Author Archives: Josh Hansen

The crisis in Ukraine—a few thoughts

The Internet is rife with Russian propaganda and disinformation campaigns. In any comment section on any platform, you’ll see the trolls.

I’m posting this video from my tiny little blog, to do my part against that wave.

It is stunning that anyone could hear such eloquent pleas for peace, and not back down.

The cynicism and dehumanization of the other necessary to do so, while simultaneously proclaiming that other to be “one” with you… it must have been a cruel life to lead someone there.

I pity Vladimir Putin. It is only the fog of state media propaganda that protects him from his own people.

Wherever there is sunlight, like a vampire he will burn.

And so he lives increasingly in the dark, unhinged, controlled by the delusion that somehow, ruining the future will make up for the disasters of the past.

It is hard to pierce the veil of selective coverage and outright lies. Our own media has failed us so often. Our own biases.

But no matter how I spin it, no matter the affordances I try to make for differing worldviews and values, I simply see no justification for this invasion. This isn’t a game of Risk, with its little plastic figurines. Forty-four million lives are on the line, if not far more.

In the early years of this blog, I posted my concerns about Russia’s interference in Ukraine’s internal affairs, and about increasing autocracy in Russia.

It is interesting to see seeds planted decades ago bearing bitter fruit. Not that I was any prophet.

Just the other day I was thinking to myself, Too bad I didn’t study Mandarin instead of Russian, probably would have been more useful….

But I guess if we’re going to have another cold war, those Russian classes feel like a better choice in retrospect.

In my early twenties I was fortunate enough to heed somebody’s recommendation that I read The GULAG Archipelago. (I just received two volumes of it that I was missing as a birthday present from my sister.) It was an astounding book—Solzhenitsyn’s account of the cruelties of the Soviet prison camp system never left me. It seems more and more that the system that produced those atrocities never fully reformed; the tsarist court and the Politburo are still with us in their way.

We are fortunate in western countries that, with our many and manifold failings, we do have long histories of democracy. We look back to, say, the U.S. Constitution in 1789, or the Iroquois Confederacy, or British traditions of parliamentary supremacy, or the Magna Carta in 1215.

Russians look back in their history and see a long line of authoritarians, with the occasional benevolent dictator. For every Peter there’s an Ivan. For every Alexander, there’s a Josef Stalin. Russian Empire, Soviet Union, Russian Federation… it’s all the same.

Such a natural thing then to fall into yet another cult of personality, to be led along once more on the road of conquest.

Let’s do what we must to keep our commitments, equip our friends, and defend our allies.

Like the last Cold War… this too, eventually, shall pass.

Independence Day

I rarely wish people a “happy Fourth of July”. It’s always “Happy Independence Day” from me. I guess because that’s what the day is about, regardless of where it lands on the calendar.

Happy Independence Day!

I’m worried about our country. I get it, everybody’s worried about our country these days. I guess I feel worried for different reasons than most people seem to feel worried.

People on all sides are busy constantly freaking out. Liberals are freaking out about “concentration camps”; conservatives are freaking out about whatever Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez just said, and as everything devolves into left-versus-right, right-versus-left, red-or-blue-there-is-no-purple partisan warfare, something precious is being lost.

Just Amash just quit the Republican party, and I encourage you to read his explanation as to why. He cites the very wise farewell address of George Washington. We hear people talking about all sorts of things these days, but rarely do we hear anybody seriously cite our first president. He more-or-less prophesied of the dangers of political parties eventually dividing a nation against itself and inviting in foreign interference and tyranny.

I’m not sure we’re at tyranny yet, as much as Donald Trump seems to fancy himself some sort of eastern bloc dictator preening in front of passing tanks. But we are on a dangerous path. And it is not a foreign enemy that poses the danger—it is our own disunity, fighting over whether the left’s distorted version of reality, or the right’s distorted version of reality, should rule over our nation.

