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« Needed for Long War: strategic imagination | Main | Resetting the rule set on this Long War »
Sunday
Aug132006

The 'end times' are never-ending nowadays

Now that Iraq's civil war is complimented by Israel's invasion of Lebanon, America's right-wing "end timers" are cranking out frightening, Armageddon-flavored visions by the barrel.

Left behind? Not if you've been to bookstores lately.

These superstitiously religious types are joined from the left by similarly hyperbolic descriptions of the world's impending environmental demise (great to see you again, Al Gore!).

The middle ground? That would be Newt Gingrich and friends declaring the start of World War III.

Nice.

Why are so many afraid in a world where the global economy is growing at an unprecedented clip, there are no signs of a great power war on the horizon, and life spans have doubled over the past century?

Add in the fact that food has never been more plentiful or cheaper in history, and I've just knocked all four legendary horsemen of the apocalypse from their respective mounts.

Admittedly, I'm focusing on the larger positive trends here, downplaying very real global challenges like AIDS and climate change. But, if you're trying to sell me apocalypse now, my points are pretty fair comebacks.

Let me give you several good reasons why we're suffering this surfeit of doom-and-gloomers right now.

First, we tend to confuse cost with loss. For example, I bet you're convinced that right now more people are perishing worldwide from natural disasters than ever before.

Well, measured both in absolute terms and as a percentage of all deaths, the number of deaths from such calamities is down more than 90 percent since 1900.

What drives this perception? It's the financial costs of disasters that have skyrocketed in recent decades. But, to me, that's a nice trade-off.

Second, we often lose perspective on all these looming disasters. Global warming will raise sea levels. Last century, oceans rose roughly a foot. This century, most scientific projections have them rising by another two feet.

Do you remember the 20th century as the age of rising ocean levels? Or did we simply throw money at the problem and deal with it? Should we expect anything less in the 21st century?

Third, we constantly assume long-term extrapolations from today's trends. A good example here is the fear that the world's population will continue to double in size every X years - until that trend was recently stopped dead in its tracks by control strategies in India and China. We're now at 6.5 billion, and we'll never top 10 billion - a global population boom rapidly followed by a global population bust. Watch out for the scary science fiction movies on the latter, like the upcoming "Children of Men" (No more babies!).

Fourth, there's our weird, Western habit of decimalizing history and thus divining great meaning in round numbers (what is it about zeroes?).

Every time humanity approaches the end of a century, people tend to freak. Remember Y2K and all those whacked-out predictions of global chaos, the Messiah's fiery return, cats and dogs living together?

None of it has happened, of course, but end timers insist we're living in its obvious shadow. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 proved that, right?

Fifth, any time anything bad happens in the Middle East, a small army of late-night televangelists pull out their dog-eared copies of the Book of Revelation and begin counting down to Armageddon.

How do their predictions stand up? Well, after the '67 war, the '73 war, the Iranian Revolution, the Iran-Iraq war, Israel invading Lebanon the first time in 1982, and the original Desert Storm, I'll confess I'm getting awfully jaded on the subject.

Sixth, there's the consistent need among many humans for conspiracy theories to explain the world around them. The notion that one man can actually kill a president or dream up 9/11 or launch a global war on terror is simply too frightening, too humbling - just too random. So the conspiracy must be vast, and once I've cracked the code, I'll be super-empowered too.

Finally, there's just the enduring reality that bad news outsells good. So, if you're a purveyor of optimism, you're obviously ignorant, naive or just a pawn of those five New York Jews who run the world.

What fills this deficit of self-confidence?

Name one current American politician who's consistently espousing a positive vision of the future, somebody who gives you hope every time he or she speaks.

Remember that in November.

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