Thanks to the internet, we are bombarded 24/7 with news of disasters and impending disasters, to the point of ennui. Are things really as bad as the media and Hollywood say? Or are we headed for a happy techno future?
The other evening, in search of some entertainment, I stumbled upon a film by Australian director John Hillcoat entitled, The Road (2009). This riveting post-apocalyptic drama focuses on the travails of a father and son as they set out on foot across a devastated American wasteland following some cataclysmic disaster.
What motivates the characters to persevere in their impossible journey, which presents them with every sort of imaginable and unimaginable nightmare, is simply the quest for survival. Why anyone would want to survive amid such total devastation is another question.
An interesting element of the film is that we are never told what caused so much destruction. All we know is that some overnight event turned America, and possibly the entire planet, into a scorched wasteland. Hillcoat plays on our modern fears that some uncontrollable event, either by force of nature or man-made, is lurking just around the corner, waiting to devour us. The media is certainly culpable for giving life to these fears.
For example, it seems that every month or so NASA discovers some new asteroid or, worse, a gang of asteroids that will “just miss” hitting earth by millions of miles, sparing us yet again the fate of the dodo bird.
But if death by asteroid isn’t your cup of tea, you may tremble at the thought of the supervolcano bubbling just below the surface in America’s Midwest.
Known to scientists as the Yellowstone Caldera, America’s largest volcanic system last blew its magna some 640,000 years ago. That ‘super-eruption’ was estimated to have been more than 1,000 times larger than the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens. Scientists estimate the odds of another eruption at about 1 in 730,000, which is, by the way, about the chance of an asteroid collision.
Although the chances of such disasters actually happening are low, just the possibility that they could occur has gripped our collective imaginations. This dark, foreboding view of an unpredictable future is one that tends to dominate Western mentality. A quick glance at the sheer number of dystopian Hollywood productions over the years seems to validate the point.
The problem is that we have been conditioned to believe in the inevitability of an Orwellian future that it risks becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. Or perhaps Hollywood and the media are serving as our collective conscience, so to speak, warning tinkering humans that we have pushed the boundaries of science and technology too far and are now risking severe consequences – much like the mythical character Prometheus, who was punished for stealing fire from Zeus and giving it to mortals.
And perhaps in no other field has mankind pushed the technological envelope further than on the battlefield.
World War III, the final frontier?
If ever there was an event that could literally wipe out the planet in the blink of an eye, WWIII is it. As Albert Einstein once quipped, “I do not know with what weapons WWIII will be fought, but WWIV will be fought with sticks and stones.” Such a grim prophecy may have thus far succeeded in cooling enthusiasm for a global conflict, but it has not thwarted the belief that, in the words of Clausewitz, “war is the continuation of politics by other means.”
This type of thinking is no longer realistic unless we are willing to accept the gravest consequences.
Consider the dire situation in Syria, where about a dozen different players are now jockeying for position, to understand the incredibly high stakes involved. In one of the latest developments, a Russian reconnaissance plane was accidentally shot down by a Syrian missile as Israeli fighter jets were conducting an illicit raid on the sovereign Arab Republic. Further tragedy was averted, but the incident brought the overall climate in Syria to an even higher degree of uncertainty.
In the past, nations had a tendency to rush into war with great gusto. However, the atomic bombing of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the waning moments of WWII had a way of changing our minds on the subject. Yet, at the same time, that cruel lesson has done nothing to curb our willingness to stockpile enough weapons of mass destruction to destroy the planet many times over.
What is the answer to this deadly conundrum? The choice seems rather straightforward. Although it will be a tall order, especially given how much money is generated by military expenditure, political leaders must ultimately accept the fact that resorting to military means to resolve global issues is an extinct form of ‘politics’. It is a paradox, but the awesome lethality of weapons of mass destruction has made war nearly impossible.
Either we accept this fact or understand that humans themselves, together with the planet and its other myriad life forms, will be extinct. It’s the simplest choice of all, yet which country would be the first to surrender their weapons?
Not all events that result in catastrophe are related to ‘acts of God’ or military conflict. Consider our current relationship with the so-called ‘free market.’ Although many argue that this is the best system for organizing the economic affairs of countries, it is occasionally hit by violent downturns that can best be described as disastrous.
When such downturns do happen, as was the case with the 2008 financial crisis, it is the “too big to fail” banks and corporations that are generously bailed out by the government, while the average person is forced to sink or swim for land that seems nowhere in sight. This proving the aphorism that what we really have is ‘socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor.’
Recently, there has been a number of warning signals – including steep drops on Wall Street – that we are once again approaching dangerous times. Former Republican congressman Ron Paul, in a recent interview with CNBC, warned that a massive downturn is inevitable because the US economy is sitting on “the biggest bubble in the history of mankind.”
Earlier, the investor Jim Rogers, pointing to the massive amount of debt in global markets, especially in the US, predicted that “When we have a bear market again, and we are going to have a bear market again, it will be the worst in our lifetime.”
Although these two individuals may be wrong, there can be no doubt that another economic downturn will eventually happen again. So how should we prepare now for the inevitable? Given the lessons of the 2008 financial crisis, it seems imperative that the banks and corporations understand that the government will not be available to cover for their bad business practices.
Big bailouts for big business is not the answer. If companies understand that they will go belly up in the next crisis, they will behave more responsibly.
At the same time, assurances should be made to average citizens that they will not be left behind if and when the next downturn occurs. Since unemployment always increases as profits on Wall Street decreases, one way to deal with any future market meltdown is to ensure long-term unemployment and medical plans for those affected by any sudden shocks to the system.
Perhaps this is the best way to deal with the daily news of impending gloom and doom, which we see from a variety of places from the military battlefield, to the economic battlefield: Let the people know that not only are solutions being sought, but that their best interests are at heart.
By Robert Bridge