Landmarks in the world of entropy

In the two months since I wrote my previous manifesto, I have experienced two existential moments.

The first is not directly related to combat, but rather to the rite of initiation and formation of my personality. I first rode on the armor of a real infantry fighting vehicle (IFV), in a convoy going straight to combat zone and during the war. To complete the picture: we left around 9 am and arrived at our destination at 4 am. We drove intermittently through the cold weather, I couldn’t get a tooth for a tooth (Ukrainian idiom that means “it was very cold”) during the stops. And the IFV armor is not a comfortable place to travel 300 kilometers. It is difficult to hold on to the few ledges there, the vehicle starts abruptly, there is a risk of falling off it. Add to this such unusual for a city dweller and office worker attributes, such as a heavy body armor and helmet (at that time the volunteers had not yet given me a light Israeli bulletproof vest). And also exhaust fumes, and the rumble of the engine, and many hours of sitting in a static posture, and the need not to sleep, and the awareness that at the destination point we, in theory, can immediately engage in battle…

And you will realize that such states of consciousness are what philosophers call “borderline”.

My comrades-in-arms explained to me why we were riding “on top of armor”,  like sitting on an armored vehicle (besides the fact that the landing compartments were full of our gear and ammunition). If the IFV gets shot at, the infantry falls off and has a chance of surviving. In case you are inside the vehicle, there is no chance of survival.

It is useful for the formation of the personality to ride through the night for many hours on a rumbling and uncomfortable surface, not knowing when it will all be over.

The second experience was my unit’s entering of a village in the Kharkiv region not far from the Russian border. In contrast to the welcoming Chernihiv region, it already felt like “not our” territory.

Russian sabotage and reconnaissance groups (SRGs) sneaking up on all 360 degrees. Russian artillery worked from the border. Constant sounds of our air defense system shooting down Russian missiles. Meanwhile, it’s getting darker, the night comes, and it’s starting to rain. You sit at the “walkie-talkie” in the middle of nowhere at night, holding a riffle and listening to reports from a neighboring platoon stronghold (post) that they were attacked by a SRG and that they successfully fought back. And then the missing Ukrainian soldier is searched for until 4 am and found alive and unharmed.

You have to maintain light camouflage, stay awake and constantly hide from enemy drones.

The next morning you are driving along a road that is bombarded by enemy fire and within a few dozen meters of your car there is a 120 millimeter mine exploding in a field. The driver hits the gas pedal to the floor and the car rushes at a hundred kilometers per hour, so the Russians don’t hit us with their aim.

All together, truly, this is the moments in life when you feel the value of life most keenly.

By comparison, in those same days heroic Ukrainian soldiers were defending the cities of Mariupol in Donetsk region and Popasna in Luhansk region, and their experiences were much more intense and painful. For example, here is verbatim how my friend, a combat medic in the infantry, describes the battle at Popasna:

“At the new position, the tank destroyed our building and we climbed out through the elevator shaft. We left in the morning for other positions, but there is nothing left, just ruins. Today again the battle was going on, I was injured by a slab (piece of steel), two people were wounded, and two others were left there under ruins. We just had no one to pick them up, then another six people ran to me. I was in a hurry and called us the evacuation, I sent them away, but there was no place for me in the vehicle. I stood in a bunker with local residents with a grenade in my pocket and thought I was saying goodbye to life. But four more of my soldiers came, they rushed out of the basement and we were the last to leave. Since April 1, I had 101 dead in my unit, 12 people simply could not be taken away. And I did not count the wounded.”

As you can see from the quote, the “borderline states” of this woman, my age, were far more intense than my humble participation in the war.

***

Now let’s move on to what paths led me to a full-scale war of aggressive Russia against peaceful Ukraine.

For most of my life, I have considered myself a pacifist and a biocentrist, meaning that I abhor violence and see value in all living things. I attach more importance to protecting our planet, nature conservation, and preserving biodiversity than concepts such as “economic development” and “national benefit.”

