(Yes a title for those of you who’ve bemoaned the dearth of fustian dissembling on my part in recent times, I’ve opted for a brief return to the bombastic sententiousness that’s caused much scuttling to dictionary corner.)
But I want to return to plain speech to briefly examine the latest set of scares currently being used to suggest four imminent rush jobs at the celestial smithy. The economic tribulations that led Jack Straw to start measuring up the Eurozone for a pine box last week are another sign that many will surely take as heralding the end of days. It’s an interesting point and I don’t for one second deny that the world economy is in for some major changes in the coming years.
However, I can’t help but think about the number of world-ending fears that I seem to have bumbled my way through.
As a child growing up in the seventies and eighties (or as some would have it, failing to grow up then and thereafter) I lived under the shadow of nuclear war. The whimsical ‘Threads’ and the harrowing “When the wind blows” looked forward to a cheery future of skin burns and vomiting, much like a week in Tenerife but without the cheap beer and many believed that we were just a dementia-induced tremor in Ronnie Reagan’s finger from annihilation. The decades that followed suggested that if AIDS and the Ebola virus didn’t get you then a mutant hybrid of influenza/anthrax and whatever caused Howard Jones’ hairstyle would. Astonishingly, by almost constantly wearing a handkerchief and keeping a condom pressed against our mouths, we were able to survive long enough to start panicking about climate change and the global terror alert going from amber to a rather fetching shade of fuchsia.
How will the world end – it’s a fine question and don’t get me wrong; I don’t underestimate the problems that we’re causing the environment, the misery that Peak Oil could wreak upon the world or the problems that a terrorist attack on Bristol would bring to an already vexing rush-hour. The fact that we’ve survived this long is no guarantee that we will continue to do so – as the dinosaurs found out when they spotted a huge lump of rock speeding towards the earth and realised that Bruce Willis was not going to evolve in time to save them.
The thing that I find interesting about the concept of a financially-triggered apocalypso, though, is that the money and the debt (i.e. the money) are both imaginary – as I (and others) have discussed before in this cyberspace council of elders. It seems an odd notion to think that we might plunge the world into a new dark age with nothing more than a bit of abstract mathematics. The thing about the nukes was that they were very real – well, at least the ones that weren’t propaganda and the same is true of climate change*.
But as time has gone on the threats to our survival seem to be getting more and more a product of imagination and hype – take militant Islam… no, please, take my wife…
The debates that need to take place on these topics are muddied and obscured to an insane degree by the sheer level of information and disinformation at our fingertips and the lack of time and ability to know one from the other – as much as I may try to wield Occam’s razor I’m in constant danger these days of cutting off my own nose (insert convoluted face-spiting pun here if you’re in the mood) and I consider myself at least in the ‘intelligent general reader’ category.
Whilst it may be easier to look at the state of the world – our ability to poison the planet and wreak mass destruction has never been greater and our greed and ignorance seem to know no bounds – and see naught but the eve of destruction (sorry if that’s given you Barry McGuire earworm, by the way) one has to try to see the other side of the coin. As a species, we’ve evolved to see threats as far more immediate than opportunities to learn and that was probably a good thing when being transfixed by thoughts of how a ladybird manages to fly could lead to being transfixed by the sabre tooth of the eponymous tiger. We seem to have transcended that level of survival-based existence, though, and perhaps now and again it behoves us to reflect that the technology that enables us to endanger the planet also gives us the power to save it, to learn and react to man’s inhumanity to man.
We’re not good with delayed gratification, on the whole, desperate to see world hunger ended, the Higgs Boson located and a television show feature an individual with actual talent. Perhaps even a car powered by poo. All of these things though, lie within our grasp just as surely as do the seeds of our own destruction. If we concentrate too much on the latter, we’re in danger of throwing away the former. Isn’t it a better idea to do what we can to create the world that we’d like to see, little by little? Ideas, like species, can flourish and multiply if survival is in their nature.
*Depending on the weight that you give to the IPCC’s opinion on the subject, I suppose – read the disagreement between Steve Jones and James Delingpole and make your own mind up, [then read a little more about Steve and James’ authority, if you wish…]