Granted the 20th century was no picnic. What with its mass atrocities, slaughterhouse wars, world-wide depression, Cold War, and the existential threat of nuclear annihilation. Yet, with only about a decade gone in the 21st Century, I’m thinking that we may be on a path to match that dismal record. But should we take such a dire prediction seriously?
Consider the severity of the problems out there. Here’s a sampling of what we’re up against. Massed “conventional” warfare is probably off the table, but terrorists will deploy in nation after nation keeping civilian populations on edge. And should they succeed in obtaining even limited nuclear capacity a terrified public will demand a campaign of drastic repression. Additionally, cyber warfare, capable of inflicting systemic disruptions upon a society appears ready for roll out. Just as destabilizing are the massive private and public debt levels that will lock large parts of the world into various forms of long-term economic bondage as knee-jerk austerity measures send unemployment levels dangerously high, producing stagnation impoverishing hundreds of millions of people and reducing the living standards of an equal number. Meanwhile, the world’s elite, perceiving restlessness around the globe and fearing the consequences of this massive downward shift, will do all they can to preserve their enormous wealth and authority.
If you believe the world to be generally better off under American leadership, then surely there are problems ahead. Not only is the U.S. stretched perilously thin overseas, and its voice notably less commanding, it has at home made little progress in tackling the severe dislocations that plague the economy and threaten the nation’s labor force. Neither has it attended to the long-term challenges involving its educational system, infrastructure, renewable energy, growth of inequality and immigration policy. Political stalemate and a widespread suspicion of government activity make progress unlikely in those areas. To the degree that America fails to put its own house in order, its ability to maintain world order suffers proportionately.
All the above is playing out in a world entering the uncharted terrain of climate change. Drought, flooding, severe and weird weather patterns, desertification, coastline submergence, population movement, the eradication of countless species – all this is the likely outcome of rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. Despite the substantial disruption now occurring and still awaiting us, little will be done to address the threat given the competition among nations, the political influence of vested interests and the slow pace of the expected changes which obscures the severity of the situation.
Sure, we’re piling on, still we’ve not yet even mentioned the exploding Middle East, and the weakness of progressive forces there, a world population which continues to swell – putting additional strains on diminishing resources, high unemployment worldwide, a surging Chinese nation determined to claim its rightful place in the world, and a European region under economic siege and facing social unrest.
Can all this be brushed aside, explained away or called into question? Many will try insisting that difficult times such as these invariably foster gloom and depression, and a tendency to overlook contrary positive evidence (such as the rapid pace of technological progress). It’s all cyclical others will insist, confident that, as always, the pendulum will right itself. Furthermore, they add, if you go back in history you’ll discover, many other times when people were likewise convinced all was lost. If these counter arguments don’t persuade there’s always the “muddle through” option that assures us that the human race, always resilient, will somehow muddle through. If so, the “muddling” had better begin real soon.