Dennis Hackethal’s Blog
My blog about philosophy, coding, and anything else that interests me.
Don’t Be Fooled by Zelensky
“Freedom will win.” Those were Zelensky’s words yesterday as he addressed the UK parliament, probably trying to get more money and weapons.
Appeals to freedom may speak to us Westerners, but don’t be fooled. While I agree with the Deutschian moral imperative1 to stand up against bullies – in this case Russia – I don’t believe for a second that Zelensky is interested in freedom, for Ukrainians or anyone else.
One reason is that the billions of dollars he’s been getting from the West are tax money, ie money obtained from peaceful Western citizens at (usually implied but sometimes realized, physical) gunpoint. But that’s not even the most glaring reason, in this case – Zelensky has no control over that. No, it’s that he imposes conscription on male Ukrainians, and conscription is slavery. Borders are shut down for male citizens; many of them physically dragged by the feet to be sent to death in a war they do not want to fight. You cannot use conscription to fight for freedom the same way you cannot use reeducation camps (aka schools) to teach independent thinking. The means defeat the ends.
The Ukrainian government exercises control over the Ukrainian people. It is a parasite that syphons off resources mainly through taxation. Zelensky, being at the helm of this government as the biggest parasite of the country, does not want to lose that control to Russia. That’s what this is about. If Zelensky were interested in freedom, he would have long tried to reduce the control he and the Ukrainian government have over the Ukrainian people. He wants them to be free from Russia, sure, but he does not want them to be free.
If there were no such central power structure like the government already in place in Ukraine, there would be no point for Russia to invade in the first place. For, what exactly would they be invading? A collection of neighbors, all with their own guns and property, loose association and truly independent freedom? The reason a successful invasion is a promising goal for Russia, or any invader of any country ever, is that the ‘invadee’ already has an existing power structure that can be exploited by replacing its leader with the invader.
Decentralized, distributed systems that are ready to resist can be extraordinarily difficult to take over. I’m no expert on American history, but I understand that there was a promising time, maybe in the early to mid 1700s, when the American federal government hadn’t formed yet and even state governments were tiny. America back then was merely a loose collection not of governed serfs but of sovereign individuals, each living on their own terms, not answering to some centralized power. Imagine if this were still true today, only on a bigger geographical scale: that the vast patch of land between Canada and Mexico were no single country at all, but a zone of free people living their lives. Who exactly would invade? What would there be to invade? How would the invader even know they’re done invading? Usually it’s by hoisting one’s flag on the victim’s government building, but that doesn’t exist in this scenario. The invader would have to build a new centralized power structure from the ground up; that’s hard.
So, again, Zelensky is lying when he implies that he wants ‘freedom’ for Ukrainians. He wants control over them. Russia is threatening to take his role as main oppressor of the Ukrainians, and Western governments are eager to help him keep it – not because they care about Ukrainians either way, but because it’s a way to keep Russia, one of the main enemies of the West, in check.
See David Deutsch’s book The Beginning of Infinity, ch. 10, where Socrates says to Hermes: “It is our custom to defy anyone who seeks our submission.” And: “[Y]ou said that you honour Athenians […] for our defiance of bullies.” ↩
This post makes 1 reference to:
- Post ‘Forced to Freedom’
There are 3 references to this post in:
What people are saying
Sure, but there are only 2 sides to this conflict. I don’t know too much about Zelensky in particular, but nothing you wrote seems different than the vast majority of leaders in Europe. And the only organized and structured resistance to Russia is the current Ukrainian government with which I think most Ukrainians align in this particular situation. The perfect can sometimes be the enemy of the good. What exactly would your ideal response from a Western country be?
Ukraine + Russia + NATO sounds like three sides, at least. And NATO countries are helping Ukraine resist Russia.
Whether most Ukrainians align with the government I do not know. But I do know that the morality of a policy such as conscription does not depend on its popularity.
Re what I think an ideal response from a Western country would be: I’m really no expert, but I think all countries should condemn acts of aggression. In addition, Western citizens are free to help Ukrainian citizens voluntarily. I think that’s about it. I certainly don’t think Western tax money should be spent on the conflict. Nor am I aware of any contractual obligations any Western countries have toward Ukraine.
