About the Name of this blog

This blog's title refers to a Dani fable recounted by Robert Gardner. The Dani live in the highlands of New Guinea, and at the the time he studied them, they lived in one of the only remaining areas in the world un-colonized by Europeans.

The Dani, who Gardner identifies only as a "Mountain People," in the film "The Dead Birds," have a myth that states there was once a great race between a bird and a snake to determine the lives of human beings. The question that would be decided in this race was, "Should men shed their skins and live forever like snakes, or die like birds?" According to the mythology, the bird won the race, and therefore man must die.

In the spirit of ethnographic analysis, this blog will examine myth, society, culture and architecture, and hopefully examine issues that make us human. As with any ethnography, some of the analysis may be uncomfortable to read, some of it may challenge your preconceptions about the world, but hopefully, all of it will enlighten and inform.

Sunday, March 6, 2022

The Right To Choose Applies to Nations As Well

National self-determination. 

I’m getting extremely tired of listening to the Left try to blame the entire Ukraine crisis on the West. They always start out with a version of the same line, “Of course Putin is a monster, but he was pushed into a corner by the West, the Clintons, NATO, etc., and additionally Ukraine is also corrupt and evil and no better than Russia at its core.” While these people acknowledge that Russia is currently committing atrocities, they engage in three lines of thinking that are straight out of the Putin propaganda farm. 

 The first is the classic “whataboutism” that Putin loves so much. Basically this says that we cannot legitimately be outraged about Ukraine because we have been silent in Palestine, silent in Rwanda, silent in Kurdistan, silent in Myanmar. Basically, the core of this is that if we are now upset about Ukraine, we are just showing how racist we are. While we do need to acknowledge we have dropped the ball here, there is also a magnitude of difference at play here. Not to minimize the other atrocities, but here you have a nuclear armed global power invading a recognized sovereign nation with the deliberate attempt to subjugate it. All of these other cases are much muddier, and to be very honest, a lot less clear cut. They are also atrocities that are impacting hundreds of thousands, whereas Ukraine is currently affecting millions, and may spill out into the tens or even hundreds of millions. Additionally, we cannot forget the Holodomor, which was a genocide on par with, or possibly even worse than the Holocaust. (While the consensus seems to be about 3.9 million deaths, some scholars put it as high as 12 million.) The magnitude of this crisis pushes it into the center of conversation. 

The second line of thinking is about the Ukraine being corrupt, as if that makes this more legitimate, or at least means we shouldn’t get involved or be that upset. I have some bad news for you all, EVERY government is corrupt. ALL of them. This does not render a country unworthy of aid or consideration, nor does it give any sort of cover to a military invasion, because at the end of the day, it is the people who suffer. And further, in this particular case, the more we allow this to continue, the LESS likely it is that Ukraine will clean up its act. The oligarchs have fled the country, and properly supported, the citizens of Ukraine can possibly try to make sure they don’t come back. But that will take OUR support. 

But the final thing, and the part that most upsets me, is the argument that really, the West caused this: that years ago, NATO should have refused to let the Baltics, or other Eastern European Nations, join. This is Colonialism at its worst, because Colonialism isn’t just about using the might of empire to control territory, it is about the patronizing attitude of a greater power towards a lesser power regarding their own agency. Colonialism is about deciding what is best for a country or a group of people, rather than listening to what those people actually want. 

So, to illustrate this, and to show the inherent cruelty of what many pundits on the Left are saying, I would like to create a little analogy. This analogy casts countries as a group of people: we have three sisters, Estelle, Livia, and Leitha; we have their friends Paula and Bella; an old man, Russ Sr., his son Sven, and grandson Russ Jr.; a neighbor, Nate, and then Nate’s Uncle Sam. Let's begin the illustrative story. 

