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June 28, 2008

Notes on the Modern Human Dilemma:1

Although we humans are the only cognitive species and the recent enhancement of those cognitive powers through the “discovery” of empirical science about five centuries ago greatly accelerated our ability to create wealth and expand our numbers, it now also seems probable that uncritical exploitation of the technology produced by Science, has, in the absence of appropriate political leadership, already created several species-wide problems from which escape will be difficult, if not impossible.

Precisely because I’m so aware that such doom and gloom thinking has very little appeal, and also because my own acceptance of key false assumptions responsible for our present dilemma retarded my own recognition of those problems, I will attempt to illustrate them by comparing two real doomsday scenarios: one humanity has already avoided late in the Twentieth Century, albeit with little recognition of the risks then faced. The other one is facing us today.

Unfortunately, because global political leadership clearly hasn’t yet understood how lucky we were last century, nor that the mechanism by which we avoided disaster is no longer available, our modern problems are even more urgent.

In its own way, the Cuban Missile Crisis recapitulates the Cold War: the Soviet Union and its allies, always noticeably more willing to take risks, also took on the West under American leadership in a game of Nuclear chicken after World War Two. That game brought the world closest to a global nuclear war in October 1962 when a daring Soviet ploy succeeded in landing a formidable force of nuclear weapons within easy striking distance of the US mainland. US detection at that point placed President Kennedy and Premier Kruschev into crucial one-on one negotiations with the potential of creating Nuclear Winter two decades before that catastrophe had even been defined. We now know that both men had to reject the hawkish advice of key military advisers and that neither man would emerge intact: Kennedy was assassinated 13 months later, and Kruschev’s fall from political power a year after that was clearly related to the Russian loss of face in 1962.

A key modern realization is that the unique circumstances that prevailed in 1962 gave two men the power to save the world; the very different conditions prevailing today mean that significant correction of rapid climate change will require the active cooperation of billions.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at June 28, 2008 08:49 PM