The End Is Near

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
–A Stale Pale Male

 

I’ve always liked to think of the Hebrew Bible as mostly a collection of doomsayers who got lucky and were right. Lost to the mists of time are the thousands of guys who stood around Israel claiming that the end was near, only to live out their lives never seeing things get worse, much less come to an end. Ahijah the Shilonite’s grandfather spent his time claiming the son of David would turn out to be a no-goodnik so no one bothered to write his story.

Doomsaying seems to be a part of the human condition. John Derbyshire places it within the conservative tradition and that makes some sense. The Rousseau-ists imagine Utopia is just a few more committee meetings away from reality so doomsaying does not fit their style. Conservatives are naturally skeptical and therefore would imagine that disaster is much more likely to be awaiting the schemes of man. Then again, it’s easy to be skeptical of the doom and gloom claims too, so maybe Derb is wrong.

Still, you cannot deny that things have, from time to time, gone terribly wrong for mankind. The collapse of Rome set back human development for a thousand years. The Mongol Invasion exterminated Islamic intellectual life. It never did recover. The Black Plague killed off a third or more of Europe. The Sea People swept in from somewhere north of the Mediterranean, we think, and ushered in the collapse of Bronze Age civilizations.

That said, the last real threat to humanity was the Black Death and it probably made humans west of the Hajnal Line better in the long run. That’s hotly debated, but we did survive it. I guess you could put the nuclear standoff between the Russians and the US down as a near death experience for humanity. Whether or not it would have happened is debatable, but we survived that one too. So far, the doomsayers have been all wrong.

Then again, maybe we are long overdue for a great reset of the human condition.

The rise of robots and deadly viruses are among the threats that could wipe out swathes of humanity – but governments are failing to prepare properly for them, a new report warns

Catastrophic climate change, nuclear war and natural disasters such as super volcanoes and asteroids could also pose a deadly risk to mankind, researchers said.

It may sound like the stuff of sci-fi films, but experts said these apocalyptic threats are more likely than many realise.

The report Global Catastrophic Risks, compiled by a team from Oxford University, the Global Challenges Foundation and the Global Priorities Project, ranks dangers that could wipe out 10% or more of the human population.

It warns that while most generations never experience a catastrophe, they are far from fanciful, as the bouts of plague and the 1918 Spanish flu that wiped out millions illustrated.

Sebastian Farquhar, director at the Global Priorities Project, told the Press Association: “There are some things that are on the horizon, things that probably won’t happen in any one year but could happen, which could completely reshape our world and do so in a really devastating and disastrous way.

“History teaches us that many of these things are more likely than we intuitively think.”Many of these risks are changing and growing as technologies change and grow and reshape our world. But there are also things we can do about the risks.”

If there could be such a thing as a betting market for the next great calamity for man, I’d put my wager on disease. We have the technology now to look out into the heavens for asteroids and we know we are safe for now. Space aliens are probably too far away to ever be a threat, assuming they even exist, which is looking doubtful. That leaves the things that can occur locally as sources of the Apocalypse.

A financial crash is a good bet. The highly complex economic arrangements we have today have no plan B if things go wrong. A century ago, electronic transactions did not exist. Today they are the heart of commerce. If that breaks, we suddenly live in a world without money. That will spiral out of control so fast government could never respond in time to head off calamity.

Another take on this is a collapse of the electrical grid. The real currency of the West is the electron traveling over copper wire. If some Exploding Mohameds set off a nuke and collapse the grid, western civilization stops. A world without cellphones, computers and television becomes a world of shotguns, food riots and warlords. Just take a second to imagine a world without TV and the internet.

Of course, this brings up the old standby from my youth, the nuclear holocaust. This has dropped from the culture, but there are more than enough nukes in the world to wipe out humanity. The Pakis have nukes. The NORKs have the bomb and maybe an ICBM soon. The Russians have nukes and they are due for have a crazy Ivan gain control of the country. We don’t talk about it anymore, but nuclear holocaust is still an option.

