Sunday, March 24, 2013

Is It Just Me?

Every generation tends to see the world as beset by unprecedented crises.  And it's certainly true that there have been times fraught with great social upheaval coupled with accelerating technological change.  So I'm not sure how I should interpret my perception of global events in 2013, but by every objective measure we're all - humanity and human society - in a situation we've never faced before.  It's just too many things, happening altogether too fast, either without solutions or without the will to implement the necessary solutions.

We have climate change, the big impending crisis that will alter the ability of the earth to sustain large human populations within 100 years, a mere tick of the ecological clock, and despite the solutions being available and obvious to all, virtually nothing being done.  But we also have eliminated our ability to treat bacteriological illnesses with antibiotics.  The simple process of mutation-driven evolution - a process denied even today by a large number of people due to a preference for primitive mythology - is creating antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria before our very eyes.  In some cases, we are down to one, or even NO effective treatments.  And it should be recognized that the antibiotics in use for the last century were derived from naturally occurring compounds, essentially the 'low hanging fruit' of the anti-bacterial world.  Now we just have to try to guess what might work - and the answer might very well be nothing.

Politically and economically, the world is unraveling at an even faster rate.  The great European economic integration project is collapsing under the weight of nationalist resistance to community responsibility.  In the United States, a bizarre strain of tribal radicalism has overtaken one of the two political parties, supported whole-heartedly by the most virulent expression of institutional corruption in modern memory.  The result is an utter inability to govern the largest economy in the world at this critical time, with what policies that are being implemented exactly the wrong ones practically, but implemented nonetheless for ideological and political reasons.

The shift of the global economic center of mass eastward has begun, but neither China nor India appear to be positioned for sustainable growth, or even the maintenance of the status quo.  India has huge infrastructure and economic problems and is faced off against both China and Pakistan, and China has a huge, diverse, ultimately un-governable population and an immediate ecological crisis of unprecedented toxicity and magnitude.

A century of corruption and institutional kleptocracy, coupled with a cold war legacy of unlimited supplies of arms and ideologies has left Africa increasingly in violent tatters. From Libya to Mali to CAR, Congo and Rwanda to Sudan, South Sudan and Nigeria, the fighting over political, tribal and sectarian ascendancy and access to resource wealth is accelerating and spreading like wildfire.

In the Middle East, Iraq and Iran have evolved unsustainable political structures that cannot survive intact, Syria and Egypt are in different stages of the same kind of endless civil war, Israel is starting to pay a real global price for the brutal occupation of Palestine, Lebanon and Jordan are nothing but battered proxies for their larger neighbors

It just seems like too many tipping points. All of which are exacerbated by the power of instantaneous global communications and the easy availability of powerful weapons. Unstable populations, failing governance, wealth inequality, food water and resource shortages, nuclear weapons and radical ideologies all coming together at once to...what?  That's the real question.  It certainly seems like the status quo cannot last, that we're seeing a sea change  in the way the world works. The conflicts are endless, the powerful, despite their wealth have less ability to influence the world, violence and revolution seem contagious and governing institutions are crippled - all at a time when humanity needs to work together to avert the problems we've created for ourselves.

Who knows?  Maybe it is just another generational set of challenges.  Maybe it's not leading to some kind of major upheaval.  Maybe we'll all just struggle along the way we always have.

But I wouldn't bet MY money on that.


  1. Replies
    1. In the current environment, they're like a mild case of poison oak...

  2. However, it seems to me that Cries of Doom have been part of the human experience since...well, forever.

    But in times of rapid change, people tend to see everything through a glass darkly, as the poets have it.

    mikey, you yourself had a front row seat for some of the nastiest tribalist violence in quite some time. Superpowers using small countries as proxies, throwing them against each other like toy army men. Prior to that, there were TWO 'Wars to End All Wars" - so named not because anybody thought they would resolve world conflicts, but because they were considered to be annihilistic.

    And the tensions of the cold war? The Cuban Missile Crisis? Hell, the American Civil War, where the estimates of death have recently been increased to 3/4 of a million people?

    Lots of bad stuff, no doubt. The head-in-the-sandism towards climate change, while the predictions from the scientific community become ever more dire, make it seem as if upheaval is kind of coming down the track.

