When evidence was revealed that the Russian government hacked the “Democratic” party in 2016, various pundits and politicians were in near-hysteria, calling it an “act of war.” These are hysterical times, so the declaration of an act of war is not as taken as seriously as, say, the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.
Still, such a declaration is an implied call to action, a plea for some kind of response. Since nuclear war is not an option, and conventional war would lead to nuclear war, a return to the metaphoric “Cold War” seems to be what the punditocracy has in mind. Many careers were made on the previous cold war, and vast profits were reaped. A new one would be good for the economy. What is good for Raytheon is good for the U.S.
We might want to look at the Russian hacking in a larger context. We should first ask why they are hacking our elections, and why they are presumably hacking other parts of our system. The first and most obvious answer is that they can hack us, and apparently have an easy time doing it. Hacking is the use of computer technology to enter computer systems, either to gather information, to interfere or damage their operation, or both.
A government runs several risks in hacking, so just being able to do it is not enough reason. In the case of Russia, it has been a U.S. adversary since the revolution of 1917. In the early 20th Century it was mainly an ideological rivalry, but after World War II it became more complicated, a dividing the world up between friend and foe for reasons beyond ideology, and more to do with world hegemony. And profits for the weapons industry. The Cold War became a catch-all excuse for a massive arms buildup, a broad expansion of the military, and invasions, wars, assassinations, overthrows, subversions, extortions and other whatnot that developed a life of its own. This included interference in foreign elections.
As the Cold War grew in size and investment of resources it became a drain on other priorities, such as repair of our physical infrastructure, social welfare and protection of the environment. The same drain of resources was going on in the Soviet Union, and on December 26, 1991 the supposedly “communist” system collapsed.
With the collapse the Cold War ended. A vacuum resulted. Our massive “Defense” industry no longer had a handy excuse for continuous growth. No diabolical opponent, no need for such a huge and growing military-industrial complex. We were instantly “the world’s only superpower.”
What does the world’s only superpower do when there is no major opponent? Change to a distributive, just, peaceful and environmentally benign presence on the planet? Hardly. The system must go on as it has. The weapons industry – and the rest of the economy – would collapse if it could not increase its profits. Find new threats. Create new threats. Be a threat. Wage new wars. Make them endless. And, revive Russia as our diabolical adversary. For good measure, infiltrate the country’s fledgling “democracy,” promoting candidates for office who would be acquiescent to American manipulation and control.
It was all working according to plan. After the collapse of the Soviet Union and its control over its Warsaw Pact neighbors, NATO seized the opportunity to expand its own sphere of influence all the way to the Russian border. It should have come as no surprise that Russia’s powerful leader Vladimir Putin would find ways of fighting back.
Find them he did. Putin, not hindered by constraints or scruples that might inhibit other world leaders, embarked on the dual undertaking of securing his domestic power while weakening the encroaching threat from NATO. Looking back on it, it was easy. Russia has no democratic history, no institutional infrastructure of democracy. It was ripe for the picking.
As for NATO, Russia’s neighbors could be easily threatened and co-opted. Then the NATO countries themselves could be weakened. How to do this? Easy. In the emergent world of cyber-existence, great vulnerability emerges along with it. Supposedly capitalist countries embraced the promise of computer technology as the savior of mankind, or at least of mass industrial mankind. The imperative of infinite growth could remain indefinitely (forever) with the presumed cornucopia of the digital universe.
It seems like genius, the ease with which Vladimir Putin has undermined our supposed democracy. We should have seen it coming, just like we should have seen the September 11, 2001 attacks coming. Massive strength has inherent vulnerabilities, and with massive strength the first vulnerability is hubris. Excessive pride. USA! USA!
So now we are stuck with criminal sociopath Donald Trump as President of the United States. It is a cosmic joke, but a joke that we deserve. As is plainly obvious to anyone looking at the U.S. from the outside, our political system is profoundly corrupt, controlled by corporations and wealthy individuals. Politicians, in order to remain in office, must pay obeisance to these moneyed interests. A phony system such as this, like that in Russia, is ripe for the picking. Vladimir Putin, the master of the harvest, picked the low-hanging fruit in both countries. He is very likely a criminal sociopath on a level that confounds comprehension, but he is a far smarter than the one we have. And, he controls him. Americans, plagued with avarice, stupidity, bigotry and celebrity obsession, are effectively bystanders in this dance of world hegemony.
There is actually cause for optimism. We have no choice as a species but to change this dynamic. Climate change alone dictates the inevitability of change. Vladimir Putin is not stronger than climate change. He’s just a guy. A dangerous guy, to be sure. Still, just a guy. He will be gone soon enough. Trump, a scam artist and cosmic fool, will be gone even sooner. The rest of us will no longer have the option of avarice, stupidity, bigotry and celebrity obsession. Or pro football. Escapist religion. Escapist entertainment. Escapist technology. We will either rise to a new level of existence or pass out of existence. We will have to make that choice soon.
Wherever a man goes, men will pursue him and paw him with their dirty institutions, and, if they can, constrain him to belong to their desperate oddfellow society – Thoreau, The Village