For my money, the best bet seems to be disease. The Zika virus now flowing north from Brazil is a good example. Disease spreads best in high density areas. The modern world has loads of high density areas for diseases and all it takes is one lucky mutation and blammo! We have a new plague ravaging mankind. Something like Zika that is spread by mosquito is a great example. Even quarantine will not work against this kind of plague.

Another element we have to day that works well for pandemics is the mass movement of people. The Spanish Flu was most likely the result of the Great War. Troops carried the disease all over Europe and then back to their home countries. The exact source of this strain of flu is still unknown, but the mass movement of people is certainly the way it spread.

Millions of Muslims pouring into Europe, as well as millions of South Americans pouring into the US is already increasing disease rates. Things like Whooping Cough have shown up in America after a long absence. Some new flavor of an old disease, like Zika or Ebola, that can be spread by mosquitoes could easily unleash a new plague on humanity. In weeks these guys would suddenly expect to have books of the new Bible named after them.

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Lulu
Lulu
4 years ago

Your comments on the Spanish Flu epidemic sent me searching. I found this interesting article at a Stanford University website: The origins of this influenza variant is not precisely known. It is thought to have originated in China in a rare genetic shift of the influenza virus. The recombination of its surface proteins created a virus novel to almost everyone and a loss of herd immunity. Recently the virus has been reconstructed from the tissue of a dead soldier and is now being genetically characterized. The name of Spanish Flu came from the early affliction and large mortalities in Spain… Read more »

Lulu
Lulu
Reply to  Lulu
4 years ago

Re the links with that Stanford article, I regret that the “personal experience” anecdotes are no longer available. The links are now broken. The links at the bottom are OK. The whole thing is worth a read.

Guest
Guest
Reply to  thezman
4 years ago

Patient Zero was a farm kid from Kansas. The influenza spread to an epidemic largely as a result of troop movement in WWI. The farm kid from Kansas joined the military and if I recall correctly was to be transported to the European theater by way of Boston. I believe he died at a military base in Massachusetts before he could be shipped out, along with many others he infected. The transport ships from that military base lost something like 30% of their passengers before they reached Europe.

Excellent read on the influenza:
http://www.amazon.com/Great-Influenza-Deadliest-Pandemic-History/dp/0143036491/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1462038552&sr=1-1&keywords=the+great+influenza

Nunnya Bidnez, jr.
Nunnya Bidnez, jr.
4 years ago

“Catastrophic climate change, nuclear war and natural disasters such as super volcanoes and asteroids could also pose a deadly risk to mankind, RESEARCHERS said.”

Those aren’t researchers, they’re prosleytizers.
Where have they ever proposed a “theory”, formulated an experiment, and proved or disproved it? No, it’s all just conjecture by these so-called “researchers”.

Nunnya Bidnez, jr.
Nunnya Bidnez, jr.
4 years ago

By the way, you might ask what are they prosleytizing for?
The usual stuff, more highly-centralized micromanagement of our lives.. what we are “allowed” to do, or prohibited from doing, to save Humanity, save the planet, or create their version of Heaven on Earth. Whatever their prescriptions would be, we all know that it will only lead to our enslavement, their empowerment, and at the same time have no effect on the emergence(or on-emergence) of their favorite catasrophe-du-jour.

Severian
Reply to  Nunnya Bidnez, jr.
4 years ago

This is one of my favoritest things about Our Betters, the Liberals – their childish faith in the magic power of Government. The Third World, where most of the nasty stuff originates, does not lack for Government. Indeed, it has the kind of expansive, intrusive, all-encompassing Government that would cause Our Betters, the Liberals, to seek medical attention for an erection lasting more than four hours. How else would Bwana’s third cousin’s best friend’s former roommate hold down a (baksheesh-) paying job? And yet, despite half the population “working” in Government, and all the lavish resources of Oxfam, Medicins sans… Read more »

Fuel Filter
Fuel Filter
4 years ago

“…Islamic intellectual life…” There never was, and never will be any such animal. The sum and substance of the myth of “Orientalism” has always been driven by the haters of Western culture and their desire to diminish and bring it down. Every single “achievement” of moslum “culture” has come from their co-opting conquered peoples achievements.  “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue…” Know why? The moslum hegemony of the Med and no viably open sea lanes to the East. The dark ages? Caused by moslums invading and subjugating Europe.  From the Amazon blurb on “Muhammed an Charlemagne Revisited” “During the… Read more »

