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What to Do While Marching Towards Armageddon: A Catastrophe of Our Own Making.

July 25, 2010



A few weeks ago, I posted a humorous but pessimistic Diary, “Marching Towards Armageddon.” In that diary, I described some of those things that appeared to me to be steps we are taking down the path to extinction. Humorous or not, such pessimism is not unjustified. Others are even more gloomy.

James Lovelock, a scientist famous for creating the Gaia hypothesis – the idea that the Earth functions as some kind of living super-organism – recently opined that, “Most life will move up to the Arctic basin because only it and a few islands will remain habitable,”.Stuart Jeffries The Guardian

More recently an even more pessimistic Diary appeared in Daily Kos entitled, “Extinction, Incrementalism and the Fate of Humanity ” in which the author “One Pissed Off Liberal” posited that the human race could become extinct within a hundred years or less.

It used to be that the Road to Armageddon was lined with remote potential natural disasters such as the collision of an asteroid with the earth and other events from outer space or seismic and volcanic catastrophes all of which we could do little about. Other potential natural disasters such a pandemics humans have spent millennia struggling against with ever greater success.

In the last 70 years or so for the first time humanity has been confronted with the potential of species extinction or catastrophe of our own making. The initial human-made threats were in the form of the development of potential humanity destroying weapons of war, nuclear, biological and chemical. We responded with a 50-year ongoing struggle to control them and the forces that could prompt those weapons to be unleashed.

Even more recently we have only just begun to recognize the threats to our welfare from the very success of our species in the exponential growth of our population and from the pursuit of the standard of living to which we aspire.

This must be a shock to our collective consciousness. No longer is the danger from outside, from God if you will, a danger we could all but ignore, but we ourselves appear to have become our own worst enemy just by surviving and reproducing. How does one assimilate that into one’s belief system?

There appear to be only two sane responses for an individual to this state of affairs. One is to prepare for the eventuality such as buying land in Canada and the like or if in fact, the end is near, then doing whatever is necessary to make that end as painless as possible.

The other option is to fight with all we have against this dolorous future.

Is it too late?

We do not know and therefore it is irrelevant. We must act as though we can prevail. The concept that something or someone will intercede and save us is insane. Each of us is morally responsible for resisting.

Why, given its significance to our species, does it appear that there are so few dedicated to the struggle?

Perhaps it is just that for many of us resistance to our own natures or to something we feel powerless to alter makes it reasonable for each of us to make his or her own individual accommodation with destiny. After all, although as Pogo said, “We have met the enemy and he is us”, that is probably not enough to generate the enthusiasm to man the phone lines, protest in the street or even to vote.

Also, I think we all surmise that if those that fight and resist succeed, it will be those who avoided the struggle but have made ready, who will reap the benefits of the sacrifices of others. So why bother especially since we have been so recently disappointed. But have we?

A student from Harvard writing in the Huffington Post in looking at recent past and the upcoming elections has pointed out to us supposedly older and wiser why every election especially the next one demands our utmost efforts.

Yes, things are pretty bleak for Democrats, who, handed a golden opportunity to lead the country in a mutually positive direction, have managed the stunning vertebral feat of having even less backbone than usual in cowing to the demands of congressional Republicans (whom the Dems presently outnumber 311-219). We had our chance, and we did nothing.

Oh, except for health care reform, which will lower costs for the middle class and small businesses, extend affordable coverage to 32 million previously uninsured Americans, and reduce the deficit by 1.3 trillion dollars over the next twenty years. Also the stimulus bill, which cut taxes for 95% of working Americans and has already created or saved more than 3 million jobs. Oh, and the Credit Cardholders’ Bill of Rights, which protects consumers against unfair rate hikes, penalties, and fees. Plus there’s the Student Aid & Fiscal Responsibility Act — the largest ever investment in college aid, which reduces the deficit by eliminating student loan subsidies to banks. Not to mention the HIRE Act, which has created 300,000 jobs by granting tax incentives to businesses that hire unemployed Americans, the Helping Families Save Their Homes Act, which has mitigated foreclosures by incentivizing lenders and homeowners to modify loans, Statutory Pay-As-You-Go, which requires that Congress offset any measure that expands entitlements or cuts federal revenues, and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which allows women — who earn 78 cents on the dollar relative to men — to challenge unfair pay practices. But that is all that has gotten done under the incompetent, directionless, wounded animal that is the Democratic Congress…except for financing college for all children of fallen U.S. soldiers, raising the pay of soldiers by 3.4%, protecting more than 2 million acres of wilderness, saving Head Start, investing 31 billion dollars in science and math education, expanding the first-time homebuyer tax credit, and incentivizing the purchase of fuel efficient cars. But that is all.

I sometimes forget why I choose to be a member of the Democratic Party, a group that certainly has its share of thoughtless crooks, craven liars, petty opportunists, and Blanche Lincoln. And then I look at the alternative. You think Harry Reid is an effective and visionary leader? I don’t, but if Sharron Angle becomes a member of the United States Senate we should probably all just call it a day, lemmings-style. Angle epitomizes the Tea Party myth that the federal government is an evil, un-American hobgoblin that wants to tax you for the sake of taxing you, rather than a body elected by the citizenry to determine our laws and policies.

Daniel Cluchey, Hoover v. Roosevelt: Decision 2010, The Huffington Post: July 7, 2010.

Ted Rall in “In Dire Straits, Americans Whimper Instead”,
published on Friday, June 25, 2010, by referred to a 1967 experiment with dogs that may help understand why some may act in a crisis while others dither

Two sets of dogs were strapped into harnesses and subjected to a series of shocks. The dogs were placed in the same room.

The first set of dogs was allowed to perform a task–pushing a panel with their snouts–in order to avoid the shocks. As soon as one dog mastered the shock-avoidance technique, his comrades followed suit.

The second group, on the other hand, was placed out of reach from the panel. They couldn’t stop the pain. But they watched the actions of the first set.

Then both groups of dogs were subjected to a second experiment. If they jumped over a barrier, the dogs quickly learned, the shocks would stop. The dogs belonging to the first set all did it.

But the second-set dogs were too psychologically scarred to help themselves. “When shocked, many of them ran around in great distress but then lay on the floor and whimpered,” wrote Russell A. Powell, Diane G. Symbaluk and P. Lynne Honey in Introduction to Learning and Behavior. “They made no effort to escape the shock. Even stranger, the few dogs that did by chance jump over the barrier, successfully escaping the shock, seemed unable to learn from this experience and failed to repeat it on the next trial. In summary, the prior exposure to inescapable shock seemed to impair the dogs’ ability to learn to escape shock when escape became possible.”

The decrease in learning ability caused by unavoidable punishment leads to a condition called “learned helplessness.” In Dire Straits, Americans Whimper Instead by Ted Rall Published on Friday, June 25, 2010 by

I think what that experiment may be telling us is that it is those that have struggled to achieve some relief from the pain are best able to handle the shocks of the future. Or to paraphrase what I have written in another context “In the context of survival, despair is not an option”.

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