Take No Prisoners

Imaginary Existential Threats

Previously, I described eight possible events that would likely destroy civilization as we know it. These include diseases, climate change and nuclear war. Today, it’s time to take on “Imaginary Existential Threats” – those risks that are inflated by governments, special interest groups and the media, often for political reasons.

5. Mad Scientists

I blame bad movies. Well-meaning scientists are not going to accidentally destroy the world like in bad movies.

Yes, the Large Hadron Collider may create tiny black holes. No, they can’t consume the planet. If you calculate the size of possible black holes, and their maximum potential growth rate, you find that it would take billions of years for them to get large enough to do anything.

Yes, scientists are trying to make more intelligent machines. No, they are not going to take over the world terminator-style. Machines cannot magically leap beyond their programming the way they do in the movies. A computer cannot suddenly leap beyond its programming and become self-aware. Sorry, doesn’t happen. The fear that some scientist will create a computer that will try to destroy the human race is based on fear of change coupled with society’s overwhelming ignorance regarding how computers work. Besides, scientists have already created something that can destroy the world: it’s called a nuclear bomb.

Why it’s been inflated: Some groups trump up, just make up, the “dangers” of scientific advancement to bolster the anti-science, anti-empirical, anti-rational subculture. These are the same assholes who want creationism taught in science class.

4. Socialism

The way people talk about socialism in North America, you’d think it was a biblical plague. Socialism is just a different way of distributing wealth. There are lots of socialist countries. I’ve been to some of them. Norway, Sweden, Denmark, France – they all seem like nice places to live. No signs of the apocalypse as far as I can tell. If you think socialism is going to magically destroy humanity by reducing the centrality of greed in the politico-economic bullshitscape, you’re a tool. Go visit Norway, and then try to tell me that all those tall, healthy, attractive blond people who get free medical care and five weeks of vacation each year are the end of the world.

Why it’s been inflated: As I’ve described before, the rich have to work very hard to maintain support for capitalism among the poor, who, in most countries, have figured out that capitalism is bad for them.

3. Population movement (illegal immigration)

Nothing gets as much undo media attention as illegal immigration, especially across the Mexico/U.S. border. What the hell do you think a bunch of poor Mexicans are going to do that will bring down life as we know it? They mow lawns and pick fruit and live in fear of deportation. Leave these poor people alone and worry about the things that might actually kill you! Oh, and shut the fuck up about the border fence! Ever hear of a ladder you ignorant redneck fucktards?

Why it’s been inflated: People who take on illegal immigration do so under cover of employment statistics: ‘Illegal immigrants are stealing American jobs’ and all that. This is, of course, just the cover story. The real reason is racism pure and simple. An influx of latinos and hispanics threatens the purity of the great Aryan Klan… er, I mean race. Yes, race. Aryan race. I would argue that the same is true of resistance to immigration in many countries in europe and asia. The primary reason for resistance is making sure ‘we’ (whoever we are) maintain a controlling majority – not give up ‘our’ country’ to ‘them foreigners.’ The secondary reason is about jobs and strain on social services, but even this argument finds its genesis in the racist premise that jobs somehow ‘belong’ to members of the ruling group and that immigrants will require greater help from social services and contribute less to national productivity than the locals.

2. Economic disasters (recessions/depressions)

Whenever you hear some corporate/government douchebag agree, in principle, that the environment should be protected, but argue that now’s a bad time, what with the economy and all, HIT THEM.

Remember that scene in The Day After Tomorrow when the hero/scientist guy is trying to explain how the impossibly-fast ice age is about to glaciate all of Canada and the Continental U.S. in about 6 seconds? And then one of the big-wigs, who looks a lot like Dick Cheney, says ‘What will this do to the economy?’ WTF, right? Yeah that’s what I feel like whenever someone says we can’t have a carbon tax because it’s bad for business. Or we can’t have stricter pollution controls. Or stronger fuel efficiency standards for cars. Or areas protected from mining.

Let me put this as simply as possible. Recessions cannot kill billions of people. Environmental collapse and climate change-induced food shortages can. Fuck the economy. The economy’s not going to kill us. Ignoring environmental concerns because money is tight is barking mad.

Why it’s been inflated: Some people are just too damn thick to get their heads around the idea that their actions create reactions in their habitat, and that those reactions can and will kill them. Even if anything comes of it, they think they’ll be long dead beforehand, and they honestly don’t give a fuck about their children and grandchildren, or the fate of humanity in general. And the crazy thing is, we not only let people like this vote, but also let them run for office!

1. Terrorism

Without venturing into the absurd, the realistic worse case for terrorism is a single nuclear detonation in a major city. If optimally placed, this might kill hundreds of thousand or even a few million people. That would be bad. Extremely bad. However, it is not the end of humanity. Humanity would go on. Japan went on after Hiroshima and Nagasaki were bombed at the end of WWII. The modern world would go on after the bombing of another major city.

Compare this to bona fide EXISTENTIAL threats to humanity. Just one medium-sized asteroid impact, and the only things left would be bacteria and cockroaches.

Yet, the world spends spend trillions of dollars on terrorism and a paltry few million searching the skies and trying to figure out how stop a giant rock from ending life on earth. That’s something in the order of 100 000 times as much money going to a lesser threat as goes to an existential threat.

Why it’s been inflated: Are you familiar with Dick Cheney? Donald Rumsfeld? Governments have all kinds of reasons to inflate the threat of terrorism. It helps control the populace by stimulating blind support for the government. It creates a culture of fear that facilitates the undermining of civil rights to increase executive power. The political opposition cannot effectively convey its message without seeming down right unpatriotic. Information that would damage the administration can be hushed up ‘for national security reasons.’ And most of all, Cheney and Rumsfeld were heavily involved in defense contractors. Even when they took office (when, normally, one would have to divest themselves of all private holdings to avoid conflicts of interest) they both flatly refused, and retained stock in defense contractors (see Naomi Klein’s “The Shock Doctrine”). Inflating terrorism is about two things: money and power.