Buckaroo
Buckaroo
Reply to  Fuel Filter
4 years ago

“The dark ages? Caused by moslums invading and subjugating Europe.” Yes, exactly. The dark ages were brought on by Islam, not by the collapse of the Roman Empire. The case is made by John J. O’Neill in his book, “Holy Warriors: Islam and the Demise of Classical Civilization” http://www.amazon.com/Holy-Warriors-Demise-Classical-Civilization/dp/0980994896/ “One of the most enduring problems of history is the decline of Classical Civilization. How was it that the civilization of Greece and Rome, which had endured almost a thousand years, a civilization which prized learning, science and reason, gave way to the world of the Medieval; an age which saw,… Read more »

guest
guest
4 years ago

>there are more than enough nukes in the world to wipe out humanity

If you believe cold war propaganda, otherwise not so much:

How many nukes does it take to destroy the world?
& Flash, then Bang for some more nuclear debunking.

Duck and cover makes perfect sense after all, who knew!

james wilson
james wilson
Reply to  guest
4 years ago

Ya. Hydrogen bombs are not dirty bombs, as bomb go. The fission bomb is a dirty bomb, but the fact is that survivors of the Japanese attacks have a lower cancer rate than normal. What would be terribly unfair in a nuke attack is that leftards and feral populations would die disproportionately.

Iggy
Iggy
4 years ago

I’m going to use your line about “Utopia is just a few more committee meetings away….” It’s terrific. What’s the proper attribution I should use?

Lulu
Lulu
Reply to  Iggy
4 years ago

It is good. Sort of goes with my “There is no situation that a Focus Group or a Task Force can’t make worse”.

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4 years ago

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james wilson
james wilson
4 years ago

For catastrophe, the Dark Ages teach a better lesson than the fall of Rome, which was already weak. In the year 535 the atmosphere darkened with ash and for three of the next ten years there was no growing season, in the rest, little. The gruesome result were the same at similar latitudes around the world and little discussed. Perhaps Rome is an apt comparison but for different reasons. Civilization dissolved for a a few hundred years it is true, but there already had been no advance in learning under Roman rule for several hundred years, except concrete. They were… Read more »

Herzog
Herzog
4 years ago

Again re: Muslim intellectual life in the Middle Ages, it’s much overrated (as is the famed “tolerant” Muslim Andalusia) once you look beyond Islamic Law casuistry. As to the medieval Muslims active in other fields of knowledge, they were disproportionately Iranians, inheritors of an ancient non-Muslim civilization.

Of course today’s Persians are politically just as crappy as the Arabs, Turks, Pakistanis — but still with more competence, it seems. Or would the Iraqis, Saudis, Moroccans, left to their own devices, be able to develop nuclear and missile technology in one generation?

Sam
Sam
4 years ago

The Big Reset, when nearly all th pieces are swept off of the chessboard is coming. In the form of World War, circa 2020. Get prepared for food and other rationing, and everything else you can think of, including fighting your own self to protect you and yours.

jdallen
jdallen
4 years ago

Bingo. I agree that disease is the most likely next die-off. Of humans, anyhow. I would not rule out astronomical events, though. We don’t know and/or track anywhere near the number of objects we’d like to think we do, and if we did spot something, there is very little we could do about it. Stephenson’s Seveneves is a good example. Our plate tectonics is another route to mass die-off. Nothing we can do about that, either.

Etcetera
Etcetera
4 years ago

I’m not sure what the Z Man’s reading habits are, but here is the Atlantic article that may have prompted this post:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2016/04/a-human-extinction-isnt-that-unlikely/480444/

I am familiar with the Oxford Center referenced in both the article and the blog post from the last chapter of Ian Morris’ book about how Europe overtook China. The chapter is interesting but doesn’t really fit with the rest of the material in the book, it may be best read separately. Essentially as human population increases and societies get more complex, the risk of something going really wrong expands. The blog post made good points.

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4 years ago

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