What I meant by 2 sides is that there is no current alternative to the Ukrainian government. You may wish for one. You may think that it’s immoral to implement a policy such as conscription. You may wish for better governments in the west. None of that means that it’s immoral to support the current government in Ukraine. As for Zelensky, the fact that he benefited politically from the war doesn’t condemn him morally. It’s possible his economic policies are wrong not because, as you say, he’s trying to be a “parasite”. It could be, as it is in a lot of cases in the West, that people genuinely trying to solve problems of corruption, government inefficiency and freedom have ideas for the solutions to those problems that are completely wrong and even antithetical to their real solutions.
For the policies that you’re advocating to be implemented, a much larger part of the population has to understand why and how they function. The basic fact of the matter is that they simply can’t be implemented currently in Ukraine. And just as the morality of conscription doesn’t depend on it’s popularity, so doesn’t the offering help to Ukraine. So whether or not everyone in the West personally supports Ukraine the current political system is that governments make these decisions and I’m glad they supported the moral side of the conflict.
It depends how that support is organized. Tax money? Immoral. Conscription? Disgusting. Voluntary help? Go for it.
The litmus test will be whether he pocketed any of the billions of dollars that have been sent to Ukraine for himself, accepted bribes, that sort of thing. I understand that organizations such as Transparency International, but also laws in Western countries, have clearly defined rules around what constitutes corruption. As I pointed out in the Twitter thread you implicitly reference below, Ukraine isn’t the picture of innocence many seem to think it is. Same goes for Zelensky by extension, IMO. I’m no expert on him but I wouldn’t put it past him.
His policies could indeed be wrong for all kinds of reasons. But he’s not just trying to be a parasite. Unless he pays himself no salary – and maybe even then, depending on the circumstances – he’s a net parasite in the sense that he’s made a profit from money extorted from his subjects. Just like most other politicians but also judges, policemen, USPS mailmen (but not Fedex or UPS mailmen), etc are net parasites.
What policies am I advocating?
Agreed; it depends, in part, on whether such help is coercive or not.
Maybe one day you’ll be dragged by the feet to die in a war you do not wish to fight. Will you still be glad that governments are making decisions for you?
The policies I was referring to were the anarcho-capitalist views that from our discussion so far I’ve assumed you held. I was just trying to say that you can’t demand people have knowledge they don’t yet have, and can’t wish into existence the cultural fertile ground for the kind of institutions of freedom you’re an advocate for. Ukraine need not be a picture of innocence for it to be the best option at the moment. Would you deny that the Declaration of Independence was a good thing because the Founding Fathers hadn’t abolished slavery at the very beginning of the US? Condemning Ukrainians right now as moral monsters for supporting this government (which surely isn’t as moral as it could be) is the same as condemning yourself for your current views once they evolve.
Your argument seems to me similar in structure to the socialist argument of demanding that people in developing countries have wages as high as first-world countries. It’d be a great thing, but the world just isn’t rich enough for that. In the same way it’d be a great thing if the entire world had advanced morality but at the moment it’s not as morally wealthy enough for that.
I’m not an advocate for conscription nor am I trying to justify it. I’d support revoking it and indeed have the same sympathy you have for the people affected by it.
I don’t know what you mean by “best option”, but to be clear, when I say Ukraine is not a picture of innocence, I mean that people shouldn’t blindly assume that Ukraine is part of the West; for the reasons I’ve explained, it’s unclear to me how exactly supporting Ukraine is a fight for freedom. Due to conscription, it seems to me the opposite is the case.
No, although I think those are two different issues. But if they used coercion to write the declaration, I would judge them accordingly. And weren’t the few people who understood at the time that slavery is an abomination right to condemn it?
As you imply, people can’t do more than act on their best theories, moral or otherwise. There’s a difference between a lack of knowledge and evil. Should today’s teachers be jailed? Probably not. Should they be judged for abusing children? Yes. Should they stop abusing children immediately? Yes. Or do you disagree?
