Part Three: Like moths to a flame we run towards war
It is a very good job lizards don’t have opposable thumbs and bigger brains. That is my firm conclusion from observing the impact on the world of the lizard part of human brains, the bit which even in a million years has not evolved beyond a response to fear which is either to kill or to run.
Because if you’re not afraid just now then it is difficult to see what you’re looking at. Climate change is being treated like the least of our problems as an all-out escalation to a global cold war appears ahead of us, just as the global economy is stuttering and food is rising sharply in price. Don’t bank against a global financial crisis to follow.
And so if nothing changes then the default path ahead seems to lead us straight into a kind of hell-scape. Right now the loudest voices appear to have discarded the possibility of anything other than ‘peace at gunpoint, peace on our terms’. This promises a massive arms escalation, a never-ended ‘war of civilisations’ and a world divided behind iron curtains.
If we are stupid enough to believe that is a feasible future which offers stability then we deserve our fate. Isolating any block in the world would end any serious hopes of global action on climate change.
It would end it in more ways than there is space to cover here. If we stretch our spending to escalate an arms race, that spending and that industrial capacity won’t be invested into making the transition we need. If we are divided and pointing guns at each other we will justify anything – look how the War in Ukraine has the oil and gas industry walking with a swagger we’ve not seen in many years.
China and Russia may well give up the pretence they are taking serious steps away from coal and petrochemicals. The West will double down on our entirely unjust levels of consumption, given that ‘our way of life’ is to consume anything we can get our hands on and shit whatever is left out onto whoever is weakest. That is what we are fighting this new cold war for, not democracy.
(The idea that the US wants to isolate China over human rights issues is laughable given its undying support for some of the world’s worst human rights abusers. The cold war ahead is not a just war but a purely venal economic war.)
And the chances of multinational agreements on the major issues we need agreement on will be lost, at least for the decades over which those agreements are most needed. We will be the stupid little boys-with-guns who consigned the generations to come to an unimaginable future, but we will blame everyone else.
If we really believe that it is our destiny to reshape the world ‘on behalf of’ others, we will perpetuate the problem, create endless antagonisms
The ignorance which is fuelling the belligerence is all-encompassing. The neo-warriors say things like ‘we need to get back to expanding military capacity for security’. Get back to? Look at this chart on global military spending. It has never stopped rising since the late 1990s and it is us (the US and Europe) which is doing the vast bulk of the spending. Did we get more peace as a result?
Then have a look at the list of wars since 1945. You can even factor out the ‘armed conflicts’ which have been just shy of actual wars and still end up with two countries going to war with each other about every three years. The West had peace within our borders for the most part – but only because we offshored our bloodshed.
The world can’t go on like this, resorting to violence at the first sign of disagreement. Unless humans are able to evolve beyond the constant resort to violence then we are doomed.
This dystopic future also recycles the dystopic past, the Orwellian other-world created by the big power blocks where everything is true and nothing is true, where our enemies are always something less than human. We bomb for peace, we kill for tolerance, we uphold order by breaking the rules. What we want to believe is true is always proved by ‘a credible source’.
Meanwhile what they want to believe is true is always ‘without evidence’. If their grievance is true it is ‘propaganda’ while if their grievance isn’t true it is ‘misinformation’. They are barbaric and bomb for fun. They kill for glory. They know no order. Completely different from us and our invasions.
And yet who is it that is standing in the way of global democracy? Who clings to their entirely unjustifiable veto in the UN’s Security Council? Who refuses to sign up to the International Criminal Court? Who defends, protects and assists some of the most appalling regimes in the world and then lectures their victims on ‘global order’?
We are the people who will choose the world to come – if we do not choose wisely we will deserve what we get
We do this largely for an unspoken reason. For the last 500 years there has always been one dominant global power, and it has always been a white-majority country. Our global order works for us, but not for those outside our club. We would do well to recognise this now and create a more just, multipolar world. Instead we seem to be doing precisely the opposite, recruiting the last remaining white-majority countries to our belligerence.
A return to the Cold War is no future, a world dominated by authoritarian states like Russia and China is no future. But neither is ‘Pax Americana’. We can’t possible expect everyone who is not from a white-majority country to accept being treated as a second-class citizen of the world forever, us expecting them to thank us for exploiting them in return for flooding their domestic markets with our corporation’s goods.
If we really believe that it is our destiny to reshape the world ‘on behalf of’ others, we will perpetuate the problem, create endless antagonisms. If we believe that we can continue to have security for ourselves at the expense of security for others, we will never achieve security.
Were the world living through normal times, a cold war would be devastating. Living in a world wholly reliant on long supply chains which dissect that cold-war-to-come’s geography makes it beyond foolish to pursue. Living in a world beset by climate change makes every penny spent on a bomb an abomination, a little suicide note.
Everyone seems to be quite clear about where the world is going after this crisis is over, and everyone seems resigned to it being the aforementioned hell-scape. It is almost as if it is not humans who are creating the future, like we are just the innocent victim of the vagaries of time passing.
We are not. We are the people who will choose the world to come. If we do not choose wisely we will deserve what we get.