Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Friday, July 11, 2008

The Time of Peril

I've commented more than once, I believe, that it can be difficult to bring myself to write about the many specific and narrow concerns of public health and health care policy and practice when such large and disconcerting dangers loom. Another Great Depression, or just the collapse of the health care system (such as it is) here in the U.S., or continued growth in inequality and the impoverishment of more and more millions, widespread global famine, water shortages, ecological catastrophe -- I could continue but the point is, any such events would overwhelm the daily concerns I write about here.

It struck me this morning that I spent more than half of my life under the shadow of Mutual Assured Destruction and the entirely plausible prospect of a civilization-ending nuclear war. And yet the world somehow feels even less secure now, even though that unthinkable horror has receded (though it hasn't disappeared). I would say there are a few major reasons why the present feels so critical, and so uncertain.

One is the complexity of so many interlinked problems. Remember that the Great Depression began with the collapse of a financial bubble, specifically the U.S. stock market. Now we have another spectacular financial collapse, but it is compounded by the petroleum shortage, an exogenous event that I am fairly well convinced has no reasonable prospect of amelioration for many years. This crisis is just deepened by what I consider to be deliberate and mendacious denial. OPEC claims there is plenty of oil supply and that extraction will reach 113 million barrels a day by 2030. I happen to think they are flat out lying. Here's one of innumerable very well informed people who agree with me. But the persistence of conventional wisdom that the petroleum peak is still somewhere over the misty horizon of time (not that 15 or 20 years is a lifetime, but it's still long enough to procrastinate) let's political and cultural leaders off the hook for actually doing anything meaningful about it.

And there you'll find the biggest monster in my closet of anxieties. It is the utter failure of our institutions -- government, corporate news media, business leaders, opinion leaders, politicians -- to face the facts. We aren't having a serious discussion of the state of the world. We're in the middle of a contentious presidential campaign in which there are some issues in play but neither candidate is willing to do any more than nibble around the edges of what is at stake. Obama knows perfectly well that the American people, and most certainly the corporate media, are not willing to hear the truth and would destroy him if he tried to say it. McCain, however, is not up to the job and probably has little idea of what's really going on in the world.

Even Richard Nixon knew damn well that World War III was not an option, and Ronald Reagan, an ideologically deluded, and ultimately demented fool, was sufficiently in touch with reality, at least on alternate Tuesdays, that he knew he had to make sure it never happened and took meaningful steps toward that goal. Right now, however, the reality based community is marginalized. The whole country needs a dope slap. Who's gonna give it?

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