Russia’s invasion of Ukraine (and possibly other countries) is a good example of emotions, or passions, run amok. And emotionalism could get a lot more people killed.
Vladimir Putin has an emotional drive to build a Russian Empire comprising most of the former Warsaw Pact states. His better judgment—looking at the reality of his situation—held him at bay for 20 years. It’s impossible to know if his decision to invade was a result of changes in variables in his reasoning or if his passions simply overwhelmed his reason. Regardless, the result is bloodshed and extreme risk for Europe and the whole world. Limited wars have a way of turning into mammoth conflagrations.
Several European nations and the current US administration have a passion for green energy. This passion has led them to abandon petroleum, natural gas, and coal production. Germany even abandoned nuclear power, the greenest of all. To support their passion, they have reasoned that the best way to force development of alternative fuels is to cut off access to legacy fuels. This fact indicated their passion to abandon legacy fuels is stronger than their desire for peace, stability, and the rule of law. Thus, they allowed Russia to take Ukraine in exchange for (in their minds) temporary access to abundant Russian fuel.
The Biden Administration has a passion to win elections in 2022 and 2024. Their passion to win is stronger than their passion to be seen as reliable, trustworthy, and decent. This passion drove the Biden administration to delay Ukraine’s request for weapons when they could have done some good: before Russia invaded.
Finally, the incredible people of Ukraine have a passion for their homeland and for independence—a passion that warms and breaks the hearts of every human paying attention. This passion drives children and elderly men to snatch up Kalaschnikovs and ammo to take on the Russian Army in guerilla combat. Civilians have killed Russian paratroopers as they landed in fields in western Ukraine. Another group of civilians captured a Russian platoon that got lost and asked a Ukrainian for directions. And, of course, President Zelenskyy has set the finest example of courage and conviction by remaining in Kiev until victory or death.
In these real-life stories, we see the complexity of the interplay between passions and reason. All of our reasoning exists to justify our passions, and all of our passions create their own reasoning—logic that is usually internally consistent and unassailable when divorced from reality.
When you see the fierce patriotism and bravery of the Ukrainian people, you reason that the United States and European allies should provide them with weapons. You might get angry when people like me question the idea of arming Ukrainians now.
When our passions are inflamed, our minds create a logical story to explain our arousal, and we formulate a strategy to relieve any emotional pain we feel.
A Ukrainian Marine voluntarily gave his own life in order to demolish a bridge, cutting off a Russian tank brigade’s route to Kiev. The Marine placed the explosives, but the tanks were too close. He could not escape to a safe distance before the tanks crossed the bridge. So he detonated the device locally. And died. He knew he was going to die, but he did it anyway.
When you read that story, you want to do anything to help Ukraine defeat the Russians. You actually look for evidence that the Russians—at least, Putin—deserve all the hate you feel. The Marine’s heroism serves as proof that your instincts are right: we must arm Ukraine. You get angrier and demand more arms, more sanctions, maybe even US troops.
And, yet, there are many who feel nothing when they read such stories of heroism and tragedy. These people work in the US State Department, but they’re mostly political partisans. Their passion, which is not directly related to Ukraine, allows them to remain “above” the immediate emotionalism engendered by the horrors of war. Their passion is to win in November, and they’ve concocted a brilliant (so they think) logical path to doing just that.
Have you asked yourself why the United States failed to deliver $200 million in advanced weaponry to Ukraine? Congress authorized it last year, but the Biden administration, State Department, and US military never got around to delivering the goods. Even as Russia assembled a 190,000-man army over the course of months, the Pentagon and Department of State felt no urgency to deliver the weapons. Now, it’s too late.