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In my previous blog entry, I wrote about the possibility of the current cold war between China and the US heating up and how it could bring biological warfare to a new, devastating level.
In light of the deep ideological differences between the two superpowers coupled with the almost daily jibes being exchanged, it’s not that difficult to imagine a casus belli. A more optimistic take is that, as was the case for Cold War l, while they might reach the precipice, neither side will take the plunge to destruction. Not directly anyway.
The USSR-US stand-off was characterised by many proxy wars — Latin America saw its fair share of bloodshed in this regard — so at the very least we can expect something similar in Cold War II. Again, though, the shape of them will most likely be quite different from the battles fought in the 20th century.
In fact, electoral interference by Russian actors, state-sponsored as it is seen to be, gives us an idea of the clandestine proxy conflicts to come. Rather than directly or indirectly fight each other, the belligerents will attempt to deepen divides in enemy territory to fuel ongoing internal strife and instability. War on the cheap for the instigator. It’s also relatively low-risk with potentially high rewards.
In the US particularly, from the outside looking in, it appears not merely a case of the seeds for division having been planted, they’ve sprouted and are already in bloom in many respects, thanks in no small part to the media. For pretty much every issue, consensus is out, contestation is in. An insignificant spark is all that’s needed to set off the warring factions.
The media, both traditional and new-age, amplify any divisions by a considerable amount, while in some instances they create them where none really exist. On the ground, the differences are often much less pronounced than they are made out to be. This gives some cause for hope. (Take a week’s break from Facebook, Twitter and the media in general and there’s a big chance you’ll become more relaxed.)
Be that as it may, two-form media manipulation is as strong as it’s ever been. There’s manipulation of the media itself by outside forces as well as the media’s own malignant influence on the people it speaks to.
On the first of those, in terms of superpower conflict, we’re already in a hot war and have been for some time. From a Western perspective, this is relayed to us, as mentioned above, in terms of Russian interference. No doubt it’s a two-way street, perhaps done more overtly than covertly by the West, as in public denunciations of the dirty tactics from conniving Eastern powers, while at the same time, we must assume, playing them at their own game.
‘At this remove, the thinking must be that the West can be crushed by the very things it holds dear — its open society and liberalism.’
However, considering the more muzzled media in the likes of China and Russia compared to the West, interference by the latter on the former in this sphere is unlikely to be too effective.
Now the fact that we hear dissenting voices and have verbal battles over the best course of action for a given situation is in itself not a bad thing. It’s what liberal democracies with a free (in name anyway) press are all about. In “normal” times, this works fairly well.
Problems arise when our leaders look to unite the citizens behind a cause, especially an emotive one that is, literally, a question of life or death. This is what we’re seeing right now with coronavirus. The divide it has created brings to mind the old aphorism, ‘One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.’
Comedown from a liberal high
In one sense, it’s an inevitable product of an open, literate society replete with multiple sources of information available to the masses. If we lived under an authoritarian regime there would really only be one narrative. Thankfully, we’re not subject to that — yet.
Moreover, deciphering what is #FakeNews from genuine information isn’t easy in this particular conflict. There isn’t even agreement amongst those best qualified to speak on the matter, so little wonder many lay folk, Google at hand, have serious doubts about debatable decisions being taken for ‘our own health and well-being’.
As I wrote about previously, the approach to dealing with coronavirus isn’t a simple black-and-white issue. It’s not, as some like to make it out to be, a dollars-versus-lives decision. It’s fair to say most agree that measures taken to stop coronavirus at all costs, to prevent premature deaths due to the virus in the here and now will have knock-on, adverse effects for some time to come.
Thus, while we can unite behind this common microscopic enemy to the extent that pretty much everybody wants it to go away — or, in the likelihood that it doesn’t disappear any time soon, that it becomes less a burden on us than it currently is — we’re far from united on how best to achieve this. (With such differences of opinion it’s easy to understand why controlling the flow of information becomes such an attractive option for those in power.)
We can only assume that this makes for pleasant viewing for the monolithic systems in Beijing and, to a lesser extent, Moscow. At this remove, the thinking must be that the West can be crushed by the very things it holds dear — its open society and liberalism.
So have we given our worker ants access to too much information to the point that they’re now harming the system itself? Answering in the affirmative, it can be said we’ve already reached peak liberalism and operating at such heights has made us lightheaded. It’s far from clear as to the best route down to a safer level, if one exists that is.
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