Zelensky's New Clothes
Normal rules don't apply this year
Many supporters of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky secretly believe that he is not even remotely qualified for the presidency, but they continue to entertain this possibility because their fellow citizens and the media and politicians seem to be doing so.
In logic, there is a subtle but important distinction between the concept of shared or mutual knowledge — information that everyone (or almost everyone) knows — and common knowledge, which is not only knowledge that (almost) everyone knows, but something that (almost) everyone knows that everyone else knows (and that everyone knows that everyone else knows that everyone else knows, and so forth).
A classic example arises from the president’s five and a half hour press conference: the fact that Ukraine’s supreme commander-in-chief is a pathological liar and engages in and authorizes demagoguery had been mutual knowledge in Ukraine, but not common knowledge, because lots of people (save, eventually, for a small child) have refused to acknowledge Zelensky’s culpability for anything, thus perpetuating the charade that he is defending the country against Russia’s saboteurs and oligarchs in the interests of benefiting the country during a time of war.
The marathon press conference on November 26 in Kyiv changed all that.
Proposition. Zelensky, along with many of his top advisors, are at best incompetent and, at worst, unwitting accomplices of a Kremlin plot against Ukraine.
This proposition is a statement which I think is in the process of becoming common knowledge in Ukraine and approaching the level of mutual or shared knowledge among policy makers in the United States and Europe. Many of Zelensky’s nominal supporters say this proposition appears to be true, even if they are hesitant to say it out loud.
However, even if the proposition is approaching the status of mutual knowledge, it was not close to the status of common knowledge, that is, until Zelensky began referring to himself in the third person repeatedly during the press conference and declared dozens of times that he is Ukraine’s president.
One may secretly believe that the president and his friends are defending national interests, but must continue to entertain the possibility that they aren’t, because a growing number people around them, including politicians and journalists, no longer share this view.
Reconciling these opinions can require taking on some implausible hypotheses that are not otherwise supported by any evidence, such as the conjecture that Zelensky’s patriotic speeches and gruelling schedule are merely “for show,” and that behind this facade there is actually a competent and qualified national leader.
Much like the emperor’s new clothes, Zelensky’s alleged competence is supposedly only visible to a select few, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
After observing everybody else’s reaction to the president’s marathon press conference, many subjects have updated their own initial belief and deduced that they were probably wrong. But these people don’t think Zelensky is naked: rather, they believe their own eyes and ears deceived them.
And so the charade continues…