Recently, it was the situation on the Korean peninsula and now it is (yet again) Syria, but I feel that my life, all of our lives, are being held to ransom for some shocking, blind and empty purpose…
I have lived all of my adult life under the psychologically and emotionally crippling, monolithic and looming existential fear of potential nuclear annihilation; that not only might I die instantly or in an associated and slow, painful lingering death of radiation sickness, injury or starvation but that everything and everyone I value, that everyone values, could just cease to mean anything at all in a few brief and distributed events across the surface of this planet. The speed, reach and complexity of modern communications and technological systems indicates that confrontational situations between nuclear-armed states can quite conceivably generate their own systemic momentum and accelerating entropy, spiralling out of control in a rapidly cascading sequence of retributive actions.
One moment you could be sitting on a park bench reading a book or staring wistfully at some trees blowing in the wind, the next you could be quite simply vaporised or incinerated on the spot. Things could escalate so quickly that although you may be aware of political tension in some far flung region of the world, you may never even know that a gaggle of nuclear warheads were bearing down on you at hypersonic velocities.
There are clearly no simple solutions just as by all available evidence there appears to be little political aptitude (- or more: a combined failure of imagination and intelligence -) to be able successfully unravel the Gordian Knot of the internecine Syrian war, among a multiplicity of all-too-human problems on this little world of ours. The potential for uncontrolled escalation and catastrophic geo-strategic chaos is a clear and present threat, much like the currently hibernating (yet still unravelling) standoff on the Korean peninsula, and is one that current global political systems, actors, governance and organisations appear peculiarly and fundamentally ill-equipped to successfully negotiate.
What I find most absurd about this whole state of affairs is that none of us average folk have ever signed up for this. None of us can even imagine that there is anything, any ideology or political position of such importance that it could be worth incinerating our entire global civilisation over. That kind of cataclysm and consequence is, however, precisely what could occur. A moment of anger or an error of judgement, an unmediated autonomous technological process or perhaps even some inevitable consequence or telological endpoint of intractable difference or fear and aggression and it, that is – everything, all goes up in flames and irradiated ashes.
Everything we are, everything we value, all of our shared similarities, meanings, differences and experiences – they all just simply stop, cease to exist and all but completely vanish at the point of self-extinguishing global armageddon, the End of (human) History. This represents that event horizon beyond which not even meaning exists and which in one singular act of monumentally stupid collective action renders meaningless several billion years of evolutionary history, a majestic historical process which had culminated in our own arrival and subsequent, tragic and self-negating calamity.
It does not escape me that there exists here an exquisite irony that interpretations and disagreements about the nature of reality, nationality, self-identity, politics and meaning could effectively lead to the extinguishing of that reality. This potential self-annihilation represents the negation of all those convergent, divergent and diverse assertions and opinions by whose vibrant and various harmonies and dissonances any of this human experience, culture and shared context has managed to possess or exhibit any significance or meaning whatsoever.
No one wins this game, it is zero-sum par excellence. Those vast empires of self, of opinion and of ego – they are built upon a shared meaning and context which entirely, irrevocably, ceases to exist at the point of global thermonuclear catastrophe. Humanity’s greatest enemy is it’s own selfish, blind and greedy self and while we may all share at least a little responsibility in this grotesque gestalt and context of belligerence and cruelty, we all also can surely not accept any such possible reality in which everything, absolutely everything, we know and value ends, ceases to have meaning and existence.
All we fragile little human carriers and makers of that very meaning and purpose that we endlessly bicker and disagree about would surely do better, if even not to live in complete peace and harmony, to at the very least find ways to keep the disagreement usefully, functionally, existentially (and along with ourselves and each other), alive.