2024ii21, Wednesday: Not exactly a whodunit, now, is it?

2024ii21, Wednesday: Not exactly a whodunit, now, is it?
Pic taken from Wikipedia, and used with gratitude

I have nothing terribly useful to add to the tale of Alexei Navalny. All I can do is bow my head to someone who's (a) been murdered - yes, I know this isn't technically proven, but please; (b) by someone who's self-evidently a dictator who cares about absolutely nothing but himself, even if he might possibly have convinced himself that he's doing it for Russian posterity; (c) and was braver than I can ever imagine myself being. Because seriously: walking back into the lion's den, AFTER having been poisoned almost to death, knowing that the odds of ending up anywhere but a gulag were practically zero? Sentencing yourself, in effect, to spending the rest of your life at the mercy of someone who hates you, fears you, and will have unlimited power to make your life a misery? It's either breathtakingly stupid, or requires the kind of quiet, calm guts and dedication that I can scarcely begin to comprehend.

And it underscores still more the utter human wretchedness, soul-emptiness, worthlessness of anyone whose immediate reaction to what Putin does (and I single him out not because he's unique - sadly far from it - but because it's convenient here to do so) is anything other than loathing, and a desire to see him spend the rest of his days in a small but comfortable room, being politely served decent food by kind and sensible carers, getting a reasonable amount of fresh air and exercise. But never, ever getting out. And - critically - always, always having to do what someone else says.

(Yes. I admit it. A dark corner of my soul would love to see him strung up by piano wire. But that's because we've all got dark corners of the soul. Being a grown-up human being, in my view, is knowing that the dark corners are there, and telling them - over and over again, because they'll never stop trying to weasel their way in - to shut up and sit down. And while I think Putin's endless crimes deserve lifelong incarceration, I don't see the need to take the US approach to that process. I want monsters to be locked up. I don't want to be one myself. Or actively set up a system to create and nurture them.)

So, to the Trumps and others of this world, who idolise the "strength" of the bully and want a wee slice of it for themselves? Screw you and the horse you rode in on. And anyone who doesn't see you for what you are? Screw you too. Some choices are existential. And it ought not to be hard to look at anyone who does a "yes, but" in the face of infamy such as Vladimir's and say: no. You're outside the pale. People like you don't belong in positions of power. Get lost.

(I know this isn't how many people think. God knows I do; the "my bastard" temptation in politics, the sometimes subconscious urge to play the "no true Scotsman" card when looking at one's own side, is overwhelmingly strong. I've fallen for it myself. But it's critical to resist it.)

Anyhow, on to people who know more than I do, and write better about it...

The ordinary heroism of Alexei Navalny: By John Ganz. John's stuff on geopolitics is usually worth a read. I'm probably saying that because I often find myself agreeing with him. Go figure. Here, he notes what Navalny did - but critical in particular is this final paragraph. Another of politics' great cowardices (alongside cozying up to strongmen, and they usually are men) is the easy and sadly successful technique of giving voters someone to blame - where "someone" will almost always mean "a group of people who are just as badly off as you, and by pointing at them I'm hoping you won't realise how little I intend to do about your troubles". Funny how that other group nearly always looks, or sounds, a wee bit different, isn't it? In other words: the cynical use of credulity.

Whatever criticisms one might have of Navalny, and even though he was the product of a dire situation that is quite different from ours, we can still profit from his example in the West: he was neither cynical nor credulous, two stances which so often come down to the same thing. He remained focused and directed his ire at the right people. He went down fighting. One hopes that political life in Russia will not long require heroes and martyrs, just more ordinary citizens.

From Tucker Carlson to Johnny Depp, a celebrity bromance is the must-have accessory for the modern dictator: By Marina Hyde. Sometimes I bounce right off Marina's style. I have to be in the right mood, and occasionally it can feel a wee bit one-note. But here she nails it. Everybody wins when some rich bloke (and again, bloke) fawns up to a dictator. But only for a given value of "everybody" which doesn't include everybody else. Because the rest of us all lose.

But let’s move on to Tucker Carlson, who recently went all the way to Moscow to interview the Russian president in hardcore lapdoggy style. There is a grim sort of poetic justice to the fact this televised fawnathon took place just days before Putin’s likely murder of Alexei Navalny, which itself seems to have occurred around the time Tucker was filming imbecilically approving videos in a Russian supermarket. Did you see the one where he seems to think he has discovered a cutting-edge Russian invention in the form of supermarket trolleys you need to release with a coin? I love that it reveals how much Tucker’s producer hates him, willingly allowing his super-rich boss to stray into elite self-parody by lauding something freely available to US citizens in Aldis and airports for quite, quite some time now.

Why Russia killed Navalny: By Anne Applebaum. (This is a gift article, so it'll be free to read till 6 March 2024.) Anne has been writing about Russia for a long time. She knew Navalny, and his wife, and (as she acknowledges) has been on the board of his "Anti-Corruption Foundation". This is how she signs off her piece about Navalny's murder:

Even behind bars Navalny was a real threat to Putin, because he was living proof that courage is possible, that truth exists, that Russia could be a different kind of country. For a dictator who survives thanks to lies and violence, that kind of challenge was intolerable. Now Putin will be forced to fight against Navalny’s memory, and that is a battle he will never win.

I love it. And I wish I was entirely convinced by the last line. I want to be. But I'm not sure I can find that optimism right now. Anne wrote in 2021, on Navalny's return to Russia: "If Navalny is showing his countrymen how to be courageous, Putin wants to show them that courage is useless." I don't know whether I'm ready to take bets on who's right.

What this all boils down to for me is fairly simple.

There's those who think it's OK to exploit. To take. To stamp on others' fingers and souls because they can. Sometimes it's balls-out Dark Triad stuff. Sometimes it's some weird idea of "survival of the fittest", often retro-fitted into a kind of warped idea of how capitalism makes everything better if you just let the invisible hand get on with it. (Ignoring what Adam Smith knew and what many of his loudest pretend acolytes choose to forget: that economic monopoly is a form of dictatorship, just as poisonous as the political ones.) Whatever it is, it's corruption, and food for corruption, and fed by corruption, in a vicious cycle that eats the weak.

And there's those who don't. I'm on their side. Always.