March 9, 2016
Ever since man invented the means for organized war the power aligned with those with the most advanced technology with which to pursue it. One can look back on the Roman Empire who invented roads, the chariot and superior organization, the British Empire which was built on the back of a superior Naval Fleet and latterly the American domination built on superior advanced weapons which of course included the Nuclear Bomb.
The Nuclear Bomb threat was however negated by the Soviet Union so, as Neil Postman says in his essay ‘The Conservative Outlook’ from 1987, America changed tack and rather than physically invading and taking over foreign lands they used television shows (I would also add movies to this) which, as he so accurately pointed out, left the Russians never figuring out what was happening. They were still thinking in what he terms ‘Realpolotik’ not understanding that electromagnetic waves penetrate more deeply than armies. He concludes that ‘if the Russians keep relying on nineteenth-century forms of imperialism while continuing to make terrible television shows, they may find themselves turning into a Third World country’.
We now find ourselves twenty-five years further on than when Postman wrote his essay and there are signs that Putin, as Russia’s all-powerful controller, has caught up somewhat. That is not to say that he is insisting on Russian TV Producers making their own version of Dynasty or Friends but I think he has realized that invading armies are probably not the way to go (the recent annexing of part of the Ukraine notwithstanding) and that whilst awful American TV shows can still capture a foreign Nation’s psyche it is the Internet which now holds the sway of influence. Certainly the Chinese seemed to learn these lessons very quickly as shown by their largely successful efforts to control it within their boundaries while sneaking a look at political and industrial threats abroad.
That is not to say that the power of TV to influence opinion has been completely degraded just that more people are using the Internet to not only view images of Fighter Jets destroying targets but express opinions about it, instantly. The Third World War, which in my opinion has already started even though not declared in the traditional manner, is being fought in a completely new way with Western countries reluctant to put boots on the ground as people have grown weary of hearing about body bags and returning, disabled veterans. That’s why we use unmanned Drones whenever possible.
If the Internet is the new medium of war then the problem is that no one country actually controls it. They are all trying, hence the furor concerning the NSA and Edward Snowden for example, but in reality, it remains by its very nature elusive. This means that the so called ‘Super Powers’ have been drawn into the primordial soup along with everybody else who wants their views to be paramount. The playing field has been leveled. That, very simply, is the reason ISIL, ISIS or Daesh (whatever label you wish to choose) has been able to grow to be the ‘threat’ it is perceived to be so rapidly. The guns, armored vehicles and
bombing attacks are incidental to atrocities such as beheadings which can be displayed to billions of people through You Tube. This is because people, particularly young people who have never known a world without the Internet, won’t even waste their time watching shows like Dynasty or Happy Days when they can play war games on their electronic devices anytime, anywhere and then tune in for the real thing which looks just the same to them. The lines have been blurred between make believe and what’s real.
You only have to look at what purports to be the Presidential race to the White house in America. Trump has turned off the politics of issues and long term objectives to the grimace inducing pantomime of exposure at all costs. Whatever it takes to get his face on the Internet and TV is his one and only tactic. If we only had radio and newspapers he wouldn’t have lasted five minutes because he has nothing to offer, yet he is leading the Republican polls. Can you really imagine him having to have a dialogue about crucial international tensions with Putin?
So, where does this leave us? In a mess I’m afraid. When we turned millenniums I had hopes that we had left a warring century behind, it lasted nine months and has got worse ever since. America, not understanding what the new age of the Internet meant, invaded Iraq (for no reason I can understand) with planes, tanks, guns and bullets with the consequences that are escalating and playing out now. You can’t, as Trump with all the insight of seven year old child suggested, get Bill Gates to turn the Internet off. Let’s suppose he could, the technology is so far ahead of this thinking that within the day it would have recreated itself in another form. The only answer lies with humanity being able to conclude that we will never all agree on everything whether that be religion or who controls the oil (a threat to the planet in any case), which seem to be the overarching issues, so the only way is for everybody to agree to disagree and respect the views and beliefs of those they don’t and will never understand. In other words understand that Imperialism is dead. It had a good run for its money, but its over.
Not very likely is it? Oh well we can always imagine.