.
By contrast, conflict over Ukraine is a conflict of convictions deeply held by entire societies, not just by a few individuals in charge. What’s interesting, however, is that they all draw from the same pool of moral values, they have all the same ingredients, but they select different ones to put at the top of their hierarchies. I mean it’s not that no one understands Russian concerns about NATO missiles being potentially put in Ukraine, and it’s not that Russians don’t understand the value of independence, but when they create dominant-subordinate relationships between these two ideas they make opposite choices of what should come first.
This goes back to Putin’s redline – no missiles in Ukraine. Easy to understand but, as it turns out, impossible to take it seriously. Sure he didn’t mean that it would override Ukraine’s right to self-determination, but Putin made it clear – it’s a redline, nothing else matters when it comes to redlines. Ukrainian quest for independence was dismissed with one rhyme, in English it would be “like it or don’t like it, but have to tolerate it”. It also sounded a bit rapey when Putin said it and for a few hours western media puzzled over what he meant exactly, and then they moved on, but Putin didn’t. Redline was still a redline and Ukrainian independence had to be patient and take subordinate role.
I admit I don’t understand Ukrainian case for resistance here. Sure, they don’t want to be dictated who can and who cannot put whatever missiles in their country, but the very quest for independence is illusory. No one is independent in this world and Ukrainians themselves don’t want independence either. What they want is to be dependent on the West instead of Russia. They want to join NATO, they want to join EU – they want to belong somewhere. Where is quest for independence?
Maybe it’s just me, but their entire narrative nicely fits into this two minute cartoon:
You don’t need to understand Ukrainian here – there are two girls growing next to each other. One is a good one and the other is bad, then the good one gets new friends but the bad one cannot accept it and tries to spoil it. Such a nasty character. It’s simple. It’s also about as serious as their medium of choice – it’s cartoonish.
If they take this narrative seriously and Russians don’t then it illustrates my point – people put different relative values on otherwise commonly acknowledged things.
It’s not that Russians don’t want to be a member of European family, this is patently ridiculous, but after thirty years they came to a curious realization, also based on lists of moral values, btw. So someone compiled a list of Western values and a list of Russian values and observed that Russian list is longer and therefore Russia can’t fit into Europe in a same way a bigger thing cannot fit into a smaller hole. Well, actually they meant American values and even that representation was probably unfair, but I was surprised by their mode of thinking. Sample argument – Russians traditionally place high value on cooperation and collectivism so that welfare of the whole matters more than welfare of individual parts. Can this be accommodated in the western world? No, that smells like communism and will be misunderstood and rejected, generally speaking. Therefore Russians cannot express themselves through Western framework, and after many years of trying in frustration we come to the point where they say “dhik dhik”. This means “to hell with it” in Sanskrit, repeated twice).
This makes it a choice for keeping one’s own identity and big words like “self-actualization”. Russians here want to be themselves and nothing can stand in their way. I can’t say the same about Ukrainians, however. Their desire to become European does not go beyond having more money and better stuff to buy with it. Perhaps it’s Russian propaganda but I hear stories of Ukrainian refugees refusing to get a job when they arrive in Europe. They think that since they are suffering from evil Russians then Europeans will give them free place to live and monthly stipend to go with it. Someone called a friend in France and made their case “I want to show Paris to my children, can you recommend a free place to stay for refugees for two-three days?” The reply was “You are a refugee, not a tourist, and, in any case, France is not in the business of providing free hotels.”
What I mean to say is that Ukrainian idea of Europe is cartoonish and so for them it becomes a case of seeking a new identity instead of coming to terms with their existing one. I mean if Russians want to be themselves then Ukrainians want to be anyone else but Ukrainians. Just by comparing these two approaches to life makes me conclude that there is no real case for Ukraine in this war.
Another lesson is that “democracy” is an illusory concept, too. It’s not what gives countries their power. British empire got prosperous because it subjugated a lot of countries all around the world, not because of “democracy”. The US got a good chunk of Europe after WWII and made these countries into American vassals who aren’t allowed to make any serious decisions without American approval. Example – the fate of Nord Stream 2 is decided in Washington, not Berlin. Better example yet is that if you look at the map of countries that joined Russian sanctions you will see that it very nicely corresponds with the map of countries occupied by the US in WWII. They can’t disagree, they are not allowed to, they all have to toe the same line. To restate the same point – democracy is a distraction for the masses, real power lies in military and political dominance, just as it has always been, and it’s coming from Vedic times. Therefore there is no democracy in Bhagavatam – whoever has the real power gets to dictate the rules, that’s the law, and it works in “democracies”, too.
