We live in a very complicated world. So complicated, in fact, that I don’t think there is any one person on Earth who knows what is really going on in the grand scheme of things. People like to point fingers and put blame on others because that is just what people do. Blame blame blame… but it never does the world any good. So in this entry, I propose a review of some of the major complications facing the world today, and I will try my best not to make it accusational towards any person, political body or school of thought, UNTIL the end. Then, I will point the finger directly at the source. Ultimately I wish to give readers my own personal take on the world, the overarching trends that I have read about or noticed, and what it means to our possible future. I want to tell you who I personally blame for the world we live in. So if you have 10 minutes or so to waste, please read on with an open mind.
I’ll start with the biggest issue:
1) Climate change – Though this issue is often framed by the media as a scientific debate, I firmly believe that that is untrue. Meteorology is a complicated science, and it is sometimes impossible to reach positive conclusions. Rationally speaking, I think we’ve reached the point where there is at least enough statistical significance in the research to show that there is something going on that is at least worth stopping to think about. Can we not all agree on that much?
Who cares where the blame lies? Shouldn’t we still address the issue in a more meaningful way rather than just arguing about it, or making idle chatter about it? More importantly, shouldn’t we be just a LITTLE bit skeptical of big business and the media telling us that “everything is okay” while they persistently reiterate the obvious reality that “nobody can prove anything?” Personally, I chose to believe in the only body that is unbiased and untethered to any special interest: the scientific community. And everywhere you read, resoundingly scientists warn of disaster if society does not begin to respond in a more proactive way to impending climatological fluctiations. Period.
Whether or not climate change is caused directly by CO2 emissions is, in the longrun, irrelevent. The broader implications are clear: natural or not, the changing climate will pose potentially insurmountable challenges to the future of human habitation on Earth. That means flooding, desertification, rising sea-levels and the loss of arable land could become very real problems to even more people around the world, including the west, in our lifetimes. Of course, climate has always been very dynamic, and so it should be expected that we will adapt. The only difference now is that the current human occupancy on Earth is far greater than it ever has been, (energy demands nearly matching Earth’s photosynthetic capacity), so adapting to changing climates will not be as fluid as it might have been for the small groups of nomadic tribesmen and tribeswomen who survived ice ages long before us.
Most climatologists will tell you that climate change is an ongoing natural process, one that is actually intrinsic to the continuing survival of life on Earth. Throughout the course of one human lifespan, one will get to know some of the rhythms and cycles of planet Earth very well. For example, most of us are familiar with the cycle of day and night, the tidal rhythm, or annual rotation of the seasons. It is much more difficult for the average human to distinguish the broader patterns and cycles that exist on Earth, such as glaciation, changes in oceanic currents or patterns in the geological cycle.
Consider that any humans born during an ice age would have had no history books or scientific data – in other words no frame of reference by which to compare their current climate. They just accepted what they had. And that is what we will have to do. The question is: is it possible for mankind to adapt to climate change in our current state of global economic interdependency? I’d be lying if I said I had the answer. It’s often difficult to make out exactly how we’re all connected.
The fact is that climate change has always been a challenge to mankind. It is only NOW, in the age of human civilization that we have become more broadly aware of it. Because of modern science and recorded history, we can begin to gauge our situation within the climatological process. We have long lived in naivety, with the assumption that the Earth has always been (and always will be) a bountiful place for the human species to live. Sometimes I think the worry over climate change is like the first pangs of panic for a species that is slowly realizing that it’s great civilization was NOT built on solid foundations, but on quicksand. Only now, thanks to the advent of modern science and relative international cooperation, we can begin to truly grasp how dynamic the Earth’s weather really is. Limited though it may be, remember that our knowledge and records of climate change has been, historically, non-existent.
I’m not saying we should or shouldn’t act to STOP climate change. I really don’t know if there is much point. So why do I cite climate change as a potential source of human strife? The reason is simple: because man’s fate always has been and always will be inextricably tied to the land… because changing climates means changing power relations. Changing weather will only intensify already existing problems. It is not the sun or the ice we should fear, it is our own REACTION that we should fear. That brings me to number 2.
2) The Continuing Spread of Warfare – Despite a long list of political and/or ideological motivations for going to war, it ought to be maintained that violence in human civilzation has ultimately been an economic endeavour. The struggle for land and resources has persisted throughout much of history as the primary cause of aggression. Land and resources are, of course, entirely geographical factors. Western civilization only increased in size and complexity because of its geographical advantage (See Jared Diamond’s “Guns Germs & Steel”). As the fissure between rich and poor nation-states becomes further wedged by the diminishing availability of vital resources and fluctuating accessibility to productive land, desperation will inevitably contribute to the ever increasing anti-western attitudes among those nations that are at an economic disadvantage. If they decide to express this anger using violence, we call it “terrorism.”
