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Long-Term Pessimistic

Allow me to depress the hell out of you for a moment as I step back and take a broad look at the state of affairs in the world and draw my gloomy conclusions. Hopefully someone can tell me why I’m wrong and that things aren’t as bad as they seem.

Cenk Uygur, the host of my favorite political show—The Young Turks—sees most things almost exactly as I see them with one major difference. He insists that while he may be pessimistic in the short-term, he’s “long-term optimistic” and I know a lot of people who also feel that way. But not me. I look at the world and the human race and I see a species on the verge of extinction, brought about by its own blind ignorance and refusal to accept responsibility for its fate.

Just look at what’s in the headlines today. Wall Street Executives are expressing sighs of relief at the financial reform package just passed in the senate. You don’t need to know a damned thing about economics to take that as an indication that the reforms didn’t go far enough and the bankers can continue with business as usual. Banks can still be too big to fail and they can still trade derivatives. There is slightly more oversight and rules banning some of the more reckless financial practices…but no penalty for banks that break those rules. Just this one line from the New York Times piece says it all:

Some experts predict that Wall Street, like water overcoming a dam, will easily adapt to the new regulations, or at least exploit what loopholes do remain and thrive again.

If I had any money I’d bet heavily on another financial crisis hitting within the next few years. And when it does, the damage is going to be far worse than the last one. The big banks haven’t been broken up so they can still hold the economy hostage. The public has to bail them out or it all goes under. But people are still enraged about the first bailout—how is it going to be politically possible for anyone in congress to vote for another one? I suspect they all will because they can hide behind the cover of “this is absolutely necessary” like they did the first time, but there’s a chance that the people just won’t stand for it this time and the banks will go down. In any case, Obama will be blamed (rightly so in one sense) and the Tea Party movement is likely to boil into open revolt. Economies all over the world will fall like dominos and countries that have a social safety net will find the number of unemployed far too large to handle. Billions will be out on the street with nowhere to turn, and global chaos will ensue.

Maybe that won’t happen for a few decades, but that seems to be the direction we’re heading in. Thanks to these financial crises the human race seems to be waking up to the fact that the entire global monetary system is based on nothing more than a kind of international consent. We agree that your money is worth something and you agree that ours is too. But economies are becoming less based on actual tangible goods and more on abstract ‘financial products’ that have no intrinsic value. Wealth is just a number in a bank account, scarcely more real than points in a video game. The entire global financial system is a balloon filled with hot air and we’re doing nothing to stop those who keep blowing into it because they hold the balloon—they own everybody in a position to potentially stop them—and sooner or later the balloon is going to burst.

But that’s just money. The global chaos that will ensue when the balloon bursts may set humanity back to the Dark Ages but it won’t kill us all. The other big story in the news these days is the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which in and of itself won’t be too devastating but it’s just one symptom of a much larger problem—one far more threatening than any economic collapse.

Not everyone accepts that CO2 emissions are warming up the earth’s atmosphere and not everyone believes that the earth’s resources are as limited as environmentalists claim they are, but just about everyone accepts the concept of a food chain. Anyone who knows anything about ecosystems knows that all forms of life depend on other forms of life for their survival. Nature establishes equilibriums, and when it’s thrown off balance the consequences are usually devastating. Remove just one species from a marsh and hundreds of others might disappear depending on how crucial that species was.

This planet is currently undergoing what scientists have labeled the Sixth Extinction, in which the earth loses about 30,000 species per year due to human activity. This has been going on since the development of agriculture thousands of years ago, but there is no doubt it’s accelerating rapidly due to industrialization. The Gulf oil spill is almost sure to take its fair share of species from the ocean, and there is no indication that we as a species have any intention to stop drilling any time soon.

And of course there’s only so much oil in the earth’s crust, so when that’s gone we’re really going to run into trouble unless we can find another fuel source that can provide us with as much energy as fossil fuels do. Wind and solar won’t provide enough power to keep civilization running as it currently is, and nuclear energy has its own problems, the biggest being radioactive waste.

But even if we find a way to keep the engines of civilization churning, those engines will continue to rape the environment, pollute the sky, and destroy species by the minute. Common sense tells us that there’s only so much damage we can do to the environment before a tipping point is reached and some element of the food chain that was critical to our survival disappears. It may not happen for another century, but unless we drastically alter our way of living it is bound to happen, and I see no sign of willingness on the part of humanity to make such drastic alterations.

The last story I read today is about the Muslim world’s perception of America on the one year anniversary of Obama’s Cairo speech, and how nearly all of the hopes he raised in that speech have been dashed over the last year. The prison at Guantanamo remains open, Israel is still building new settlements in disputed territory, and American troops are still in Iraq and Afghanistan. Regarding the wars, Iraq may be “winding down” but people are still being killed by insurgents nearly every day, while Afghanistan truly is “heating up” while many objective observers are saying that our presence there is counter-productive. Our troops are basically there to prop up and support a corrupt, criminal government with a leader who almost certainly won the election through fraud.

Why is this important? Why is it a sign of humanity’s impending doom? Because the leader of the free world is not George W. Bush anymore—it’s Barack Obama.

I came to true political awareness during the Bush administration and back then I was just as filled with doom and gloom. Clearly, the guy was the worst possible president we could have had. Not only was he an ignorant buffoon who probably genuinely believed that Jesus wanted him to start these wars—he was transparently a puppet of the giant corporations that dominate us. He was a wholly owned subsidiary of Big Oil and a staunch ally of the military industrial complex. Under Bush, you could be sure that the environment would continue to be raped and war would be the order of the day. Clearly, there would be no effort towards world peace or environmental sustainability.

But then Barack Obama came along with a promise of change. He talked the talk and inspired the world with the very vision we needed most—the vision of a world united in peace, an end to unnecessary wars and a true drive towards clean and renewable energy that would protect and preserve the environment we all depend on. If anyone was going to lead the way to that future dreamed about by men like Gene Roddenberry or Carl Sagan—in which humanity survives its technological adolescence and dedicates itself to its own betterment and to exploring the universe beyond our planet of origin—it was Barack Obama.

But clearly we’re a long way from the United Federation of Planets and it’s doubtful we’ll ever get there. If Obama had the best of intentions when he got into office, he quickly discovered that there were serious limitations to what he could accomplish. The powers that be were already too powerful. If the best he could do with Wall Street was to give them a slap on the wrist and warn them not to cause another financial crisis, if the best he could do with the two wars was to slightly alter the deployment numbers and shift a few resources around, if the best he could do to address climate change was to offer more subsidies for offshore drilling and then give up the fight when something went wrong, and if the best he can do during an actual environmental catastrophe like the one in the Gulf is to let the corporations handle it and hope the story just goes away—then humanity is more fucked than most people care to admit.

It turns out that it really doesn’t matter at all who the president is. If we’re heading in the wrong direction no matter who is at the helm, we’re eventually going to fall off the cliff. And what can I do about it? What can any of us do about it? That’s a question for another blog entry, one I’ll write if I ever come up with anything. For now I think the best we can do is simply recognize it. To understand that humanity’s survival is not guaranteed—that our grandchildren may not live to have grandchildren of their own—and that the only hope we have is to stop making enemies of each other and to come together and fight against extinction, the common enemy of us all.

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