More interesting is a lesson on “independent media”. Traditional idea is that democratic societies need independent media so that people can make informed choices about direction of their countries. Russians don’t have that, they say. True, but Russians don’t see the role of the media in the same way. Since they reject democracy (not really, but to make it simple) then there is no need for the informed population. People who make choices have to be properly informed and others have to be either encouraged or assuaged or given something to keep busy with, and that’s what the rulers need media for. Did you get this – “rulers need media”? Because this understanding rules out any need for independence.
What’s interesting is that Russians are the last to arrive at this conclusion while in the West they nailed it thirty-forty years ago. In the 90s Chomsky was already writing articles on how western media doesn’t do what it’s supposed to and it doesn’t serve people [to inform them]. Today they say Russians don’t have access to alternative viewpoints. Not true – several popular outlets have been shut down only after the war started but had a free go for decades. People listened to them, they gathered their loyal following (pro-western, needless to say), but they failed to capture the collective mind, and when the war started the government decided that their nonsense it could afford during peace cannot be allowed during war.
Once again, if it was a “modern war” fought by distant people in distant places it would not have mattered much, like these pro-western media were allowed to present alternative views on Russian involvement in Syria, but this war is too close to home to allow for any fissure between the government and the people.
More on independence – it doesn’t exist, as I said, so it’s not a question of having independent media but rather a question of who these media depend upon. Legally, it means being designated as a “foreign agent”. Usually it comes with proof of foreign funding, going to organizations like US National Endowment for Democracy and the like. Having your stuff trained by these organizations is another sign of being a “foreign agent”.
Non-Russian audience is not expected to know but Russian cultural elites are very much like Hollywood – liberal to the core. Outside we are informed of relentless Russian propaganda but there is a large number of Russian movies which offer alternative narratives of events like Russian participation in WWII, which is traditionally close to Russian heart. They glorify or at least humanize traitors and Nazi collaborators, they present Soviet army officers as bloodthirsty monsters killing their own soldiers etc etc. These movies invariably bomb at the box office but, and here is a mind blowing fact – most of them are made on government subsidies! This is the extent of pro-western elites grasp on Russian cultural space – they own it.
A few years ago a famous director made a TV serial about a Russian security officer who discovered an American regime change plot involving Russian sleeper agents recruited back in the 90s. The elites would not tolerate it and the director had to publicly apologize for making such a pro-Russian serial and second season had to be directed by someone else. So no, it’s not true that Russians have no exposure to alternative views – they do, or they did before the war, and they rejected them. Why? Many reasons, but a prominent one is probably because they see that this agenda doesn’t have their best interests at heart. Propaganda is propaganda, and they prefer to be lied by their own government, which is another interesting point.
Western ideal is privately held, not government controlled media. Okay, but private companies work for the profit of their owners while governments work for the welfare of the citizens. Corporate media wants to make money off you and the government wants you to be happy. Government takes responsibility for its citizens and cannot fire them whatever they do. Businesses take no responsibility for their workers and if they don’t fit in corporate culture they are let go and they have to fend for themselves. Governments don’t do that – they are always with you, like the Paramatma.
Which media model is better? It’s a no brainer – government one, but in today’s world it’s the opposite. Governments are supposed to be our enemies intent on cheating us and abusing their power, and corporations are presented as our true friends so that we give them all our money, meaning all our labor. Isn’t it amazing what maya makes us believe?
This is getting too long and I better wrap up. All in all, this war gives us an opportunity to see how Vedic laws still work even as the reality is covered by illusion of independence and “democracy”. Here is one last argument to ponder.
There is a legitimate question – if nobody is independent, what is Russia and Putin are depended on? If Ukraine should depend on Russia then what about Russia itself? A hundred and fifty years ago one German observer commented – Russia is dependent directly on God. Why? Because if it were not so then there would be no rational reason for Russia still keeping itself together. One could make the same argument about ISKCON, too.
And an atmospheric picture as a farewell. Death flying on the back of western anti-tank missile.
PS. None of the above seems to be about spiritual matters, but I would argue that these realizations are necessary on the way to “brahma-bhuta” platform. We must learn to see things as they are, free from illusion and propaganda. Like what progress do you expect if you can’t come to terms with your own personality and refuse to accept and act according to your own nature? The process is called “self-realization” for a reason.