Needed: Global moment of D'oh!

The world is on fire. Who will put it out?

By Cary Tennis
Published August 8, 2012 12:00AM (EDT)
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       (Zach Trenholm/Salon)
(Zach Trenholm/Salon)

Dear Cary,

We live in a big house. You see, it really is the only place to live around here (it is a long, cold ride to anywhere else, and no one is even sure there is anywhere else). If we are all careful there is enough space, food and water for everyone, but "if" is always the problem; telling all that tale would take too long and there is an emergency.

Our home is on fire. Some of us, aware of the dangers, are trying to put the fire out but it is very difficult since everyone is not helping. Many sleep (it is a very large house). However, there are some who have known what was happening for some time; they have access to all the information; they knew full well what was coming to our home. These are the more wealthy among us, the ones who took advantage of any developments to increase their holdings. The future was always their particular kingdom, defining it, funding it, making decisions about it, betting upon it. The destruction of our future was anathema to those few, or so we all thought; surely they knew more than we did, seeing as they had succeeded so well.

But we were wrong.

They know, and know well, what fate awaits us; hunger, cold, thirst, barbarism, silence at last, the slow destruction of all that makes life worth living. However, rather than submit to the humiliation of admitting themselves wrong and using their vast resources to help, they have denied the fire is happening. They claim it is all a lie, a devious deception, an absurdity. Most cruel of all they have joined with some whose beliefs are against the science that has told us of the fire, and how to slow or stop it; those people believe that another home awaits them. We have seen the kind nature of most of these believers, and know that when things become hard they will help those around them, having done so before in the face of fire and storm: This is in direct contrast to what the deniers will do. Believing only in the present, they will take their pleasure until all is gone, never attempting sacrifice or change but continuing on their same path, disregarding those outside of their safe rooms until the fire claims all.

We love our home, but the fires spread, the water is running out, and all life is dying. Shall we all die, or live on only as a pitiful regretting remnant in a few corners of a burnt house, the wonderful plants and animals we once loved now only a few weeds, cockroaches and rats, grief and shame at our inability to solve this problem filling what is left of our days, impotently cursing those who would not help when help would have mattered? Can you advise us?



Dear Us,

I figure when we least expect it there will be a global moment of D'oh! and we'll get to work fixing the thing.

Seriously. On what rational basis should we be pessimistic about humanity's chances of success on Earth? Knowledge is expanding exponentially. More computing power is available to more people than ever before. Mysteries of the universe are being solved right and left, every day. Mysteries of human life, weather, the cosmos, human behavior ... to think that out of this unprecedented explosion of knowledge no solution would arise to what is basically a big thermodynamic problem, well, come on, man. Have some optimism!

Scientists are finding more and more strange and amazing things all the time. Why all of a sudden would they stop finding strange and amazing things just when we need them the most?

There is, of course, the political problem. But look how well we've done with the atomic bomb. The prospect of global annihilation seems to be strangely sobering even to the most power-drunk monkeys on the planet. Plus, why would we assume that great advances in the behavioral sciences would not affect politics? Why would we assume that our ability to change our admittedly monkey-like behavior would not eventually influence the exercise of global power? Why would anyone expect us not to advance socially and politically when we are advancing so rapidly intellectually and economically?

Say what you will: Faced with global annihilation and the extinction of our species, I think we'll sober up.

We're not as dumb as we look. We'll figure it out.

That's my story. That's my bet. Just in the nick of time, I predict we will experience a great and glorious global moment of D'oh!

Cary Tennis

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