With Putins war in the Ukraine, it is vital to defend ourselves.
My heart is with the victims every day. I sit firmly on the side of the invaded people in Ukraine. The images in my mind are children in shelled buildings and of of charred bodies of 18 year old conscripts in Russian tanks. Both are not shown.
But let us not forget that this is an information war as much as a real one. Putin is using psychological operations, PSYOPS. And the target of these psychological operations are not just the Ukrainians, but the entire Western world.
If you’re reading this, you are probably part of the information elite: We know how to mine twitter for sources. We have learned to digest research papers. Now we are rapidly becoming experts in Russian military technology and psyops. We are adaptable. Many of us work in the IT sector and rapidly changing environments. Most of us know what an exponential function looks like, because we have experienced them.
I consider myself as a part of this elite. I have run content for the largest media website in Germany. As an engineer I know how to dive deep into technical details. Like many of my peers in startups and in venture capital, I have been trained for more than 25 years to digest information and take quick decisions under uncertainty. For more than a decade I have been mentoring founders and CEOs and know that we often feel alike. Because we are as a group so good and quick at digesting information, we now face new challenges for our mental health. We are definitely the first generation of humans to be hit with so much new information in real time. And we still have the same emotional setup as all other mammals, with our stress hormones flooding our bodies.
Let’s start this piece on Putin’s war with our emotions during COVID, because you will recognize most of them.
- Feeling powerless or having lack of agency.
- Being too fast. Waiting for the general public to catch up.
- Dealing with uncertainty.
COVID lost its sting a couple of months ago with the less lethal Omicron variant, vaccines in the west, cumulative immunity in less fortunate countries. On February 24, 2022, Vladimir Putin ended the COVID pandemic. At least with respect to our attention.
Now let’s look at Putin’s War
So how do we do our emotions that I describe above stack up now?
- Feeling powerless or lack or agency.
- Being too fast.
- Dealing with uncertainty.
1. Feeling powerless or having lack fo agency. During the first days of Putins invasion, it was hard living in Germany where the government only had promised helmets. Predictably, I ranted on twitter, shared the latest news and analysis. My attitude changed dramatically , when Olaf Scholz and the other members of government gave their speech on February 28 which turned the entire policy in Germany by 180 degrees.
I believe this feeling of lack of agency is currently subdued, as many of our wildest dreams about what we would like to do, like exclude them from SWIFT, take Oligarch’s yachts, are coming true.
But as this is pyschological warfare, Putin knows exactly how to make us feel powerless. He wants us to feel paralaysed. So he will produce precicely the images that he needs to produce. Shelled buildings, dead children. If you know that you are the target and you know that the desired emotion is feeling powerless, then you are less vulnerably to that. At least that works for me.
2. Fear. Putin has played the nuclear card forever. There is plenty of good analysis: Take it seriously, but remember it is much more valuable as a threat. In the same way, Putin knows of the Western fear of nuclear fallout. This is why he is attacking nuclear power plants. Most of our fear here is irrational. The effects of Chernobyl were much less than our collective fear. Putin knows exactly where he wants you to be emotionally. Fear not. Because he wants you to fear.
3. Being too fast. The information elite is not suffering from too much information. We are digging in. Last month we digested COVID research papers, now we have immersed ourselves in the delicacies of Russian warfare. We have ingested why the tires in the Russian tanks don’t work, including which brand of tires was purchased from China.
Contrary to COVID, the gap in time between the elite and the governments has vanished. It may have reversed. The US government in particular seems to have been very accurate in their warnings about the next steps in Russia. Germany surprised us positively, as did Turkey with their blocking of the Bosporus. Maybe things have reversed here in comparison. Governments seem to be doing ok.
But prepare for this war to go on for a long time. You may want to tune out of the details at some point to prevent yourself going mad with too much information. As this information is carefully curated by both sides, be aware that you need to protect yourself. You are a target in an information war.
4. Dealing with Uncertainty. When friends ask me how this will play out, I am reasonably comfortable in telling them: Here are likely scenarios, but I don’t know. None of the experts could predict that the invasion would go so slowly. I am comfortable with the fact that I don’t know. People in tech bubble can work with uncertainty, sometimes it helps giving time and attention to others who can’t.
5. Apathy. This will certainly come. If the war rages on for a long time as many people fear, then we will become accustomed to ever more graphic details of atrocities. We will again feel this will go on forever. Like COVID. But it won’t.
6. Acceptance. The cold war was a normality. While this war is much worse and we have an obligation to do what we can to end it. We must live with a threats and carry on with our lives. As much I will engage in helping individuals from Ukraine and from Russia, I will also get on with my life. I refuse to be held hostage emotionally by the dictator.