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WW3 is a suicide pact. The #1 thing that defines modern Russia is cynical self-interest. Putin won't die for his professed ideals(which he does not believe in anyway). If he gives the order the people around him won't be willing to die and they'll just kill him. I view this all as extreme brinksmanship that will ultimately lead nowhere. 

Russia's oligarch billionaires aren't incinerating their Swiss mansions over some dead proles on the Ukrainian front.

Fundamentally wrong mental model, in my opinion. (but upvoted for presenting a well structured one!)

As if saying: "We shouldn't put people in prison because it raises the cost of murder and increases demand to murder." 

Violence is a wildfire, not an auction market. Quantity of violence is zero absent a catalyst, once the catalyst is provided it goes up exponentially until it reaches some saturation point at which point it runs out of fuel and collapses again to zero. 

Supply and Demand for violence form a positive feedback loop. (+ an activation barrier to get started and a cliff back to nothing at the end, dunno what proper terms would be here)

The measures that can be taken are to raise the cost of starting a war(make the catalyst more expensive) or end the war FAST(overwhelming force on one side).

Half the reason Putin is doing this is because he wasn't slapped hard the first time he went invading Georgia(cheaper catalyst in the future). Arguably, the main reason he felt safe invading Georgia is because the US trampled over international law when they invaded Iraq and lost the moral bully pulpit needed to mobilize the EU for sanctions.

The other half of the reason is he thought Ukraine would fold immediately(he thought he had overwhelming force).

The murder example is actually perfect. A lot of murder is revenge killing. A lot of it is essentially feuding going back decades(you killed my uncle, I'll kill your son etc). Same goes for war. France and Germany had a tit for tat war every few decades relationship for centuries. 

The way to break that cycle is by monopolizing violence. 

And it actually does break the cycle in that it removes the immediate popular causes for revenge killing or revanchist war. (Not to say that new causes cannot lead to war again, but the relationship between France and Germany is qualitatively different than it was in the last 80 year span of peace between their countries.)

To take this straight to the nuclear winter dark side.

I've been reading a bit about MAD 101 and I hate it. I'm slowly embracing the idea that the most safe thing to do is to be as explicit and precommitted as possible to massive retaliation if red lines are crossed. Emotionally that sounds nuts and I'd like everyone on every side to just spam we're not using the nukes, calm down.

But.

IF people say that and red lines keep getting crossed, at some point Side A thinks they can push one more boundary and get away with it, but Side B decides this is the limit and they press the button.

As such I think, but don't believe if that makes sense, bellicose rhetoric about nukes reduces the risk of nuclear escalation. Implicitly people clamoring for the West to precommit to not using nukes if the Ukrainian war spills out of Ukraine are actually fuzzying Putin's calculus in a very dangerous way. 

On a lighter shade of dark note, I definitely think Putin getting away with all of his little salami tactics measures against the West in the past 10 years was why he thought he could get away with Ukraine. If massive sanctions had been issued at any point in the past, it would have never gotten to this point in Ukraine. But then again, the West would have had less justification for the sanctions...

That doesn't seem rational to me, or if it's somehow not irrational on an individual level, makes it a bad idea to model Russia as a rational actor as a whole.

 

Absent honest, safe, free speech, leadership's map diverges more and more from the territory and then comes crashing back to reality when they drive off a cliff they thought was a highway.

A group of individuals behaving in their own rational self-interest can make very irrational, self-destructive group-level decisions, if the incentives the members have are perverse enough. I guess the idea itself is as old as the book(Moloch style religious arguments have existed since forever) but I somehow never thought about it from the lens of predictability, of being a part of the same consensus reality. 

Everyone around Putin was shocked that he went to full war, because they all knew they were lying to him and it would be a disaster. He alone lived in a hall of mirrors. I assume he's smashing a bunch of them as we speak.

These numbers are absurd, in my opinion. 10s of thousands of military dead is massive numbers in a modern context. You cannot compare 1800s warfare to modern war, people literally lined up in a square and shot at each other until half of them were dead/injured back then. And due to crap med tech tons of injured didn't survive. Modern conflicts have MUCH MUCH lower death ratios.

America finished the conquest of Iraq with like 150 dead(granted Iraqi army folded). Over the course of the whole occupation(2003-2011) America lost around 4500 soldiers. If Russia loses like 1000 soldiers before taking over Ukraine that's absolutely brutal resistance.

Iraqi force's losses were much higher, but still not over 20k during the invasion. Keep in mind there WAS a lot of resistance. The invasion took like a month or something, so wasn't just a trivial walk through the country. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iraq_War

Yemeni civil war isn't even at 20k yet after 8 years, as far as I can tell

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yemeni_Civil_War_(2014%E2%80%93present)

I think 20k combined military civilian deaths in the next 2 weeks would be absolutely massive resistance and probably the bloodiest war in decades.

The real question to me is if the Ukrainians are holding all major cities by the end of this week. At that point substantial military aid from the EU will be steadily flowing in through the west and it becomes a lot less clear how Russia makes progress. Mass bombardment of cities... doesn't do anything if people are angry and stubborn enough to keep fighting. 