However, Russia’s attacks against Ukraine – first, the annexation of Crimea and the “hybrid” war in Donbas in 2014, and now a full-scale invasion – have forced me to change my mind:  it became clear to me that violence is justifiable at some points. I still don’t believe in nationalist concepts, but facing the invasion of a cruel dictator is not about nationalism, this is about survival and dignity. 

In 2015 I was drafted to the Armed Forces of Ukraine. And now I’m once again within its ranks, on the frontlines (Kyiv region in February-March, Sumy, Kharkiv, Donetsk region).

During my life, I have been involved in many types of eco-activism, all as an unpaid volunteer. In the field of biodiversity protection, I fought to protect parks and forests (in general, so-called “green areas”) in Kyiv, which are still threatened by construction, and now face the existential threat of invading Russian forces. We strive to create as many nature reserves in Kyiv and Ukraine as possible, overcoming the authorities’ resistance and the construction businesses. By the way, before the war, this kind of business was strongly associated with Kyiv municipality.

I have also been a co-founder of the “Nature First” Independent Journalists Association (NGO) since 2008. Our aim was to be “alternative journalists” investigating the destruction of biodiversity in Ukraine. But from 2010, we were involved in practical animal welfare defense. Our dream is to create an eco-educational center in Kyiv. This is work for years ahead.

As well as fighting to defend the environment, I have also battled to protect animals, including campaigning for a total ban on commercial dolphinariums in Ukraine and against the killing of stray dogs before the Euro 2012 football championship. Since 2010, I have been supporting the project of rescuing cats on the territory of the Kyiv Zoo called Cat Town, which in March 2022 was partially evacuated to Poland as a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

My third passion is a concept I call “art activism.” Through the means of artistic expression, I have popularized nature conservation, organized photo exhibitions, and recorded videos for my blog. In the course of this activism I became acquainted with the Extinction Rebellion movement in Ukraine, which since 2020 has been helping the Fitotron eco-art project at the Kyiv Botanical Garden. This platform was created in the abandoned part of the garden and became a place that attracts forward-thinking and creative people. This is exactly what “Nature First” NGO wants to establish. In September 2021, I did my third personal photo Exhibition called “Eco-Friendly Generation” there.

Currently, all these projects are on hold except for Cat Town. But I believe that my service in the army of Ukraine helps to approach our victory – and the “greening” of postwar life in our country.

Why we need critical thinking

Why, generally speaking, would a young person want to study philosophy? Let’s start a brief explanation.

At the age of 21, I received a label that many employers identify as the most important part of my CV. It’s called “political science and philosophy education.” As a nice bonus, since the age of 25 I have a PhD in political science; and I didn’t compile my thesis work from Internet abstracts or bought one. Sometimes I look at the news, and I’m ashamed to be in the same ranks as Yanukovych, Kiva and Litvin (these odious politicians received their degrees through bribery and administrative pressure). But now I’m not talking about discrediting academia in Ukraine, but about the fact that in a certain sense I was lucky.

Lucky because in 2000s in Kyv National University named after Taras Shevchenko there were some clever teachers in my department (there were also those who were besides the bottom, but I’m not speaking about them now). The better educated teachers taught me to doubt all ideologies and religions; they taught me that ideologies are all just wrong representations of reality. These people taught me to think critically. For example, the idea that democracy is degenerating into ochlocracy allows me to look critically at what is happening nowadays.

Because of the sprouts of critical thinking, the philosophy department in both Soviet totalitarian and post-Soviet “free-thinking” times was under the scrutiny of “The Office” or “The Hut” (slang names for the State Security Service of Ukraine, the successor of the USSR’ KGB). The attention of the authorities to the philosophers (but not only) of the KNU is a historical phenomenon. This is no surprise, because in Soviet times my department was a platform for the formation of the nomenclature of the republican level.

If you enter such a faculty at the age of 16-17 years old with certain convictions, there is a great probability that by the time you graduate, they will be washed out and will turn into boundless skepticism about everything political. For me, this professional deformation manifests itself in a sense of fatalism when I read about revolutions, successful and not, as well as movements and parties in which large masses of people are involved.

