National distancing

While, judging from the configuration of his tables and chairs, Vladimir Putin is an adept practitioner of “social distancing,” he seems unable to extend the practice to politics and diplomacy. The catastrophe in Ukraine would, for instance, never have occurred had he ordered his military to keep at least six feet (two metres) away from the Ukrainian border; and also not to project shells and missiles over it.

This last is an important detail. I myself like to keep some social distance from my neighbours — here in Parkdale — but have made it my strict policy never to hurl rocks or other trajectiles at them, or at their pets; even when they tempt me.

National distancing is a concept perhaps as venerable as social distancing, and as useful to public health and longevity. Its modern rules, norms, and standards were established in the two treaties of Westphalia, that concluded the Thirty Years’ War; but instinctively the more civilized peoples understood the principle beforehand.

Where a comprehensible sovereignty exists, it is not for the powers within one nation to interfere with those in another. Instead, they must content themselves with squawking, and expressions of disgust. For, “mind your own business” is a workable rule of thumb for individuals and nations alike.

It is a problem when nations grow large and aggressive: usually by failing to observe the proprieties of national distancing over time. Russia, the successor regime to the Soviet Union, which succeeded the Tsars, and so forth to the Mongols, has been one of the most disagreeable transgressors over the last millennia or more, and little countries have had need to form alliances against it.

My own subscription to the division of that incomparably bloated state into eighty-five constituent ethnic pieces, plus a dozen or so nominally Russian-speaking ones, plus whatever can be melted out of Siberia, I have placed on the record. It strikes me that the former Jewish Autonomous Oblast, somewhere near the Amur River in the wilderness beyond the Chinese province of Heilungkiang, would make an appropriate successor state to the “Rossiyan” federation. Stalin’s administrative creation was a wasteland and Gulag for imprisoning Jews, but he never sent that many, and surely they have all got away by now, leaving space to put Stalinists.

The same principle might work in the United States, which even when it had a Civil War, conducted it on too large a scale. The controversy about the country’s abortion laws could surely benefit from distancing, and if the country were divided into at least fifty fully sovereign states, I daresay the violent rages would smooth over. Let New York continue to be ruled by savages, and California by worse; but let South Dakota promise not to invade them. Let Florida be freed of Disneyland.

Indeed, that was the original scheme of the American Constitution: a (growing) number of quite independent states, gathered in one practical alliance against the meddlesome nations of Europe. Each could have its own laws on, say, abortion.