There’s a common theme in many science fiction stories of humanity making great sacrifices to ensure the survival of the species. One of the most prevalent features of such stories is the creation of a vessel or bunker to ensure that a group of highly skilled humans survive whatever the imminent catastrophe is. As stories go they’re wonderful tales of Man at his most noble, sacrificing himself so that the great idea of humanity itself can survive.
It’s all, of course, absolute bollocks. The reality is that humanity would be incapable of dealing with such a situation. Supposing, say, the US Government announced that it had detected a massive unstoppable asteroid heading towards Earth. The right would deny the science and announce that it was just a socialist plot to raise taxes to build a space ark. The left would say it was a conspiracy by the military-industrial complex to divert money from social spending. Iran would blame the Jews. Someone would blame the gays, and so on.
Even if both sides did finally agree that the destruction of Earth was imminent, picture the blazing rows of how we’d choose who was to go in the space ark. The fights over sex, religion, colour, gender, transgender and that’s before Russia and China’s best and brightest nominees just happen to be from the most powerful families in their respective lands. In the west we’d have endless debates. Why should those fancy scientists get all the seats, the vox pops will say? Why are we sending a load of nerds into space and not J-Lo? Why not a TV show where the public and minor celebrities can compete for seats? I’m A Celeb Get Me Off This Doomed Rock? Picture the reaction of Americans and Europeans when they see a crew that resembles humanity, made up mostly of Asians and Africans.
Space ark? We’d have annihilated ourselves in the war over places on board way before the asteroid ever reached us.
Today, in the US, large numbers of conservatives believe they’re entitled to a version of science which matches their political prejudices. In Europe large numbers of left-wing voters believe they can vote themselves early retirement and better pensions and a welfare state without confronting the ugly right-wing reality of how to pay for it. In Ireland, some voters are getting indignant at the idea of paying for water. This is the age where feeling strongly about something is, for many, as legitimate as the rational facts.
Consider climate change: even amongst those people who do accept the science, there’s a reluctance to actually support measures that could prevent further change but would involve anything but the most minor changes to our consumerist lifestyles. We’re not talking about separating paper from plastic here, and we’re doing ourselves no favours pretending it is that easy. If we are genuinely serious about the changes needed to prevent further environmental damage to the planet, we are talking about massive restriction on private car ownership and air travel along with huge reductions in food and consumer product to save the planet for PEOPLE WHO HAVE NOT BEEN BORN YET. This from a society that bitches when petrol prices increase? From a society that objects to mandatory pensions for people who will actually need those pensions in their own lifetime?
Forget it. It isn’t going to happen. Mankind has crossed over the tipping point where emotion and consumer desire triumphs rational analysis. You reading this will probably not see the end of life on this planet. But your grandchildren might.
But that’s not even the scary bit. The scary bit is what I call the Stalin factor. It’s that awkward bit of history we don’t talk about. The fact that in order to destroy Nazism we needed a monster like Stalin willing to brutally command and sacrifice millions of Russians. If Stalin had been a nice liberal democrat Russia would have been defeated by Hitler. Awkward, I know, but probably true.
When humanity faces a life ending event, it won’t be the consensus building Obamas or Merkels or Camerons that will seize power and do what needs to be done, but some monster who will sacrifice millions to save the rest of us. Who’ll bomb the countries that refuse to reduce their CO2 emissions. Who’ll use directed, possibly forced labour and penal taxation to build the vast sea walls to protect us from the rising waters. Who’ll jail the protestors who oppose new nuclear plants and gas pipes and wind farms and vast solar arrays blighting our landscape or try to defend their right to own a family car. Who’ll put on trial the people who secretly try to keep cattle or pigs or even private farmland. Who’ll occupy Saudi Arabia and Iraq and Iran and Kuwait to secure control of the deadly substance destroying humanity. Who’ll nationalise oil and energy companies and force them to develop new technologies and execute the board members and stockholders who try to protect their wealth.
The reality, the awful grim reality, is that when the chips are down it’ll be up to some absolute bastard to save humanity.