Under the banners of the major organized religions, wars will be fought over land and resources just as they always have been. Already, there is a culminating tension between old enemies, Christianity and Islam, over the last drops of industrial life-blood that is fossil-fuel. Though the institutions of religion often exploit their doctrines as rationale for engaging in war, it would be naive to think that conflict in the Middle East is ALL about Jihads and Crusades. It must be clear to everyone by now; oil is also a factor. Yes, the crude slurry of hydrocarbons that makes our way of life possible, just happens to be found abundantly in politically unstable desert countries. How unfortunate for us.
So why is there conflict in the Middle-East, Africa and South-East Asia? Trying to wrap one’s head around all the subtle geopolitical complexities on Earth can drive someone to the brink of insanity. Like I said in my introduction, I don’t think anybody can truthfully claim to know everything about it. Instead, as individuals we must look at the trends and use our better judgement to formulate rational opinions. Unfortunately, a lot of people are TOO broad in their analysis. For example, they conclude that because the Middle-East, Africa and South-East Asia are all predominantly MUSLIM, that Islamic faith is necessarily to blame for all the violence. This is an utterly naive assumption, based more on bigotry, ignorance and fear than on sound political analysis.
In fact, there is another commonality between these three regions: poverty! I find it far more likely that aggression towards the west is in fact a reaction to economic disparity, as has been the case throughout all of human history. And, as usual, the institutions of faith serve as convenient symbols through which support can be rallied, and through which power and be consolidated (Islam for Al-Queda, Neo-Christianty for the American Middle-Classes). It’s the same as any other war: the Allies were ultimately fighting Nazism, NOT Germany… and yet Germany often gets labeled as the cause of World War II. Like I said, you have to read the trends, but be careful not to generalize.
It is perfectly clear that Islam is not the source of international conflict. It’s just a convenient symbol to plug into the over-simplified narratives of good & evil that we have oft’ turned to in times of uncertainty and fear. Don’t make the mistake of denouncing an entire belief system simply because it is being used as a symbolic vehicle for terrorism. And I know a few other people who use fancy doublespeak to disguise the fact that they are related to terrorist organizations. That brings me to number 3.
3) The American Administration – There are many people who like to blame the administration of the American Empire for all the conflict overseas. This is because America has engaged in a number of militaristic endeavours around the world since the end of the Cold War. The specific reasons for going to war have varied from region to region, and have also varied in success. But there is a common theme between all of them: America has consistently tried to depose autocratic or fascist governments in order to replace them with auspicious ‘business-friendly’ regimes. They call it “democratization.” Depending on who you ask, and what your ideological leanings are, this can be considered very good or very bad. This is how the Americam military divides the world into “areas of responsibility:”
I’ve often wondered: why would America want to spread democracy to other countries? What do they, as a nation, have to gain? Again, one must consider this question in the broader scope. Consider that the American political system is just a bureaucratic process by which the manifest will of both corporations and consumers is exerted. It should come as no surprise, then, that America’s foreign policy necessarily entails exporting consumerism… even if it means turning that country’s political system upside down… even if it means introducing and manipulating farcical puppet regimes through intangible networks of international business relationships. Over the decades America has used a variety of methods to get what it needs from other countries (thus the ever growing anti-Americanism in the international community). And yet, it seems to easy to just put all the blame on the American government. That can’t be right.
America is not responsible for poverty in other parts of the world. What it IS responsible for is acting greedily and irresponsibly towards these vulnerable nations. And yet, we cannot blame the American government directly. After all, it is technically a democracy, which means it is theoretically governed by its citizens. How can the everyday decisions of citizens in the west be responsible for all this conflict? Is it possible that THEY are the greedy ones? That brings me to number 3.
4) Consumerism – Something funny happens when you combine democracy with a free capitalist market. Over time, your vote becomes less important. More important… is what you buy.
We’re all aware of the incredible centralization and corporatization of western business over the past few decades. Now, many of the bigger corporate bodies are more powerful than some nation-states. This means that they have unprecedented political influence. This is enhanced by the fact that corporate America and the Whitehouse share similar social circles which often overlap to produce dubious power relations that can be socially counter-productive. If one man can have a cushy chair on board of directors at an energy company, and a cushy chair in congress at the same time, then it’s obviously not likely that a lot of Clean Energy Laws are going to get passed. Thus, the corporation poses a very real threat to the fundamental principles of democracy and capitalism (despite the fact that corporations were originally facilitated by the combination of democracy and capitalism). Ironic, yes I know.
