How Russia Fed Our Addiction

If someone tells you it is Tea-time, you know you are in Britain.

Since the early 18th Century, Britain has been one of the world’s greatest consumers of tea, at nearly 5lbs of the stuff per person per year.

The problem from the start was that Britain did not grow tea. Tea was grown in China. China was happy to sell the British all the tea they wanted (all the tea in China), so long as they paid for it in silver. This got very expensive very fast, and tea became a remarkably valuable commodity. In 1773, the Boston Patriots dumped 340 chests of tea into Boston harbor, valued at $1.7 million in today’s money.

The British soon discovered that instead of trading silver for tea, they could trade opium.

Having taken Bengal, Britain had access to limitless supplies of Opium. In China, they found an eager consumer. Imports began in 1729 with 200 chests of opium. By 1858 annual imports had risen to 70,000 chests (4,480 long tons (4,550 t)), approximately equivalent to global production of opium for the decade surrounding the year 2000.

Opium was a lot cheaper than silver and it kept the tea flowing to Britain, but it also rotted the core of Chinese society and civilization. People quickly became addicted. People became passive. The Qing Dynasty was unable to stop the Europeans and the Japanese from carving off bits and pieces of China for their own use. Mao blamed the opium trade for the start of what he called ‘China’s century of humiliation.’ Maybe so.

This week it was revealed that the Russians had employed more than 1,000 Internet trolls, working out of a facility in Moscow, to feed vast amounts of false news stories designed to hurt Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election.

Yesterday, Clint Watts, the Director of the Center For Cyber and Homeland Security, testified a that Russian cyber attacks of this kind were directed not just against Hillary Clinton, but against every candidate from either party who might have been perceived as a threat to Russian interests.

While America may have an opiate problem, it has a far deeper drug problem – an addiction to ‘fake news’ online. The average American spends a mind-boggling 8.5 hours a day staring at screens. Those screens command our attention almost all the time now, and what goes on those screens is critical, because it influences how we think and what we believe to be the truth. The crazier the story, the bigger the ‘hit’ the addict feels and the faster her or she is to pass the opium pipe of false information on to another user.

As the Chinese were opium addicts, we are now a nation of junk information addicts, whether it is about Hillary Clinton’s child sex ring in a pizza restaurants or Barack Obama’s tapping Donald Trump’s telephone or Ted Cruz’s father plotting to kill JFK.

As the British knew the Chinese weakness and fed it with opium, the Russians know our addiction to tawdry stories and junk news, and actively and consciously feed that. And of course, the biggest addict to wild conspiracy theories is the man who currently occupies the White House, our President.

As Watts said yesterday: “I can tell you right now today, gray outlets that are Soviet pushing accounts tweet at President Trump during high volumes when they know he is online and they push conspiracy theories,” Watts said. “So, if he is to click on one of those or cite one of those it just proves Putin correct ― that we can use this as a lever against the Americans.”

The addiction to opium wrecked Chinese society, led to the downfall of the Manchu Dynasty, China’s occupation by European and Japanese imperialists and much worse. Will our addiction to a constant need for lurid news do the same for us? And how long can we tolerate an addict in the White House who cannot tell fact from fiction?

During the campaign, Donald Trump repeatedly warned Americans about the threat posed by drug dealers brining their narcotics into the United States from Mexico. He had the threat right, but the drug wrong. The greatest threat to America, it turned out, was the narcotic that the Russians were feeding to him, and millions of other Americans, online.