This is a subscriber-exclusive edition of Unsettled Territory, a newsletter about culture, law, history, and finding meaning in the mundane.

I was growing agitated while watching the news. The hosts, pundits, and experts were telling me details regarding the invasion of Ukraine. Some offered sweeping statements, some minutiae, but they all lacked something essential (at least to me): context.

Of course, the televisual structure doesn’t lend itself to the kind of context I hungered for. I was not seeking immediate information, imagery, the “big picture,” or guidance from political leaders. And I certainly didn’t want to find myself sucked into the binaries of the Cold War. They were flat-footed even back then and certainly are now. Empire, colonialism, gender, race, economic ideologies, and national identity all had and have varying formations. There were and are no two—or three or even four—ways about it.

Binaries suffocate complexity and therefore understanding. Relations, ideologies, ethics, practices, and, most of all, the distributions of prosperity and suffering are much more useful ways of understanding how the world works and for arguing for how it ought to be. That’s my opinion, at any rate. I mention it because when it came to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the news hasn’t given me a sense of all of the factors at play, beyond the clear fact that the invasion is objectively a bad thing.

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