Many years ago, three sisters, Estelle, Livia, and Leitha, were taken in by an old man named Russ Sr. He took them in to, in theory, protect them, but actually, he exploited them, making them work for him. This sad situation existed for many years, until Russ Sr. died unexpectedly. The three sisters escaped, along with a friend, Bella, they had made while living in Russ’ house. For a few years, everything was going OK for the sisters, even though their friend Bella decided to move in with Russ’ son Sven.

Unfortunately, after a few years, Sven made a deal with a bunch of other people in the neighborhood and forced the three sisters to move back to the old house, and serve him the same way they served his father, except he was even more cruel, forcing them to stop speaking their own languages, stop them from celebrating their own heritage, and making them conform to exactly everything Sven wanted them to do. Sven also was especially cruel, making some of their other friends, like Paula, live the way he wanted them to live, and forcing them to cut ties with all of the friends Sven didn’t approve of. Even though he didn’t make these friends move fully into his house, he made them live in his fenced compound. Eventually though, Sven also got sick and died, leaving HIS son, Russ Jr. in charge. 

As before, the sisters, their friend Paula, and some of their other friends got out in the chaos surrounding Sven’s death. Bella moved out of the house as well, but she decided that she wanted to stay in the fenced compound, even though her family and friends tried to help her to leave. However, this time, the sisters wanted to ensure that they were never forced to go back to Russ Jr.’s house, so along with their friend Paula, they approached their neighbor, Nate, and asked him to keep them safe from Russ. 

Now, the sisters knew that Nate wasn’t necessarily a great guy, he could be a bit violent himself, and his Uncle Sam was really problematic, but they knew that Nate would keep them all safe, because they were certain that Russ was afraid of Nate, or at least knew that it wasn’t wise to piss Nate off. Once they got protection, the sisters and their friends started to thrive. They threw off all of the old rules that Sven required, they started speaking their own languages and started to really live their best lives free from the abuse they had been suffering. 

When looked at as if these countries were people, we see that the Soviet Union and Russia’s treatment of a number of countries in Eastern Europe was very abusive, and these countries wanted to ensure that they were not abused again. This meant that they had to find something to protect them, otherwise, they would eventually be reabsorbed, as had happened twice in their history. They were asserting their own right to self-governance, just like a person fleeing an abusive situation has the right to seek protection. 

And this is the core of why this statement that the West should never have allowed these former Eastern Block countries to join NATO is so problematic. If converted to people, it is saying that a person who escapes a brutal, non-consensual, and abusive relationship is not allowed to seek any protection to remain safe. They need to continue to allow their abuser to have access to them, just to ensure that abuser doesn’t start beating up everyone in the neighborhood. It means that we are happier for someone to be abused, than to confront the abuser and try to make them stop. 

And yes, countries are not people, but sovereign nations have the same right of self determination that a person does. 

This is where colonialism comes into play. These pundits are saying that they know better than people and the governments of Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, and Ukraine. They are willing to sacrifice the independence of sovereign nations to appease a dictator. We saw this happen when Neville Chamberlain allowed Austria, Czechoslovakia, and other regions to be captured by Hitler in the interest of peace. Like Putin, Hitler originally stated that the countries he was conquering were simply to reunite parts of Germany, with German people and German Culture, into one country. Putin makes the same statements about Ukraine today. 

And through it all, the pundits on multiple sides of the political sphere still blame the West for this situation. They have effectively refuted the right of these countries to have their own self-determination, and the ability for them to choose who they wish to align to. No one in NATO, or the EU, forced these countries into membership, they freely and democratically, chose this path. For the West to have refused this right of self-determination is fundamentally no different than Putin trying to force Ukraine in to alliance with the Russian Federation at literal gunpoint. 

Nations have a right to choose their own path, this is fundamental. If these choices upset their neighbors, they still have that right. Russia could have made joining its federation enticing, made a better offer to these countries to induce alliances. They did not, and now they are reaping the consequences. 

Where this will end, I do not know. However, I do know that these countries had a right to choose their own paths, whether it angered Putin or not. And as the side that is supposed to be about individual rights, we should be standing with Ukraine, not blaming this on the West.

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