The Return of Pessimism

During the heady days of hubris which now seem so long ago but in reality were only a few months back, I was often accused of pessimism. The world, as I saw it, was not headed to a good place. The challenge (for me personally) was that pessimism or more often panic has always been the tool of the ‘nouveau Marxists‘, Gramscian these who think less about control of the means of production and more about the enslavement of the productive through a creed of victimization, placing the tiny fringe groups who consider themselves victims at the center of our societies and building the apparatuses of state around their prejudices. Or maybe New Deals of the green variety – attempts to siphon off money to the pet projects, with no possibility of any sort of success measured in increasing numbers of wild-animals, ending of our oceanic slaughters and plastic epidemics or stopping the tree apocalypse – benefiting only those corrupt few with private airplanes flying to receive their Nobel Prizes in Davos. All in the name of ‘climate’, a Pachamama who cannot speak for herself and who cannot exact her revenge. Suffice it to say, I certainly did not want to lend credence or support to that recipe for civilizational suicide.

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But, try as I might, I still could not ‘square the circle’ – brush aside my concerns about a world order careening out of control and pretend things were hunky-dory. “To the malls!!!!” ignoring debt and inequality (the latter causing tremendous instability) and imbalances that were somehow delicately balanced upon the edge of a precipice. I chocked up my mood to my six years in West Africa, “The Coming Anarchy” ringing true in an “Arriving Ordeal” I saw just over the horizon of the next morning. “Outside the compound, gazing through the bullet-proof glass they sit, though we don’t know who they are. Young men, squatting in the dust or selling phone cards and mystery meat, eyes squinting through the grimness, that wary look of both predator and prey; watching, waiting, but for what? Who knows… We fear them, and we build our walls. This is Kabul; and Mogadishu. It is Bamako, Dakar and Abidjan. Accra and Abuja and Dhaka; Caracas and Lima and even these days parts of Phoenix and Chicago and Washington DC.”

Then I moved away, to places colder and cleaner and began to contemplate my skepticism; accruing it to something like PTSD or the more old-fashioned burnout. Maybe everything was going to be OK…???

That was not very long ago, measured in months not years. Things sure look different these days. The academic argument between the more optimistic Stephen Pinker and Angus Deaton against Robert Kaplan’s anarchy, that has come. I read the headlines, and some articles, as you do too I imagine, to contemplate the extent of our current disaster. Not only those dead, though that of course is a tragedy. More in the US in 2 months than in all the wars since WWII combined. But the mayhem goes deeper; because what I was feeling in West Africa, what Robert Kaplan writes, “West Africa is becoming the symbol of worldwide demographic, environmental, and societal stress…” is true. No need to recite numbers; that is easy to do. Statistics. Trillions in new debt – far more than the wars of the last 20 years, which I too fought. Streams, rivers, floods feeding tsunamis of red ink. $100,000,000,000,000 and growing; unpayable. Crises in leadership, our political WWF spun out of control and seeming every day more and more like a drunken brawl. Enemies emboldened. Famines, that is what is coming – Nigeria and Yemen and North Korea. A new 50,000,000 poor at least; wiping away 30 years of ‘development’. Another lost decade in Latin America, commodity prices and ill governance in that perennial home-grown problem that gets confused for “open veins” by the irresponsible and those looking for scapegoats.

I am sending in my 5th novel to the editors today for the editing process. It is titled “The Unraveling” – and its about how a world order fell apart. Not one great atom bomb; not a massive asteroid strike forcing the lucky few into caves to emerge translucent, Morlock people – “The 100” floating above the earth. Instead it is about the suicide-by-paper-cut of our modern world order, one stupid decision built upon the next and the next and the one after that in a great edifice of stupidity, infinitely unstable. Until it comes crashing down; product not of new forces but of the oldest in the world, gravity – and entropy.

Because it is we, the humans, whose planned paradises go so often awry and whose foolish decisions during moments of hubris when, channeling Fukuyama we cry to the scalded skies “THE END OF HISTORY IS HERE!! WE HAVE WON!!!” until all the great labors of the brilliant are again laid to waste by a little bug, and we are humbled.

About Joel D. Hirst

Joel D. Hirst is a novelist and a playwright. His most recently released work is "Dreams of the Defeated: A Play in Two Acts" about a political prisoner in a dystopian regime. His novels include "I, Charles, From the Camps" about the life of a young man in the African camps and "Lords of Misrule" about the making and unmaking of a jihadist in the Sahara. "The Lieutenant of San Porfirio" and its sequel "The Burning of San Porfirio" are about the rise and fall of socialist Venezuela (with magic).
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