Friday, January 19, 2018

Beyond belief

In the 1970s, the world seemed tantalizingly close to perfectable. Sure, we were still in the thick of the Cold War, but that was our biggest threat. We were learning about the environment and seemed to have popular support for doing something about it. That included acknowledging the role played by population pressure. So all we had to do was avoid nuclear annihilation and we’d be all set for a happy planet full of people who had decided to appreciate each other’s cultural differences rather than give way to paranoia.

Paranoia was not going to take that lying down. It must have convened a think tank with its allies, ignorance and greed, to plan a campaign to reestablish dominance over human affairs.

Conspiracy theory is the enemy of social progress. We used to believe that evolution favored greater intelligence and better planning, so that a diverse and prosperous humanity was inevitable. Magical thinking tainted our hopeful view. Human history has been nothing but cycles of violence interrupted by intervals of fatigue. The Second World War was horrific enough to scare us away from having another big one for many decades. The development of nuclear weapons helped with this. But now we’ve reached the point where nation states are toying with the idea of low-yield nukes that make the use of them a mere tactical decision, rather than the onset of the end of our species in a rain of hell fire. Quit worrying! We’re only going to obliterate a few small cities! We survived the fallout from Hiroshima and Nagasaki with no significant ill effects! We can do this.

Paranoids on the right and the left post each other’s internet memes without reading them thoroughly. As long as the catchy phraseology says that everything is bent and that “they” are coming for your (insert item here) it’s The Truth That They Don’t Want You to Know. Meanwhile, the chief greedheads plan their military campaigns for world domination through strategic application of mushroom clouds.