What gives Putin such an advantage over the West? Philosopher
Jarosław Makowski writes that Western
cynicism and willingness
to set aside idealim for profit puts the ball squarely in his court.
West's Sliding Scale of Human Suffering is a Gift to Putin (Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland)
"Let us assume for a moment that Russian separatists have
downed a U.S. airliner over east Ukraine, with mostly American passengers, or perhaps
a Lufthansa plane with mostly German passengers, and not, as it happened,
Dutch. Wouldn't Western outrage be even greater? Isn't it true that Putin would
be showered with tougher sanctions and threats of isolation? ... Something is
wrong with the West if it answers Putin's chaos with cynicism. If we, people of
the West, retain even a shred of reason and decency, we should return to our
idealism, which proclaims that dignity is the common right of all human beings,
and that the suffering of innocents is always a scandal."
The Russian president
is brazenly playing the decent man. He does so because he knows that Western
leaders and the Western public are quick to be outraged, but just as quick to set
their outrage aside.
Putin knows the West like the back of his hand. He knows how predicable our political
leaders are. He is aware that they value stability, adherence to
agreements and compromise, and that every decision, particularly within the
framework of the European Union, means a tedious and time-consuming search for common
of this is known to the Russian president.
Western leaders, it's another story. They have no clue about the real face of
Russia. They don't know what Putin thinks, the best proof being Angela Merkel's
statement that "Putin has lost touch with reality." They have no idea
whether agreements with the Russian president will be kept or broken. They are incapable
of telling whether Putin seeks an understanding with them, or faking goodwill,
is preparing for a future confrontation. They are incapable of forecasting what
Putin will do or when and how he will do it, because Putin wants to be perceived
as a maverick.
the West looks for harmony and order, Russia sows chaos and unpredictability.
The result of Putin's strategy is what's happening in eastern Ukraine: daily
destabilizations, guerilla war, violence, and terror, organized by pro-Putin
paramilitary forces. It may sound cruel, but an "accidental" victim
of the chaos was the Malaysian airliner with almost 300 passengers aboard,
including 80 children.
senseless death of innocent people provoked righteous indignation in the West.
Our leaders, starting with Barack Obama and including European politicians,
spoke with one voice: "Russia must cease hostilities"; "an
international commission must investigate"; "This is Moscow's last
chance for cooperation", etc.
Putin been affected by the heightened rhetoric of the West? Not at all. He expected
this type of reaction. That is why now, he is playing the role of a sympathetic
man, saying "such events should connect people, not divide them," even
as he foments the very kind of "disinformation chaos" that Moscow so
successfully employs after all of its sins. In this case, the idea was to put
the blame on the Ukrainian side, since, as Putin explained on July 21, "If
Ukraine hadn't begun its anti-terrorist operations on June 28, this tragedy
would not have occurred." The Russian president brazenly pretends to be a
decent man who has warned the West all along against the consequences of
Ukraine's policies. Putin plays it this way because he knows that Western
leaders and the Western public are quick to be outraged, but just as quick to forget
is our anger so ephemeral? Well, because in spite of Western rhetoric, common
humanity is merely a beautiful construct of the Western mind. In practice, we
know, and Putin knows, that suffering is not equal. The suffering and pain of
one set of people, OUR PEOPLE, is more important than the suffering and pain of
OTHERS - the aliens.
our plane is shot down, with mostly European citizens aboard, there is
righteous outrage. When, however, there is an escalation of the conflict
between Hamas and Israel, in which the death count is already well past 700,
the West is far less outspoken in its indignation. Similarly, not long ago, it
observed quite passively as Syria's Assad murdered women and children. Why?
Because those crimes are happening far from our borders. They don't touch us
directly. Our lives are blessedly unaffected.
show how varied the price of suffering is among human beings, who after all, are
said to be equally endowed with dignity and human rights, let's assume for a
moment that Russian separatists have downed a U.S. airliner over east Ukraine,
with mostly American passengers. Or perhaps it was a Lufthansa plane shot down,
where most of the passengers were German, and not, as it happened, Dutch.
