Simply put, I think there is. Something wrong in the world that is. In my nearly 50 years, I have never previously had a worried or unsettled feeling about life, society, the future of our planet. Recently though, my subconscious is bubbling up. I feel like troubles around the world are coming more often, and more strongly, a perfect storm has been gathering, which really threatens to blow up into a global meltdown of apocalyptic proportions. There have always been troubles in society, one thing or another, struggle is the human experience. But, I have a sense that critical mass, or a tipping point, is coming.
I’m not one to be maudlin or a prophet of doom. Quite the opposite: I’m pragmatic, stoic, and cheerful. I’ve always lived with a philosophy that nothing is important or serious. As a physicist, I’ve comprehended the scope of the Universe and our place within it, both across distance and across time, and this understanding necessarily leads to a fatalistic, sometimes even nihilistic, approach to life. Whilst Zaphod Beeblebrox took this knowledge as a confirmation of his own importance, for humans it can only be humbling. So this feeling that I’ve been developing recently is sufficiently out of character that I think there must be more to it than just having watched the TV news too much.
If you do watch a lot of TV news, or perhaps better, read a lot of newspaper articles, it is easy to come to the conclusion that we are all bound for Hell in a handcart and ask why you even bothered getting out of bed today. My initial response to this is to look at the real statistics relating to these reported events. Terrorist attacks all over the world!! But is it actually worth worrying about these? There are many, many things more likely to kill or injure you than being run down by a terrorist. Indeed, one suggestion might be to take all the money from anti-terror policing and spend it on road safety in general. We might save many more lives. But then of course, the stats would suddenly flip as the roads become super safe and terrorists have free rein to run amok. My point is that all things in life require balance, and a cool head to consider them. The reported media certainly make it difficult for us rank and file members of the public to assess what is really happening in the world, in its entirety. The problem of determining what actually is happening in the world is dealt with in much more detail in the next edition of this blog.
So, is there something wrong with the world? Well, I could simply write “Trump” or “Brexit” or “overpopulation” or “Duterte” or “climate change” or … well, you get the idea. There are so many and varied things that are very much negative going on at the moment that it would take an encyclopedia to list them all. Is this really any different to the way has always been? Or is it simply that increased global population means that the quantity of war, famine, pestilence and death must naturally be higher? Or, as I suggested earlier, are improved communications to blame for easy access to information about all the bad things that are going on? And the very human penchant for exciting, sensational action means that we seek this all out, so we can only get the impression that everything everywhere is on a downward spiral. I’ve spent my whole life failing to get excited about anything, taking in as much information about life all around the world, and throughout history, as I can find. Perhaps I’m deluding myself, but I like to think that I have a genuinely dispassionate, purely analytical (physicist’s!) approach to all the information I receive. And from that position, I have this gnawing feeling that black clouds are gathering. More and more negative events are occurring more and more often. We are rising to a crescendo, and I wonder if it will be something that can then drop back down again, or whether a critical mass will be reached and we are going to hurtle off a cliff. A catastrophic, even apocalyptic scenario like this would be most galling, as it is a product of chaos, in the physics sense of chaos theory. The notion of a perfect storm is when many small factors combine to create something huge and out of control, much bigger than the sum of the parts. It is more than possible that many people acting in small but selfish ways could unwittingly combine to produce such a quantity of negative events in society that we chaotically end up with an inexorable meltdown. This is the feeling I have when assessing what is happening in the world today.
Normally, social mores generally restrict us from behaving badly to one another, at least to any great extent. As small negative behaviours occur, we suffer desensitization to them, and as more and more people accept this as normal, more and more negative behaviours occur, and the vicious circle deepens and widens.
Billy Bragg has suggested that “sometime in the 80s… the great and the good gave way to the greedy and the mean.” I’m not sure I can pinpoint the timing so precisely, but such a shift has definitely occurred in my lifetime. There is now a feeling within British society, which I think probably is reflected globally, that something is wrong. Public unrest was shown in the Brexit vote, and in Trump’s election: people reacting against they know not what, but certain that something needs to change radically, and this was their chance to make it happen. The outcomes were most likely mostly not what they wanted, but that wasn’t exactly the point. The population are fumbling in the dark of some undefined struggle against the forces that are bringing us down. I feel it too, and it’s what I’m talking about in this blog. It’s just so nebulous that it seems impossible to specify. There are many little issues that individually seem troublesome, but not world-ending.
The increase in wealth inequality, in virtually every nation, whether they are running an ostensibly capitalist economy or not, has been extraordinary in just the last 20 years, and is a very significant aspect of that shadow on all our lives. This has led to media unrest at offshore money hiding of corrupt and stolen public funds. In the UK we have health service failure; austerity cuts; lack of funding everywhere, either government money, or workers’ pay, so the majority of the population feel oppressed because of something they lose as a result.
More widely, there are numerous civil wars, and battles with authoritarian regimes, those regimes being merely an alternative to the capitalist approach to the powerful exploiting the poor. And terrorist attacks, the root cause of which must be something needing to change in this world: I don’t believe that they are overarchingly based on religious conflict. The majority of terrorists are disenfranchised youth who need something to hold on to in life and, again, those who would like power use this disengaged youth to try and attain that power. Surely the solution is to re-engage everyone. But, whilst the dark clouds loom over our society, there will be people who cannot see alternatives. They can feel the storm coming and don’t know what else to do to change things.
I feel the storm coming, so I have written about it. In my new novel, 2089, the characters either remember or learnt about the Times of Malthus. In the 2030s, that global meltdown happened. What’s wrong with the world comes to a head and leads to a decade of internecine fighting, looting, banditry – essentially Malthus’s war, famine, pestilence and death. Find out more at 2089 by Miles Hudson.
Annoyingly, I can’t put my finger on it, or name it per se, but there’s definitely something wrong in the world. Genuinely more so than ever before. And accelerating. Hell in a handcart? I say picture everyone, in any vehicle they can get their hands on, hurtling pell mell, circling down Boticelli’s Map of Hell, all of us from every corner of the Earth vying to reach the bottom the fastest. Whatever this global malaise, curse, sickness, its tendrils are spread so widely, and are so hazy, that we cannot cut them off and cure ourselves. There is a real possibility of worldwide social meltdown.
Main image credit: Photo by fikry anshor on Unsplash