Twitter and Moral Vanity are Leading Us Towards Nuclear Annihilation

Twitter and Moral Vanity are Leading Us Towards Nuclear Annihilation. By Glenn Greenwald.

The Russian war in Ukraine is escalating into a new stage. For the first week or so the war was characterized by what even the harshest Russian critics recognize has been a fair amount of constraint, the refusal of the Russian military to use their air force or to use anywhere near their full military capability….

Ukraine has not fallen, … and as a result we are now starting to see an escalated strategy where Russia is starting to target the most populous cities in Ukraine with the intention of surrounding and entering them and bombing them.

The Russians are going to have to use their artillery

The inevitable narrative:

And that is going to … create a lot more casualties, both military and civilian. And the ethos is now already in the air, … as evidenced by the New York Times page, … where the headlines blazing “Civilian toll rising in rocket attacks, two major strikes in Kharkiv; six hundred thousand refugees have fled Ukraine.”

So this is the kind of messaging that we’re going to be bombarded by over the next several days, with lots of videos showing Russians blowing things up in Ukraine, lots of stories about civilians being killed in large numbers. And that, in turn, is going to further intensify what is clearly the overwhelming anti-Russian sentiment in the United States and more broadly in the West, people who are feeding on a kind of nonstop, very homogenized diet of information that is being curated by them over social media that is entirely one-sided.

And that is leading them more and more to intensify their anger and emotions toward Russia …

And that’s happening right at the same time as there are growing calls in the U.S., in the U.K. and more broadly in Europe for extremely reckless and dangerous policies, including having the United States and NATO directly confront Russia militarily through creating a no-fly zone. .. [That] would instantly mean direct war, a hot war between the United States and Russia, the two countries with by far the largest nuclear stockpiles in the world. …

This view is still a minority view …The problem is that each day that goes by, when more and more not fringe or marginalized anonymous Twitter trolls or Facebook pages advocate this, when prominent people embeded in the mainstream institutions, more and more come out and say, we, the West, cannot stand by and watch Ukrainian civilians being slaughtered by the Russian Army without doing more, meaning intervening militarily, the more they’re saying that, and the more and more of them every day, the more it starts to seem like a viable option.

It’s the classic Overton window, where an option that once was unthinkable or unspeakable, having the US directly confront Russia militarily, is now being mainstreamed as a result of more and more people saying it. The more and more people who say it, more and more people are led to believe it’s a reasonable or viable option. While that happens, at the same time, people are getting increasingly enraged over watching Ukrainian civilians being killed by Russian military action. You can see how volatile that is. …

No dissent allowed, and emotion on Twitter rules over cool rationality:

It is very easily predictable that public sentiment will start to insist that more be done, especially as people are being propagandized more and more aggressively in a closed system where there’s almost no dissent …

The higher you become in terms of your emotions, the more your capacity to reason is crowded out, the more you’re guided by passion and anger and rage and sorrow and compassion, all emotions. The more your capacity for rationality is crowded out, the more an option like that can start to seem instinctively desirable. …

Even though the major leaders like President Biden and the Pentagon and Boris Johnson and lots of journalists, their view still is that this is a crazy idea, in the eyes of a lot of people, it’s becoming less and less crazy because more and more people in prominent positions of mainstream authority are advocating it. …

The Ukrainians look like us:

Sir Richard Barrons who is a retired general in the British Army, who once held one of the highest positions in the British military, the ex-head of the Joint Forces of Command … [says] the reason that [public opinion populations in the West will rise up and demand it] is because they’re forced to look, not at Somalians or Iraqis or Afghans or Yemenis being killed, but instead quote “people who look and live like us.” …

The emotion grows:

For the moment at least, this view is a minority view, for sure. But it’s much more mainstream than it was even five days ago or three days ago when Congressman Kinzinger first proposed it. The more mainstream it becomes, the more it will seem to people like a viable option.

