Correct me if I’m wrong here:
1) In Russia, there is a law against so-called “gay propaganda”. Reasonable people (including me) consider this a regrettable curtailment of liberty. Some of those reasonable people also believe that it contributes to a culture in which violent acts against gay people are condoned or encouraged. This, if true, is sickening.
2) In Russia, there is also a law requiring most male citizens to serve at least a year in the military. Reasonable people (including me) consider this a regrettable curtailment of liberty. It is widely reported that conscripts are routinely subject to violent hazing that has been characterized as rising to the level of torture. News reports suggest that hundreds of conscripts die every year as a result of this hazing. This, if true, is sickening.
3) Conscription affects far more people than the anti-propaganda laws. In most cases, it also affects them far more severely. (If you doubt this, try asking your friends which they’d prefer: avoiding public discussions of homosexuality or serving a year in the Russian military.) Conscription is therefore, on both counts, the (far) greater outrage.
4) The presence of the Winter Olympics in Russia has created an opportunity for people all over the world to shine a light on the Russian government’s oppression of its people.
5) Yet, in what appears to me to be a stunning failure of perspective, those people all over the world (or at least the noisiest of them) have focused the bulk of their opprobrium on the (far) lesser of these two evils while failing even to take notice of the greater.
6) I suspect (though I certainly do not know this) that part of the reason is that many of the protesters see Russian gay rights activists as “people like me”, but see the sort of Russians who actually get conscripted (i.e. those who don’t qualify for student deferments) as “people unlike me” — and those protesters have succumbed to the extremely regrettable human tendency to believe that “people unlike me” aren’t really all that important.
7) In that sense (and if I am right about this), the protestors occupy the low ground, where one risks being distracted by irrelevant details. A view from “on high” would treat all people as equally worthy of freedom and respect.
8) To say this again: The anti-propaganda laws restrict a small fraction of the freedom of a small fraction of the Russian population. The conscription laws restrict a huge fraction of the freedom of a huge fraction of the Russian population. Protestors could have focused on either. They focused on the first.
9) To make this even more baffling, it’s not like the anti-propaganda laws are even the second (or third or fourth) most egregious laws in that oppressive country. There’s also a law forbidding employment at less than a government-mandated minimum wage. How did the protesters manage to ignore that one?