This is how I imagine it: a simplified theoretical system for trying to make sense of the consumer economy. I think that every time you drink a Coke, eat Sushi, or fill your gas tank, YOU indirectly put a small amount of pressure on that system to secure the necessary resources for you:
You Buy Gas
Gas Market Goes Up
Exxon Mobil Stock Rises, Has Greater Influence
Democratic/Capitalist System Abides Forces in Market
Administration Engages in Exploitative Economic Endeavour to Meet Demand
Planes Crash Into Buildings
Corporations are threatening for another reason: they tend to trick consumers into making stupid choices. It really is that simple. I don’t need to prattle on about the obvious reality distortions created by Wall Street… we’ve all seen the ads and we all know that they’re bullshit. But at the end of the day, advertising immerses us so completely into the consumer lifestyle that we find it impossible as individuals to remove ourselves from it. By cleverly using products to code the very rituals of everyday life, corporate America has slowly incubated generations of individuals who are so dependent on (and addicted to) the promises of the consumer life-style that very few people will actually choose to engage in responsible consumption habits. After all, it takes a great deal of personal sacrifice, and that goes against human nature.
The ultimate symbol of the paradoxical nature of consumerism is Wal-Mart: the company that has become simultaneously emblematic of the threats that corporatization poses to the American dream (entrepreneurial opportunity, local community, self-sufficiency), and the immediate demands of the everyday consumer (economy-scaled pricing, convenience). As a society, the west must choose which it values more. The Wal-Mart example nicely illustrates the kind of ultimatum consumer society will have to face, probably very soon. And who will help us make that choice?
5) The Irresponsible Media – The media does not help us to make sound decisions. Now heavily tied-in to the corporate world (through partnerships, buy-outs, mergers and other synergies), the institutionalized media’s agenda is primarily to perpetuate irresponsible consumption habits. This is done by skillfully using the cultural industries (music, movies, television etc.) as platforms for creating false needs among the population. Advertisers employ powerful methods of persuasion, often targeting younger generations who are vulnerable to various social and sexual pressures. By encoding products with different social meanings, the consumer system effectively weaves the act of consumption into the very tapestry of human courtship and everyday social engagement. The popular media is thus a very big part of the problem… much more than a mere “distraction.” The popular media is a continual reminder that “everything is alright” – the collective delusion of an entire civilization in denial.
In fact, what you will see in the media is a flagrant trivialization of the most important issues. The major problems facing planet Earth today are addressed as if they were of peripheral importance to the tribulations of Hollywood’s “cultural elite,” or as if they were verboten and tired. Conflict in Iraq, for example, is often treated in the media as something “other worldly,” as if the repercussions of Middle-Eastern violence are of no real consequence to the western lifestyle… as if by the grace of our hand we could stop the spread of war at anytime… as if this war will just quietly disappear when we get bored of it… as if the sights on their weapons were not squarely set on us. That is why many young people did not hear about Osama Bin-Laden, Sunnis, Shi-ites or even Islam until after the dust had already settled in New York. Reality is bad for business.
The fundamental architecture of our popular media actually discourages dialogue and discussion, and encourages ignorance and apathy – it gives us that “warm & fuzzy” feeling that makes us want to invest in DVD collections and 3-year cell-phone contracts… you know, that feeling that disappeared temporarily in 2001, when we caught a brief glimpse of reality and the kind of unstable world that we actually live in. We cannot count on the media to keep us aware of changes in our world, that much is painfully obvious. One day, it will just happen… and then we will know.
And so we can’t blame the weather, nor the reality of war. We can’t blame our governments, our shopping malls, or our television sets. We can only blame:
Ourselves – I once read that our generation has a very unique responsibility. Ours is the first generation that has the power to end civilization, if we so choose. Ours is the first generation that must overcome human nature and, for the first time ever, choose to have less. We can hope that changes on our Earth will be gradual enough to allow for adaptation, but we can never be sure. It’s up to us. Ordinary people, naked as the day we were born.
All said and done, let me say that I am optimistic. I know there are people out there that think about these things all the time, and have already begun to prepare themselves mentally for the kinds of drastic social changes that our generation will face. Just exactly how it all goes down, I can’t guess. As I said before, I’m only looking at broad trends here, and I could very well be wrong about a number of things (comments are open if you want to fill me in on your opinions). All I know for sure is that “this” will not be a feasible way of life forever.
And where is there hope?
You know, I make a lot of entries in this blog praising the Internet. I really want to express how ABSOLUTELY CRUCIAL I think it is. I don’t just think of it as a handy tool, I truly believe it could be the saving grace of human civilization. If you go back and read the problems that I’ve listed, the Internet has the potential to change many of them. It has the power to bring down empires, re-ignite discussion and re-create communities. It puts a great deal of power back into the hands of everyday people, and it is those same everyday people that will rise up and begin to make more informed and responsible decisions.
By virtue of me writing this, and the fact that you chose to read it, proves that I’m on to something! Because it shows that we are at least thinking about it, and that we do care.