Are Some People Just Bad?

Posted: Mar 06, 2022 12:01 AM
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Are Some People Just Bad?

Source: AP Photo/Susan Walsh, Pool

Watching the footage out of Ukraine these days you have to wonder where this large group of Russians went wrong. Wrong isn’t the right word, evil is closer to it. I get that dictators order their minions to do truly evil things, but what causes someone to follow those orders? Are some people just bad?

Vladimir Putin ordering the execution of civilians isn’t a surprise, it’s what all left-wing dictators eventually do. They also, eventually, turn on their inner circle of advisors. Paranoia is a weird thing. I hope Putin’s closest allies have their affairs in order, their trip to Hell is likely approaching faster than they thought. 

I get all of that – power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely – but that doesn’t explain everyone else. Where are the Russian people? Where are the mass defections from the military? Come to think of it, where is the military?

South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham got into some hot water this week by openly calling for someone, anyone, to step up and execute Putin. It wasn’t stupid because Putin is a good guy deserving of due process, he’s executing Russians around the globe who’ve spoken out against him, it was stupid because if there was an effort underway, Graham polluted it. 

Any attempt on Putin would be seen as an official act committed by the US government, or at least sanctioned by it. But taking out Putin alone wouldn’t do anything. Those closest to him, conveying and overseeing his orders, have to be arrested to. The Russian people as a whole may not particularly care about the wholesale slaughter of Ukrainian civilians, but they’d probably be opposed to assassinating their leader. A failed attempt, even if done independently of Graham’s words, could easily be spun as US government action and could serve as a “rally around the flag” moment for Russians.

Lindsey Graham, wanting to sound tough or like a leader in the absence of one under Joe Biden, kneecapped any effort, either through clandestine organizations or simply Russians stepping up, to topple their government. It was stupid.

Graham’s stupidity aside, you still have to wonder where the “good” people are in this. What kind of soldier opens fire on civilians? What kind of person hears an order to indiscriminately launch mortars and rockets into a city and does it? Is there no one in the entire chain of command unwilling to murder people simply because they were ordered to? 

The Nazis were like that – “only following orders” – but it didn’t fly then, and it won’t fly now. 

What’s happening with Russia, I suspect, is a testament to the power of propaganda. Putin controls the media. The control he has, which is near absolute, wasn’t enough for him, so he upped it and made “fake news” a crime punishable by up to 15 years in prison. It’s tempting to laugh at the fact that this caused CNN to pull its reporters from the country, but there’s a bigger issue at play here.

If people are inundated with bogus information, they start to believe it. There are Russians who truly believe they are the good guys here; that bombing an orphanage is justifiable because they’ve been told Ukraine was murdering Russians in Ukraine’s Donbas region. It sounds stupid, but think of it in terms of Plato’s cave – if something fake is all you hear or see, that becomes your reality. 

That’s an oversimplification, but it makes the point that Russian media is doing the bidding of Putin and the people, by and large, believe it. The truth is out there, but few people bother looking past the superficial. It also must be hard to accept the reality that you have been lied to repeatedly, manipulated beyond what you thought possible – think of every MSNBC viewer after the Mueller Report was released. 

The lie becomes easier to accept when the truth is so awful.

Lindsey Graham wonders where the Russian Brutus or Von Stauffenberg were, but perhaps he should have thought a little more about his examples. After the assassination of Caesar, Rome got significantly worse; falling under complete control of dictators. Von Stauffenberg failed because he fell prey to what most in these situations fall to – a desire to bask in the glory of their actions and obtain power afterward. He could have killed Hitler by simply pulling out his Luger and shooting him in the head, but the odds of him getting out of that room alive were slim, and he wanted to get out of that room more than he wanted Hitler stopped.

What Graham was pushing was stupid for many reasons, but it does beg the question of where are the good people in Russia? Is it that they have all been manipulated into believing lies by state-controlled media? Or is it that there aren’t any?