Now, it’s not just a no-fly zone people are calling for, but other forms of much more aggressive intervention by the United States than I think most people expected.

Here is Benjamin Wittes, a senior fellow of the Brookings Institution, one of the leading anti-Trump Russiagators obsessed with Russia for many years now, who tweeted, simply, quote “Regime change Russia.” …

Here is the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, Richard Haass, saying something very similar:

Just days ago much of the world was focused on the unwanted prospect of regime change in Ukraine. Now, the conversation has shifted to include the possibility of desired regime change in Russia. A week can be a long time in politics.

Indeed, he’s right. Imagine, this is really the main point that I’m urging people recognize, what things are going to look like a week from now, after a week or more of stories about Russians blowing things up and killing civilians. So much is changing the discourse in just a week. …

With nuclear weapons, don’t allow emotional fools near policy!

The Russians have more than 6000 nuclear-tipped missiles, the first or second largest nuclear stockpile on the planet. If you have regime change in Russia, you have no idea where that can control over that stockpile is going to go, and in whose hands it’s going to fall and what their intentions are.

And if you collapse the Russian economy and cause massive instability in a country with weapons this dangerous, you also don’t know….

There’s this kind of thirst for vengeance and destruction and a satisfaction of our darkest and and most visceral impulses that it’s almost just like a craving for revenge is the primary overarching goal and not any rational geostrategic thought ...

The lies that were Russiagate now matter:

Obviously, five years of Russiagate, with the climate being created where it was inherently suspect and criminal, even treasonous to even be seen talking to a Russian diplomat or a Russian official, constantly telling Americans that the Russians had taken over the United States, infiltrated the halls of power in the United States through blackmail, have been priming millions of Americans to view Russia as this great threat.

The rage toward Putin for the perception that he helped defeat Hillary Clinton and elect Donald Trump by itself is an incredibly sharp and incisive rage that has been simmering for a long time. And this has all been what exploded this week.

This is the first big war with social media:

Every time the Israelis bombed Gaza, now we see all kinds of videos about the wreckage and the carnage that we didn’t see previously from Gazans uploading cell phone videos. Certainly in Syria, there was a battle of propaganda. But in terms of a major war between two large nations, this is the first war playing out largely over social media …

All the things we know about what social media does to people, to our emotions, to our groupthink, to our herd behavior, to our instincts to keep us angry and engaged, it’s now all being directed, not in the culture war battles, but into a very dangerous war. …

Social media has absolutely altered the way not just Americans, but because of its interconnectivity, people around the world are seeing this war. You’re able to curate what you want to hear and the voices you don’t want to hear. You can block out all dissent. You can just feed all day on anti-Russian pro-Ukrainian messaging. Block out anything that undercuts the view of the heroic Ukrainians defying the evil aggressors. And as a result, just feed on this emotion, this very satiating experience.

And the more you do, the more engaged you become, the more enraged you become, that’s the model of social media, is to keep your emotions as high as possible and therefore your rationality as low as possible. …

You see, like Switzerland and Sweden, renouncing their decades-old neutrality to, in Sweden’s case send weapons, or in Switzerland’s case to freeze assets of the Russians, or in the case of the Germans who have been very friendly toward Russia because of the history of those two countries being so frightening during the 20th century and their financial connections between them as well, suddenly turning on a dime as public opinion changes in social media and arming the Ukrainians, something that would’ve been unthinkable for the Germans six months ago.

So I really wonder also whether in the wake of 9/11, with all that rage and anger but now being exacerbated on social media, I could almost see it being possible that the United States would have had to nuke a country or two to satiate that rage. That just attacking Afghanistan and then Iraq wouldn’t have been sufficient. Obviously, we’ll never know. But I just invite you as a thought exercise to consider how that history would have been different had social media been pervasive then.

Social media and nuclear weapons go together like a lighted match and gunpowder.

hat-tip Scott of the Pacific