It used to be that talk of the end of the world was the specialty of the religiously deranged. Nowadays, it’s common for informed, cool heads like that of Noam Chomsky to speak in public about the onset of global catastrophe and the extinction of humans.
“End of the world” needs a little definition. It doesn’t mean the end of all life, and it doesn’t mean the riddance of every human being. What it does mean is the end of our present wired world civilization and current economic and political institutions.
It’s an odd sort of a point I want to make. The end of the world, as defined, seems inevitable. Unless, that is, sufficient numbers of humankind convert to more life-sustaining forms of consciousness. The root of the problem, I believe, is not worldview, ideology, economics, but our working consciousness—how we think, feel and act. But now--
Three discernible trends in world affairs have as their logical outcome the end (as defined). They are distinct but intertwined and mutually supportive--forces clearly converging on the destruction of present techno-materialist civilization.
The first is the new nuclear arms race, led by nine nations spending their treasure, building evermore diabolical instruments of selective and mass murder. Increasing reports talk of things like “fear, anxiety and sleepless nights—the cold war terrors have returned” (Van Badham, April 20, Guardian) or of a UN Research Group describing how the risk of “accidental” nuclear war is growing. Meanwhile we have leaders of the US, Russia and North Korea talking tough about using their nuclear Armageddon toys.
The entire insane logic of being forced to exist in hair-trigger readiness to launch these weapons increases the likelihood of nuclear war by accident. Near atomic war-launching accidents have already occurred. The longer we have and continue to build nuclear arsenals, it’s only a question of time before a nuclear exchange occurs, whether by choice or by accident. Whether limited or all-out exchange, the trend is toward nuclear winter, starvation, even extinction.
The second trend toward the end is the climate change taking place before our eyes but that is denied for various, fatally stupid reasons. Leading the entire planet in outsized doses of greed-driven stupidity is the US Republican party.
Endtime logic here is quite simple. Do nothing about the warming of the planet, and climate change, already moving faster than first predicted, will overtake us. “Inaction equals annihilation,” writes Michael Klare (Truthout) and continues: “Climate change is occurring far too swiftly for all human societies to adapt to it successfully. Only the richest are likely to succeed in even the most tenuous way. Unless colossal efforts are undertaken now to halt the emission of greenhouse gases, those living in less affluent societies can expect to suffer from extremes of flooding, drought, starvation, disease, and death in potentially staggering numbers.”
Clearly, not to “step up to the plate” (to use our beloved metaphor) is to doom our planet to climate catastrophe.
The third trend driving us toward the end of our present world is the enormous and growing gulf between the wealth of the mass of humankind and the wealth of the tiny minority of the super-rich. The gulf is growing, as are the effects of climate change, and the dangers of nuclear, chemical, and biological warfare. Something is underway that appears to be gaining momentum.
And it won’t stop of its own accord—it needs a powerful countervailing force. The truth is that in all respects the USA is transcendent in the realm of wealth production, in the means to preserve and expand invested wealth, and finally in creating economic inequity between the politically entrenched plutocracy and the remaining motley population of humanity, the orphans of neo-liberalism.
This is not a sustainable model for being human on Earth. The wildly inequitable metastasis of wealth in society is a form of cancer. The concentration of wealth and power in small enclaves is a cancerous growth destroying the planet’s body and soul. Evidence for this is overwhelming, given that protests, insurrections, upheavals, terrorism, civil, proxy, and national wars everywhere are in play.
It seems correct to say that America leads in all three of the doomsday trends. America has the most atomic weapons, is the only country that has used them (and for hideously ignoble reasons), spends more on weapons technologies than all the rest of the world combined, and is the biggest arms dealer in the world. It has, moreover, an exceptionally blood-stained history. It has to its credit a vast holocaust of native peoples and enslavement of a black labor force that helped make the white patriarchs of the country rich.
America is the biggest spewer of garbage and greenhouse gases into the atmosphere while full of stalwart climate-change denial. And of course the colossal disparity of wealth is built into the American capitalist ethos as morally defensible and indeed desirable. Wealth disparity in the US is more than twice as great as it is in the rest of the industrial world.
It’s easy to see how these trends are interrelated, if not mutually supportive. In my view, the last trend cited is the root cause of all the endtime trends. Rather, I should say, the economic disparity reveals the root cause in the greed and callousness of the economic and political systems. The ruling class determines the laws that permit these spiritually diseased values, i.e., callous greed, gun-toting individualism, and puritanical anality, to shape and make manifest historical existence.
Inordinate greed for wealth and power determines the militaristic posture that drives the arms industry; thus the new arms race, the increasing risk of nuclear war and the winter of civilization. That same greed that wants to take away school lunches from poor kids is behind the denial of human-caused climate-change. The idea of giving up any part of one’s wealth for the common good is just too painful to entertain for the terminally retentive.
So the tendency to spend lavishly on weapons is also the tendency not to spend on saving the planet. I would describe this as a metaphysical disease, a perversion of human values. We need to understand it, given that it may bring down human civilization. Is there a cure for this beside hanging? I have my doubts. It is no small thing to orchestrate the revolution of values and of consciousness that so many people think is our only hope.
The main point I’m making: Real trends toward the end are readily observable, and there are no signs of them slackening. But I’ll finish on a more upbeat note. There are signs of resistance, pockets of awakening and reports of activism, for example, more women entering politics. It seems a great story is unfolding, a kind of showdown with history, a looming climax and a turning-point. The irresistible pressure of history may be leading us toward something I’m tempted to think of as a kind of global near-death experience. But that’s another story.