The Cold War Daily

Notes on the new great power struggle.

The hopelessness of today’s Russian propaganda

The Cold War was, at heart, a battle between competing visions of modernity; one capitalist and democratic, the other communist and utopian. Both systems had ideas of what the future could look like and angled for influence over the other in shaping the future.

That reality was reflected in the propaganda at the time. While the West emphasized progress, prosperity and freedom of conscience, the Soviets emphasized progress, the brotherhood of humanity and economic development.

spaceprop

‘Glory to the fatherland of heroes’: No longer reaching for the stars

But the past few decades have not been kind to the ex-Soviet Union, caught somewhere lower on the rungs of economies, hobbled by endemic corruption, Russia today faces the same productivity slump triggered by innovation stagnation as elsewhere. The corruption in Russia puts a damper on the potential of its best minds. Worse, Russia’s reliance on oil revenue muffles the incentive for greater change in the economy.

The sense of progress in the West is slowly flickering on and off, too. It’s still there at the margins, but nowhere near the scale it once was, when the US had a blazing hot economy and a generation lived to see substantial leaps in standards of living thanks to technology.

It’s worth noting that this underlying lack of vision for the future colors the kind of propaganda Russia pumps out onto the internet today.

As analyst Olga Irisova, writing for the Intersection Project, notes.

Despite the apparent similarity between Soviet and today’s Kremlin propaganda, there is a colossal difference between them which affects the end ‘consumer’ of the information. Propaganda in the days of the USSR had a ‘positive charge’ to it: a new bright future was ‘being built’, in accordance with the news reports of the time, five-year plans were ‘overfulfilled’ and, in general, ‘development’ went forth in leaps and bounds in contrast to ‘rotting’ capitalist countries. Western countries rather served as a backdrop for even further aggrandizement of artificially overstated successes of the Soviet Union.

Today’s approach differs in terms of mood as it bears a minus sign: we have not managed to build anything outstanding ourselves, and the West is to blame. And Russians are meant to praise the events which happened 70 years ago with patriotic pathos inflated around them, which eventually leads them to wrongly believe in the right of ‘the nation-the winner over fascism’ to decide the fate of neighboring countries. Setting to one side all the sonorous and secondary phraseologies, it turns out that Soviet propaganda imputed that people should live for the sake of ‘a bright future’ which was due to arrive at an undetermined future date whereas today’s propaganda espouses living in order to ‘wipe America’s eye’.

One has to realize that the negativistic rhetoric of the Kremlin’s mouthpieces accompanied by the orientation towards the past over the future does not pass by without having an effect on public mental ‘health’. Phobias (homophobia, liberalophobia and Americanophobia which tops the list) supported and stimulated by the media lead to a rise in intolerance and, subsequently, aggression in a society; a surge in which can be observed even now.

Imagine what effect that is having in the US. A world of negativity in a sort of attack-only environment, where all ideas, personalities and institutions are picked at, attacked, criticised. And there is no virtuous counter-narrative from either side to change the dialogue.

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Peter Thiel: Libertarianism’s rise is a sign of US governmental decline

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A Great Society program launch

Paypal-co-founder and Donald Trump backer Peter Thiel makes an interesting link between the rise of libertarianism and the increase in US government dysfunction.

I don’t agree with Thiel’s assessment that libertarianism emerged as the US government faltered. In fact, in my experience, he may have it backwards. Libertarianism didn’t necessarily grow because of US governmental decline, rather it got its start from business groups fearing too much government in the market during the Great Society, when such an expectation became normal.

I would argue libertarians, through their influence on the Republican Party in recent decades, have worsened government paralysis by creating a generation of essentially anti-state politicians spouting anti-state ideology. This makes it hard for productive politics to take place.

But it’s telling that Thiel sees this “deep link” connecting this changing view of the government’s role, power and reputation. Once upon a time, the US government was considered a Can Do organization. Moon shots, Manhattan projects, NORAD, vaccines. Not so much now, especially, for a generation raised on libertarian arguments.

Here is the key quote, he made at the end of his appearance at the National Press Club in October 2016:

There has been a decline. Libertarianism would not have sold as well in the 1940s or 50s or 60s in the US. It’s fringe today it was super fringe in the 50s or 60s because that was a society where the premise that the government couldn’t do anything didn’t make sense. The Libertarian Party got started in the 1970s in the US, that’s when it took off. And the 1970s is the decade where things really stopped working in this country, especially on the governmental side.

So I think there’s this deep link between libertarianism and the decline of our govermental institutions.

Full video here:

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