I largely consider the Ukrainian populace victims. I instead condemn Ukrainian politicians for hypocritically abusing the virtue of liberty to coerce their subjects, as well as US politicians for sending my tax dollars over there against my will.
Isn’t that different? Socialists wish to forcefully prevent such people from entering contracts they might otherwise enter into happily. I don’t wish to prevent Ukrainians who want to fight from fighting. I don’t wish to replace free trade with coercion, as socialists do. I wish to replace coercion with freedom.
Then why does it sound like you are?
Well, it sounds to you like that. I don’t know why.
For example, you misunderstood my comparison. I was saying that your argument shares a structure with the socialist one, not that you’re a socialist. They both try proposing mechanical solutions to problems.
Why consider the Ukrainians victims if they elected and are in support of the current government?
Ukraine isn’t culturally a part of the West but supporting Ukraine is supporting freedom because there are still differences between the levels of coercion in different societies and also in what they aspire to become (in this case Russia and Ukraine).
You said there’s a difference between lack of knowledge and evil. I’m curious what you think it is.
Probably because you’re defending politicians who employ coercion through conscription.
I know – I think the structure in my argument is different from what you think it is.
Lysander Spooner explains here why participating in elections does not indicate support for one’s government or constitution. Perhaps the most salient quote is this:
In the case of Ukraine, the battle Spooner speaks of is not just a metaphor. And that’s not to mention all the Ukrainians who have not voted once. Regardless, a single man being dragged into war against his will is an injustice.
Democracy – including better democracies such as that of the United States, and worse ones such as that of Ukraine – is still tyranny. It’s a tyranny that allows for some amount of error correction, and that makes it objectively and notably better than all other known forms of tyranny, but it’s still a form of tyranny.
Is supporting a slave owner who is nicer to his slaves than other slave owners supporting freedom? Is it logically coherent to fuck for virginity?
I’m thinking of Sparta in chapter 1o of David Deutsch’s The Beginning of Infinity. That is, evil has to do with thinking one is already perfect; destroying the means of error correction; shielding some ideas against criticism; not considering that one could be wrong about anything.
That whole quote of Spooner is not what I was referring to. Yes, sometimes people are voting to choose the lesser evil. But I wasn’t even talking about elections here. I was saying that I think the vast majority of Ukrainians are in active support of the government.
As for the slave owner, it would depend on what the alternatives on offer were. If the only way for both the slave and owner to survive is to feed them I think this would still be moral. Something akin to the aid going to North Koreans.
Isn’t thinking one’s already perfect and removing a way of error correction also a kind of lack of knowledge?
Usually when people use the phrase “choose the lesser evil”, at least in the US, they think both candidates suck but they feel they need to vote for one regardless and so they try to determine who sucks less. I don’t know if that’s what you mean here, but if you do, that’s not what the Spooner quote is about. It’s about not misinterpreting voting as consent, which you seem to (see below).
But you wrote (emphasis added):
The implicit claim here, as I understood it, was that at least those who elected the government should be considered to have consented to being conscripted. And I offered the Spooner quote as a refutation of that implicit claim.
That’s not to mention those who didn’t vote for the current government, and those who weren’t old enough to vote at the time but are now old enough to be conscripted and so on.
You also wrote:
How did you determine that?
In any case, even if true, I preemptively addressed it by pointing out that even a single man being dragged into the meat grinder against his will is an injustice.
What I mean is that you don’t have to choose between better and worse slaveholders. Problems really are soluble! And again, fighting for freedom by using conscription just doesn’t make any sense. You can’t fight for an ideal by betraying it in the process.
You seem to have an unstated collectivist assumption that each Ukrainian is his brother’s keeper – and further, that we are all Ukraine’s keepers. Ayn Rand explains the problems with this assumption (in general, obviously not with regard to this particular) in chapter 10 of her book The Virtue of Selfishness. People ask ‘what will be done about the situation in Ukraine?’ and offer, say, conscription as a ‘solution’, when they should first ask ‘should anything be done?’. This is why Rand says the former question is really a “psychological confession”. I do not tacitly accept the collectivist premise and, as Rand writes, it is not true that “all that remains is a discussion of the means to implement it”. First, show me why each Ukrainian is his brother’s keeper, then we can discuss implementations such as conscription. In the meantime, nobody will stop you if you want to help Ukrainians.
