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OPINION AND ANALYSIS | 02-09-2023 06:17

A sense of impending doom

There are plenty of reasons to feel gloomy about the prospects facing not just the West but also the available alternatives.

Argentina is far from being the only country whose inhabitants fear that something very nasty could be coming their way. Similar sentiments can be detected almost everywhere, what with North Americans alluding to the possibility of a civil war, Europeans resigning themselves to (at best) a future of genteel poverty, and East Asians suddenly waking up to the long-evident fact that it will be curtains for them unless they resume having children in the time-honoured manner. 

Pessimists, of which there are a great many nowadays, are fond of quoting Arnold Toynbee’s famous dictum that “civilisations die from suicide, not by murder,” by which he meant that, after losing a sense of purpose, they become so weak-willed that they are unable to meet challenges they would once have overcome with ease. As anyone who keeps up with the news will have been made aware, there are plenty of reasons to feel gloomy about the prospects facing not just the West but also the available alternatives. Hardly a day goes by without some well-regarded publication including articles by commentators who bewail what is happening both in their own country and further afield. 

They tell us that climate change threatens to make much of our planet uninhabitable, an eventuality which some would welcome because they think humankind is a dirty species which deserves to share the fate of the dinosaurs. To remedy this, governments, urged on by campaigners, say they will do their utmost to make fossil fuels obsolete in the very near future – even though the proposed substitutes have yet to become technically or economically viable – and brush off warnings that the changes they have in mind are bound to hit most people very hard. In France, the United Kingdom and the United States, many see the fight against climate change as an elitist onslaught against the lower orders which will have to pay through the nose to keep warm in winter or drive cars to get to work. 

As if this were not enough, Vladimir Putin, who has his back against the wall, enjoys insinuating that unless he gets his way in Ukraine he will start detonating some of the many nuclear bombs Russia has accumulated. Meanwhile, huge numbers of people from Africa, the Middle East, southern Asia and Latin America are risking their lives in a desperate attempt to reach North America and Europe; those that get there often do their best to make their new homes much like those they fled from. Strangely enough, progressives who claim they are convinced that the West is a criminal enterprise run by vicious racists who mistreat immigrants are not warning them to stay away; instead, they demand that the doors remain wide open so many more can come.

Outside Sub-Saharan Africa, populations are shrinking at an alarming rate. If this continues for much longer, by the time the 22nd century comes in South Korea, Japan, China, Russia, Greece, Italy, Spain, Germany and many other countries will have become little more than names on old maps because most of the people who make them what they still are will have died out. Militant feminism, which wants women to play very non-traditional roles in human societies, has undoubtedly contributed to this alarming phenomenon, but few, apart from Taliban fanatics, dare mention this; in enlightened circles, defending any aspect of the “patriarchy” is simply not tolerated.

North Americans and, to an increasing extent, Europeans are busily reviving racial grievances they imagined had been consigned to the past in the 1960s and obsessing about the alleged right of males to make out they are females and be treated as such, even competing in sporting events for women in which they can win by quite ridiculous margins. The vigorous transsexual lobby has been so successful that in Canada, parts of the United States and the more prosperous parts of Europe making fun of the proliferation of newly-invented pronouns can put an abrupt end to a promising academic or even corporate career.

And then there is the threat apparently posed by “Artificial Intelligence” which, we are being warned by an assortment of accredited experts, after eliminating jobs that require even a small amount of brainpower could go on to rebel against its human creators and start doing things in its own inscrutable way. Unleashed AI is merely the latest of the horrors allegedly awaiting us; it is bound to be followed by others that are even more fearful. Indeed, there are already suggestions that a novel “gain-of-function” virus even more deadly than Covid-19 could be in the pipeline.

In comparison with what by all accounts is fast approaching us, the 10 plagues of Egypt mentioned in The Bible were minor affairs, most of which these days could be dealt with handily by those responsible for keeping vermin at bay and providing medical resources in an emergency. As for the killing of firstborn children, few would take much notice; in many societies, abortion is assumed to be an inviolable human right because women are entitled to wait until they are ready to give birth to offspring that, as the years pass, could cost them and their men folk much time and money.

So, what, if anything, can be done to reduce the threat posed by climate change, induce humans to have breed more prolifically, manage the migratory torrents and, while about it, tame the hostile dictatorships that make no secret of their contempt for whatever it is they think the West still stands for? In the current climate, even asking such questions can be seen by some as despicably reactionary, evidence of nostalgia for the days when Europeans carved out enormous empires in Africa, Asia and the Americas and “white supremacy” was regarded as common sense, but that does not make them go away.

A refusal to take seriously the challenges confronting not only the West but also China, India and the Islamic nations, especially those related to climate change and a plunging birth rate, can only mean that the situation will continue to get worse until the problems that keep arising end up overwhelming everyone. Unfortunately, neither democratic societies nor those accustomed to being under the thumb of tyrannies are willing to do much more than hope that, somehow or other, the difficulties that are piling up will simply melt away though there are no good reasons to think this could happen unless what, all things considered, is by far the most successful civilisation the world has ever seen recovers from a “crisis of confidence” which is making more and more people suspect it is about to follow the Roman Empire into the dark.

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James Neilson

James Neilson

Former editor of the Buenos Aires Herald (1979-1986).

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