END OF DAYS ARE HERE AGAIN PART II
At the risk of sounding like our parents, as times change they leave history in the rear view mirror and often the current generation does not appreciate the struggle of the previous. Most adults my age had parents who were raised without the internet, smart phones, digital media and flat-screen televisions. Hell, even the word “television” is scarcely appropriate anymore since they are more of a form of multimedia monitors. If you are as old as me, you might have had parents who grew up without running water, plumbing and electricity. To them, the modern amenities that exist are nothing short of miracles: wash machines, microwaves, cars and trucks, refrigerators, etc. You get the idea. However, as arrogant and aloof as my generation was to past ones, the current generation (Millennials?, MAGAites?) are gladly filling those same, ignorant boots.
I suppose Americans are probably one of the worst examples of youth taking up the causes and mantle of their elders. Many other societies around the world are raised on principles of respect towards elders and continuation of traditional values. In the U.S. however that has become an increasingly rare breed of family values as the “bigger, faster, stronger” mentality has become the most appealing option overall. If my generation didn’t respect the value of a dollar, today’s generation scoffs at the notion of 100 dollars. The single living-room television has been replaced with the common instance of screens in every conceivable room possible, including sometimes the bathroom. Same for the single-family car. Now teenagers practically expect a vehicle to magically appear in the driveway on their 16th or 17th birthday. And like myself, leaving home to make one’s way in the world is less common since this current generation prefers to live in mom and dad’s basement until they are either kicked out or the house burns down.
Factors such as these are certainly not going to bring the planet to a screeching halt or stop it spinning on its axis. But just because humans have mastered the use of tools beyond what was once imaginable does not mean they will save us from the existential threat of our own selves.
The world will probably not end as a result of this trifling human shortcoming alone. Our reptilian brains evolved with survival as its primary goal and this remnant of homo sapiens past is still alive and well in everyday life. Steven Pinker is quick to point out that even in a few generations the violence and inequality that afflicted society has been curtailed dramatically. And this may be observed to be a true statement when you consider how many more humans occupy the planet than several hundred, or even thousand years ago. But genocides still happen, despite our sophisticated networks of communications, better civilized and educated societies, and globally recognized “rules” that discourage certain kinds of killing. When it comes down to the bare bones (no pun intended), hierarchies even among nations exist. It’s no secret that “some of these animals are more equal than others”. Why else would we refer to some countries as Superpowers while others are Developing Nations? 300 years ago, the world’s Superpowers were mostly concentrated in Europe: Spain, Britain, France and the Dutch. Before that, Greece and Rome. History shows that dominance does not favor a place so much as it favors adaptability, use of technology and the will to commit murder upon the less fortunate. Humankind has waged global war, twice, the second time harnessing the power of the atom to declare its “victors”. However, the war to end all wars did little to accomplish that. The planet is ravaged repeatedly by warring nations, continuing jihads and the sinister machinations of power wielded by the unworthy. War may not be the ultimate end of us, but it will definitely play its part when all is said and done.
Ordovician, Devonian, Permian-Triassic, Triassic-Jurassic, Cretaceous-Tertiary, Holocene. If those terms above aren’t familiar to you, don’t worry. Most average adults don’t think of the Earth’s mass-extinction events on a very regular basis. Some people don’t even think they happened. What we do know is that we don’t share the planet with our mega-sized sauropod relatives, nor the woolly mammoth. What these global climate periods do consist of are violently dramatic periods of volcanism, ice or stellar interference that wiped out as much as 80% of the planet’s living species at a time. The Holocene, also referred to as the Sixth Extinction, represents the time occupied by our current species, homo sapiens. Although the point is still under heavy scrutiny and debate, many scientists from every specialization of the field point to the latest mass-extinction phase as being the most rapid to take place in geological history. It is also not attributable to any of the aforementioned naturally occurring events. The one factor that is consistently linked with the current exodus of species is the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and the increase of CO2 in the earth’s atmosphere. Couple this with the rapid encroachment into every biosphere on the planet by human beings and it is not only our own species left looking for some open space. Whether or not you agree that this may or may not be occurring, ultimately the most important species that may be endangered is the one staring you back in the mirror. A planet whose climate heats as rapidly as ours will not remain hospitable to many organisms, regardless if they walk on two legs, four or swim with fins.
This particular affliction to humanity has existed for as long as humans themselves have existed. All of evolution’s strides and all of the tools invented by the earliest craftsmen to the most recent genetic engineer have faced the need for human sustenance in a steadily growing population. Presently, with the world at 6-7 billion and predicted to swell to 10 by the middle of the century, the need to nourish every man, woman and child should be more prescient than ever. To this end, a greater and potentially more lethal threat exists that would cripple crops and harvest cycles, render arable land useless and result in the starvation of thousands if not millions: climate change.
In a familiar trend, this is an issue that is not getting its due attention from the United States of America. President Donald Trump has declared time and time again his denial of the effects of human industrialization on the planet’s biospheres. Even though the majority of the world’s nations and citizens recognize the threat that climate change poses at this time, the most politically important figure on the planet would rather focus on immigration emergencies and petty battles with the media than what even his own country’s citizens recognize as one of the challenges they think will be the most important of the 21st century.
Already the effects of ocean level rise, ice cap loss and temperature increase are being measured in the forms of more erratic weather patterns, prolonged storm seasons and droughts. The result is the destruction of crops and disruption of growing seasons across each continent. Human society already struggles with food distribution which is largely the result of class disparity and the dominance of wealthy and developed nations over less. Add to this diaspora the ravages of increasingly unpredictable and destructive weather patterns and the makings of mass starvation are imminent. Once again, as history has shown, this type of crisis will ultimately lead to desperation and turmoil. Revolt. That is the downfall of all societies great and small.