Back to your comment:
I suppose so, but it’s ‘special’ in that it prevents its own correction, whereas most (all?) other mistakes don’t have that property.
PS: Regarding North Korea and helping slaves by helping the slave owners: I don’t think that’s analogous to the situation in Ukraine, where the West is helping the slave owner (Zelensky et al) enslave his people (conscription) in the first place. Or is it?
I know the quote is not about that. That’s not what I was complaining about. I was saying that the quote isn’t applicable because my point wasn’t that by voting Ukrainians take responsibility for anything the government does. I meant that from what I saw I think most Ukrainians are in active support of the defensive war effort.
I’m just concerned you’re sacrificing any way to make a decision until everything is implemented according to the best current theories or theory.
It’s similar to what happens in a single mind. I’d imagine there’s never a full consensus in a single mind of what to do next. But by whatever process the mind chooses what to do next. If the mind were to wait until all ideas, implicit and explicit, were perfectly aligned in what to do, it’d never do anything. Now, you might argue that in the case of Ukraine there’s an easily implementable change that would result in more alignment - namely, allowing people unwilling to fight to just flee the country. But it’s just not true that it’s easily implementable. There’s a current process in place in Ukraine on how to act in times of war. And the hardest time to change that process is in actual war situations. The same way it’s not a time to think and try and change your tactics for escaping a tiger attack in the presence of a tiger.
I think that if you’re going to find someone to put the moral blame on for making people participate in a war they don’t want to be in, the clear culprit is Putin and his government. Not only do I think he’s to blame for the Ukrainians and Russians killed in the war and the enormous economic damage done to both countries, but he is also partly responsible for the war crimes Ukrainians commit against Russians.
I’m interested if you think there was ever a time in the evolution of Western culture (including pre-Enlightenment) where it was just the case that the society couldn’t be stabilized, and would thus destroy itself, if it didn’t use some coercion.
I’m also interested if you have any preference on who wins the war.
As for helping Zelensky enslave people, the same argument could be used for the slave owner. By feeding him you’re helping him enslave.
“from what I saw I think” – that isn’t enough. All we know is there are some Ukrainians who support the defensive war effort, and some that don’t. And even of those that do, we don’t know whether they wish to participate personally. My guess is very few Ukrainians wish to be conscripted, certainly less than half (if for no reason other than that ~no woman will want to be conscripted).
Regardless, I repeat again that a single Ukrainian being dragged into the meat grinder against his will is an injustice, so it doesn’t matter how many other Ukrainians are in support of that. His rights are his against the whole world (paraphrase of Spooner).
No. As I’ve said, let those who want to fight, fight, and let those who wish to leave, leave. That’s a decision that could be made. Maybe it’s difficult to make such a decision while at war; maybe Ukrainian society can’t work that way. But maybe a society that enslaves its own people isn’t worth fighting for. Maybe individual Ukrainians don’t owe anyone a functioning society. Maybe it’s ridiculous to burden them with that debt against their will. Do you see how the notion that each Ukrainian is his brother’s keeper is still implicit in your argument?
One important difference between inter-mind and intra-mind morals is that you only coerce yourself, not necessarily others, when you act while you have a conflicting idea present in your mind.
By the way, being unconflicted is indeed rare, but I wouldn’t say it never happens. And one of the main reasons it’s rare is the kind of coercion states use against their subjects in the first place; it usually starts in school and the older we get the harder we find becoming unconflicted again.
He’s definitely the aggressor in this scenario. He put Ukrainians in this situation; no disagreement there. But Ukrainian politicians could have decided to actually practice the freedom they lie about fighting for. Then Ukraine would have been the good guys unambiguously. But due to conscription, they’ve become a greater danger to their own subjects than Putin, don’t you think? This is true even in the US: the Libertarian Party sometimes tweets about how the American president and the bureaucracy below him present a greater danger to American citizens than, say, Russia or China. Your own politicians are usually more likely to harm you than foreign ones.
