Tuesday, March 15, 2022



Putin’s Ukraine War

Since the invasion of Ukraine by Russian terrorists on February 24, 2022 at the behest of Vladimir Putin, the world has watched with revulsion, horror, and disbelief at the wanton destruction of Ukraine’s cities and the outright  murder of civilians. Most people around the globe have three fundamental questions about Putin that continue to baffle:

  1.  Why is Putin doing this? If there’s anything he loathes more than the West, it’s the collapse of the Soviet Union, which in 2005 he called “a major geopolitical disaster of the century.” Ukraine and the Soviet Union have had a long and complex history, into which I won’t delve too deeply, but Putin is bitter and resentful over the loss of Ukraine and its clear leanings toward the West expressed in 1991. He gives off an aura of utter contempt of the Ukrainians as a people and a nation. 
  2. How can he ignore the excruciating suffering of the Ukrainian people, both refugees and those who, for one reason or another, have stayed behind in Ukraine? That is the question. Most cannot comprehend it. Even captured Russian soldiers, who are supposed to be killing machines, say they don’t understand the nature of their present mission.
  3. Is Putin crazy? We throw around that word “crazy” loosely and liberally to describe anyone from mothers-in-law to a full-blown schizophrenic wandering in the street. In the strict medical or psychiatric sense, Putin is almost certainly not crazy. However, he shows evidence of personality disorder, which is defined as, "long-standing patterns of thinking and acting that differ from what society considers usual or normal. This is why most of us fail to understand what Putin is doing. 


Putin is not alone in his extraordinary thirst for spilling blood. He’s in a club of murderous dictators past and present and all over the world, who gain satisfaction from often brutal annihilation of large populations, nationally or internationally. 

In a dictatorship, the government focuses its regime onto a single person or figure. There is no separation of powers, and all power lies in the hands of the dictator and a small, oily group--the oligarchs--who surround the dictator in an incestuous, codependent jacuzzi.

Traits of a dictator

Certain behaviors come up repeatedly in dictators:

  • Glib, charming, charismatic
  • Grandiose sense of self
  • Pathological lying
  • Lacking remorse or guilt
  • Lacking empathy
  • Deflection of blame
  • Emotional flatness or shallowness
Much worse than these characteristics, dictators are often abusive, sexually deviant, paranoid, sadisticantisocial, and narcissistic. In narcissism, the dictator assigns himself more importance than he deserves, has a deep need for attention and admiration, and has a marked lack of empathy, which is why people are worried about the specter of the previous president returning to power. He checks a lot of boxes.

Sadam Hussein had all four characteristics above, as did Adolf Hitler, but Sadam was more sadistic in the true sense than Hitler was. Which doesn’t change anything. Hitler, too, likely suffered from schizophrenia with delusions of grandeur. Benito Mussolini, Mao Zedong, Joseph Stalin, and Francois Duvalier all had some combination of delusion, egomania, and certainly narcissism. The features of dictators mirror quite exactly those of a psychopath.

1 Gourde 1984 Banknote from Haiti. President of Haiti during 1957-1971.

The brain of the dictator

Practically no studies have been done on dictators’ brains. However, because dictators have psychopathy, it can be instructive to look at psychopathic killers’ brains as models.  James Fallon puts forth a hypothesis in which psychopathy is a three-legged stool. One leg is genetic vulnerability, the second is functional brain loss, and the third is abuse. For instance, psychopaths with ethics and morality problems have poorly developed frontal lobes and amygdala--remember those?--and any number or combination of legs may coexist.

In psychopathic or dictator brains, neural correlates have been located in the brain and found to be abnormal compared to the populace at large; for example, the area of the brain for hate and sadism is different in psychopath/dictator brains from what is considered normal. On one side of the brain also is a location that determines your morality and your perception of the intentions of others. In dictators this area is turned on all the time it shouldn’t be, and this generates the feeling of paranoia.

There is a "warrior gene,” which if inherited, causes abnormalities in the areas of the brain responsible for tempering aggressive behavior. So here we have the interface of genes and brain development, and both of those hook into the hormonal system. The warrior gene is sex-linked, and is probably passed from mother to son, which is why most psychopaths and dictators are men.

Abuse and trauma can directly affect genetics to perpetuate the warrior gene, so in socioeconomically deprived and violent neighborhoods, the percentage of men with the warrior gene could theoretically rise and cause aggressive behavior for generations--not good news for the United States.

A word about Putin’s War

The fortitude of the Ukrainian people fighting against the much bigger, stronger bully brother, has been impressive, but the fury unleashed by Putin is something of a terrible, shameful crime against humanity. 
Volodymyr Zelenski is a heroic symbol of resoluteness, courage, and backbone, about whom only political wonks knew up to a month ago. A lot of politicians all over the world and right here at home need some lessons from Zelenski. 

However I feel something is wrong with the picture--or more than one thing. The concept of protecting NATO countries if the Russians step one inch into any of them, but not affording Ukraine the same protection is like the cops refusing to respond to your 9-1-1 call because you’re not part of the neighborhood watch. Only those guys get help. 

Something else is off. Why does it seem like Ukraine keep saying they don’t have enough equipment, but the White House insists there’s plenty and more coming? Zelenski also says he needs planes, but the White House and Pentagon says most of the problem comes from ground artillery, not from the air. Is one not giving the other credit, or is one inaccurately assessing the situation? 

Finally, the most fundamental and essential question and the one most difficult to answer: How does one man get to wreak world havoc while we stand by? Again. IMHO, this is actually a slow-burning WW III, it’s just not the old type, the archetypal WW II. Nowadays, there are other components--cybercrime, information warfare, disinformation campaigns, tightly interconnected global trade, and so on. In other words, if you take war as a college campus, there are a whole lot more departments than there used to be.



  1. Deep questions, Kwei, and thanks for the medical take. It seems to me you make a good argument that they are, indeed, crazy...

  2. Kwei, it seems there no escaping the perpetual presence of dictators challenging the world order for personal power. The character traits that drive them for power have them stopping at nothing, whereas those with more "normal" genetic makeups will find other careers to pursue. Just look at the US political scene.