Everybody is hanging out in their pleasing information bubble where the other party is villainous scum against which the righteous/woke good guys on our team will fight the good fight. It feels so good to know, just know, you’re the last bulwark of sanity against those monsters on the opposite side of the political spectrum. MSNBC and Fox News make many millions of dollars each year selling that role to their viewers. We’re all cosplaying as the enlightened saviors of America from the barbaric hordes on the other side.

I’m glad for what Justin Amash is doing. It almost certainly means he won’t be re-elected, but I respect him for daring to break with the machine of his party. Bernie Sanders and a few others are the only other ones with the guts to pull that off lately, and even Bernie is bowing the knee to the Democrats to get his chance at the presidency.

The irony is that fewer people identify with either party than ever before. (37% of Americans and 44% of Millennials identify as independent). And yet the parties are controlling our country’s destiny like never before in their neverending warfare. Whoever “captures” the presidency virtually dictates policy for the next four to eight years, working first to undo everything their predecessors accomplished, and then to impose an entirely different and inconsistent vision upon the nation. The whiplash is brutal.

Were we not so busy lurching between one extreme and the other, we could find many effective solutions to the problems facing our nation. But our country’s policies are no longer crafted in the crucible of bipartisan debate—our laws and policies at any given moment are not the preference of the whole nation, decided in Congress by true representatives of the people’s will, but rather represent the ideas of the currently ruling party, untempered by the need to convince anybody but the party base.

We are capable of so much more. What if words like compromise and bipartisanship did not mean treason but rather progress as once they did?

And so I pose this question: Who is served by the rule of the parties?

Are the voters in single-party states whose votes are wasted because they do not belong to the ruling party? (Think Democrats voting in Utah or Republicans voting in Washington.)

Are the voters in gerrymandered districts who will never pick a representative they believe in because the ruling party of their state redistricted their vote away?

The businesses who cannot plan for tax or trade policy to remain consistent for more than a few years at a time?

The nations around the world who never know which version of America they’ll be required to negotiate or work closely with?

The neighbors who see each other as enemies rather than friends because they look like Republicans or Democrats?

The communities divided against themselves because liberals never even talk to conservatives anymore and see the world so differently they cannot agree on the most basic facts?

The churches split in two by the conflict of left and right?

Do you benefit? Do your children benefit? Does your city and your county and your state benefit?

Does America benefit?

No.

It is the party activists and the politicians accruing power to themselves.

It is the special interests who fund the interparty battles and take decisionmaking away from the people.

It is the news networks raking in the hundreds of millions.

It is the demagogues on left and right who stoke the hatred of the other for their own personal gain.

It is America’s foreign enemies who prey on our weakness.

It is those who believe it is more important for America to be red, or blue, rather than free.

These are the people who benefit from splitting the country into two and telling each side to hate the other, like a body where the eye says to the hand, “I have no need of thee“.

You do not benefit. Your children do not benefit. Your city and your county and your state do not benefit.

America does not benefit.

It is time for us to declare our independence, not from the tyranny of British oppression, but from the tyranny of the politics of hating the other.

It is time for us to declare our independence, not from a foreign adversary but from the rule of two political parties who seek only their own power and not the good of the country.

It is time for us to declare our independence from the echo chambers of cable news and Twitter and Facebook, and all the little online bubbles that follow us around and tell us how right we are in our left and right opinions.

It is time for us to listen to the other side long enough that we can understand where they are coming from and why their viewpoint makes sense to them.

It is time for us to get involved in preserving democracy and the rule of law for the next generation. Organizations like FairVote and RepresentUs are working to ensure our government works for us, not for special interests and political party machines, and they need our help. If that’s not your thing, I just beg you that whatever you do, you don’t just sit on your butt and do nothing.

Things need to change, but not in the usual way, not the every-four-years flip-flop again.

We need to wrest control of our country back from the lobbyists and the political parties who do their bidding.

Let’s reclaim our independence. Things can be better. Please just do something you think will bring greater understanding and wisdom to this great nation of ours, rather than stoking the flames of partisan conflict.

Happy Independence Day, everybody!