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May 2, 2022

This war is against the future

My heart goes out to Ukraine, but I worry more about Russia. While Ukrainians undergo tremendous destruction and human suffering, they are fighting for their future. Their future looks bright. The world is already thinking about restoring their cities. Ukrainians have fortified their national identity and affirmed their democratic choice. They may even overcome corruption than plagued their country for decades. Russia is fighting for its past, or for a version of the past that never existed. Their remaining institutions of democracy have been extinguished, free press crushed, and their minds are poisoned by propaganda. The Russian economy will decline. Most strikingly, Russian public space contains no conversation about the future. How do they all think it is going to turn out? How the fighting against the entire world will improve their lives? No one wants to think about it, instead regurgitating clichés about the glorious past and paranoid delusions about a global anti-Russian conspiracy. The country literally obliterated its own future – first in their heads, and then in reality.

Russia has lost the war on February 24, the day it was started. No matter what happens on the battlefield, an aggressor will never stop being called an aggressor. While there are more and less catastrophic and shameful ways of getting out of this predicament, escaping a harsh moral judgement of future generations is not one of them. Those who think that the future is not real do not know what they are talking about. The future is already here. It is the only real beacon that allows us to have a direction. A racist has no future. There is no plausible vision of a world where White people continue to dominate all others and command most benefits. A multiculturalist has a vision of the future, where all races and ethic groups co-exist without losing the ability to choose their identities. One can almost see it; this future makes sense. The racist future can only exist as an antiutopian image, where things did not go well for the world. Similarly, Russian and any other radical nationalists can construct no plausible future. It is just very hard to imagine where one nation is thriving, and everyone else is in decline. It is very hard to imagine the corrupt dictatorship to continue its existence in perpetuity.

Putin and his cronies know that they live on borrowed time. They only vision is of a personal future. Yet personal futures all end up with the same – death. Only collective future has a long-term motivating power. To live without some image of a better world is intolerable. This is why apocalyptic nightmares are so strong. Death of the world somehow compensate for the despair of the futureless world. Russian state TV has been seriously discussing the prospects of a nuclear war. It is because they cannot find themselves in any positive future.

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