Conflicting ideas abound in Ukraine

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The Russian invasion of Ukraine has arrived on my Facebook page. You may have experienced something similar if you haven’t already left the “metaverse”.

Broadly speaking, my visitors on Facebook come in three guises: trolls (some possibly mentally ill) to stir up trouble and spread misinformation about the conflict; leftists who cite US foreign policy as the main cause of the war; and liberals and progressives who blame Russian President Vladimir Putin for the carnage without blaming the United States

These cross-currents converged after I posted a February 23 tweet from Yale University philosophy professor Jason Stanley addressing the claim that Ukraine is a Nazi-run state.

Stanley is a leading expert on fascism and the author of the highly acclaimed study, How Fascism Works. His tweet read:

“The President of Ukraine is Jewish and has many family members who died in the Holocaust. Putin’s claim that he is invading to ‘denazify Ukraine’ should shock the world.

Stanley’s sighting went viral, garnering more than 44,000 likes on Twitter. It also triggered a small shockwave on my Facebook page.

I responded to the increased traffic, as is my custom, by blocking anyone – or any bot (you never know meta) – suspected of trolling or in need of therapy.

However, I engaged with other posters and was encouraged to find intelligent life on both sides of the divide. Without identifying anyone by name, some in the anti-American camp pointed to Ukraine’s long history of anti-Semitism. Others have noted that the current Ukrainian National Guard includes a virulent neo-Nazi unit known as the Azov Battalion. Still others condemned the provocative decision to expand NATO to Russia’s borders after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

On the opposite flank were posters which, to varying degrees, echoed the thinking of Professor Stanley, who followed up his earlier tweet with a column for the Guardian on February 26, writing:

“Vladimir Putin is himself a fascist autocrat, imprisoning leaders and critics of the democratic opposition. He is the acknowledged leader of the global far right, which increasingly resembles a global fascist movement.

“Ukraine has a far-right movement, and its armed defenders include the Azov Battalion, a far-right nationalist militia. But no democratic country is free from far-right nationalist groups, including the United States. In the 2019 elections, Ukraine’s far-right was humiliated, only getting 2% of the vote. That’s far less support than far-right parties in Western Europe, including in arguably democratic countries like France and Germany.

With my experience as a judge and my training as a mediator, I tried to bridge the gap by publishing:

“Trying – and I use that word because it’s very difficult – to understand what’s going on in the UK [Ukraine], you have to embrace seemingly contradictory ideas. Yes, there are anti-Semites in the UK (Azov). But Zelensky is not a Nazi, either with a small “n” or a capital letter. Yes, NATO surrounded Russia and it was a tragic mistake (in my opinion), but Putin is not Uncle Joe [Stalin] defend the world against fascism.

Without getting too academic, what I meant was that to understand the war in Ukraine in a way that can lead to a peaceful resolution and a better world, we need to hone our abilities to think critically. We need to embrace what researchers call the “paradoxical mindset” and engage in “integrative thinking” rather than all-or-nothing rigidity.

The most revolutionary thinkers actively consider “several opposites or antitheses simultaneously”, Loizos Heracleous and David Robson wrote in an article published by the BBC in November 2020, citing the pioneering work of psychiatrist Albert Rothenberg, who has spent decades examining the creative process.

“Einstein,” Heracleous and Robson explained, “envisioned how an object could be both at rest and in motion depending on the position of the observer, a consideration that ultimately led to his theory of relativity. Danish physicist Niels Bohr attempted to reconcile the ways in which energy acted as both waves and particles: states that existed simultaneously, even though they could not be observed together.This train of thought eventually inspired a surprising new understanding of quantum mechanics.

Can we arrive at a new synthesis on Ukraine and shift our thinking to repudiate both US imperialism and Putin-style fascism? Unfortunately, the jury, as we say in my profession, is still very far on the question.

In the meantime, we should at least be able to agree that the bloodshed must stop. As I said in another comment on my thread:

“The building is on fire. We can talk about the corrupt builder[s] and the building code inspectors who didn’t do their job when he came out. Translation: The Russian invasion is an atrocity and must be stopped now.

Bill Blum

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