A lot of people keep saying that Putin feels afraid of NATO. I really dislike this meme. Russia has been an imperial aggressor in Eastern Europe(and beyond) for centuries. The belt of countries from the Baltic to the black sea have been the Russian Empire's victims again and again since the 1700s through to the fall of the USSR.

Now that Eastern European countries are joining a defensive alliance suddenly Putin feels threatened? 

Why? He has nukes. The end. No one is ever invading Russia. It is just impossible. NATO is not going to invade Russia. 

All NATO membership does is make Eastern European countries expensive or impossible to bully. This is what really bothers Putin. 

There is nothing an abuser hates more than when their victims can protect themselves. He is not afraid of NATO invading Russia, an absurd idea that again would NEVER happen, because it takes more than the whims of one crazy dictator to trigger a NATO attack. 

Putin is afraid that the people he views as his rightful prey and subjects are now able to defend themselves. That's it. He's a predator and he wants his subjects vulnerable.

Don't give him the benefit of the doubt by taking the BS rhetoric about NATO encroachment seriously. As if NATO was bribing and invading countries one by one to get them to join the way he does geopolitics. Pure projection by a psychopath.

I sort of get it and I want to believe it. But it makes no actual sense and that's terrifying. The west would barely care if Putin was doing this in the *stans or Georgia. The only other target to go to after Ukraine is Moldova and then the Baltics.

If he goes in the Baltics that's war with NATO. Nothing about the reaction to Ukraine makes a difference there. It's black and white NATO vs not NATO.

I feel like the most parsimonious explanation is he's not being very rational, rumors about him having terminal cancer are also pushing me towards that belief. It really doesn't seem like anyone on the Russian side saw this coming either, which is extra scary.

I think the EU will have to impose heavy sanctions and deal with a refugee crisis. Given German dependence on Russian gas this could lead to a local/global recession. Hopefully, that's the extent of it.

Disclaimer, am Romanian so biased against Russia's geopolitical agenda(which possibly runs through my country in the long run). 

I think short term Ukrainian army folds(how much of it is russophile former soviet officers anyway? arguably same as in a lot of former Eastern bloc countries). 

Short term questions

  1. How big and serious will the insurgency be? I assume civilians are not heavily armed. I assume some organised groups will get some military gear. I assume some western weapons will get smuggled in.
  2. Who will actually fight it? My very limited knowledge of Ukrainian irregular groups is that they're all neo-nazis(this is partly Russian propaganda, but I don't think it's far off the mark). Presumably some grass-roots upheaval will happen as well, but will all the organizations be run by ultra-nationalists?
  3. Will the EU bite the bullet and really embargo Russia? Probably not, but also maybe? 10% odds? 
  4. Can Russia actually pacify the huge mountainous region in Western Ukraine, that borders Poland and Romania?

Long term musing

I don't see this stopping with Ukraine. There's a Russian army in Moldova's breakaway, Transnistria. Putin has basically annexed Belarus. It seems like the time for creating enclaves is over and the time for re-consolidating the Russian empire has begun. If Ukraine gets eaten up with little fuss, I have no doubt Georgia is next. After all, why stop?

This can plausibly escalate into annexing Moldova as well. The Baltic states are the first obvious NATO member target. 

I don't understand Putin's goal here. He can't absorb Ukraine. A puppet regime installed there would be facing civil war for years. Maybe he just wants a really serious distraction for local purposes? I just can't accept that he has a genuine pseudo-religious belief in shit like http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/66181 or https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foundations_of_Geopolitics because if he does, we're all in for it.

I guess long-time lurkers/new posters like me are part of the problem(though obviously I assume most online only LW members didn't engage with a California drama post). I still think LW is a great place for discussion and just being exposed to new ideas and good feedback, but I'm probably dragging down the sanity level.

Re fear: I think the SSC situation made it clear that LW and rationalist adjacent spaces are more public than users might think, maybe people are hesitant because they don't want to get twitter blasted or show up as a snap in an NYTimes article two years down the line.

Re concentration of force: I would imagine raw censorship would be really hard and contentious to enforce. Probably attempting to aristocratize/oligarchize the site might work better. Maybe increase the visibility of old-time users and posters, tweak the karma needed to post/vote, highlight high karma account comments over low karma comments. 

There must be some blog post somewhere documenting every attempted antidote to Eternal September syndrome to pick and choose from. Disclaimer, norm and law changes have chaotically unpredictable effects on communities, so who knows what the outcome would be.

A democratic version of this is people being more meta in comments and replies, addressing structural concerns with what people are commenting, as you mention in the post rewriting the original comment in a more rigorous/ironman form. Upside, this is a way to acculturate people into the community in an emotionally positive manner, rather than just by punishment. It's also much more legible and learnable than a comment deletion, which might have all sorts of reasons. Downside, this can make actual discussion really difficult and encourages pedantry which can also be taken too far. It also requires some degree of critical mass of users willing to engage in it.

The utopian version of this to me would be people looking at a post or comment they disagree with, suspending their own opinion on it, and attempting to help the commenter improve their argument in the direction the OP was going.

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