The power takes longer to return after the storm. Grids built in antiquity and faithfully maintained for too long show their wear, new technologies now become ancient – we still burn dead dinosaurs for energy to power our cars that still roll down roads much as they did a century ago. Hollywood spends $120,000,000 on a movie about space but we have not returned to the moon in my lifetime – much less conquered the stars.
In foreign lands bearded barbarians walk wild-eyed through glistening shopping malls selling consumer products, looking for women to whip and music to burn while across town the greatest army in history mounts a panicky retreat – people we promised to protect hanging helplessly from wings of warbirds or crushed inside the landing gear while from over the horizon predator drones fire missiles at the innocent. Closer to home, trickles of humanity become rivers and turn to floods as a pandemic wipes away the pretense of modernity and good-governance revealing the nakedness of a world order that does not any longer provide pathways to a life more abundant or solve that age-old challenge of consent. Upon a whisper of amnesty or rumor of a sympathetic border guard they make the 5000 mile journey to be turned away again at their last hope of a better life.
I contemplate all this as I pick my way delicately through the tent city that has cropped up in the epicenter of empire, eyes downcast lest I enrage the irrational and giving wide berth to the beetle-man army surrounding a few sorry souls, the remnants of the deplorably left-behind.
Mine is not the generation defined by success. The days of Pax Americana are well nigh and over, quite truly and visibly. I came of age in the late ‘90s. Guns and Roses and Green Day – ‘Live and Let Die’ and ‘Holiday’. We were at the outer fringes, the last gasping whisps of order that were ending – though we didn’t know it. We had won the Cold War, there was really nothing left to achieve. Hadn’t Fukuyama and his deep state told us that it was all now just a matter of tightening the screws, occasionally changing the oil in the vehicle of utopian prosperity that we had built? Were’t we assured that Haiti, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Pakistan were one correctly observed election – one successfully administered judicial training program – one parliamentary strengthening cooperative agreement away from a nicely purring system in which everything would work out according to the will of the winners. AKA us!!
The millennium found me embarking on my own “end of history” career – but quickly because if I don’t hurry up there will be no need for my services!! Call it ‘development’ or ‘aid’ or ‘humanitarian’ or whatever you want – I was to be the point of the spear at the fringes of empire; hurry up to get in my hits before it all became boring and safe – administered by the World Bank and the technocratic governments trained in Harvard and doing a stint at KPMG making the requisite contacts before returning to apply the perfect package at home. Bretton Woods had made it all safe. America’s security blanket would assure that – and who cares if it’s a little stifling, isn’t that the price for comfort?
Twenty years, maybe twenty-five – that what we were given. “The Coming Anarchy” met “The Return of Marco Polo’s World” with the intermediate period one of vitriol and paralysis and the slow failure of order. Not in small ways either – but in the most epic, civilizational ways possible. The aging of our societies: Japan and China and Italy and Russia, and yes America and Brazil. For the first time planetary population is set to reduce, dramatically in the places that made it, and with the exception of Africa – the dark continent that cannot sustain one more soul set to quadruple. The wipeout of our natural environment, the ‘6th Great Extinction’ – while the only answer are low-density solutions to energy that freeze up in a storm and chop our great birds into mincemeat. We are even getting shorter – America’s life expectancy and height reduced by our diet, our addiction to fat and sugar. An explosion of dementia – 90% of Japanese set to suffer this disease, wasting away in old folks homes uncared for because of the lack of young workers in youth-less societies.
Wars we cannot win. Problems we cannot solve. Pandemics we cannot end. Politics – all of it as we have lost our common sense and our ability to understand the world around us and turn that wisdom into actionable solutions. Today its China – but they are fading away quicker than they realize, one-child policies and lower-middle class burden making children impossible while they export their excess production in a “Belt and Road” in an attempt to smooth over the surplus. Tomorrow it will be something else, my guess is Africa – tidal waves of human flesh making the perilous way across the Sahara bombed by Italian fighter jets piloted by the geriatrics or Artificial Intelligence desperate to keep the newcomers away from the silent ghost-villages perched beside a castle which once hosted a noble in times when Europe too was great.
The world is changing – and we are not keeping up. Anyone who says different is selling something. Apropos of that, you should buy by latest novel “The Unraveling” – at least it’s a good read while you wait for the end.