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Beyond Delusion

Tucker, YouTube screen shot.

Putin demonstrated in his “interview” with Tucker Carlson the delusional version of Russian history that rationalizes his brutality. Hamas and Netanyahu continue to demonstrate Auden’s classic line: “Those to whom evil is done, do evil in return.” It often seems as if vast swaths of the Middle East operate under the collective delusion that the various parties, state or non-state, can kill their way out of insecurity and injustice.

Then along comes Trump with his loose talk about allied obligations to NATO, provoking outrage across Western capitals. He leaves us feeling as if Biden, elderly or not, is one of the few adults in the room, and U.S. power remains the ultimate backstop for the maintenance of democratic ideals against waves of authoritarianism in Russia, Iran, China, North Korea, Hungary and elsewhere.

Ukraine’s agony, with its echoes of Hitlerian aggression, calls into question the deepest convictions of those of us who are convinced there must a more robust way to constrain, or at least disincentivize, the Putins of this world.

Still, the context of unfolding time casts a shadow over even the most well-intentioned attempts at a viable international security system built upon superiority of arms. The arms race, further extending into space as we have recently seen with the alarm in the U.S. Congress over a Russian satellite with satellite killer weapons, moves ever more in one direction: toward greater complexity, computerization, and speed of decision. Now A.I. is ominously entering the mix.

Meanwhile more and more citizens from chaotic parts of the world, under pressure from both dysfunctional governance and the droughts and floods of climate instability, are forced into the desperate flight to anywhere and nowhere of the refugee.

The foreign policy establishment in the Western nations is in its own way just as deluded as Putin or Trump or Netanyahu in their over-reliance on the unworkable paradigm of deterrence by force of arms, especially weapons of mass-murder. Now 70 nations have acknowledged the reality that the arms race is a cure worse than the disease by ratifying the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

To once again indulge Thomas Kuhn’s over-used characterization of fundamental shifts in worldview, what is required is a paradigm shift. Only a less delusional motivation, a larger conception of self-interest, can move the world in a less delusional direction. The shift is from seeing security as a function of competition to seeing it as a function of interdependence.

Endangered planetary ecosystems become the ultimate reason nations need to not only cease to fight each other but cooperate on a new level. To indulge in an unnecessary war of choice, as Putin has and as most agree the U.S. did in the Second Gulf War, is to plunge the whole world into taking sides where obsolete “us and them” thinking is reinforced. More Russian citizens know this than we think. An antiwar candidate named Boris Nadezhdin has been kicked off the ballot in their presidential “election” because Russian officials noted with alarm that he was polling in the double digits.

Planetary interdependence, with its inevitable implication that what I do affects everybody else and vice versa, is an idea that shakes the foundations of the status quo in a positive way, including shaking the establishment delusion that, by tragic necessity, war will always be with us, when in fact war will sooner or later do us in.

Where there is no vision, as the prophet said, the people perish. As average citizens realize that wars and arms races are a con and nothing good will come of them, but environmental cooperation is very much in everyone’s mutual interest, the paradigm will begin to change. When this shift seeps into political discourse and ultimately even into the well-fortified sanctuaries of the dictators, a new world might emerge. It will give renewed life to already significant initiatives like Rotary International and the moribund United Nations itself.

One feels as if elements of the diplomatic world already are trying to operate out of this new paradigm—we see it in Anthony Blinken’s tireless efforts, with the help of his counterparts in places like Qatar, to bring about a cease-fire in Gaza and begin to lay the conditions at last for a Palestinian state. At the same time there are regressive forces, such as U.S. Senators who shout loudly about “avenging” the deaths of our soldiers at the hands of Iranian-built drones. Vengeance, leading nowhere, does not a foreign policy make.

There are scientific resources available to reinforce the hard new truths of our interdependence, but it feels as if military thinking and ecological thinking are siloed from each other just when these distinct realms need to be in conversation. What are the biggest threats facing this planet? Militarism itself, with its vast sucking up of resources and equally vast environmental footprint. Degradation of air, water, and soil. Food insufficiency. Refugees by the millions.

When ordinary people see beyond the delusions of the war paradigm, they will begin to think and act together in their own true self interest. While there are mighty forces arrayed in favor of the status quo, we have to ask ourselves, if we don’t begin to push such a change of thinking into our politics, how else will it happen?