Philosophy is not simply a collection of scholastic knowledge. It is an attempt to explain social processes that do not have a priori pronounced rules and regularities, but in a way that looks scientific and can be taught in universities.

There are virtually no laws and regularities in political science (except those from the realm of parties studies, but we will omit such specifics). However, after reading the basic body of philosophical knowledge, as well as observing society, students begin to intuitively understand and roughly predict what will happen in years to come.

A political scientist differs from the average person discussing events on the bench in that they have spent several years studying primary sources in a specific environment, where he or she is able to discuss their meaning. The average person without a specific education may ponder and write about the political situation, institutions and processes on the social networks, but on the whole, these will be random stabs in the dark.

Students have a number of advantages: a young age for developing a culture of reading, group activities and discussion of what they have read, building a culture of public speaking and debate, the skill of an academic style of presentation.

That is, if a student is diligent and honestly earned a diploma, his educational document means thousands of person-hours of assiduous work to assimilate knowledge. Such concentration on the material is unlikely to be available to someone who simply wants to understand the philosophy of politics without taking a break from his or her day job.

Moreover, if a person decides to become a high-level political blogger and outdo Shariy (infamous pro-Russian propagandist and politician of Ukrainian origin living in Spain), he or she will inevitably come to a systematic rather than a sketchy political science education. This is the irony – it is hard to learn how to think critically “on the couch.” But learning conspiracy and “magical thinking” is extremely easy. Because in Runet (Russian-speaking area of Internet, a term from the early 2000s), your requests will bring up, first and foremost, works of apologist for the Soviet system Sergey Kara-Murza, “The concept of public security” (Anti-Semitic conspiracy sect from the Russian Federation), the anti-vaccinationists, and Russian propaganda, but not any serious research.

Why it is impossible to be an anarchist at age 20

I guess this is nonsense to have any serious political convictions at the age of 20. Still, debating about the social order and taking “right” or “left” sides means having minimal understanding of the economic and political order of the world around you. Meanwhile, the college-aged person has no baggage of life experience, no basic knowledge of economics and political structure (unless he or she is a young genius). Moreover, many so-called mature people or adults do not understand the basics, and I am no exception. So to call yourself a Social Democrat, a Nazi or an anarchist at 20 or 25 is naive.

Yes, at the age of 14-18 you can join another far right gang (like “Tradition and Order”, C14 or National Corps party in Ukraine before the full-scale invasion) or, on the contrary, an antifa group and boast of your subcultural image. You can beat “political” opponents and tear down fences around barbaric construction sites. But will such a young man answer the direct question of what is “right-wing” or “anarchist”? Certainly not.

Life experience should not be confused with established beliefs. At 18 or 19, a person can have many “adult” experiences: incomplete families (e.g., divorced parents or a parent died), alcohol- or drug-dependent parents or one’s own addictions, several jobs or part-time jobs, forced wanderings or conscious travels – there are many options. But just because a young person has a difficult social background does not mean that he or she understands thoroughly the structure of society and claims to reform it.

At a young age, it is possible to be “a rebel without a cause.” Moreover, it is legitimate. There is a revealing opinion about Kurt Cobain’s artistic work, broadcasted by Russian-speaking videoblogger Ra Djan among others: that the musician was the voice of his “Generation X.” Of those teenagers who didn’t know what they were going to be, who were looking for themselves, who weren’t settled in life.

But Cobain’s generation was not unique in this senseless and chaotic rebellion. Any wave of 13- to 20-year-old rebels, any youth is interested in sex and drugs, in “real” adulthood, and they are also fed up with established and hypocritical social norms, media and parents. These young people are justified in going on stage and chanting: “The king is naked!” First  of all, we hear this message from Western youth, not from the residents of the authoritarian countries around us.

But when grown-up dudes claim this kind of a “mental riot” as “anarchism,” “Nazism,” or other “political radicalism”, they are lying; because teenagers are not seriously engaged in politics.