Maybe, but I don’t think the victim of aggression gets to use unlimited retaliation, nor does he get to be an aggressor (through conscription) in turn. Being the victim of aggression isn’t a carte blanche – retaliation has to be reasonable.
Since any society is going to have to be able to use defensive coercion, I’m guessing you’re asking about aggressive coercion in particular. I’ve thought about this before but so far I don’t know the answer. If it is true that some minimum of aggressive coercion is required to make primitive societies work, we should still work hard to get away from that as soon as possible. In any case, I don’t share the homo homini lupus view many still seem to have.
I’m guessing you think some aggressive coercion is always necessary?
I have a slight preference for Ukraine to win, but meh. Most important to me is that the war doesn’t expand to NATO and that no nuclear weapons are used.
“Regarding North Korea and helping slaves by helping the slave owners: I don’t think that’s analogous to the situation in Ukraine…”
I thought by this quote you’re the one claiming the situations are different.
“But maybe a society that enslaves its own people isn’t worth fighting for.” - the same argument could then be used for the Allies in WW2. And yet I presume you don’t think they weren’t worth fighting for. The Western societies participating in WW2 also made mistakes that we’d today consider human rights violations, and are still committing property rights violations. The problem I see in your argument is that by that criteria nothing less than a perfect society is worth fighting for. Or if in an imperfect one a single member gets a new better idea on how to run it, the society at once becomes not worth fighting for because by some standard it’s violating rights. It’s so black and white that it easily equates what I think are 2 very different societies and gives them each the same verdict - coercive thus immoral. In fact by those same criteria if Russia were to attack the West, there’d be no more reason to defend it than Ukraine.
I think there’s a big difference between Russia and Ukraine, both in the actual current freedom conditions, and in their potential for improvement. I guess that’s our main disagreement.
“I’m guessing you think some aggressive coercion is always necessary?”
Well I don’t know, it certainly seems plausible that at some point in the future there could be a coercion free society. I don’t think we’re there today, that is, I think if all coercion were removed today in the West the society would destroy itself.
Why the slight preference for Ukraine?
Also it’s a bit slow and tedious to argue like this. If you’re up for it we could do a video call or something where it’s easier to get to the bottom of disagreements.
Ah, I see what you mean – the difference I had in mind is that, before the war, Zelensky wasn’t using conscription (because he didn’t have to), but now the West is helping him do that. There is a new initiation of force against his subjects.
That’s different from North Korea, where I understand the entire population is already in a kind of perpetual servitude (I’m not counting things like taxes here, which apply in Ukraine, too) and if you want to help you have no choice but to also help the slave owner (Kim Jong-un).
For example, if they had cared, the West could have told Zelensky, ‘we’ll deliver weapons on condition that you don’t use conscription’. They did not. But it’s not unusual for countries to help each other out on a conditional basis. For example, Germany doesn’t extradite criminals to the US when there’s reason to suspect that the US will use the death penalty, if my memory serves me right. That’s because Germany thinks the death penalty is a human-rights violation.
That can’t be so, if only for the reason that there can never be a perfect society since we can always improve. To that end, we can and should acknowledge the mistakes the West makes while also acknowledging that in some respects it is better than the rest by degree (eg in terms of how much coercion it employs against its citizens), and in some other respects it is better in principle (eg by meeting Popper’s criterion of democracy – though I should say that that criterion leaves some things to be desired, which I have written about here).
Of course, all that being said, Ukraine isn’t part of the West anyway, even though suddenly it’s somehow the West’s best friend.
Because it’s not the aggressor and, from the little I know, it seems like a slightly less shitty country than Russia.
I wonder, if Russia had instead invaded, say, Mongolia, would the West have cared just as much?
Maybe. As Elliot Temple taught me, discussing in writing has many advantages over voice. But if we record and share it, I’m open to it.
Here’s my twitter, you can DM me there if and when you find the time.
Looks like I made a mistake about USPS mailmen being parasites. Apparently, USPS is not financed by taxes, not even partially.
I’d guess there are still problems with using USPS over something like Fedex or UPS, but it wasn’t right to consider mailmen parasites.