Wouldn't Western outrage be even greater? Isn't it true that Putin would be
showered with tougher sanctions and threats of isolation? Would Berlin and the
citizens of Germany still support trade with Moscow, because although people
are important, the economy is even more so?
long as Western leaders demonstrate that there are grades of suffering, that
when it is OUR suffering we react more quickly and are louder about expressing
indignation, every kind of dictator can sleep more soundly, including Putin.
Moreover, the hope that Russians will wake up on their own is in vain. Putin
has internalized Stalin's words, which in Russia still seem to have power over
the national consciousness. According
to Stalin, "If you shoot one person you are a murderer. If you kill a
couple or people you are a gangster. If you are a crazy statesman and send
millions to their deaths, you are a hero." In Russia, Putin is a hero.
this in mind, now more than ever, in our divided and pluralistic world, we
ought to repeat that there is something we all have in common. This something
is suffering. It is a constant that cannot be made relative or dependent on
particular circumstances. A suffering person has no skin color, gender,
political opinion, gender or faith. There is only suffering.
is true that, as theologian Johann B. Metz has
said, "the authority of those who suffer" is a "weak"
authority. At the same time, it is now the only authority "left us in our
globalized world. It is, however, 'strong' in the sense that it cannot
be bypassed by either religion or culture" [translated quote]. If this is so, then human suffering must
take precedence over all reason, all ethics, and any policy. What shall we do with
reason, ethics or politics, if they are blind to the cries of victims and the
pain of suffering?
The trouble is that the West has trained itself to be cynical. It has
introduced cynicism as the guiding principle of policy. In the name of cynicism,
the West does business with dictators who torture and murder their fellow
citizens. Since we need Russian natural gas, the cynical mind advises our
leaders to turn a blind eye to Putin's violations of human rights and
international agreements. Political cynicism pushes us toward war, like the one
in Iraq where we won the war quickly, only to lose the peace, something that today
has become brutally obvious.
then, are we in the so-called West, different from them - Putin and his rotten
Russian empire? While Putin observes and manages his policy through chaos, the
West sees it and practices cynicism. Chaos leads to senseless violence and the cynicism
of banal indifference.
Posted By Worldmeets.US
result of shooting down a passenger aircraft is chaos, the deaths of innocents
being a symptom of Putin's strategy: his chaos is a way of destabilizing
Ukraine, to keep it in a constant state of uncertainty, trembling and internally
anxious. Chaos, in order to wreak its havoc, needs time - and Putin has time. Except
that, and this is bad news for the West, chaos causes reality to spin out of control.
Then anyone can become a victim, like the "accidental" victims of
flight MH17. Welcome to Putin's world of uncertainty, where you never know
whether, or when, you, too, will become "collateral damage."
fruit of cynicism is the desire for peace at any price. When it comes to our
leaders taking practical action against Moscow, the more extreme their
rhetorical outrage, the less radical they prove to be. The business the West is
doing with Putin doesn't like instability. After the first eruption of anger at
Putin, the emotions of Western citizens cooled quickly and they forget their
wrath. Righteous indignation will now be tempered by the onset of vacation time,
which cannot be cancelled, because "Holy August" is soon beginning,
and with it, shopping, which must go on, since there are all those sales and
long-planned entertainment, which we cannot sacrifice because life without them
would be unbearable. Before the flowers put so eagerly at the doorsteps of Dutch
embassies wilt, today's wrath will be pacified by the need to return to our small
pleasures and errands that cannot be postponed.
is wrong with the West if it answers Putin's chaos with cynicism. If we, people
of the West, retain even a shred of reason and decency, we should return to our
idealism, which proclaims that dignity is the common right of all human beings,
and that the suffering of innocents is always a scandal. To be saved from
cynicism, which today eats away at our minds and hearts like a cancer, we must
regain our forgotten idealism.
*JarosławMakowski is a
philosopher, editor-in-chief of the quarterly Institute of Ideas, and director
of The Civic Institute, a think tank related to the party Civic Platform. His latest
book is called Tischner Variations (2012)