Why anarchy is impossible, but the state is necessary

If we put aside the rose-colored glasses and answer the questions honestly for ourselves, it becomes clear that many of the institutions around us, as repugnant as they may seem to us, are necessary. You can’t simply abolish police and prisons, the army and war. You can’t simply abolish economic inequality, even its rather savage trappings – pawnshops and debt. All the things we may hate, and the subculturists of the 2000’s may have called “liberalism” and the trappings of the Philistines, are historically established institutions. It is impossible to eliminate them as a phenomenon with the stroke of a pen or even with wars and revolutionary upheavals.

No matter how the Bolsheviks “eliminated” inequality, they themselves cultivated the annoying system of slaves and masters in the end. The same is true of the revival of the power structures, albeit not under the name of “ohranka” (slang name for Department of Public Safety and Order in Russian Empire, which means “guards”), but under the new guise of the OGPU and NKVD (special bodies of state security of the USSR).

To describe it very simply, without an organized system of coercion, society has very dubious prospects. And even the most freedom-loving ideology leads to a certain amount of unfreedom – not as something bad, but as something inevitable.

Our generation has been given these examples in order to confront the subcultural and academic anarchists with the bloody reality that no “autonomous zones” can be invented. All that is possible is to reform existence.

About the cook who can rule the country 

If we answer honestly about the world around us, it is clear that we are all too uneducated to rule the country. I have studied the works of Aristotle as a part of my education. But can I explain Aristotle’s ideas to an armed crowd in five minutes? Can I have time to explain Plato’s “State” and the writings of John Locke? Not at all. At such moments, the angry crowd needs simple answers to difficult questions, “how to live on”. These people need to know who to hang, where to allocate the state treasury, what to buy with it, against which external enemies to open a front.

My point is that even the greatest humanists and democrats will, when necessary, torture, arrest, shoot – and guard power from rivals. I won’t speculate on human nature here. Just imagine that it is May 2014, and you are in the center of Donetsk, a Ukrainian city captured by Russian special forces.

And it is good when you already have the baggage of knowledge and experience, and you can explain in a few phrases what kind of society you want to build. Even then you can call yourself by some ideological label, claim to have political convictions.

Sects whose dangers you’re not warned about

If you live a hedonistic life in the capital city of a peaceful country (like Ukraine before full-scale war), you are unobtrusively invited to a party where everyone believes in Krishna. Or in the triumph of the white race. Or in the Slavic gods. Or anarchy. Or astrology and socionics. Or personal growth (pseudo psychological concept widespread in post-USSR in 2010s).

Inevitably, your unformed beliefs will be fought for by those who have articulated them very precisely for themselves. Inevitably such “leaders” will want to involve you in their “group of influence.”

New acquaintances will lure you into “promising” communities spontaneously and in various forms. But the bottom line is the same – your efforts and thoughts are what their leaders will want to get hold of.

Every time I hear such a “come-on, join our party” I tell myself that these bright-eyed characters were not trained where I was, are not accustomed to thinking critically, are often not accustomed to thinking at all.

Every time I am called to form another political sect, I remind myself that I am the only one in these motley crews who has any education whatsoever. And, in general, only I, as an elder and educated one, can take responsibility for neophytes who do not know what they are doing.

I judge from the communities of post-USSR subcultural anarchists and chaotically educated leftists, but this generalization applies to other political identities as well.

Year after year, I see the same thing – leaderless movements that desperately need a leader. At the same time, the fetish of “leaderlessness” masks an unwillingness to make decisions and take responsibility.

A typical example for Kyiv citizens since the early 2000s is the chaotic movements against barbaric construction and “city development.” At various times these were the movements of the “Afghans,” (veterans of the war against Afghanistan), the private entrepreneurs, and the Vradiyivka riot, which became paradoxical.

