The new cold war
Friday the 8th of August 2016, never before has the gulf in human capability being so starkly contrasted. The fireworks arched across the Rio sky expressing the optimism, co-operation and friendship of hundreds of nations coming together as a planet to contend in the pinnacle of human altruism – The Olympic Games. On the same day Russian rockets, shells and bullets were propelled into the bodies of South Ossetians and Georgians as Russia annexed the disputed territory. Amongst the towns that were shelled was the town of Gori-birthplace of Joseph Stalin. On this day his infamous maxim ‘One death is a tragedy, a million is a statistic’ echoed across his homeland as both Russian and Georgian bodies lined the streets. It would be hard to find to such an extreme example of the destructive and peaceful capabilities of human kind.
The late Jacob Bronowski in his peerless documentary of the evolution of humankind ‘The Ascent of Man’ argued that the athlete was perhaps the pinnacle of human social, cultural and biological evolution. Bronowski posed the question ‘Why does an athlete run? Why does he/she push herself to the limits of their physicality for no apparent reason? It serves no apparent interest. Bronowski went on to conclude that an athlete runs simply because he/she can. It is this simply an exploration of one’s own strength. The creation of sport as a means of recreation occurred after mankind began to consume meat- upping the energy and nutrition intake of the species.
Evolution of man
As a result, the human being, already a social animal began to have time to pursue other interests. Mankind developed sport as a leisurely pursuit, as human kind was no longer slave to its immediate needs food, water, heat etc. Sport therefore, was a pursuit conducted simply to enhance ones enjoyment of life. The Olympics therefore symbolizes the continuation of Bronowski’s logic to the nth degree.
Peoples’ of hundreds of different nations coming together in competition is the beautiful evidence of the maturity of social and cultural internationalism that has been reached. The wars of previous centuries between vast swathes of these countries forgotten, the hatchet buried instead the battles occur on in the vast stadia and beyond, with the utmost respect paid to the rules and opponents regardless of ethnicity, religion or skin colour.
However it is clear we do not live in a utopia. The world we live is a spectrum of gray, these are uncertain times. A great Russian bear is stirring, dazed from Perestroika and other social and political fracturing.
What to do about Russia
The bear however seems to be gathering strength and confidence. Russia’s vast wealth of natural resources, huge population, immense geography and tendencies towards autocracy mean it is a volatile heavyweight upon the international scene. Western reliance on Russia for natural resources as well as Russia’s vital role in easing the Middle East particularly Iran mean that despite the invasion of South Ossetia the West need to deal with the Russians very delicately. Russia fears encirclement by an ever expanding NATO. Nearly all of the former Eastern Bloc countries have joined the organization with Georgia being next in line. This mindset of fear that seemingly besets the Russians is not in line with the rationality of International Democratic Theory. After the fall of the Soviet Union we were all meant to get on, Francis Fukiyama’s dream of ‘The End of History’ was supposed to become a reality. We must truly ask ourselves where do we go as from here? Most importantly where does Russia go from here? Does it want to become prosperous and peace-loving like its European neighbours, helping its long suffering citizens. Or will the paranoid elite lead Russia down a different path, a path full of stand offs, escalations and flashpoints over issues such as South Ossetia.
Unfortunately it appears Russia is making a stand on such issues. It is a shame because whilst these are uncertain times, they are also extremely hopeful and dynamic times too. More and more inhabitants of this planet are standing up to have their voice heard. A new generation is making a stand against poverty, global warming, and AIDS and showing the human capability for empathy and constructive action. Whilst the uncertainties of the credit crunch, global warming and rising food prices may be alarming.
I personally take heart in the thousands of global citizens crossing boarders finding new cultures, working in different countries and environments and creating global friendships. The path is laid out before us- a dawning of a new Cold war perpetuated by the destruction of the planet or a community of nations working peacefully to solve global issues. Let us all hope for the latter.