I’m no expert in…well the list is too long to leave here, but military matters and deep insights into despots number among them. But I think people who believe Putin has gone crazy do so at their peril.
I mean, he is clearly a sociopath, which is a kind of insanity. But that’s not new. I think most people mean “irrational,” and I don’t think he’s been so. He gravely, gravely misjudged the mood of Ukrainians towards Russian annexation, perhaps because of how Crimeans reaction to his invasion in 2014. Perhaps because no one is willing to tell him any unpleasant truth. That’s certainly the case in his miscalculation about Russia’s military readiness.
But given his info, invading Ukraine was totally rational. Evil and murderous, yes, but not “crazy.” He has always wanted Ukraine for various strategic, pragmatic, and nostalgic reasons. And it was a great way to dip a toe in the water to see how NATO would react. If they reacted as he had every reason to believe they would, that is to say, fractionally and loaded with internecine squabbles, it would clear the way to take on the NATO Baltic states.
He must be shocked to see NATO this unified, because, let’s face it, NATO is a little shocked to see NATO this.
Now he’s stuck in a war he knows he absolutely cannot win long term. This makes him very dangerous. But still, attacking NATO now would be the height of irrational thinking, and moreover, radically different than every other war he’s fought. Like all bullies, he generally goes after targets a lot less imposing than he is. NATO isn’t only every bit Russia’s size and bigger, but infinitely better equipped and trained (many Russian soldiers have been issued rations that expired in 2002).
I’ve no idea what will happen next, but the talk about Puting being irrational, well, I don’t see it. I see horrible planning and intelligence, and a surprisingly resilient Ukraine and United West, and God knows I see evil, but I think dismissing him as crazy is a serious misreading.
7 thoughts on “A Pedantic Few Words About Conflating Irrational and Insane”
Insane is a tough call. To be insane means one must have a mental defect or disease that makes it impossible for a person to understand their actions. He knows exactly what he’s doing and why and is very logical about how he is doing it. The problem is that he isolated himself in a bubble of sycophants. He’s lost contact with the real world and only heard what his yes-men told him. I have heard several different people who knew him who say he is not the Putin they used to know.
To be a psychopath or sociopath doesn’t mean you are insane. You’re still choosing to do the things you do. It just means you’re f-ing dangerous and lack empathy for those you harm. Putin is certainly one of those.
Irrational just means you’re not using a logic that other people recognize. Putin’s logic was inevitable, given his stated values. He spent much of his life in the KGB and still sees the world through Soviet colored glasses. You don’t rise through the ranks of the KGB without blood on your hands.
Putin is a cold war baby. So is Biden. Perfect timing. Russia has a new czar and China has a new emperor. I don’t think post-Vietnam Americans understand this sort of thing, the art of brinkmanship. The sudden solidarity of the West and the incredible resistance of the Ukrainians has to put a crimp in Xi Jinping’s plans for Taiwan as well.
He probably does have strategic and logical reasons for wanting Ukraine. But he doesn’t say those are the reasons for attacking. The reasons he gave publicly (to rescue all Ukranians from nazis and genocide, that Ukraine is an international security risk, that the people want to be liberated) are completely false. So for people who trust that he believes what he says, then he’s seeing things that aren’t there i.e. he’s insane. I doubt this is down to his yes men, although it does seem clear they lied about military readiness.
Now, why he would give one set of reasons publicly, when really he has other reasons, might be a topic for another post.
This must be the best blog post title ever, Jack! An interesting post that makes perfect sense to me – I think that it’s safe to say your conclusions are both rational and sane.
You’re too nice to me! Glad you enjoyed it!
I feel bad for Russia. It’s like the only World War enemy that hasn’t risen from the ashes reborn. Germany and Japan: world class countries now. Even China is like, “C’mon, Russia…get your sh*t together.”
A bit late to the party but when I got around to reading this post it, like those Ukraine girls, really knocked me out. I understand that most political and business leaders are sociopaths, goes with the territory. Putin’s just an extreme example (like an armed Trump, perhaps) but, as you say, not insane. Thanks, Jack.
What you say makes sense, Jack. I agree that Putin is a sociopath. His personal ambition knows no bounds, and he has demonstrated a total disregard for both his own countrymen and his neighbors. while he may not be clinically insane, his actions in invading Ukraine are those of a madman…sending poorly trained, ill-equipped and ill-provisioned soldiers to attack civilians in an unprovoked war of aggression seems pretty irrational. If he uses biological and chemical warfare, as he has in the past and is threatening to do now, does it matter whether or not he is insane?