And for Ukraine in the pandemic era before full-scale war, the “antivaxxers” movement was a case in point. This motley crowd, as yet without a charismatic leader, a clearly defined unified ideology, or a party structure. But this primary broth could grow into a fully viable party (if a big Ukrainian capital or Russian regime commissioned such a project instead of the full-scale war). These people are an excellent example of a citizen who is politically passive and “asleep” in “peacetime”, but who became aware of himself as a political subject under pressure and stress of the authorities.

Psychology of people does not change – there is always a need for a shepherd, who will lead those without guidance or initiative somewhere.

In the language of modern political technologists, there is always a need for a bright and charismatic leader, who is not afraid of making unpopular decisions among part of the people. The European Union, by the way, does not have many of them – Macron and Merkel do not fit this description. Erdogan fits more, but we are striving for democracy, aren’t we?

Idealists and Cynics

Year after year I see two categories of people in politics, with “shades” of course. Young idealists who want an utopian society here and now (they may be adults – but they remain infantile at 50 or 70). And cynics, the unsuccessful part of whom stands at other people’s demonstrations for money, and the successful part of whom pays the money.

The concept of normality is different for every society and every era. The lifestyle of “normal people” as a whole has led to the current unjust state of affairs. Among those protesting against the existing order there are plenty of “urban insane people,” (Russian and Ukrainian idiom) those with whom it is not worth dealing because of moral or material dishonesty, and people who are mindless tools in the hands of pressure groups.

However, social apathy as a “norm” of modern Ukrainian society is not to be admired either. A person who is not indifferent runs the risk of falling into a triad: either snobbery, or escapism and hedonism, or so-called real politics – I have not yet seen a morally unimpeachable position.

The division into idealists and cynics also applies to any “colored” revolution. I experience a deep fatalism every time a crowd gathers outside the window or across the border and goes to overthrow a dictator. Because it is obvious that after each such overthrow there will be inflation, falling living standards, a neighbor’s intervention, war, poverty. There will be disappointments in ideals, there will be revenge by the cops and secret services. There will be premature deaths.

I also feel fatalistic because the technologies of information warfare and propaganda are very concrete techniques that I preferred not to think about until 2013. They cause people to die and governments to change.

Guidelines in a world of entropy

In assessing political processes, the attempted uprising in Belarus and the Ukrainian Maidan (2004 and 2013-2014), one can find positive aspects. And not only the prospect of impoverishment and military operations.    

These events reflect the maturation of large groups of the population and the processes of self-awareness.

Reliance upon the “strong leader” or the “love of the Czar” is an emotional immaturity on the scale of a nation. It happens when a person is stuck in childhood and does not take on the responsibility that logically lies with the parent. The adult may not take it on himself, but shift it to the leader. And when the whole nation needs a leader, it means that in the mass of families the process of natural maturation has been slowed down, and this needs to be corrected already at the level of the educational system.

In short, Ukrainians as a nation have made a leap (and some of us successfully) into adulthood. And the decline of the economy, redistribution of resources and other crises is a normal process in Ukraine, as are the coming changes in Belarus (obviously after Lukashenko’s death).

There are a few bedrocks that I try not to leave behind in my political beliefs:

  • Dictators must be overthrown.
  • The police must be controlled (abolishing this institution, as well as prisons, is not an option, let the anarcho-idealists continue to live in their imaginary world – they will be the first to create concentration camps and torture and shoot the enemies when they get the chance).
  • The corrupt officials should be put in jail.
  • Russian invaders in Ukraine (and Crimea is Ukraine too) should be shot.
  • ”Officials should be flogged,” as one of my comrades-in-arms said.

And so in the entire social process, not just strictly speaking in politics. These values are the bare minimum I stand for.

My emphasis is on the word “necessary.” All this must be done by the force of violence, by the state apparatus, on which, I emphasize, the so-called civil society must exert pressure. I easily explain what civil society is: all groups of people outside the state. A group of soccer fans, a mafia group, a civic organization, a private shelter for the homeless are all examples of a civil society that is not uniquely painted as “good” or “evil.”

To sum up, I wish readers will overcome their infantilism and take responsibility for their own destiny piece by piece. Debate the particulars, but move forward.

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