As intriguing as it is to conjure up many doomsday scenarios, one common worry is the likelihood of them. But one scenario is especially disconcerting because it’s entirely plausible and based on recent events all too likely. What is it? What is the greatest threat? Why us, of course, and it need not be anything exotic, all the ingredients for an apocalypse are right here.
Doomsday Scenario No. 4: Our Own Worst Enemy
Take a pick, there are so many mundane yet deadly ways to bring about our downfall. The result may not necessarily mean humanity’s extinction or the end of the world but our way of life, our society, order itself can easily topple due to the following:
Social Unrest & Despots
Look around the news and see all the upheavals and strife throughout the world. The Middle East as always seems to be on the precipice of Armageddon with all the saber rattling, riots and terrorist attacks. Here in the West we think we’re somewhat inoculated from all that anarchy. But it’s always there. In the U.S. there is brewing antagonism between those on the left and right. It is a powder keg that isn’t going away. All it takes is for some protestor or anarchist or an overwhelmed officer or citizen to light the fuse. Back in the 1960s the controversial Vietnam War nearly led to a civil war in the U.S. In fact, throughout U.S. history there have been many tenuous moments with the worst being the Civil War. The country and others will always be dealing with keeping order. In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine there was a two-part episode “Past Tense” where Ben Sisko accidently time travels to the 2020s and takes part in the social movement called the Bell Riots. It’s stated in those episodes that the aftermath of that deadly period of time led to positive societal changes and ultimately the founding of the Federation.
Though social discourse can lead to positive changes, other times it can usher in dark historic chapters. Sad examples of that includes Germany, Cambodia, Bosnia and Rwanda where evil despots and their minions rose to power and unleashed horrendous genocides against others.
In science fiction, there are countless novels and films dealing with future dictators coming to power and creating totalitarian societies. One of the more famous sci-fi dictators is Khan from Star Trek, but the original show often made references to future human despots named Krotus and Lee Kuan. The most famous dictatorships is in George Orwell’s 1984, where citizens live under perpetual surveillance and paranoia. In Allen Steele’s Coyote novels, North America is ruled in the late 21st century by an extreme right-wing government and later by a left-wing power. Both of which spurred the migration to the habitable moon Coyote. The popular book and film The Hunger Games details the totalitarian country Panem, which arose from the ashes of the U.S. sometime in the future. In The Handmaid’s Tale, a theocratic dictatorship rules what was once the U.S. and persecutes its citizens. Another instance of harsh theocratic rule comes in Octavia Butler’s Parable Of The Sower where non-Christians are placed in re-education camps in a North America withered by poverty and scarce resources.
One underlying cause of war and societal stress boils down to resources. Right now, energy is the primary resource that is driving and hampering our civilization. There is the issue of oil and finding a viable alternative. The problem with oil is that it is becoming scarce and contributes to global warming. Until a successful alternative is found, we’re stuck with it. The Persian Gulf War was fought because Iraq’s conquest of Kuwait and threat to Saudi Arabia would’ve affected oil production and global economies.
There is a special that often runs on the National Geographic channel called Aftermath: When The Oil Runs Out that explores what would happen if that event occurred. Basically, civilization is turned upside down as martial law then conflicts and famine strike the world. In the Road Warrior, major battles are fought between factions over dwindling gasoline supplies.
But energy isn’t the only resource to fight over. There is food, land, and raw materials. Native Americans were driven off their ancestral lands by Americans in order to exploit the riches found in those lands. Avatar was of course a metaphor for what happened with the Native Americans. However, a now plentiful resource is on its way to becoming scarce and tomorrow’s most sought after commodity: water. Many predict that wars will be fought in the near future over dwindling water supplies. Cameron Stracher’s book The Water Wars depicts a future where the scarcity of fresh water decimates society.
The U.S. is in the grip of Great Recession while Europe is facing an economic collapse. This is a genuine cause for alarm since the specter of an economically devastated nation will have a cascading effect. Just look at the Great Depression to get an idea of what will happen. Mass migration, social strife, riots, overwhelmed communities, the list goes on. And it’s a prime opportunity for radicals and dictators to gain power. Basically chaos will reign unhindered. Many sci-fi works like the TV mini-series The Fire Next Time predict that economic collapse will come from extraordinary events, with The Fire Next Time it was global warming. In the TV show Dark Angel, the U.S. was in the midst of a crippling depression caused years before by an EMP detonation. While those factors will indeed destroy economies, mundane events like the current housing crises can just as easily disrupt our global economy.
In Norman Spinrad’s novel Russian Spring, America is a nation in economic decline while Russia is experiencing an economic renaissance and has become the de facto super power in the world. The consequence is that some of the main American characters wound up leaving the U.S. for better opportunities abroad.
On the other hand, there is a fear that corporations will dominate our governments. Many would say that has happened already. Transnational corporations control the world in Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy, and this concept was seen in the film Rollerball. If governments give up sovereignty to companies, what would happen to our rights?
State Of War
The idea of world peace is a noble one, but no matter how many times it seems to be on the horizon, our dark side emerges. Today many are rightfully concerned by the threat of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons and a military response. It’s believed this could cause World War III. But the Middle East isn’t the only tinderbox to potentially ignite a Third World War. One could easily begin in Asia as China gains more power. Already there are new tensions between China and Japan. Then there is the issue of Taiwan, the U.S. is committed to protecting it from China. Plus, look at North Korea, the people there live in complete despair yet seem all too eager to die for their insane leaders.
The fictional Oceania in 1984 always seemed to be in some state of war as its citizens were constantly whipped up into a war fervor over that country’s rivals. H.G. Wells novel The Shape Of Things To Come, showcases a world under the grip of a decades-long, alternate account of World War II that lasted much longer than in real life. Eventually civilization collapses and is reformed under a so-called benign dictatorship that brings order.
The above are just some issues that our society faces. Humanity needs to undergo a fundamental change to purge dark impulses. Perhaps an evolutionary step is needed where it becomes ingrained not to give in to our hatred and fear. That will take a very long time and much more misery. Maybe a cataclysmic event will do it, which is what happened with the Vulcan culture in Star Trek. The Vulcans are renowned for their peaceful ways but only true fans know that once they were a barbaric race that nearly killed themselves off with nuclear wars. Only by turning to a new belief system, in their case logic, did they save themselves.
Looking back at history, it’s apparent that society is always straddling between order and peace and war and chaos. The fact that we’re aware of our faults and are trying to fight them is a reason to hope for a better tomorrow.