The Axis of Denial
On both the left and the right, populist politics today rests on a foundation of denialism and bad-faith arguments made supposedly on the behalf of the working class. In many ways, the debate over support for Ukraine has become a microcosm of the broader “democratic recession.”
LJUBLJANA – The wife of a drunkard is in bed with her lover when her husband unexpectedly stumbles in and climbs under the sheets. “Darling, I’m so drunk that I see six legs at the bottom of our bed,” he says. “Don’t worry,” she replies, “Just walk over to the door and look again from there.” When he does, he is relieved. “You’re right, there are only four legs!”
This joke may be vulgar, but it touches on an important phenomenon. Generally, you expect to see a situation more clearly from the outside than when you are immersed in it. But sometimes, it is precisely this external position that blinds you to the truth. In the joke, the husband’s exclusion (standing by the door) creates a false sense of inclusion in which he confuses the lover’s legs with his own.
One finds a similar dynamic in the West’s support for Ukraine. We turn a blind eye to the fact that a domestic clique of oligarchs will likely emerge as the biggest winner of the Ukrainian struggle. Yet we should not be surprised if post-war Ukraine turns out similar to pre-war Ukraine, a place corrupted by oligarchy and colonized by big Western corporations that control the best land and natural resources. While we make our own sacrifices for the war effort, we fail to see that the gains will be appropriated by others, just like the drunkard who mistakes another man’s feet for his own – perhaps because, deep down, he does not want to acknowledge the truth.
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