Tuesday, February 13, 2018

What's The Whole World Coming To?

The windows of the world are covered in rain. What's the whole world coming to?

Those lyrics, penned by Burt Bacharach, are very much a 60s saying.  It was a phrase that was very popular back then, as I recall, what with the hippies and beatniks and all and the Vietnam War and the threat of a nuclear annihilation.  People would say "what's the world coming to?" when talking about some latest outrage or occurrence.

My mother, when she had a few martinis too many - which is to say more than zero - would get into one of her Fugue States and start railing against the world in general.  "What's the world coming to these days?" she would say, as if somehow our planet back in 1972 was in more dire straits than it was in the past, or indeed even today.

And I guess each generation goes through this - thinking their situation is somehow more unique or dire or dangerous than that of previous generations.  And it seems odd to me that a woman who lived through both the Great Depression and World War II would rail "what's the world coming to?" in the 1970s when the economy was relatively stable despite the gas crisis, Watergate, and stagflation.

But each generation and each decade faces its own challenges, some great, and some small.  Like I said, my parents had to face both the Great Depression and World War II, which you would think would make anything after that seem pretty small potatoes. But the Red Scare in the 1950s as well as the threat of nuclear annihilation probably put those two events somewhat in perspective.  It seems as though the entire planet was ready to blow up on a moment's notice.

(This is not to say, of course, that each generation faces the same level of difficulty, only that it seemed so to each generation in question. The difficulties my generation faced with the Vietnam War, Watergate, and the oil crisis were nothing compared to the Great Depression and World War II. Problems we had in the 1990s were nothing compared to those during the war on terror in the 2000s).

When decades go by and the planet doesn't blow up, we develop a false sense of security that it never will.  Of course, one day we will probably all be in for a good surprise in that regard.  But then other things happene, such as the Arab oil embargo of 1973 which really changed our entire economy permanently.  Suddenly overnight, the price of oil was on everyone's lips in the price of gasoline became a big thing.

And then the economy started to tank and people lost their jobs - and suddenly politicians promised jobs as part of their election campaigns - something that seemingly never happened before.  And in the 1980s Reagan was elected and it was "Morning in America" and we were shipping arms to the Contras in exchange for birthday cakes given to the Ayatollah. What was the whole world coming to?

And in the 1990s it was saxophone-playing Bill Clinton with his dalliances in the White House and elsewhere with chubby girls who like to give head.  Oh, what on Earth was the world coming to?

And then George Bush was elected and the World Trade Center was attacked and suddenly a lot of the trivial bullshit of the past was put into real perspective.  An entire generation has grown up since then knowing nothing but the war on terror and what is become a de facto war on Islam.

Today the anguish that people are wringing their hands over is the Trump presidency.  It seems we are headed once again into uncharted territory and dire consequences are forecast.  And, as in the past, no doubt some of those consequences may indeed come true.  But on the other hand, if you look at the track record of humanity and see the horrific things we've survived over the decades and centuries, when you ask "What's the world coming to?" it pretty much amounts to more of the same.

Of course, each time this question is asked, the underlying premise is that somehow eventually the planet will eventually exact it's righteous revenge from mankind for overpopulating the world. Perhaps this time around it will be global warming that will kill us off.  We all thought we would starve to death long before now as the supply of food will be far outstripped by the supply of humanity.

And if you look at the history of every species that's existed on this planet, you will see that pattern does hold true.  Species breed and survive and thrive in a particular environmental niche until they basically destroy that environment and something catastrophic happens.  Sometimes that species goes extinct, other times it adapts to a new environment or perhaps a new species becomes dominant.

All hail our new cockroach masters!

But as I noted before, you really can't make any money betting on Armageddon.  Even if your bet is correct, the best you can hope for is a subterranean lair stocked with canned goods and ammunition to last as long as you can survive.  It's not a plan for survival of the species, however, but merely a chance for you to witness the last degradation of mankind.

You have to hope that whatever wipes out humanity from the face of the earth - whether it is a cataclysmic comet, mega-volcano, nuclear annihilation, or the slow rise in sea and land temperatures, that it happens after you are long dead in the grave.  Because these things happen on a time frame measured in millennia, not in years or months.  And our investment horizon is usually terminates when we do.

This is not to say we shouldn't be concerned with world events or take action to change them.  The worldwide coalition to abolish ozone-depleting chemicals apparently has worked - and the ozone hole in the atmosphere has shrunk over the years.  This is in spite of the fact that many right-wing commentators - who are today decrying global warming as a hoax - said that the entire ozone thing was overblown and a bunch of nonsense.  It does illustrate that people working together can change the world literally and physically.

But that requires action, not hand-wringing in wondering "What is the whole world coming to?"