    But the fact that you and I can't see a way to negotiate the challenges doesn't mean there isn't one.

    Of course, I am closer to death than I am to birth, so it's easy to be sanguine. It's going to be up to Young Zombie's cohort to find these solutions, if they are to be found; it's why I support the FIRST program, because it's going to take some STELLAR scientists and engineers.

  3. Yeah. Is it really different this time? That's the big question. I'm not sure, but I'm leaning strongly in the direction that yes, it is VERY different this time. Intelligent machines, weapons proliferation (both nuclear and conventional), instantaneous global communications, well funded trans-national organizations, satellites, massive surveillance, resource shortages (especially water now, and arable land later), disease (HIV and SARS were just a warning) coupled with all the impending and accelerating effects of carbon pollution. Look at Beijing and Shanghai. Look at Mumbai. Look at Eastern Russia. We have all these new, high velocity challenges piled on top of the things people have always faced, the greed and nationalism and fanatic tribalism and hatred and fear. It sure looks to me like this time isn't like those other times at all...

    1. I think it's tough to see from this close to it. Doomsayers also said the mechanization of war was the end of civilization.

      Oh, wait, they are STILL saying that....

  4. America should bomb the world with birth control. The pornography is not enough.

  5. Mechanization is one thing, electronicization of war & the development of nuclear, chemical & biological weapons are an exponential difference.

    And survival of civilization (or just humanoids, even) on the planet is a simple question of (over) population. More & more better-armed humanoids competing for scarcer & scarcer resources won't end well.

    Got to admit that X or Y yrs. ago I didn't really think everything would come apart, much as I wanted it to. Now I'm just sorry I won't be here to see the real suffering I'm predicting.

  6. nuclear weapons are half a century old. chemical weapons a century.

    computerization and minituarization, I don't see as an existential change to human horrors. torture is still waterboarding and stress positions, the electronic prods are used more in the kink community than in the MIC.

    Oh, don't get me wrong, we are all doomed and nothing matters, nobody is able to do anything, and the only thing that ever happens is getting in fights with people you agree with; I just don't see the exponential difference that you think is going to bring it about.

    Anyway, more and more competing for less and less seems to be a self-correcting problem. eventually there will be one guy left, and a talking dog or something.

  7. But Z, you miss the key point. The difference maker is not the weapons, but the fact of their proliferation, the ability of small nations and well-funded organizations to develop them. Chemical weapons are not a game changer - they are just another battlefield weapon, not anything at all like nuclear weapons and do not deserve to be called WMD. And I don't have any idea what torture has to do with this topic - it is, as you say, an ancient practice perfected in medieval times.

    Computerization and miniturization are not a game-changer because of torture. They make this era radically different than earlier times due to their simultaneous enablement of intelligent machines, instantaneous global communications, ubiquitous surveillance, longer range/more accurate weapons delivery. Don't just consider what we have today - think about the things these technologies will enable in the next 10 years. When small, well-funded trans-national organizations have access to intelligent, autonomous machines, massively powerful weapons, and the ability to operate effectively in a distributed organization. A world where surface ships can be destroyed at will using ballistic missiles, and MANPADS are widely available and tremendously effective, eliminating the ability to operate most aircraft in contested airspace. Where autonomous drones can hit any spot with an accuracy of inches - you end up with NO political events or public appearances, and no ability to intervene militarily - if you really think about it, the world won't look ANYTHING like it does today, and the opportunities to exploit those extreme changes will be plentiful.

    Nope. The more we talk about it, the more I think about the cumulative impact of all the new technologies and changes in global norms, the more certain I become that this is NOT just another example of a population seeing THEIR time as being somehow different. This time IS different...

  8. And I don't have any idea what torture has to do with this topic - it is, as you say, an ancient practice perfected in medieval times.

    I was arguing with Bouffant, not you, just pointing out that among the horrible things America has done are pretty old fashioned from a technical standpoint.

    But it's OK. Like I said, I agree we're all doomed and there's no point to anything anyway, so carry on.

  9. Seems to me that 'everyone dies' does end the emergency.