A modicum of hopemongering against Apocalypticism
I went to a catholic comprehensive, and before that to catholic primary schools. One of the things about the great church experiment in education, which extended in the Atlantic world over an arc of around a century and a half, was that children were issued with bibles in the desk at junior school. This was not so much a guide to all behaviour as an aide to the teachers. Catholicism, like Greek orthodoxy, Judaism, or for that matter most other great world religions, requires far less scriptural knowledge or adherence to a written word than most forms of Protestantism or many of Islam.
But sometimes the teachers were a little boring, or over earnest, and went on for obvious reasons when we encountered the bible at all, about St Paul and authority. Any visiting priest who might wander in almost never used it, preferring as I remember to talk alternately about Africa, guitars, Shakespeare, or on one memorable occasion, what sort of BMW series was the best. So I got to earn holiness points on the ethereal reward card by sneakily reading the Apocalypses of St John, or Daniel, or Ezekiel.
These three books alone are worth the price of a bible, and they scare Jehovah's and moonies and people like that into the bargain. But they are very enticing because they talk to a human need to believe in Apocalypse and destruction round the corner. And they are 'mental' too, which is always enthralling. The craziness of them has something of the neurolinguistic quality of a dip in the collective unconscious as pooled in the maximum security wing where my one reader probably lives. Apparently St John was stuck waiting for a ferry at Patmos when he had his revelation; god knows what he would do on the Northern Line in London.
We've seen how the secular world indulges itself with the same impulse, in a far less rich way just recently. For instance, a few weeks ago in Britain, and earlier in the decade in other European countries, the new menace to civilisation was the plastic bag. Undegradeable by science, it would slowly choke landfills and ruin the world unless banned. Then some Canadian teenager went and discovered a damp microbial mess sufficient to eat them in three months.
And that's just it, isn't it? This blog has been going on and on about peak oil for months and months now, as other, better blogs have been doing for years. I think that a due sense of proportion and the application of reason could put us in a position where we can slowly lower our civilisation's requirements and develop nuclear and renewable alternatives on a less energy-intensive basis. Is that what we are going to get?
Is it hell. We are going to get an almost self-fulfilling end-of-the world media panic and mass self-delusion about oil and oil reserves which will be witless and as apocalyptic as the man-made global warming scare or the millennium bug. Apocalypses are fun, you see. If you are a conservative, they convince you that your knowledge of the innate flaws and limits of humanity and of the unwillingness of most people to listen is correct. If you are of the left, they confirm that your evidence-based and somewhat passive approach to an evolving, fluid humanity, can bring you to only one conclusion, which is also the ultimate end of your reason because it reveals the end of everything.
Life is not like that though. Sometimes, there are hidden opportunities in the greatest and most awful of dangers. There is a global hangover of debt on a massive scale, for instance. There is also a global monetary crisis because there is too much money at cheap nominal rates in the world. Together with the awful brewing crisis in the derivatives market, the sheer scale of things might scare you as much as it scares me. But what if one cancels the other out, with banks irresponsibly paying their debts in funny money?
The whale approaching you could yawn and suck in all the attendant sharks and piranhas. Life doesn't always go according to apocalypse. Science isn't always locked in an institutional, dead minded train on defined tracks. For all the things which cannot be changed that our coming, including the reality of the inevitable death of every single one of us at different and I hope, faraway points in the future, so much can be avoided or sidestepped by the most unexpected of serendipities.
If you're my regular reader, you'll know what happens when I end up hoping. Things collapse just in time for morning. But sometimes on the rubble I stand on I still see seagulls who'll get their meal, a bit like the rats at Earls court tube that avoid the poison and live out their lives. Hope springs eternal.
Here is a great story about cheap nuclear fusion. Here is a foundation attempting to moderate Islam, of a piece with this effort to spark a sort of Vatican 2 in the Muslim world--I won't say reformation because that latter process was a bloody and brutal disaster in many ways.
Here is an example of states getting together with the aid of one of the most important laws ever, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, to try and sort out their differences.
Here is a bioreactor that can turn algae into fuel. Here is a story about another one that can turn fat and ordinary oil into fuel and help people adjust to the oil crises which will become normal at some point in the coming decades. Some of these things are already commercially available and in use in the USA and UK for under $250.
Here is a lovely story about the ongoing science of prosthetics, and here is one about pure science in general (involving black holes and m'learned friends in the law, and you don't get many such combinations for your shilling), and here is a set of pictures of mars created for the price of a nuclear missile.
Here is a decent response by the British government to recent and widespread calls to remove the name of this country from the cluster bomb game, of which more later.
I could go on. It isn't just the grand long lunch I had today with a friend at the top of the National Portrait gallery that put me in this mood. It's also the memory of the very faithful catholic boy I was (and I retain my faith as a man) who read the story of the dragons of revelation, and who at some level still expects to see some embodied version of them, but who could close his desk and notice that the sun was still shining and a good cup of tea, a combination of intelligence, sneakiness, luck and ignorance, and a little determination could mean that they didn't turn up anytime soon.
Here's a Greek version of the Ode to Joy, by Nana Mouskouri, words by Schiller, tune by Beethoven, effects by the Holy Ghost of Love. The picture accompanying this blog post is Hope, By George Frederick Watts, from 1885. It depicts Hope, with one string left on her harp strumming by the light of a solitary star. That's the way to do it! You can find out more about it on the great www.victorianweb.org