We need to talk

I want to continue the thread that I explored in my previous post; in that, I wrote in favour of reasoned discussion as opposed to bigoted diatribe.

As an exercise, one could take a topic on which one holds strong views, and then honestly attempt to find arguments that support the opposing view.

As an example, let’s look at the ‘little local difficulties’ currently occurring in the Ukraine. The narrative in the west appears to be that the Russians are entirely to blame for both the tensions and the conflict there, and it is difficult to find much sensible consideration of the Russian view of the matter.

So here goes.

In 1945, at the end of WWII, Western Europe was divided from Communist Eastern Europe by a border that ran between what was then West and East Germany, giving the then Soviet Union a large protective buffer from what it viewed as the aggressive Western powers. After the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, virtually all of the eastern European countries joined both the EU and NATO. Gradually, Russia then began again to make threatening noises, feeling that it was all but encircled and under attack. When the Ukraine applied for a pathway membership of NATO, strongly encouraged by the West, many in Russia felt that this was the last straw. The Ukraine has a long and complicated historical relationship with Russia, and about a quarter of its population see itself as Russian. The Crimea, which Russia effectively sized in 2014, had been historically part of Russia since 1783, only given to the Ukraine in 1954, and the vast majority of its inhabitants wanted to return to Russian rule.

So the Crimea, then, was viewed both by Russians, and also by many in the Ukraine, as historically Russian territory. The west was regarded as an enemy who was attempting to drive its tanks right up to the Russian border, and who had already subverted most of the old Soviet states.

This was the situation when hostilities began to escalate. Does it justify Russian actions in the Ukraine? Probably not. Does it help to explain them? Certainly. Might there have been a different narrative if the Western powers had understood the Russian point of view? Probably.

(There is, of course, the possibility that the Western Powers understood it only too well, but felt that it might be in their interests to foment unrest. But let’s assume that’s not the case.)

It may be that after looking at these arguments, or ones that you might come up with when interrogating another question, you decide yes, these other folk do have a point. Or you might think well, I can see why they say that, but I’m not impressed with the argument. Or even, who knows, you might be convinced by their point of view. But whatever the outcome, at least you should feel that you have thought about the problem in an honest and intelligent manner. And I think that discussion then is more likely to reasoned and civil.

It must be especially important to do this when one is exploring emotive issues such as US gun laws, euthanasia, or immigration, otherwise we just end up adding to the massive amounts of vitriol being sloshed around by all sides in these situations. It can then become the basis of conflict resolution.