Sunday, July 28, 2019

The Great Reckoning

Andrew Bacevich writes that there's a Great Reckoning coming. The device he uses for his argument is "a remnant of a manuscript, discovered in a vault near the coastal town of Walpole, Massachusetts, [which] appears to have been part of a larger project, probably envisioned as an interpretive history of the United States since the year 2000. Only a single chapter, probably written near the midpoint of the twenty-first century, has survived."

Bacevich looks at the world from the perspective of the future. In the early part of the 21st century, the evidence of the coming planetary collapse was everywhere:

Item: The reality of climate change was now indisputable. All that remained in question was how rapidly it would occur and the extent (and again rapidity) of the devastation that it would ultimately inflict.
Item: Despite everything that was then known about the dangers of further carbon emissions, the major atmospheric contributor to global warming, they only continued to increase, despite the myriad conferences and agreements intended to curb them. (U.S. carbon emissions, in particular, were still rising then, and global emissions were expected to rise by record or near-record amounts as 2019 began.)
Item: The polar icecap was disappearing, with scientists reporting that it had melted more in just 20 years than in the previous 10,000. This, in turn, meant that sea levels would continue to rise at record rates, posing an increasing threat to coastal cities.
Item: Deforestation and desertification were occurring at an alarming rate.
Item: Approximately eight million metric tons of plastic were seeping into the world’s oceans each year, from the ingestion of which vast numbers of seabirds, fish, and marine mammals were dying annually. Payback would come in the form of microplastics contained in seafood consumed by humans.
Item: With China and other Asian countries increasingly refusing to accept American recyclables, municipalities in the United States found themselves overwhelmed by accumulations of discarded glass, plastic, metal, cardboard, and paper. That year, the complete breakdown of the global recycling system already loomed as a possibility.
Item: Worldwide bird and insect populations were plummeting. In other words, the Sixth Mass Extinction had begun.

Yet in the face of all this evidence, countries -- particularly the United States -- refused to do anything about the looming catastrophe:

To say that Americans were oblivious to such matters would be inaccurate. Some were, for instance, considering a ban on plastic straws. Yet taken as a whole, the many indications of systemic and even planetary dysfunction received infinitely less popular attention than the pregnancies of British royals, the antics of the justifiably forgotten Kardashian clan, or fantasy football, a briefly popular early twenty-first century fad.
Of course, decades later, viewed with the benefit of hindsight, the implications of these various trends and data points seem painfully clear: the dominant ideological abstraction of late postmodernity — liberal democratic capitalism — was rapidly failing or had simply become irrelevant to the challenges facing the United States and the human species as a whole. To employ another then-popular phrase, liberal democratic capitalism had become an expression of “fake news,” a scam sold to the many for the benefit of the privileged few.
“Toward the end of an age,” historian John Lukacs (1924-2019) once observed, “more and more people lose faith in their institutions and finally they abandon their belief that these institutions might still be reformed from within.” Lukacs wrote those words in 1970, but they aptly described the situation that had come to exist in that turning-point year of 2019. Basic American institutions — the overworked U.S. military being a singular exception — no longer commanded popular respect.
In essence, the postmodern age was ending, though few seemed to know it — with elites, in particular, largely oblivious to what was occurring. What would replace postmodernity in a planet heading for ruin remained to be seen.

We are, indeed, at the end of an age. Something to think about.

Image: Steam


Rural said...

A remarkably succinct treatise that clearly outlines our current dilemma and how little is being done to address it Owen. The climate, the birds & insects, the flowers & trees and indeed nature itself is trying to tell us something but by-enlarge it is being ignored in mankind's obsession with a different kind of wealth.

Owen Gray said...

Again and again, Rural, we are reminded of humankind's essential illness. And, to date, no cure has been found.

ffd said...

Definitely something to think about and do something about. But the people I meet don't want to think. Maybe they are too harassed by daily life to have the energy to think.

It is strange how hard it is to keep up with scientific developments without deliberately and actively seeking such information while endless drivel about, say, the royal family is hard to avoid. Even I know about baby Archie. How did that happen; I am not interested in baby Archie or the royals but I am interested in science, some understanding of which is necessary to appreciate the dangers of global warming.

Even the science mags are dumbed down and this in one of the most exciting periods of scientific discovery ever to happen.

As far as global warming info goes, I follow Paul Beckwith, a prof at the U of Ottawa,on his Youtube channel. He is very good but I feel like I need a remedial science course to understand his stuff. But I sure don't want him to dumb down anything. He mentioned very recently that we narrowly avoided a big asteroid hit on July 26, one that missed the Earth only by a few earth diameters.

I suspect the powers that be are quite nervous about the general population taking global warming seriously and will minimize it as long as possible. When it begins to hit in a way that can't be ignored, the richer people will continue to live as they always have but they will decide the poorer people don't really need electricity, etc. This is the usual pattern anyway.

Owen Gray said...

I suspect ordinary folks will reach a breaking point, ffd. What happened in Puerto Rico recently is a small preview of what will happen. And the results won't be pretty.

ffd said...

OK, the date of the near hit was 25 July.

Paul wrote: What a crazy coincidence. Last night I uploaded three videos on asteroid and comet impacts. This morning we had an extremely close call. Asteroid 2019 OK missed Earth by 0.19 LD (72,000 km; about 6 Earth diameters; 19% of Earth-to-Moon distance). Asteroid diameter was between 57 to 130 meters, speed 24.5 km/s. Upper end size would hit with an energy of 260 MT (17,000 Hiroshima size bombs), causing a 2.6 km diameter crater 556 meters deep. The fireball would have been 1.5 km in diameter, and the frequency of occurrence is about once every 12,000 years. An extremely close call; and a total surprise.

Here is an example of a science story with very little or no MSM coverage. When people have no idea what is going on, they can't think sensibly.

Paul is a font of info both scientific and practical. Anyway I hope that knowing we were not hit by a giant asteroid cheers us all up.

Owen Gray said...

We've had lots of near misses, ffd. My father used to call it "pure dumb luck." However, given what we face, I dont think we can rely on pure dumb luck.

The Mound of Sound said...

When I read this piece I thought Bacevich was writing a eulogy for the country he once served and for which his son died in Iraq. It's been a very interesting transformation for Bacevich from a career US Army commander who led forces in Desert Storm, to watching his son follow in his shoes, to leaving the army only to realize most of what he had been led to believe about both the military and his country was propaganda. Then he pursued a second career as an academic and brought his life experiences into play in what must, by now, be five books.

Bacevich finds the capture of the US government by special interests reflected in the latter day mutation of what we once knew as the military-industrial complex as new players joined in, among them Christian fundamentalists, the hyper-bellicose neo-conservatives, the new Republican right, and the commercial, for-profit, warfighters such as Halliburton, Blackwater and other contractors. They have together created an institution that exists to fight, not to win. Together they sculpted America's all volunteer army, the purpose of which was to isolate powerful advantaged groups, the rich and influential, from the obligation of sending their sons and daughters to war. Keep them onside and it's a virtual licence to wage perma-war, war without end. Anything to keep the machine churning.

Owen Gray said...

For Bacevich, Mound, the tragedy which has overtaken his country mirrors his own personal tragedy. It's what gives his writing power and purpose.