Filed under: brave new world, chronotopes, departure lounge | Tags: cold war, ideas, ideology, Zoe Williams
In the last cold war “there is only one idea”: deadlock, posturing, weaponizing of ideas, contrasting worldviews, territorial expansion, Brezhnev, Nixon. The threat of violence and extinction.
In the new cold war “all these people are as bad as each other”: rapacious, dishonest, opportunistic, narrowminded, vulgar, ungenerous, mercenary, ignorant, Putin, Obama. Is the threat of violence missing this time? Not for long.
If the last cold war was bad enough, for the deadlock, the posturing, the way ideas and discoveries were used as weapons, the very opposite of what human ingenuity is all about, it had something, at least, on the combatants of this round: they were arguing about different worldviews. Now, the fight is about who is the most rapacious, least honest, most opportunistic, least far-sighted, most vulgar, least generous, most mercenary, least cerebral proponent of one worldview. Depressingly, it looks as though both sides have a point. It is a very short journey from “there is only one idea” to “all these people are as bad as each other.” All the rhetorical flourish of international conflict is utterly recognisable: you can listen to Gorbachev’s intervention today, and hear his optimism of the late 80s, the way his “democratisation” seemed both sudden and inevitable, the way the “new political thinking” he embodied was understood at the time as the most graceful possible capitulation to western ways, but in fact was something different and more ambitious, overshadowed by all the walls coming down, and subverted in the end by the oligarch class. You can trace a straight line from 18 years of Brezhnev to 16 years of Putin, just as you can trace a line from Nixon to Obama.What I find impossible to imagine now, though, is the raw physical threat that lay underneath the last cold war: the Bay of Pigs stand-off, weapons placed strategically to wipe out citizens in their millions. There could have been no cold war without the underpinning of violence, not only in the service of territorial expansion, but the threat of a definitive clash to wipe out the world. Those were its foundations. As Johnson said in his 1964 campaign ad: “We must learn to love each other, or we must die.” Could we manage, in our new triangulated politics, a cold war without the threat of violence? This seems like a feeble and unlikely hope; the fact that it’s unimaginable only means it probably won’t happen tomorrow.
At least the last cold war was a clash of ideologies – now there are no big ideas by Zoe Williams, Guardian