The fact is that whether one or a dozen world leaders deny the reality of climate change, it won’t matter. The factors that have caused it have been put into motion for hundreds of years, how we handle it is the only unknown left to ponder.
Also known as disease, this particular scourge of humankind has taken the form of many maladies in the past: the Black Plague, influenza, Polio, the measles, cancer, HIV/Aids, ebola, etc. I am going to personify it in a different form: the media. Since the first hominids walked the earth and were able to fashion stone and wooden tools, harness fire and engineer the wheel, little has mattered until the ability to record these events. Spoken language developed into written script which continued to evolve through the inventions of papyrus scrolls, the modern printing press, and ultimately the instant sharing of electronic media that, if you are reading this, is embodied by the various forms of communication we take for granted every day.
But let’s take a small step back in the progression that I just laid out and turn the clock back 50 years or so to when media sources consisted of the evening paper, three commercial television stations and radio. Different times for sure and much more stringently controlled outlets for news and information than the amalgam of sources that we are confronted by these days. This type of control also lead to a different approach to how information was conveyed. It underwrote a more honest and integrity-oriented approach to journalism, reportage and the professional manner it was addressed to the public.
We’ve heard President Trump rail from day one against “false news” and witch hunts, but he is also guilty of misinformation and a serious lack of integrity in his comments and actions. Pestilence or disease is often embodied as a physical disease or state of decay. Pestilence through media is the decay of ethics, morals and objective truth. In the 21st century, the sources for information are so varied, diverse and specialized that the single audience approach of several generations ago no longer exists. The way media succeeds today is through niche markets, not mass audiences. Sure there are still giants such as Time-Warner, Fox News, CNN, Sinclair and so on, but each of these has developed and is supported by their own selected sources that take their own biases, agendas and strategies for carrying their specific audiences and injects them into their own style and form. The result can be seen in the fracturing of American society that we see in the present moment: citizens willing to say and do things that challenge civility and morality based on the worlds of information that they have enveloped themselves in.
We truly live in the “fake news” generation. What is fake depends on the recipient however. The President of the United States insists that anything that contradicts his statements is fake, while he contradicts his own statements sometimes in the same sentence. His supporters don’t care that this contradicting behavior is a sign of both moral and ethical corruption, they just see their exalted idol for what they have chosen and been convinced to see. There can be no wrong so long as “the other side” is proven to be wrong and “loses” at the end of the day. This holds true regardless of which side of the fence you are on. Studies have shown that those entrenched with their political views are more likely to cling to those views even when approached with evidence to the contrary. This insular type of behavior has facilitated plenty of harm throughout the ages, including the rise of the Third Reich. Nationalism is no new thing and it can be directly linked to almost every conflict that has arisen in the short history of the human race.
Another insidious aspect of our dependence on channeled, biased sources of information is our vulnerability to what we believe we should trust. I’ve already provided the Third Reich example, but something a little bit less sinister and innocuous such as social media can be damaging to aspects of our everyday life. And, as recent election history has shown, can have long-reaching effects. Almost everyone who has a social media account of some type (Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Instagram) has fallen victim at some point in time to a falsehood. Hopefully in most cases this didn’t result in financial ruin, social outcast or even extreme embarrassment, but for some it has. And perhaps the worst result of betrayal by social media is that people continue to flock to its embrace even after they have been burned by it. Facebook posted a gain in profits in 2018, after the Cambridge Analytica election scandal, multiple data breaches, and a generally horrible reputation as a result of all of these announcements throughout the year.
Before the advent of the internet and the world wide web, private life was mostly private if you wanted it to be. People on both sides of the political spectrum had respect and civility towards one another. You didn’t have to worry about global embarrassment if you said the wrong thing, wore the wrong clothes or hung out with the wrong group. Those days are gone. Online identity has become the new human form of tribalism. It unites us against one another, divides us for the same reasons, and casts our minds and opinions against the threat of the unknown or unwanted which is exactly what the gift of communication is supposed to free us from.
IN CONCLUSION (pun intended)
If you’ve gotten this far, it means that you have plodded through another wrenching bitch-session from a curmudgeon. Its probably getting familiar but it certainly isn’t going to go away anytime soon as its my blog. I hope I managed to outline a new perspective on human mortality and the harbingers of our inevitable apocalypse. As I mentioned in part I, no matter how many of those who are ‘good’ are out there it seems that we always become overwhelmed by those who have no restraint in their ideals to seek and gain absolute power and control over others. The human race continues to act out a sort of Darwinism to the extreme scenario no matter which social system, epoch or environment is provided. Not to mention it is always the same faults being repoeated over and over by the empowered and the victims.
I suppose a nihilist such as me decides that the best choice is to kick back and enjoy the show, there nothing to be done. Our demise is inevitable so we might as well enjoy the ride. Optimists will continue to move forward, hopefully believing that the human race can be salvaged from its own self. History has shown that while this effort is admirable, the prognosticators have too often been rewarded for their efforts by fear, paranoia and ultimately homicide. The real world isn’t a 60×30 foot screen which fantastical beings leap from, transforming themselves from the average to the amazing. The real world is one of mortal folly, where you are from and what you look like does matter and will be held against you in the wrong situations. They might as well start teaching this in schools because it matters and is too often bitterly disappointing.
Whether we go in fire, flood, war or with a whimper, our time will come. I prefer to face it without the naivety of those who think we’re something that we’re not.