Wednesday, September 29, 2004

The Imminent End of Us All

Each day when I switch on CNN or log in to the internet, I half expect to learn there has been another horrific terrorist attack on the order of 9/11 or worse. This isn’t simply my over-active imagination, because even the CIA has said that the next attack is not a question of if, but when. And there are those periodic terror alerts coded yellow orange or red, telling us to look out for suspicious activities and suspicious people. It is never specified exactly what suspicious activities or people we should look out for, or where they may carry out their grisly deed. George W Bush summed this up perfectly when he once said: “When I was coming up it was a dangerous world and we knew exactly who they were. It was us versus them and it was clear who them was. Today we’re not so sure who they are, but we know they’re there”.

We are beginning to live in a nightmare world like the one in Franz Kafka’s “The Trial”, whose central character was made aware everywhere he went that he was under suspicion of having done something, but he could never find out what. It kept him permanently disoriented. Keeping us permanently disoriented seems also the intent of the Bush regime which enjoins us to lead our everyday lives normally, fly in aeroplanes, spend our money, hang out, stay loose, but then induces us to do the opposite by sending out those terrorist alerts. Is this to frighten us sufficiently, the better to manufacture our consent into giving the Bush regime more draconian powers than it already has?

Our new post September 11th Kafkaesque world is also becoming Orwellian. If you’ve ever read “1984” you’ll remember its milieu is a world parceled out between three large powers always at war with each other. The daily lives of the people are punctuated by announcements through loudspeakers telling of the latest military victory. How different is this world from ours in present day America where, in addition to the terror alerts, we learn daily from our TV news anchors of our latest military victory in Iraq, all part and parcel of the War on Terror which George W Bush has told us will go on for years and years, and which is discussed in the media 24 hours a day.

* * *

He reclines in his seat in a jetliner thirty thousand feet above the North African desert. He shuts his eyes while listening on his headset to a Bach Brandenburg concerto. On his tray is a pre-prandial glass of white wine – French Chardonnay – which he sips from time to time. What will they serve for lunch, steak or fish? And what for dessert?

Through his little side window he can see the brown expanse of desert below. Just sand, and it seems to go on for ever. Being so far above, he can only imagine how things might exactly be down there. But he has learned enough to know that the lives of most people down there won’t be much different from how they were two thousand years ago. Each day at the behest of sun, sand, and wind. Each day a struggle for the simple daily crust. Lives lived around heat, sand, camels, and tents. And perhaps a tribal or guerrilla war as well.

Suddenly he is overcome by schizophrenia. Here he is in a hermetically sealed bubble, sailing serenely through the heavens in womb-like air-conditioned comfort, taking it all for granted while all hell goes on far below.

* * *

He lies in his warm comfy bed at night listening to the rain thrumming on the tiled roof and spattering against the insulated windows. He wakes in the morning to the clock radio programmed to switch on at eight o' clock sharp. He turns up the thermostat on the wall because the room feels a trifle cold. He flicks a switch and light comes on. He puts a cold pork pie in the microwave and three minutes later it is hot. He turns on the shower in his antiseptically-white tiled bathroom and warm water gushes deliciously out. He picks up the phone and talks to someone at the other end of the earth as if to his next-door neighbour. He turns on his TV to watch a football game as if he is actually in the stadium. He switches on the computer in his study to send electronic messages to distant friends who will receive them seconds later. Despite all this he feels depressed, so he pops a pill and soon feels happy.

Being a glib child of twenty-first century enlightenment, he assumes most people throughout the world live like he does. He looks out of his bedroom window at the sky and thinks about what will come next. Human-like robots certainly, to do all the chores he doesn’t like to do. He’d like to get a ride on a spaceship some day to Mars where he would spend a holiday. There will be plenty of time for that since, thanks to the Men of Science, he will live to be at least 120 or more……………………………………………….

* * *

WE in North America, Fortress Europe, and Japan, who live like pigs at a trough while pressing the keys on our remote controls to close our security gates, are but 10% of the world’s peoples. WE are the goldfish in a bowl gazed upon covetously by THEM, the other 90% out there in the Third World, who have virtually nothing. But WE choose not to notice. WE, thanks to our Men of Science, live longer and longer and eat more and more. THEY, thanks to Aids and starvation, die earlier and earlier and eat less and less. The disparity between US and THEM grows daily more acute.

Our world is becoming dangerously out of balance and we are beginning to see the consequences like terrorism carried out by suicide bombers, a symptom that something is dreadfully wrong somewhere. By using jetliners to crash into skyscrapers, sending noxious germs through the mail, and threatening to explode nuclear bombs in the midst of our cities - thus exposing the myth of our invulnerability inside the goldfish bowl – the terrorists are throwing our technology - to which we genuflect as before a god - back in our faces.

* * *

Extinctions of sentient species have occurred regularly throughout the aeons since the first amoeba wiggled out of the ocean and on the shores. Species became extinct because they failed to adapt to changes in their environment, whether big climatic changes or the arrival of new predators. Extinctions, of sorts, have also been the lot of aboriginal human societies who couldn’t adapt to the gods, technology, and germs which invaders from over the seas brought with them.

We humans are still here because we have been able to live in harmony with our environment, or we were able to bend it to our will. However, about one hundred and fifty years ago with the start of the Industrial Revolution, our ways of living changed rapidly as we began inventing new gadgets like never before. With each new gadget spawning ideas for others, the rate of change became exponential, so that the world of the urban yuppie in today’s New York or Tokyo would seem like science fiction to a dweller in the Dickensian London of the mid nineteenth century.

But the heart and soul of today’s urban yuppie is the same as that of the nineteenth century Dickensian dweller, and of the hunter-gatherer in the savannah of five thousand years ago. The yuppie of today, lunching on pasta and white wine while talking into his cell phone between mouthfuls, has no more control over his jealousy, rage, greed, and predilection for mayhem than did his animal-hunting forebears on the plains.

The intellectual part of us - augmented by our inventions of computers, nuclear bombs and all the rest - has outstripped our emotional ability to use it wisely. So we are like children with dangerous toys, with no grownups to take them from us. Our environment has thus changed radically, but we haven’t, and we aren’t likely to because, the speed of evolution being glacial, our emotional selves won’t develop quickly enough to prevent the irreparable damage we will have done to ourselves and everything around us. So all the conditions are now in place for us to become extinct, as has happened to countless millions of species since time unrecorded.

How exactly we will be done in - whether by nuclear or biological warfare, overpopulation, disease, starvation, radiation, or environmental warming – is irrelevant, for we will be just as dead regardless of the means.

This isn’t to say that absolutely no-one will survive the coming apocalypse. A handful doubtless will, since there are so many of us. Any survivors will dig themselves from under the rubble and begin again. But they will have to live like our ape forbears did, because all gadgets and knowledge of how to make them will have been destroyed. Incidentally, if we care to look, we will see evidence that something similar has happened to us before, and many times.

Since we seem not able to adapt to the changes our over-developed intellects have brought about, it isn’t a question of if, but when our demise will happen.