End of Nuclearism or the End of the World: Utopian Dreams, Dystopian Nightmares

9 Aug


We are living amid contradictions whether we like it or not, driving expectations about the future toward opposite extremes. Increasingly plausible are fears that the ‘sixth extinction’ will encompass the human species, or at least, throw human society back to a technology of sticks and stones, with a habitat limited to caves and forests. This dark vision is countered by gene editing designer promises of virtual immortality and super-wise beings programming super-intelligent machines, enabling a life of leisure, luxury, and security for all. Whether the reality of such a scientistic future would be also dark is a matter of conjecture, but from a survival perspective, it offers an optimistic scenario.


On political levels, a similar set of polar scenarios are gaining ground in the moral imagination, producing national leaders who seem comfortable embracing an apocalyptic telos without a second thought. The peoples of the world, entrapped in a predatory phase of global capitalism, are using their democratic prerogative to shut down dissent, rationality, and science. On one side, 122 governments pledge a legal commitment to the prohibition of nuclear weapons as an unprecedented prelude to the abolition of the weaponry; on the other side, all nine nuclear weapons states, and their closest allies, oppose the prohibition and opt for modernizing their nuclear weapons arsenals even devising strategic plans for their possible use, prompting an urgent search for counter measures.


John Pilger issues a solemn reminder that Nevile Shute’s On the Beach depicting a post-nuclear human future that is now more resonant than when it was published in 1957. Leaders that could bluff their way to shared catastrophe bellow forth in Washington and Pyongyang, each deluded by the belief that military options even with nuclear weapons are the only geopolitical security blanket worth relying upon, projecting a reckless obliviousness to the risk of losing their balance while engaging in inflammatory rhetorical posturing alarmingly close to the nuclear precipice.


As Pilger also points out, the liberal opposition to this right wing populism in the West is also dangerously disposed toward warmongering. Donald Trump is being pilloried by a bipartisan anti-Russian hysteria that imposes harsh sanctions, seemingly intent on driving Putin’s Kremlin into a corner from which there is no retreat except by way of confrontation, and possibly war.


We read of record heat waves, extreme weather events, extended droughts, and wild fires as common as clouds in the sky without blinking. The newspapers report that climate scientists are ready to push the panic button in reaction to the latest studies of grim global warning trends, while the Trump factor renews coal mining and treats denial a political virtue.


While these alarming realities dim the light of hope for many of us, the American stock market, a barometer of capitalist expectations by the shrewdest investors, achieves record heights. At the same time famine warnings have been officially endorsed for a series of long suffering populations: Syria, Yemen, South Sudan, northern Nigeria, Gaza. The entire Middle East is being turned into a war and conflict zone, with an anti-Iran warmongering coalition pressuring Iran to choose between nuclear deterrence and sectarian warfare inflamed by militarist Israeli/U.S. grand strategy that appears to be motivated by a regional vision of geopolitical pacification.


How best to endure in the face of such fatalistic dualisms? That may be the question of our time, dodged for the sake of sanity by almost all of us, at least most of the time. Business as usual, while living with therapeutic forms of cultural blindness, the opioids of those fortunate enough to live for now in gated communities, whether on the scale of private dwellings or walled off countries.


Recently a lively young woman told me that many of her friends had decided not to have children because they are so fearful of the storm clouds of the future, and refuse to wait around for liberating rainbows. At the other extreme, today’s International Edition of the New York Times contains a front page ad of enticement encouraging attendance at an International Luxury Conference to be held in Brussels, November 13-14, on the demeaning theme of “What’s Next: Luxury in a Turbulent World.” My somewhat impatient response—‘whatever turns out to be next, it will not be and should not be luxury!’ More likely, those grown accustomed to luxury will shift their residences to those underground homes built by Silicon Valley billionaires on vast tracts of lands in the New Zealand countryside as the ultimate hedge against an imminent global catastrophe. It could be that the NYT conference will devote its attention to this form of post-apocalyptic luxury living! Yet that assumes a quite unlikely focus on how the world of luxury is adapting to the unpleasant realities of the Sixth Extinction. 

9 Responses to “End of Nuclearism or the End of the World: Utopian Dreams, Dystopian Nightmares”

  1. Shilpa August 9, 2017 at 5:25 am #

    I’ve long been fascinated with how humanity’s fixation on mortality, such a driver of inquisition in the ancient world, has shifted to apocalypse in the atomic age where we have manufactured the means for our own self-destruction. Such anxieties of a violent end always just beyond the reach of our fingertips have produced a profound existential crisis. I hadn’t considered its mirror side, where such technological development promises virtual immortality. It’s a fascinating, inhuman parallel to more desperate projects to ensure our survival and preserve our history, like the global seed bank.

  2. Gene Schulman August 9, 2017 at 8:50 am #

    Richard, you justly paint a grim picture of humanity’s future. With each new daub of paint it just becomes darker and darker and soon will be no different than a Kazimir Malevitch or Ad Heinhardt black square. I see no points of light on that canvas, alas. In the race between technology and nature, my money is on nature.

    • Laurie Knightly August 12, 2017 at 11:24 pm #

      You mean Ad Reinhardt. This is not to suggest that I just knew that and did not have to check ……..

    • Laurie Knightly August 15, 2017 at 4:31 pm #

      Gene, re to your typo, which I should have labeled thusly – have no doubts concerning your intent/knowledge. I would think, however, that we have no danger that Falk will not stay closer to Rothko with streaks of light coming into the color fields and no impenetrable borders such as Bharsar, Albers etc. I also noted another artistic/political reference, by someone, re to ‘UN Sustainable Development Goals as a post modern deconstructed Jackson Pollock of a To Do List with its 17 goals and 164 targets’. Now that’s a real concern………

      • Gene Schulman August 16, 2017 at 8:46 am #

        Dear Laurie,

        Well, I’m not ready to conduct a seminar on modern art. I only meant to stress the blackness of Falk’s grim picture he painted when I alluded to those two artists. Rothko is more suited to religious interpretations. We can use him when the subject gets back to Israel. Pollack’s oeuvre does not compute. His best work was when he was too sloshed to know what he was doing.


  3. Beau Oolayforos August 9, 2017 at 1:11 pm #

    Dear Professor Falk,

    My own wish is for an impeachment process which will cause much media hand-wringing about a “constitutional crisis”, and will sow consternation among warmongers, who will decry the “fatal weakening of US resolve”. Some nice guy like Gerry Ford will take over, peace will break out, the world’s oppressed might catch a break.

  4. Paul Wapner August 12, 2017 at 3:02 pm #

    As your post suggests: personally, I’m extremely rich, and, collectively, totally impoverished. It stings.

  5. Kata Fisher August 12, 2017 at 9:16 pm #
  6. Laurie Knightly August 12, 2017 at 11:19 pm #

    What might be of value would be a current picture of US Global Policy. What is the status of the US, in relation to other nations, on the Kyoto Protocol, Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, Land Mine Treaty, Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, UN Convention on Climate Change, Chemical and Biological Weapons, International Criminal Court, Human Rights, and more?
    When citing North Korea, are the 83 US bases in South Korea ever mentioned along with massive regular military exercises that include Guam? We are given the crisis hour in an information vacuum with the US as an undisputed moral arbitrator – armed and dangerous.

    In 1899, there were questions raised about what constitutes “Civilized Warfare’ – admittedly a contradiction in terms. There was agreement to forbid the use of poison gas, dum dum bullets, and dropping bombs from the air. In 2017, it appears that total obliteration from the air is the preferred strategy for a defined and legitimized doctrine of global domination with the US as the sole superpower. It did not begin with Donald Trump.

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