As the world’s top diplomats, military strategists, and political leaders continue to construct a punitive global response to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, the internet is offering another diplomatic possibility: charm Putin and just ask him to stop. The past week has sparked an online trend of young social media users posting on Russian profiles simply asking Putin to call off the war.
The trend has been reported by outlets from Reuters to Task & Purpose. The posts are a strange mix of flattery, flirtation, and sarcastic jest, referring to Putin as “Vladdy Daddy.” Comments include: “Vladdy Daddy please no war…” “Vladdy Daddy, you don’t have to do this.” “Vladdydaddy look at me this isnt you.”
For some, it is mostly a joke, but there seem to be more series in their petitions. For example, one online activist posted a 3-minute spoken-word poem explaining to Putin that he would have felt true love and not felt the need to lead such a war if she had been his mother. She writes,
“Dear President Vladimir Putin. I’m so sorry I was not your mother… If I was your mother… This night, instead of Mother Russia you would call me and I would set your mind quite free… Whatever your story Mr. President Putin… I would have loved you so.”
Of course, these appeals missed the widely repeated fact that Putin does not use social media or have a cell phone. Perhaps youth have long trivialized the significance of world events (though many Ukrainian teenage boys are now taking up arms in the midst of it). Still, I think this trend reveals a hole in our culture’s narratives, and so by it, our preparing them for a broken and dangerous world. We don’t recognize sin; how can we recognize evil?
Lewis once wrote, “For every one pupil who needs to be guarded against a weak excess of sensibility there are three who need to be awakened from the slumber of cold vulgarity.”
Writing in The Abolition of Man, Lewis warned that youth were no longer being educated in moral truth but instead a kind of relativism that wakened their ability to engage the moral questions of the day. When we teach kids there is no natural law of morality or that all truth—right and wrong—is individually determined, we rob them of the knowledge needed to recognize evil. We weaken their resolve to stand up against it.
Most kids have not been taught that evil exists. A recent American study found that 1 in 10 members of Generation Z had never heard the word “holocaust.” Sixty-three percent had no clue how many Jews had died. Instead, we have spent our educational time and energy on self-expression, self-esteem, the courage to articulate your truth.
A few years ago, I wrote an article about the lack of real villains in many of the stories being produced for our kids. I used the example of Moana, but you can observe the same trend in movies like Frozen and Encanto.
Moana’s task was to return the stolen heart of Te Fiti, the goddess of creation. She faced many obstacles but the greatest was Ta Ka, the fire-hurling monster which guarded the island. But Moana realized what everyone else had failed to recognize. The fire-spewing Ta Ka was Te Fiti. Ta Ka was not evil; with her heart stolen, she was misunderstood and afraid. Without a sense of who she really was, she had transformed from a nurturer to a destroyer. From a god to a monster.
What Moana recognized was that the villain was no villain at all, just misunderstood like Moana herself. There are no villains, only individuals who have lost their way. This is increasingly one of Disney’s favorite themes. There are no “bad guys,” only individuals who have been robbed of their identity and misunderstood by the world that has wounded them.
In one of the film’s most moving moments, Moana sings a song fittingly titled, “Know Who You Are.”
I have crossed the horizon to find you
I know your name
They have stolen the heart from inside you
But this does not define you
This is not who you are
You know who you are
That sounds a whole lot like the viral trend, “Vladdy Daddy, look at me, this isn’t you.”
The Myth of Human Progress
Facing the most significant military conflicts since WWII and facing the growing reports of catastrophic civilian casualties, the only framework our youth have for understanding this madness are the stories we’ve previously given them. The stories we tell frame the way they see the world. And so, many in the West are finding it hard to understand Putin’s motives.
The kids appeal to how Putin must have been misunderstood and mistreated, but it’s not just the kids struggling for an explanation. Leaders throughout the West have repeated the idea that Putin’s actions are from the past. This wasn’t supposed to be possible. Not any more. Many assumed we had grown beyond such barbaric actions, particularly at this scale. The West has long trusted the logic of mutual destruction and believed that society had progressed beyond such displays of naked aggression. Perhaps it’s why the full scale of Putin’s actions came as a shock to so many or why some find insanity to be the only rational explanation. As the Secretary General of NATO explained, “Peace in our continent has been shattered. We now have war in Europe, on a scale and of a type we thought belong to history.”
If our youth struggle to understand the possibility of evil, our politicians too often assume we’ve progressed past it.
Philosopher John Gray put it this way, “If there is anything unique about the human animal it is that it has the ability to grow knowledge at an accelerating rate while being chronically incapable of learning from experience.” Our accumulation of information has not changed the human condition. We can colonize mars, learn to customize the human genome, innovate new clean technologies, and carry a universe of information in our pockets, but there is no human progress that cures a man’s heart.
Gray ultimately concluded, “in the most vital areas of human life, there can be no progress, only an unending struggle with our own nature.”
Jesus long ago reminded us that there would be wars, that nation would rise against nation. That the rulers of this world would flaunt their power and rage in madness, so, let us not be overcome with fear or confusion. This world is broken. Let us pray for His kingdom to come. Let us stand for what is right. Let us sacrifice for those who are in need. And let us remind our kids and ourselves that there is no real progress. Our hearts are sinful. This age is evil. Now is a moment for Christian sobriety. This is a world of sin, of depravity, a world deeply in need of salvation, salvation we can not construct for ourselves.
“The depravity of man is at once the most empirically verifiable reality but at the same time the most intellectually resisted fact.” ― Malcolm Muggeridge