The never-ending Cold War

In Orwell’s 1984 Oceania is in a permanent state of war, either with Eurasia or Eastasia. The advantages of permanent war are obvious – it distracts people from the realities of economic stagnation and it’s a perfect justification for more and more political repression. In actual fact the endless wars are largely illusory. People see newsreels of epic battles but in reality these wars are mostly small-scale border skirmishes.

In other words it’s much like the Cold War – lots of fear-mongering but mostly fairly small-scale proxy wars.

In fact it’s pretty much like the world today. It seems like we can look forward to never-ending Cold Wars. It certainly seems that those who shape U.S. foreign policy are determined that there must always be a Cold War. It’s not just for the reasons outlined above. There are other even more compelling reasons to maintain a permanent state of Cold War. War is very profitable. It’s not profitable for everybody of course, but it’s profitable for the people who count. As far as those people are concerned the business of America is war.

The difficulty lies in justifying vast and completely unnecessary military expenditures for a country that has no actual viable enemies and doesn’t actually need to spend more than a token amount on defence. The solution is simple. If the U.S. doesn’t have enemies, make up some pretend enemies. In order to justify the massive spending they have to appear to be at least vaguely credible enemies. There are only two possible candidates, Russia and China. Therefore Oceania (the U.S. and its satellites) must be constantly at war with either Eurasia (Russia) or Eastasia (China).

But wars are messy things and don’t always turn out the way you’d hoped. Sometimes you even lose, as happened to the U.S. in Vietnam. So the best solution is permanent Cold War. It’s just as profitable but a lot safer.

There’s an even worse downside to fighting an actual war. What if you win and there’s no enemy left to fight? How do you continue to keep the money flowing to the military-industrial complex? That was the nightmare scenario facing the American defence establishment in 1945. With Germany and Japan totally defeated the U.S. no longer needed an enormous military. Fortunately an answer was found. The Cold War was like an answered prayer. Pretty soon the money was flowing again in a very satisfactory manner. The military-industrial complex has no intention of facing such a nightmare again so the new Cold War must never end.

It’s important to understand that it makes no difference who happens to be in government in Russia and China or what policies those nations pursue. The U.S. must have enemies, so therefore Russia and China must be those enemies.

It seems highly probable that the Russians are well aware of all this, and have come to the conclusion that there is absolutely no point in trying to negotiate with the Americans. The Americans will never negotiate in good faith. Therefore the permanent Cold War just has to be accepted.

There are certain advantages to this situation for both Russia and China. The biggest threats they face are the economic and cultural menace from the West, especially the cultural menace. If a Cold War encourages anti-American feeling it might provide some protection from the tidal wave of western degeneracy that threatens to engulf the entire planet. Cultural isolationism may well be the only hope for survival for both Russia and China.

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stability or progress

I’ve just been reading one of Robert Van Gulik’s Judge Dee mysteries. Why is this relevant? I’ll explain in a moment. Van Gulik was a Dutch diplomat who wrote a series of detective novels describing the cases confronting a magistrate in China during the Tang Dynasty (7th century AD).
What’s interesting is that Van Gulik’s knowledge of Chinese history, culture and jurisprudence was profound. And in his stories there is not the faintest hint of the cult of progress. He describes a society that valued stability and order to an extreme degree. This reflects the view that historians have always taken about Imperial China, although western historians have mostly seen this as a weakness. The Chinese developed a very advanced civilisation and then stopped. No further progress was considered to be necessary and in fact further progress would lead to instability and was therefore a bad thing.
While it might be an over-simplistic view of Chinese civilisation there’s undoubtedly a lot of truth in this view of a society committed to preserving what it already had rather than pursuing the phantom of progress. 
Looking at the world today it’s easy to believe that the Chinese had the right idea. This is especially so when you consider the misery and chaos that followed the overthrow of the last Imperial government in the early part of the 20th century.
The cult of progress is always tied up with utopianism. If we just keep progressing then sooner or later we’ll have a perfect society composed of perfect people leading amazingly happy and fulfilling lives. This is the philosophical view that started to emerge in Europe in the 16th century and it has taken a firmer and firmer hold with every year that has passed since then. By the beginning of the 20th century it was the one unchallenged dogma of our civilisation. Imperial China was dominated by Confucian thought and Confucian thought most certainly did not see things in this light. Medieval Europe was dominated by Christianity and medieval Christianity did not see things that way either. 
The point is that it is possible to have a fully functional and quite advanced civilisation based on the cult of stability rather than the cult of progress. 
The cult of progress is, by it very nature, destructive. To build a new society we must first destroy the old one. Everything that has happened has been an inevitable consequence of this. Whenever utopia fails to materialise it just means that more destruction is needed.
Should we abandon the idea of progress altogether? Surely the cult of progress has brought us many benefits? There is a genuine dilemma here. The answer is perhaps that the cult of progress needs to be balanced by an equally strong force advocating stability and order. Perhaps if progress could be slowed and controlled it might not be so socially destructive? It’s possible, but progress has a way of continually getting out of control.
Perhaps we need to ask ourselves exactly what kind of progress is actually useful? Technological progress has on the whole been pretty useful. Social progress on the other hand has brought us to the brink of ruin. We might need to accept the harsh reality that there is no such thing as social progress. We probably should ask ourselves also exactly what kind of scientific and technological progress we need. Do we need ever more advanced weaponry? Do we need faster and faster personal computers? Do we need smarter and smarter smartphones?
One conclusion that logically follows from this is likely to be unpalatable to many people who consider themselves to be right-wing. Taking control of progress would require a very strong government. Almost certainly not a democratic one. Imperial China survived for millennia because mostly it had a strong government. It also survived because those who ran the government, the countless bureaucrats that characterised Chinese government, were educated to believe in stability and order and the tenets of Confucianism. It seems to follow inexorably from this that rigid control of education is necessary for the preservation of civilisation and that dangerous and destructive ideas need to be suppressed. Perhaps that is the price that has to be paid if you want a successful stable culture.