A wide-eyed, colorful guide to a dreadful story

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A wide-eyed, colorful guide to a dreadful story

The End Is Always Near: Apocalyptic Moments from the Bronze age collapse… by Dan Carlin, Harper, US $29.99, Pp 288, October 2019, ISBN 978-0062868046

In the post-World War II, we have become used to peace. Many of us tend to believe that there will not be another catastrophe similar to the two great wars — at least not in Europe and North America. We justify our complacency with the concept of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). But the question remains how long humanity can hide behind the concept of MAD. Is humanity capable of handling the deadly nuclear weapons forever? Are we really capable of saving our civilization from total destruction once again? In The End Is Always Near, Dan Carlin looks at our not-so-enviable past and tries to shake us out of slumber. Dan Carlin looks at the issues involved from a different vantage point and argues that our past points to our future. Dan Carlin says that the belief that modern civilization will never fall and our cities will never lie in ruins is putting it too simply.

Dan Carlin says whether you are optimistic or pessimistic about our civilization’s long-term chances may depend on your view of how much we human beings can change. We laud ourselves for the adaptability of our species, but these are difficult challenges that may have sunk many other intelligent life forms before us. If we do what we have always done, we can depend on outcomes that are disastrous. He writes that if we engage in another total war between the great powers, we will do damage on a scale that has no comparable analogy. If we cannot change enough to deal with the modern global version of the environmental damage that human beings traditionally do to their immediate surroundings, we will cause ramifications that affect almost every aspect of life. He writes, “Either one of these scenarios could cause the sort of downstream problems like starvation, disease, mass migration, geopolitical upheaval, privacy, and systems collapse that we dealt with in some of the earlier chapters of this book.”

If we wish to look on the bright side, we can hope for innovations and discoveries to create conditions in which we can continue to live as we do and not kill ourselves – “the invent-our-way-out-of-it scenario.” Dan Carlin says that there’s also the possibility that humans will adjust to the all the new conditions. Be it the post-World War III world or an apocalyptic overpopulation/environmental wasteland, maybe the idea that tough times make tough people will remind us that we as a species are survivors. Children will be raised differently, expectation level will change, and we could easily see people adapt as much to fit into their less rosy world as we have seen humans adjust and evolve into the world created once the era of computers and cellphones began. He adds that the possibility also exists that our ecological system will be the one to adjust, giving the people who rely on it no say in the matter. It’s certainly conceivable that nature has its own ways to rebalance itself.

Or maybe the next Dark Age is one we trigger intentionally. Dan Carlin says that it is certainly possible that someday environmental problems could necessitate society forcibly cutting things like energy use (as one example) or any of the other elements of modern society that require the high voltage of the twenty-first-century lifestyle. If the true threat to humanity turns out to be something more like a virus or an asteroid, it might be the very societies that most endanger us environmentally or militarily that have the advantage in dealing with the danger. It would be incredibly ironic if a civilization-killing asteroid that has been on target to hit Earth for perhaps millions of years was only thrown off course at the last minute by the timely use of nuclear weapon. A bomb developed to kill millions, shot into space on a missile similar to the ones that would have devastated our cities in any Third World War, saves everyone and historically speaking) was developed just in time to play that role. He writes, “That scenario sounds about as plausible to my ears as the likelihood of my alternative book title coming true. It was going to be called And They All Lived Happily Ever After. How do I define ‘happily’? Humanity living in an age when, for once in our existence, it is not the case that the end is always near.”

Dan Carlin recalls apocalyptic periods from the past and explains how they help us foresee our future. Dan Carlin uses his knowledge and imagination to tell us what it would be like to live through the end of our civilization if we made the same mistakes our ancestors made on many occasions in the past. The end of the world may not be near but it will always haunt us like a ghost. This meticulously and passionately researched book discusses a complex subject in a very clear manner. Unless we understand what happened in the past, we cannot escape another end of our civilization. This makes this book an essential reading for everyone.

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